“Sale” Fairs — Crops and Sometimes Fair Damsels

 “Sale” Fairs — Crops and Sometimes Fair Damsels


Sale Fairs were a huge rural feature. One of the old time customs of holding fairs every spring and fall was for the disposal of farm produce and other merchandise. They were,  the old timers say, the occasion of lively gatherings and shared with political meetings, camp meetings, etc, the opportunity for early settlers to meet in social converse and exchange greetings, as well as dispose of their wares and maybe wives.
Fairs of 1851 
Among the fairs established in 1851 were those located at:
South March. Cross Roads lot 8 con. 6 Huntley
Sand Point
Pakenham and Fitzroy Harbor
In 1852 Lot 13 con. 8  Renfrew Co Village of Ramsay township of Ramsay; and the village of Ross.
Renfrew co. were established as market centres.
You can also read: The Country Fairs 1879

Between the late eighteenth and the mid-nineteenth century there was a strange and fascinating custom called wife-selling. During this period there wasn’t a year without a newspaper report of a court case involving the sale of a wife. Between 1780 and 1850, around 300 wives were sold in England.

In Lanark County and surrounding area a few men did not think their wives worked hard enough, or were tiresome, and exchanged or bartered them at the local fairs or in private.  Since the sheriffs were in charge of these events, they were either done in secret or they looked the other way. I wrote a story about a woman and her children in Drummond who was sold by her husband to the neighbour and I can’t find it. The woman ended up being happier with her neighbour as her previous husband had been a piece of work. It is bad enough trying to trace folks with wives dying early from childbirth and the widower remarrying 3 or 4 times, but this gets to be a tad confusing.

The first divorce was established in 1857 and before that it was very difficult and costly to dissolve a marriage. The average man could not afford an annulment and the only alternative to divorce was to separate through the process of a public sale. In poor districts, a wife was considered a chattel to be bought and sold like any other commodity.

The husband would take his wife to the marketplace or cattle auction in England and register his wife as a good of sale and a rope was placed around her neck, waist or wrist, and they were made to stand on an auction block.

It was an illegal practice but also the only alternative for the average man and the authorities turned a blind eye to it. In most 18th- and early 19th-century sales, the woman usually was sold in a cattle market. Payment often was based on her weight.

There was one wife who turned the tables on her spouse by suggesting she would sell better in a different town. She then had him shanghaied for a long cruise, leaving her with their home and possessions. Feminists who opposed the practice often used stones and weighted socks to disrupt some sales. They actually caused one auctioneer to seek protection.

When the deal was done they would go to the local tavern to celebrate the successful transaction. Almost every single wife went on sale or to an auction of her own volition and held a veto over where she went next. In many cases, the sale would be announced in advance in a local newspaper and the purchaser was arranged in advance. The sale was just a form of symbolic separation.

Have you read?

Should I Stay or Should I Go?–A Tall Lanark County Tale about Wives, Cattle and Tomfoolery


 - WIFE SELLING Still a Rude Commercial Form in...

Clipped from

  1. Messenger-Inquirer,
  2. 30 Dec 1903, Wed,
  3. Page 5 - Wheat Wlvks Wer Sold. A century or to ago wife...


    A Smith’s Falls “Frustrated Young Love’s Dream” Purdy vs Lenahan

  4. Sixteen Wives– What Do You Get? Another Day Older and Deeper in Debt

  5. I’m so Sick of that Same Old Love — Bigamous Relations in Lanark County

    James Watson– Bigamy and Shoes

    A Smith’s Falls “Frustrated Young Love’s Dream” Purdy vs Lenahan

    She Came Back! A Ghost Divorce Story

    One Night in Almonte or Was it Carleton Place?

    Bigamists? How About the Much Married Woman? One for the Murdoch Mystery Files

    Bigamy–The Story of Ken and Anne and Debby and Cathy and…

About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

One response »

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s