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Marriage Counseling in 18th Century Woodbridge, New Jersey


It is not just modern marriages that have difficulties related to jealousies and other conflicts. While we might go to a marriage counselor, in 18th century Woodbridge, couples might be counseled by their local pastor and church elders. One such example is recorded in the Presbyterian Church records from Woodbridge, New Jersey.


Ashbel Freeman and his wife Anna Crane were seen for marital problems by a committee of the church in 1788. On May 13, 1788, Ashbel and Anna appeared before a committee consisting of pastor Azel Roe and six elders. First, Anna was allowed to fully voice her complaints against her husband and then Ashbel made his response. In short, it seemed that Anna thought that Ashbel was perhaps being in some way unfaithful and Ashbel believed that his wife’s jealousy was unreasonable and she behaved in other ways that made him most unhappy. The committee of elders “patiently heard both parties and after maturely considering all they heard are unanimously of the opinion that said Ashbel Freeman had in some instances said and acted imprudently and was therefore to be warned and admonished to be more careful and watchful as to his conduct.” At the same time, they thought Anna was “the most guilty, that her suspicions and jealousies were without foundation, that she has inflicted upon him to his great grief, without reason, that she ought to acknowledge her fault, ask his forgiveness, and return home to her family and husband, and live more as becomes a dutiful wife, until which she is hereby suspended from all privileges in this church.” So basically, seven men hear both sides of the story, side with the husband, and punish the wife. At the next church meeting, Anna declared her desire to return to her husband, “that she was now ready to comply with the judgment of the session, by making suitable acknowledgements to her husband for her past injurious treatment of him and asking his forgiveness.” And following exhortation from the elders to behave more like a godly woman, she was restored to the communion of the church.


Ashbel Freeman (1755-823) was the son of Sarah Tappan and Isaac Freeman. Anna Crane (1759-1792) was the daughter of John Crane and Huldah Grant. They had four daughters. After Anna’s death, Ashbel seems to have married Zereviah Freeman who was the daughter of his first cousin.


Click here to see the family group sheet for Ashbel and Anna:


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