|Page from 1877 Baptismal Register|
Researching a population is harder than researching a family, at least in terms of the sheer volume of records. I needed a way to get a feel for the balance of legitimate vs. illegitimate births without making it a PhD dissertation or requiring a Government Grant. The FamilySearch.org Anglican baptismal registers provided me this opportunity.
In my post Religion in St. Croix 1841-1911 I showed that the Anglican church was the largest church on St Croix throughout the 19th century, and on into the 20th. The congregation was composed of a fair cross-section of the population, from plantation owners and merchants to servants and field slaves. The Anglican church is, and was, a mainstream church, fairly conservative in its doctrine. In terms of teachings, it occupies a space between Roman Catholic and the other large churches, Lutheran and Moravian. There is no reason to believe that either socially, economically, or dogmatically, the Anglican church should have a different view of marriage than the population as a whole. So, I judged the Anglican records as a reasonable sample for my analysis. (Keep in mind that I first noticed this tendency toward illegitimacy in Lutheran records and have seen the exact same tendency in both Roman Catholic and Moravian).
As I describe in Anglican Church Records at FamilySearch.org, the LDS website, http://www.FamilySearch.org, hosts a browsable, but not indexed, collection of St. John's Episcopal Anglican church baptismal registers from 1841-1934. St. John's was the Anglican (or English) church in Christiansted, and was the largest church of that time. With the exception of those from 1855-1867, these registers are fairly complete, intact, legible, and in English. I highlighted the state of the 1855-1867 registers in my previous post. The scans are excellent and the website is easy to navigate. Since I had planned to go through the registers to look for relatives line-by-line anyway, I took the opportunity to make a count of the legitimacy status of all the entries in the books.
Obviously, the easiest way to stratify the population is socio-economically. One can make a hypothesis that marriage was common with the white population and not common with the colored or slave (or former slave) population. Unfortunately, the records don't show race or free status, so I couldn't readily determine that. What they did show was residence. Residence gives me a little insight into the status.
In St Croix, there were (and are) two cities, Christiansted (or Bassin) and Frederiksted (or West End), and numerous plantations. From an analysis of the census records, about 24% lived in Christiansted, 16% in Frederiksted, and 60% of the population lived in the country. Population statistics show that the vast majority of plantation residents were from lower economic classes with a small number of more wealthy owners and estate managers. In the cities, it was more evenly distributed, with a smaller percentage of slaves and a larger merchant class as well as the elite government class and military.
Since the composition of city and country populations were obviously different, I tried to maintain separate counts according to whether the mothers were from the city or country. The focus on the mothers' residence as the differentiator was driven by the fact that while all children have a mother listed, they don't always list a father.
Unfortunately, the Anglican records don't list the legitimacy of the child (except in a very small number of cases), I have had to make assumptions regarding that. They don't have a column to indicate whether a couple was married. Married couples are typically listed as "John and Mary Smith", "John Smith & Mary (his wife)", or just "John Smith" & "Mary Smith". Since I was seeking to show that the number of unmarried couples having children was unusually high, I decided that it was best to err on the side of over counting married couples rather than unmarried. If the couple had different surnames, I counted them as Unmarried. If it appeared that they could have been married, I counted them as married. If no father was listed, I noted that separately, and considered that child illegitimate.
Using this criteria, I reviewed the entire set of Anglican records from 1841-1934, leaving out only the records from 1855-1866 as they were poorly preserved. I categorized each entry according to these types:
|Married City||Unmarried City||No Father City|
|Married Country||Unmarried Country||No Father Country|
The 1841-1848 registers did not list residence, so I only included them in the totals for married, unmarried, and no father. The results of the analysis were very interesting. Overall:
So less than 25% of the children baptized in the records were born to married parents. Compare this to 96% in the US in the same time period. When I break it down by location, we do see a difference in the incidence of legitimate births:
|Number in City||1278||1565||1465||4308|
|Percent in City||29.7%||36.3%||34.0%||100%|
|Number in Country||768||1075||2633||4476|
|Percent in Country||17.2%||24.0%||58.8%||100%|