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Pat Brown

Love Proctor. Talking “happily ever after” with Rockport Town Clerk Pat Brown. By Kiley Jacques

Pat Brown, Rockport’s town clerk, is a big part of the marriage process. She’s one of the first faces couples see when they’re ready to take the plunge, so she’s borne witness to her fair share of excitement, tears, and fears. Serving as Justice of the Peace means keeping an eye on community affairs, documenting memorable occasions, and storing a mighty history inside the old Town Hall.

What’s the historical role of town clerks in providing marriage certificates? Early town clerks were paid with the fees they collected. Some clerks in Massachusetts still keep a portion of the fees they collect. As keepers of records, town clerks would gather information, and sometimes it would take months for things to be recorded. Physicians were not as prevalent as they are today, and often births would be [documented] months after the event when parents or midwives would [report] the information. With marriages, couples had to file a marriage intention before they were issued a marriage certificate. Town clerks filed the intentions, issued the certificates, and were paid a fee for performing ceremonies as Justices of the Peace.

Any typical couples’ blunders? One of the major hang-ups [couples have] is which name they will use after marriage. I’ve seen people in tears at the counter, arguing over whether or not they will change their names. Also, in Rockport, there is a fee of $20 to file a marriage intention; I’ve had couples argue over who is going to pay the fee and others insist on splitting it.

How far back do the town of Rockport’s marriage records go? Rockport’s records date back to when it was incorporated, on February 27, 1840. Prior to that, records would have been kept in Gloucester. The first couple to file an intention was Mr. Robert Eaton and Miss Betsy Smith on March 11, 1840. They both lived in Rockport and the intention was published on March 15, 1840. They were married by Reverend Wakefield Gale (a graduate of Phillips Academy in Andover) on March 24, 1840.

Any advice for couples taking the plunge? One thing that couples are not aware of when they file a marriage intention is that there is a three-day waiting period between when an intention is filed and when a marriage certificate is issued.  There are also legal impediments to marriage in Massachusetts like “No man shall marry his mother, grandmother, granddaughter, sister, stepmother, grandfather’s wife, grandson’s wife, wife’s mother, wife’s grandmotherÂ…” [the list goes on!] town.rockport.ma.us