Public Marriage Records of Black Persons in Madison County, Tennessee, 1868-1888
By Jonathan Kennon Thompson Smith
Copyright, Jonathan K. T. Smith, 1998


Recognition of marriage between black persons, free or enslaved, before the Civil War, 1861-1865, was nominally acknowledged, many times solemnized by certain traditional ceremonies but it was only with an act of the Tennessee legislature on May 26, 1866 that such marriages were legally acknowledged. 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 l, page 81), free persons of color were now required to obtain licenses for marriages 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, Alabama, 1985, page 219) Only a few such records have been preserved and those marriage records of persons of color from 1866 into 1868, such as may have once existed, have been missing for many years. The very few recorded by the Freedmen's Bureau for Madison County 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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