By Jonathan Kennon Thompson Smith
Copyright, Jonathan K. T. Smith, 1996

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Recognition of marriage between black persons, free or enslaved, before the Civil War was nominally acknowledged, many times solemnized in traditional ceremonies, but it was only with an act of the Tennessee legislature, May 26, 1866 that such marriages were realistically acknowledged, legally. ACTS OF TENNESSEE, 1865-1866, Nashville, 1866, Chapter 40, Section 5, page 65:

BE IT. FURTHER ENACTED: That all free persons of color who were living together as husband and wife in this State, while in a state of slavery, are hereby declared to be man and wife, and their children legitimately entitled to an inheritance of property heretofore acquired, or that may hereafter be acquired by said parents, to as full an extent as the children of white citizens are now entitled, by the existing laws of this State.

By Act of May 28, 1866 (IBID., Chapter 58, Section 1, page 81), free persons of color were now required to obtain licenses for marriage from the county court clerks of the state's counties. Before this enabling legislation was passed, the Freedmen's Bureau issued licenses to freed persons to marry (SLAVERY’S END IN TENNESSEE, 1861-1865, by John Cimprich, University, Ala., 1985, page 129). Those such licenses for Madison County, Tennessee are included in SELECT RECORDS OF THE TENNESSEE FIELD OFFICE OF THE BUREAU OF REFUGEES, FREEDMEN AND ABANDONED LAND, National Archives Microcopy T-142, Roll 69:

David Foote and Catharine Keelen, blacks, were married at Denmark, Tennessee, December 27,1866 by F. A. Keelen, Justice of the Peace

Jefferson Sropshire and Lucy Dunaway, blacks, were married March 8, 1866 by Galen E. Green, Superintendent of the Freedmen's Bureau in Jackson

Jordan Meriwether and Frances Long, blacks, were married January 27, 1866 by the Reverend Isaac Lane, Jackson

William French and Celia Blue, blacks, were married February 11, 1866 by the Reverend Isaac Lane, Jackson

Jacob Yarbrough and Allis Brooks were married in February 1866 by the Reverend J. R. Sykes


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The existing marriage records of freedpersons in Madison County are recorded in marriage book C, beginning in August 1868 and include those marriages contracted into October 1871, after which black and white marriages were recorded in the same marriage books.


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