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Parenting was very different in 1800s

By HENRY TIMMAN • Dec 13, 2019 at 4:00 PM

It’s no secret in studying social history that parents were allowed to (and usually did) keep much control over their children in years past.

Sons were the “property” of their father until 21 and they were required to either work for their father on the farm, work for a neighboring farmer or they could be indentured to learn a trade such as carpentry, blacksmithing or training. With his father’s permission, a young man could work extra for neighbors and then “buy his freedom” from his father before the age of 21. 

Girls weren’t dealt with so harshly. They could stay at home and work alongside their mother learning to be a housewife or they could work for neighbors and give most or all of their earnings to their father. The parents also controlled (as best they could) who their daughter associated with and especially any young man who entered the picture. Often when a girl married her parents gave her a sum of money (perhaps $100) plus a horse or cow and some household goods and that was their future inheritance. It was expected that the new husband was responsible for his wife’s care and maintenance. 

A good example of overseeing a daughter’s activities is an 1874 story from Greenfield Township. Lewis and Isabelle Lowther Conger lived on the farm where Camp Conger is located and which still is owned by their descendants. Their daughter Julia was 16 years old and had met up with one John C. Simonton, 24, who came into the neighborhood. 

Her parents objected, naturally, so the couple planned to elope. Their plan was to meet in Bellevue, rent a horse and buggy, and head for Michigan and matrimony. Mr. Conger learned of the plan and pursued them, but was far enough behind that they reach Adrian, Mich. and were summarily married. The marriage lasted for four years until it ended by divorce. The 1880 census finds Julia living at home with her parents, and Mr. Simonton working as a vocal and instrumental music teacher in Tiro. 

What ultimately happened to Julia? She married a second time to Charles Curtiss Palmer, of New Haven Township. He was a descendant of Caleb and Harriet Smith Palmer, the pioneer settlers of New Haven. Julia Conger Simonton Palmer died in December of 1895 and is buried with infant daughter Anna Bell Palmer in the Guinea Corners Cemetery north of New Haven Village. 

My “Just Like Old Times” books can be purchased at New Direction Design, 20 W. Main St. These contain my earlier columns fully indexed in permanent book form. 

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