Monday, May 11, 2020

Ten Miles of Travel to the Gretna Green

White Pigeon, Michigan - where William Tyler Bentley Larimer
married Elizabeth Stauffer on March 7, 1872
My husband's 2d great uncle, William Tyler Bentley Larimer (1850-1921) lived in Middlebury, Elkhart county, Indiana, at the time of his marriage. His wife, Elizabeth Stauffer (1852-1936), also lived in Middlebury. He was 22, she was 19, both of age to be married without parental consent on the day they were wed.

Yet the couple crossed from Indiana into Michigan to marry. Their wedding day was Thursday, March 7, 1872. On the marriage ledger, he listed his occupation as "rail road," and she said she was an "employee" (no firm or industry indicated).

William and Elizabeth ("Lizzie") were married in White Pigeon, Indiana, by a Minister of the Gospel, whose wife and another local lady were witnesses to the marriage.

Why travel away from their home town to get married?

Sure looks to me like they eloped. Looking at the map and doing a bit of historical research showed me why White Pigeon was their travel destination.

Getting to a Gretna Green

In the Midwest, Crown Point, Indiana was a popular Gretna Green because couples could obtain a marriage license and marry the same day. But Crown Point is 100 miles from Middlebury, where William and Lizzie lived. If they couldn't get married without waiting in Middlebury or anywhere in Elkhart county, it made sense to find another Gretna Green closer to home.

As the map above shows, Middlebury, Indiana, is south of White Pigeon, Michigan but not very far away. In fact, it's only 10 miles. Even if the would-be bride and groom began from Elkhart itself (far left of map), the distance to White Pigeon is just 21 miles.

A rail road runs through it

How did William and Lizzie travel to their chosen Gretna Green? A little research into transportation of the time uncovered that Elkhart, IN was situated along a major railroad line that led to White Pigeon, MI. It would be easy and convenient to hop a train, get married, and take the train home again in one day.

Another clue is the groom's occupation. In the 1870 Census, William was a clerk at the "rail road depot." His father was a "rail road station agent." Obviously William knew the rail lines well.

So my conclusion is that William and Lizzie were planning on getting married when they boarded a train from Elkhart, Indiana to White Pigeon, Michigan. I can't guess whether the newlyweds remained in White Pigeon or returned home the same day. I do know they were married for 49 years, until William died of heart trouble in 1921. Lizzie survived another 15 years.

UPDATE: Interesting family history twist: William and Lizzie's oldest child, born 14 months after the elopement, decided to elope by train to a Gretna Green in Michigan when he married on July 4, 1899.

This is my #52Ancestors post for the prompt "Travel."

1 comment:

  1. Love this story! My parents, both well over the age of consent, drove from Lexington, Missouri to Benton Co. Arkansas to get married in 1948. I never knew why. Thanks to your blog I am now thinking maybe they eloped!