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Beyond Penn's Treaty

Sketch of the Manners, Customs, Religion and Government of the Seneca Indians in 1800

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It is also common to present her or her father with some kind of
trinkets or merchandise to the value of several dollars. If his proposal
of marriage is not accepted, a negative is put upon it by returning the
present, but if, after some days consideration, it is satisfactory to the
young woman and parties concerned, her mother or sister accompanies
her to the young man's home, and presents her to him. The mother
or sister then withdraws, and she stays with her proposed husband.
They appear apparently shy of each other, and now perhaps their in-
timacy and knowledge of each other's qualifications are only commenc-
ing. No ideas of state and grandeur - no homage of wealth - no pride
of house or furniture are sought for, on these occasions. The man
having signalized himself by feats of hunting, and the woman by her
industry in the culture of corn and vegetables, are the criteria and
summit to which their wishes aspire. As the season for planting, tend-
ing, and gathering corn, procuring firewood, &c. come on, the female
connexions of the young woman assist her in the different operations
during the first year, at the end of which, without any other ceremony,
the nuptial tie is consummated and considered valid and honourable.
They sometimes, however, take a shorter way for it, and too commonly
part again on small disagreements. Although they appear to be natu-
rally lively in their dispositions, and well calculated for social inter-
course, yet the different sexes are very jealous, and apparently shy of
each other, so that it is rare to see a man and woman, even of the same
tribe, conversing together without witnesses. And when a woman has
occasion to go from home, it is accounted honourable to take with her
one or more children to testify, if needful, that she has been orderly.
There are too many proofs, however, that this is only a pretended shy-
ness, yet being sanctioned, and established by custom, it is productive
of serious evils, by putting a negative on an open, friendly acquaint-
ance of the sexes, with each other, the natural tendency whereof would
be, the mutual improvement of their minds, and furnish a knowledge
of each other's qualifications, which in many instances would produce
undesigned and permanent attachments. Whereas they frequently
marry without real affection, without a knowledge of each other's dis-
positions, and before the judgment is ripe for such a choice; the con-
sequence of which is that separations often take place - so that there
are many instances among them, of men who have turned off several
wives, and of women who have discarded as many husbands. These
on both sides marry again (in a clandestine way) to others, and in some
instances change back again, and thus what ought to be esteemed the
most important connexion in life, is lightly formed and dissolved, and
shifted about in a manner unknown among any people rightly civilized.

When such separations take place, the mother generally takes the