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Elopement as Theft of Property

Unsuitable love matches must have been a problem in England in the 18th century because a law was passed in 1753 making marriage without parental consent illegal for anyone under the age of 21. The marriage of a child in the upper classes meant a transfer of property, and parents sought to control this exchange by making sure their child married an acceptable mate, preferably one they had chosen. Love was for the lower classes where there was no wealth to be won or lost.

Susan Kirke Dean married a very unacceptable mate indeed. She was an upper class English woman and he was a Scottish Presbyterian gardener. Because she was only 16 at the time (1777), they must have eloped to another jurisdiction. The popular choices at the time were either France or Scotland, with Scotland the overwhelming favourite. Gretna Green is famous in this regard. One can now access the records of marriages at Gretna Green on-line. I attempted to do that for Susan and John, my protaganists, but, alas, I was unable to find their names among the many who had eloped there over the years.

I thought about this for a while and then I realized that John Dean was reputed to be from Dundee. Why would he have gone to Gretna Green when he could have been married in the presence of his family in Scotland? Dundee is considerably farther to travel, but that is an opportunity for more adventure en route. It also makes it less likely that Susan’s parents will be able to capture her because they would have suspected Gretna Green as the destination just as I did at first.

So come along and follow Susan as she, continuing in her disguise as a man, shares the kinds of adventures with John that could only occur in Britain, a country at war with its American colonies.

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