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The problem was that a swain eager to start a household of his own often had to wait until his father or guardian saw fit to dispense his property in the son's favor.

At left, a coach waits for a pair leaving by the back fence in John Collet's The Elopement, from ca. Starting a family at times leapfrogged a wedding—baby-to-be making a party of three. The anxiety is quickened by the feeling that society has been on the road to ruin since maybe Miles Standish's day and that the prospects of their offspring walking the path to the altar with a nice young man or sweet young woman have greatly diminished since John Alden and Priscilla Mullins made the trip.

Ben and Ellen Knecht exchange vows—with, from left, John Labanish, Pamela Blount, Andre Lane, Mike Luzzi, Teresa Ponziani, Jim Kent, Pat Mahon, and Christina Lane. Not a few parents pine for the courtship rules and rites of, let us say, those halcyon colonial times, when, as they understand it, propriety tempered ardor, virtue checked passion, and abstinence made the heart grow fonder.

The well-heeled were aware that there were scurrilous and ruthless fortune hunters looking to ensnare wealthy heiresses. For some couples there was heartbreak; for others, resignation.

And for a couple determined to buck tradition and marry without the blessing and support of their families, it was a choice between love and money. Since the Middle Ages, it had been accepted in England that a couple could have a common law—in effect, a do-it-yourself—marriage arrangement, and as immigrants flowed into the New World, they brought the custom along.

For the more unfortunate, if the parents disapproved of their son's choice, they could veto the alliance.

The woman's father was expected to provide a dowry.

For upper-class English and Americans, keeping up appearances was paramount, and heaven forbid that a daughter should tie the knot with, in the vernacular, a bun in the oven. Of enormous concern to quality folk was the social standing of a child's potential mate.