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The Issue of Tridentine Marriage in a Composite North Atlantic World

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Doctrinal Strictures vs. Loose Practices, 1607–1738

image of Journal of Early American History

This article examines the transfer and the impact of the marriage stipulations enacted by the Council of Trent in French and British North America over a lengthy period of time from the early seventeenth century through 1738. It first examines marriage between two Native partners in the regions of Canada (the French settlement along the St. Lawrence River) and Acadia. It then considers marriages between residents of European origin and Natives. The article argues that in the 1660s the debate over the implementation and the effectiveness of any marriage policy lost its centrality. In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century the issue of improper marriages among French inhabitants resurfaced in the West (Pays d’en Haut, Louisiana) as a consequence of contact with large Native nations that vastly outnumbered the population of European origin. In the Illinois country and in Louisiana the issue of intermarriage was further complicated by the presence of Africans, most of whom were enslaved. As for the British continental colonies, ethnic intermixing and intermarriage proceeded at a pace that, most probably, was not substantially different from New France, although, given the illegal and minuscule presence of a Catholic community, no evidence survived showing any intermarriage having been performed in compliance with Tridentine discipline or otherwise. In the end, however, this article shows that marriage policies, devised in Europe and implemented in North America, had in fact little real impact on the development of the relationship between Europeans and Native peoples.

Affiliations: 1: Saint Mary’s University, University of Notre Dame,;


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