Thursday, November 13, 2014

Melinda Wilkinson, the Runaway Bride

Melinda George married Jonathan Wilkinson on New Year’s Day 1828 in Gilford, New Hampshire.  Jonathan was the son of Benning Wilkinson, a founder of the Center Harbor, New Hampshire and a Revolutionary War veteran. 

I haven’t found any children for this marriage, nor death records for either Melinda or Jonathan.  They seemed to have disappeared from the records. And so I began to search deeds, probate, military and newspaper records.  When I turned to searching newspapers, I found this very interesting 1832 notice with

from GenealogyBank, Nw Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette (Concord, New Hampshire),
Monday, 6 February 1832, Volume 2, Issue 136, page 4

Apparently, these notices are not unusual in old newspapers.  Along with lost horses, runaway seamen, runaway apprentices and disinherited sons, you can easily find notices of runaway wives. 

Legally, a wife was the property of her husband, and she owned nothing.  Most wives left without taking anything, not even their children.  There must have been something very wrong with the situation for a woman to leave her children behind.  If she took them, they legally belonged to the husband.   Because of these laws, some widows refused to remarry.  However, a widow with young children would probably remarry quickly for the protections and financial stability of a husband.

Marriage was a contract.  If a woman bought or sold anything, it belonged to her husband. These notices usually contained language, like this one, stating that the husband would no longer honor any of her debts or contracts.   This was a clause that prevented the runaway from obtaining employment or purchases, in an attempt to have her return home.  Anyone who assisted the fugitive wife risked a lawsuit for damages.

Marcia Schmidt Blaine of Plymouth State University has been touring New Hampshire lecturing on these newspaper notices with her lecture “Runaway Wives: When Colonial Marriages Failed”.  She is sponsored by the New Hampshire Humanities Council.  You can find one of her lectures on their website calendar at

I have no further information on Jonathan and Melinda Wilkinson.  But I do know that their story, whatever it is, must be very interesting!

 For the truly curious:

An interesting list of “Runaway Wife” notices from New York 1754 – 1774

A blog post dating from 2013 about runaway wife notices from the “Housesandbooks” blog

A book by Maureen Taylor, Runaways, Deserters and Notorious Villains from Rhode Island Newspapers, Camden, Maine: Picton Press, 1994.

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Copyright © 2014, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

1 comment:

  1. Wow, what a fascinating post. And sobering too. Who knows what went on between husband and wife?! Thanks for sharing.