Runaway Wives of the 18th century

What recourse did wives have in America if they found their marriages intolerable and yet could not obtain a divorce? Here’s what sometimes happened in the 18th century. From the Pennsylvania Gazette’s classified advertising section (legal notices):

“March 25, 1742:

Whereas ELIZABETH DUNLAP, Wife of JAMES DUNLAP of Piles Grove, Salem County in the Province of New-Jersey, hath lately eloped from the said James Dunlap her Husband. These are therefore to forewarn and forbid any Person to trust said Elizabeth for any Goods or other things whatsoever for that her said Husband will pay no Debt or Debts contracted by her after the Date hereof….”

“June 17, 1742:

Whereas JAMES DUNLAP, of Piles Grove, of Piles Grove, in the County of Salem, in the Province of New-Jersey, by an advertisement lately inserted in the American Weekly Mercury and in the Pennsylvania Gazette, did publish the elopement of ELIZABETH DUNLAP his Wife, and forewarned all Persons to trust her for any goods or other things, etc.

These are therefore to certify all Persons whom it may concern, that the contents of said advertisement as to the elopement of the said Elizabeth is utterly false, for the said Elizabeth never eloped from the said James Dunlap her Husband, but was obliged in safety of her life to leave her said Husband because of his threats and cruel abuse for several years past repeatedly offered and done to her, and that she went no farther than her Father’s House in said country, where she has resided ever since her departure from her said Husband, and still continues to reside. And the same James Dunlap having a considerable estate in lands in the said county, which the said Elizabeth is informed he intends to sell as soon as he can, she therefore thought proper to give this notice to any Person or Persons that may offer to buy, that she will not join in the sale of any part of said lands, but that she intends to claim her thirds (or right of dower) of and in all the lands the said James Dunlap has been seized and possessed of since their intermarriage whosoever may purchase the same. — Elizabeth Dunlap.”

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“July 31, 1746:

Whereas MARY, the Wife of JOHN FENBY, Porter, hath eloped from her said Husband without any cause; this is to forewarn all Persons not to trust her on his Account; for he will pay no Debts she shall contract from the Date hereof.”

“August 7, 1746:

Whereas JOHN, the Husband of MARY FENBY, hath advertis’d her in this Paper, as eloped from him, &c., tho’ ’tis well known, they parted by Consent, and agreed to divide their Goods in a Manner which he has not yet been so just as fully to comply with, but detains her Bed and Wedding Ring: And as she neither has, nor desires to run him in Debt, believing her own Credit to be full as good as his; so she desires no one should trust him on her Account, for neither will she pay any Debts of his contracting.– MARY FENBY”

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