Elegant Funerals in the Old Days

Jeannette Holland Austin
2 min readAug 5, 2022

Funerals during the 17th century had a special flare to be remembered! Here are a few things which have been forgotten.

  1. People wore a plain funeral ring.
  2. People wore a pair of white gloves.
  3. All family members observed the one-year mourning period.
  4. The widow wore black mourning clothes for a year.
  5. It was customary for someone to sit up all night with the deceased.
  6. Pennies were placed upon the eyes as a custom, however, rats were an issue.
  7. Sometimes, the old wills contain interesting bequests regarding the funeral.
  8. Reading all of the probate records concerning an estate discloses a great deal of personal information about the deceased person and the close relatives.
  9. When a widow remarried, it usually involved a Marriage Contract (Prenuptial Agreement). The reason is because her children by the first marriage had certain entitlements. Such agreements are personally informative, and the genealogist should search for such an instrument in the deed records.

Funeral gifts and other interesting family relics were mentioned in last wills and testaments and passed down to relatives.

A remarriage was fairly certain, especially if there was property, or children.

In the colonies, there was a rather important need for women to replace those who died in childbirth and from fevers. Also, there were often small children who needed raising, and, believe it or not, it was not unusual for the wife to “select” her husband’s next spouse. This explains the frequency of marriages to sisters and cousins of the same families.

Generally, if a woman lost her husband, she had several suitors at her door the next day to compete against one another. Especially if the deceased left considerable property. After all, the estate left by her deceased husband consisted of the plantation and other resources valuable to the community. All of the work and expense going into the homeplace was not to be lost!

The early settlement of the wilderness country of the colonies was a brave decision. Not only was their disease, but unfriendly natives went out of the white European settlements with hatchets.

In 1622, for example, in Virginia, Chief Powhatan set out to slaughter every person in the colony. It was a great tragedy that called for widowers to return to old neighborhoods in England to find new wives. (Only about 500 people survived this slaughter).

Funerals were a solemnly respected which all of the neighbors generally attended.

Jeannette Holland Austin

Author of 100+ genealogy books. Owner of 8 genealogy websites available by subscription. https://georgiapioneers.com/subscribe/subscribe.html