In writing about civil life in the early fur trade in the area surrounding the Great Lakes during the late 18th century, unions between the white men there to trade and colonize, and natives – occasionally happening due to the lack of European women at these remote posts – were certainly not causes for celebration for the young native girls who were often forced into wedlock with significantly older European men. In many cases, girls barely pubescent were literally taken from playing childhood games and wed to adult men.
Their choice in the matter was not deliberated, and their age was irrelevant, as the racist sentiment of the colonizers saw their physical or emotional maturity as irrelevant to the needs of the men to secure a woman for their carnal needs. Nowadays, we would probably consider this sort of arrangement to be human trafficking, and the girls "child brides", but belief in the racial inferiority of natives played a large role in these sorts of 'marriages'.
As noted in the Army and Navy Chronicle, such marriages were “quick and dirty” affairs with no consideration for the wishes of the girls:
“The commanding officer of the post, besides his military sway also held a kind of civil jurisdiction. He could grant land and solemnize marriages. We have before us a record, showing that on the 15th of November, 1791, Edward Charleton, Esq, Captain in his Majesty’s 5th Regiment, and commander of the post of Michillmackinac and dependencies, did join in the bands of wedlock, one of his subalterns with a daughter of the Surgeon of the post.”
The discussion continues, describing the extreme youth of the bride, who was literally swept off the playground and forced into wedlock…
“The bride was a half breed – her mother an Indian. What her age was does not appear; neither should we have any curiosity to know, except for ascertaining at that time those marriages [to extremely young girls] first came in vogue. It is said concerning the marriage of one girl, that she was called in from playing with her fellows in the streets, to be dressed for her wedding.”
The same was not said for native girls, as their physical or emotional maturity was not considered of equal importance to those of white girls.
“The principles of physiology [physical maturity] appear to be held in perfect contempt. Indian and half breed girls frequently marry at the age of 13-15, and for aught we know, with impunity, but a white girl who enters the married like at such an early age [would] find her cup of matrimonial bliss turbid with the dregs of affliction and regret.”
Mackinac. (1841, January 7). Army and Navy Chronicle, XII(1), 115-119.
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