Marriage on the Border
Love, Mutuality, and Divorce in the Upper South during the Civil War
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
Imprint: The University Press of Kentucky
Not quite the Cotton Kingdom or the free labor North, the nineteenth-century border South was a land in between. Here, the era's clashing values—slavery and freedom, city and country, industry and agriculture—met and melded. In factories and plantations along the Ohio River, a unique regional identity emerged: one rooted in kinship, tolerance, and compromise. Border families articulated these hybrid values in both the legislative hall and the home. While many defended patriarchal households as an essential part of slaveholding culture, communities on the border pressed for increased mutuality between husbands and wives.
Drawing on court records, personal correspondence, and prescriptive literature, Marriage on the Border: Love, Mutuality, and Divorce in the Upper South during the Civil War follows border southerners into their homes through blissful betrothal and turbulent divorce. Allison Dorothy Fredette examines how changing divorce laws in the border regions of Kentucky and West Virginia reveal surprisingly progressive marriages throughout the antebellum and postwar Upper South. Although many states feared that loosening marriage's gender hierarchy threatened slavery's racial hierarchy, border couples redefined traditionally permanent marriages as consensual contracts—complete with rules and escape clauses. Men and women on the border built marriages on mutual affection, and when that affection faded, filed for divorce at unprecedented rates. Highlighting the tenuous relationship between racial and gendered rhetoric throughout the nineteenth century, Marriage on the Border offers a fresh perspective on the institution of marriage and its impact on the social fabric of the United States.
To Form and Enviable Marriage
No More, Together
To Honor and Obey
Stability in the Face of Great Distress
Never Happier in Her Life
"Fredette identifies in the antebellum border states a shifting sentiment in favor of more progressive divorce and family law compared to the rest of the South. This relative liberalization continued through the Civil War years, despite the Southernization of regional identity in the post-war border states. Marriage on the Border offers a cutting-edge work of nineteenth-century gender and family studies as well as a fascinating window into the social history of the Civil War era in the Upper South."~Aaron Astor, author of Rebels on the Border: Civil War, Emancipation, and the Reconstruction of Kentucky and Missouri
"Marriage on the Border leaves no doubt that the tumult of the Civil War and emancipation reached deeply into the most intimate spaces of the border South. Vivid stories of marital conflict, culled from personal papers and legal records of white residents, anchor this fine study. Fredette identifies a unique practice of 'mutuality' in this region where the North and South met and thus offers an eye-opening perspective on the culture of the border South in the Civil War era."~Amy Murrell Taylor, author of Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War's Slave Refugee Camps
"Marriage on the Border is a fascinating study of how geographical and cultural identity affected attitudes about entering into and leaving marriage contracts. Fredette's innovative use of sources has allowed her to uncover both the ideals and realities of marriage in the border South. This is essential reading for anyone interested in the social history of the South, and this volume makes a significant contribution to the history of the Civil War era and women's history."~Anne E. Marshall, author of Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State
Fredette's study offers a lively glimpse into the private world of love, marriage, and divorce. The author's research into the court cases of separating couples reads, at times, like a collection of salacious tales of love found and lost. Perhaps it is such mining of often overlooked court records that makes this work a must-read for those interested in the personal lives of men and women living on the border.~Virginia Magazine of History & Biography
Through careful analysis of divorce records, private writings, and prescriptive literature, Fredette traces regional variation in white southerners' expectations of marriage while raising intriguing questions about how those views informed sectional identities. By foregrounding marriage in her investigation of regional identity, Fredette not only enriches scholarship on the border South but also shows how examining domestic life can illuminate moments of political upheaval.~Journal of Southern History