In the 1700-1800s, if a husband deserted his wife, could she resume her maiden name and remarry?

+7 votes

I have been researching Relief Thurber of Providence, Rhode Island

and his daughter Mary.   In researching Mary, I found the following three pieces of information:

  • Mary's death record in the Rhode Island Deaths and Burials database listing parents Relief and Phebe Thurber and husband John Wilbone [sic?]
  • A marriage record in the Rhode Island Marriages database for John Wilbour and Mary Thurber on Feb 11, 1821, in Providence
  • A marriage notice from the Providence Gazette, March 17, 1821, for John Wilbour and Mrs. Polly Thurber, eldest daughter of Relief Thurber.

 The third item can easily be reconciled with the other two if there are two different "Relief Thurber"s.  However, In the US censuses for 1790, 1800, 1810, 1830, and 1840, there is only one head-of-household in the whole US named "Relief Thurber" (and none in 1820), so it seems likely that any references to children of Relief Thurber are referring to the same family. 

It is then hard to avoid concluding that these marriage announcements are for the same marriage.  Assuming this to be the case, my question is, why is Mary listed in the Gazette announcement as "Mrs. Thurber"?  

She was married to a Job Spencer before, so the "Mrs." is presumably because of this.  But in this circumstance, I would typically see the bride listed as "Mrs. Spencer".  I read a cryptic passage online that said Job Spencer "removed to North Carolina".  I don't know the source, so I will not put this in her bio, but it makes me wonder -- if a man deserted his family in those times, would the woman be allowed to return to her maiden name, even to remarry?  Is there precedence for this?

(As to how the Gazette got her first name wrong, Polly isn't completely out of the blue -- Relief's first wife was named Polly, and he married Mary's mother Phebe after Polly died.  Perhaps Polly is Mary's middle name.)

WikiTree profile: Relief Thurber
in The Tree House by Barry Smith G2G6 Pilot (219k points)
edited by Barry Smith

2 Answers

+5 votes
Best answer
At first glance it appears as if the two marriages that you found records for are for the same marriage. One of them could have been when a marriage bond was posted and the other for the actual marriage. Or it could just be an error in the dates. Polly is definitely a nickname for Mary so that wouldn't be a problem.

Legally a woman deserted by her husband could not resume her maiden name and marry again without a divorce. That applies even in the 1700 and 1800s in the United States and I assume in England, Europe, etc. Do you have information on the first marriage to Job Spencer and any idea as to how long after he "removed to North Carolina" she remarriedd?

Sounds like an interesting problem.
by Shirley Dalton G2G6 Pilot (487k points)
selected by Barry Smith
I never knew Polly was a nickname, so thanks for that.  I wonder, did people keep records of divorces back then?  Or would it have been too scandalous to write down or put in a public place?  She married Job Spencer in 1813.  I cannot confirm that he "removed to North Carolina", nor do I know when this supposedly occurred.
I have found records of a divorce in the 1800s, but references are scarce. I would not know where to tell you to look. Hopefully someone else will come in with an answer.
+2 votes

I notice there are three sons currently attached to Mary Thurber's profile and her husband John Scott Spencer, but none of the sons' profiles appear to be sourced.

Trying to find information about them, and whether there are any sources that name their parents might be another line of investigation?


by John Atkinson G2G6 Pilot (481k points)
I just merged her today with another profile that was clearly a match.  The existing profile with the sons was created through a GEDCOM import.  The existing profile currently had no manager, so I guess I became the manager when I merged them? One of the sons is of record, but the others are AFAIK from the same source that said Job removed to North Carolina -- a book called "Genealogy of the Anthony Family from 1494 to 1904".  I haven't had a chance to try to find additional sourcing for these sons.

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