Primus Tyler was a slave, bought by the Quakers and freed. You can read the whole story on Lisa Henderson’s blog, Fourth Generation Inclusive.
I’ve excerpted a piece here from a letter where Primus describes the marriage customs of an earlier time. Ever wonder why you can’t find your ancestor’s marriage – these types of customs might be the reason. Those enslaved couldn’t marry legally, and those in a mixed race marginalized community probably couldn’t afford the price of the license, if they were allowed to marry. Interracial marriage was prohibited. Native people often fell between the cracks and had their own customs, none of which involved going to the courthouse and obtaining a license.
Catlin Station Ind. Mar 24th 1869
Mr Harlan Hamlin, Indianapolis
Dear Sir, Inclosed you will please find a bill of sale conveying me from Elizabeth Edwards of North Carolina to James Siler of Indiana and on the same bill under the hand of the said Siler is a writing relinquishing all claims and demands on me to Elizabeth Tyler my wife showing conclusively that the facts was known & recognized by those of that day familiar with the class. With regard to living witness I don’t suppose I can produce any from they being advanced in age. I have outlived all those that was present at the time I was married according to the manor and custome of such persons in the old times and old Country which was simply to prepare a supper invite in the friends and at the proper time the groom & bride took their places at the ends of the table facing each other after supper the parties was considered duly married and was recognized by the law when not conflicting with the interest of the masters.
/s/ Primus Tyler
I love the simplicity and imagery of this…..at the ends of the table facing each other with invited friends at a supper. The friends are the witnesses of this agreement between two people. There is nothing written….what beauty, in its way.