In 1741 the state increased its control over marriages by enacting provisions for issuing marriage licenses or publishing banns. To “prevent clandestine and Unlawful Marriages,” the General Assembly at Edenton gave Justices of the Peace the authority to solemnize marriages in any parish that had no resident minister or in a county with a minister, with his consent. To ensure that there was no impediment to the marriage, such as a previous spouse, too close of a kin relationship between the couple, or a lack of legal competency, ministers read banns in the future bride’s congregation for three consecutive Sundays and later certified that no one had objected to the impending marriage. If the future bridegroom preferred to obtain a license, the clerk of the bride’s county of residence could issue the license, after securing from the bridegroom a bond for 500 pounds. The same Act also prohibited interracial marriages.
As the number of non-Anglicans increasingly migrated to North Carolina, they demanded to have their own ministers performing marriage ceremonies. Although the governors and the Assembly did not mind denominational and “dissenting” ministers solemnizing marriages--as long as proper fees were paid and collected--the Church of England strongly defended its monopoly. As late as 1771, Reverend Theodorus S. Drage reported from his parish in Salisbury that there were “Irish Dissenters” and other “motly mixture[s]” who predominated in local government and wanted to “publish [banns] and marry by their own clergy, an act directly leveled at the constitution, contrary to the original and subsequent charters.”
Successive governors wanted to ensure that proper fees were paid, regardless who married the consenting couples. In 1771, in his message to the lower house of the Assembly, Governor William Tryon complained bitterly that county clerks used their own marriage certificates, rather than the marriage license forms issued by the Governor’s Office. The Governor was thus “deprived of [his] equitable emoluments…,” as the Clerks put the collected fees into county coffers, or in a few cases, pocketed the money. Tryon told the Assembly to enact laws so that “the Clerks … may be absolutely prohibited from issuing any Marriage Licenses, and any Magistrate [be prohibited] from marrying any parties” except with license forms issued by the Governor’s Secretary (and proper fees collected). Indeed, the same year, Governor Tryon transmitted to London various Acts passed by the Assembly, including “An Act to regulate the issuing of Marriage Licenses.” The Governor called the proposed legislation “most salutary,” because it might “better secure . . . the fees due to the Governor.”