It is common knowledge that divorces are much easier to obtain today than they were in the past. Perhaps you have an image from an old 40s or 50s movie in your memory of a man with a camera jumping out of a closet to photograph an illicit mission. And in this country’s early years, divorces were extraordinarily hard to come by, but those hardships have grown and diminished over the years depending on the political climate, the influence of the church, and our motherland Britain.
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The Puritan colonies of New England seem to have had the most liberal of divorce laws, which seems antithetical from a group of people so austere they did not celebrate Christmas. However, marriage was considered a civil contract, and these Puritans were nothing if not practical. Divorce in the Massachusetts Bay Colony was legalized in 1629. However, no divorce was granted until 1638, when Mrs. James Luxford sued because of her husband’s bigamy. It became the first divorce in our country. These northern colonies also allowed more grounds for divorce, including adultery, desertion and abuse. However, women had to prove several motives while men only needed one. Most of the other colonies allowed only one ground, adultery, while occasionally granting divorce for desertion or for marriage within the prohibited limits of consanguinity (i.e. marriage to an overly relative parentage). close).
In the first 200 years or so of the legal system, divorce petitions were passed by the legislature or sent to the colony / state governor. In Maryland, divorces were pronounced by the General Assembly. Even in an age when there was little privacy in a community, a person must be in desperate need of voicing their problems at this level of government. Imagine having the entire legislature in your business. Further, divorce was not what we now call “absolute”, but a type of legal separation in which the parties could not marry another while the ex-spouse was still living.
Maryland, established as a Catholic colony, was only granting about 30 divorces a year in the early 1800s. However, as more people have resorted to divorce to resolve their marital problems, the legislature entrusted the hearing of divorce petitions to the courts in 1842. In 1851, legislative divorce became illegal.
Examining the records available on Maryland Archives Online, a very first Cecil County divorce petition has come to light:
Saturday 17 May 1701
The State Council present as yesterday the petition of Edward Laddamore of County of Cecill praying that a law can be passed for the divorce of him, declared Edward Laddamore and Elizabeth his wife and declaring the children of her said begotten Elizabeth during his removal for being illegitimate was read and sent here at home with a bill on this subject
If Edward was hoping for a quick decision, he was disappointed. When the session resumed later in the day after a break, the following was recorded in minutes:
By the House of Delegates May 17, 1701
Edward Laddermore’s petition recommended by His Excellency and Council to this house with a bill referred therein has been here read and considered and in so far as the petitioner’s prayer is of such a lofty nature that the house do not think it is appropriate to pass the bill sent with the petition.
Therefore resolved that if the petitioner will appear at the next assembly sessions and bring with him such witnesses or other evidence sufficient to prove the leak, then the house will give him further consideration, and it is ordered that the petitioner notify Elizabeth marries her in the mentioned petition that She will also appear at future Assembly sessions to make her defense if it seems to her MeetSigned p Order W Taylard Cl House Del
So it looks like Edward didn’t get what he wanted. Further exploration of the archives has yielded no further information regarding the unfortunate Laddamores (Larramore being the most common spelling). Edward, a Cecil County justice of the peace, was mentioned in an entry on November 7, 1709 regarding food stores, but nothing more. As the Assembly at that time was being held in St. Mary’s City, perhaps the difficulty of securing himself, his wife, and witnesses from both sides was deemed too great. Or maybe another solution has been found. Registered in the land registers for 1701, the mother of Elizabeth Larremore Parnell Eldaslay [Ellerslie], offers his grandson Joshua a plantation and his granddaughter Elizabeth 6000 pounds of tobacco. This generous donation included furniture, clothing and two slaves. Elizabeth Larremore, James Rogers (Parnell’s husband) and one other were appointed guardians of the minor children. It appears that Parnell intended to protect his grandchildren’s future, while keeping money and land out of the hands of his son-in-law.