Compiled by Fred Smoot
Banns, Marriage Bonds and Licenses, and Bastardy Bonds
The subject on the procedure of early Tennessee marriage, deserves a close
look. In time, we hope to add the actually Tennessee laws regulating
The Tennessee laws of marriage would certainly have their roots in North Carolina
colonial laws and the laws of other colonies, especially Virginia. Here we will look at
some marriage procedures of Old Virginia and Tennessee.
In order to be married outside of the civil authorities, a couple could publish
banns, or intent to be married, at there local church or meeting house for
three consecutive weeks, or meetings. If there were no objection to the marriage, the
clergyman would marry the couple. This marriage by banns required no
reporting to civil authorities, therefore it was recorded only in the church records and
perhaps the family Bible. Unfortunately, many church records have been lost, leaving
many a genealogist searching for the old elusive family Bible.
A Very Colonial Marriage Procedure
The main objection to the marriage that could be raised was the question of an earlier
marriage by either the man or the woman. Bigamy existed then, just as it does
A more legal definition of Banns of matrimony from
Blacks Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition:
Public notice or proclamation of a matrimonial contract, and the intended
celebration of the marriage of the parties in pursuance of such contract. Such
announcement is required by certain religions to be made in a church or chapel, during
service, on three consecutive Sundays before the marriage is celebrated. The object of is
to afford an opportunity for any person to interpose an objection if he knows any
impediment or other just cause why the marriage should not take
Marriage Bonds and Licenses
In 1660-61 the [Virginia] law requiring a bond was first enacted.
Because of a scarcity of ministers, the colony required that
all persons wishing to be married by license must go to the
county court clerk and give bond with sufficient security
(usually $150 by the 19th century) that there was no lawful
cause to prevent the marriage. The license was then prepared by
the clerk and presented to the minister who would perform the
From the introduction to the published Frederick Co., VA
Marriage Bonds, by John Vogt & T. William Kethley, Jr., Iberian Publishing
The bondsman or surety was to be able and knowne. Often, this person
was a brother or uncle to the bride, not necessarily a parent. The rich and established
uncle was an excellent candidate for bondsman. The bondsman could be
related to the groom, but from what we have seen, that situation would occur less
In Tennessee, three documents were created at the
time of a marriage.
- The first was the marriage bond.
- The second was the license, wherein the court
authorized the marriage, and the official signed the
back to show that it had been performed.
- The ledger where the clerk copied some information from these
two sources is known as the official marriage record,
and is often the only surviving part of the record.
Charles A. Sherrill, Tenn. State Library & Archives;
has furnished the following information on this subject
according to his understanding of the material he has read.
- The groom had to assure the State that he was
able to be legally married (was not already married to
someone else, under age, or ineligible because of
close blood relationship, etc.)
- This assurance was given in the form of a bond
for a certain amount of money. The friend or relative
signed as the groom's security on the bond,
commonly known as becoming a bondsman.
- If indeed the groom had been sued for violating
the marriage contract, the bondsman would have had
to pay any legal damages if the groom defaulted.
- No money actually changed hands at the time
the bond was issued.
- This bonding procedure was used across
Tennessee and in other southern states in the 19th
I am not certain whether a woman could sue for
breach of contract under this bond, in a case where a
man failed to actually go through with the marriage. I
have seen one or two cases of that type, but do not
know whether they were successful. However, this
bond did provide legal protection for a woman who
married a man and then found he already had a wife.
This bond was required from father of illegitimate children. This bond was usually
made with County Court where the mother resided. The intent was to
protect the county from being forced to support the child. Occasionally, these records
John Haywoods manual for Tennessee Justices
of the Peace (1810, reissued 1816) lists bastardy as an un-indictable
offence which can be tried before any two justices. If found guilty the
father is to be brought before the full court to provide bond and
security. This would be the County Court comprised of all the justices,
not the Superior Court. The bond is technically a bastardy bond, not
a bastard bond. (Charles A. Sherrill, Tenn. State Library &
© Copyright, TNGenNet Inc, 1999
This page was first posted on:
07 January 1999
and updated on: