Tuesday, April 18, 2017

African-American Marriages in 1866

Although African American slaves may have lived together as husband and wife before the Civil War, their marriage was not legally recognized in Kentucky.  With the end of the war and the passing of a statute on the 14th of February, 1866, ... "all negroes and mulattoes may intermarry with each other in the same manner and under the same regulations that are provided by law for white persons. Provided. that the clerk of the county court shall keep separate records of the same. In additional to the persons now authorized by law to solemnize marriage, marriages between negroes and mulattoes may be solemnized by any minister in good standing of any recognized church of colored persons."[1]

All they had to do was appear before the county clerk, declare they have been  living together as man and wife and plan to continue to do so. They were required to pay a fee of 50 cents and the clerk would record the marriage. They could receive a certificate of their marriage if they paid an additional fee of 25 cents.

Marriage between a white person and a Negro or mulatto was not lawful. Those who violated this law would be guilty of a felony and could be confined to the state penitentiary for a period of not less than five years.

Long-time African-American marriages are recorded  in registers called "Declarations of Marriage of Negroes and Mulattoes."  These registers are not available in every western Kentucky county. Crittenden, Livingston and Caldwell Counties have them, but not Henderson County. Also, new marriages between African-Americans, beginning in 1866, are available in separate registers in some counties.   Livingston, Crittenden and Caldwell Counties have them. The earliest African-American marriages in Henderson County Clerk's Office  begin in 1874. There are a few earlier marriages from 1869 at the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives in Frankfort.

Declaration of Marriage of  Reuben Wheeler and Matilda Wheeler, Crittenden County
Declaration of Marriage of Negroes and Mulattoes,  4 July 1866, p. 1
(click on document for a larger view)

[1] Acts of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, (Frankfort, KY: George D. Prentice, State Printer, 1866) Chapter 556, p. 37, Approved 14 February 1866, Google Books, accessed 12 April 2017.

Published 18 April 2017, Western Kentucky Genealogy Blog, http://wkygenealogy.blogspot.com/


Unknown said...

Why would some counties not have registers of African American marriages? Because they were lost or because they kept no records?

Brenda Joyce Jerome said...

It is impossible to be sure, but I suspect some counties did not keep marriage records for African American couples. I was told by a reference librarian at the Archives that Henderson was not the only Kentucky county that had no Declarations of Marriages, but whether they were lost or never existed, I do not know.

Unknown said...

Thanks. I will include this bit of fact in a book that I am completing about the African American history of Muhlenberg and Western Kentucky.