Skip to main content

Secret Life

July 2024
1min read

Since I have been a historian for more than thirty years, with considerable research and publishing of local history to my credit, I feel qualified to inquire whether or not Jack Larkin, in “The Secret Life of a Developing Country (Ours),” was aware of one specific fact of life during those particular years, a fact that could place our ancestors’ apparent shortcomings in a different light.

Few of the smaller communities in our country had resident ministers authorized to perform marriages in the early years. Licensed clergy reached small and remote areas perhaps four times a year or less often. It was vital for a man wresting a living from new lands to have a helpmate. Women commonly became brides at a tender age, sometimes for economic reasons as families struggled for survival during the harsh times.

Couples planning marriage often began with a common-law arrangement and had a formal ceremony performed whenever the traveling preacher arrived. This might be weeks or months after they began life as husband and wife. It is not strange, therefore, that many “brides” were pregnant. Neither does it indicate exceptionally low moral standards, given the circumstances.

I trust Mr. Larkin did not deliberately aim to “expose” an early populace as more wicked than it really was. Immorality has always existed, but I strongly contest the notion that 1790-1840 folks were wantonly and uncommonly licentious.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.