This table shows every known divorce among the Massachusetts Puritans 1639-1692. There are 40 divorces listed and the columns give the record location and page, the date, the names of the individuals, the cause of the divorce, the court (the jurisdiction), and the decree (the final judgment)

Table showing 40 known divorces among the Massachusetts Puritans 1639-1692

Did the Puritans Divorce, or Did They Have a Utopian Society?

 

The first known divorce in America was on December 3, 1639, when Elizabeth Luxford discovered her husband James Luxford already had another wife and went to the court for justice. The magistrates were not pleased with James. They granted Elizabeth the divorce, took James’s property, gave it to Elizabeth, and— “Next, the court turned its wrath on the deceitful Luxford. Not content with levying a fine of £100 on the bigamist, it sentenced him to ‘be set in the stocks an hour upon the market day after the lecture,’ and to be banished to England ‘by the first opportunity.’”

 

There weren't a lot of divorces in Puritan society, but we do have records of 40 of them.

 

Notice the causes the Puritans listed for the divorce:

  • Another wife

  • desertion

  • adultery

  • remarriage

  • long absence

  • deficiency

  • cruelty

  • bad condition of wife

  • cruelty of husband

  • disease and impotence of husband

  • desertion, failure to provide

  • bigamy

  • incest

  • affinity (meaning consanguinity, too closely related)

The Puritans rejected the Roman Catholic and Anglican view of marriage as a sacrament and therefore unbreakable. They considered Roman Catholic views to be a “popish invention, with no basis in the Gospels.” They saw marriage as a civil matter, not a religious one. According to the New England Historical Society, “In 1620, [Plymouth Plantation] leaders decided marriage belonged to the courts, not to the church. Therefore, they concluded, the courts could grant a Puritan divorce.” They often granted alimony to the wife if she was the innocent party.

This table of every known Massachusetts Puritan divorce was published in the book, A History of Matrimonial Institutions, Vol 2, by George Elliot Howard, 1904. University of Chicago, p. 333.

 


Footnotes

Table: This table of every known Massachusetts Puritan divorce was published in the book, A History of Matrimonial Institutions, Vol 2, by George Elliot Howard, 1904. University of Chicago, p. 333.

Puritan view of marriage: “The Puritan Divorce Allows Escape From the Chain of Matrimony,” New England Historical Society (2019), accessed 8/17/19, http://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/puritan-divorceallows-escape-from-the-chain-of-matrimony/.

Luxford divorce: Glenda Riley, Divorce: An American Tradition (Oxford: Oxford Press, 1991), 12. Male adultery wasn’t accepted as grounds for divorce in Massachusetts until the late 1700s. In a farming society, female adultery was considered much worse because a child could make a claim to inherit the land. Regarding impotence, in virtually all ancient agrarian societies, even in Jewish society prior to Christ, the inability to bear children was a serious problem. Men were responsible for having at least two children.


Are you going through a life-saving divorce? I’d like to invite you to my private Facebook group, "Life-Saving Divorce for Separated or Divorced Christians." This is a group for women and men of faith who have walked this path, or are considering it. Allies and people helpers are also welcome. Just click the link and ANSWER the 3 QUESTIONS.

 

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