Did Shotgun Weddings Really Happen?

The phrase "shotgun wedding" is defined as a coerced union between two partners that typically happens when the woman is pregnant. It originated in the 1800s when fathers of women pregnant out of wedlock used guns to threaten the baby's father to take responsibility. According to Wise Geek, it is said that the fathers of the bride brought their shotguns to the altar to ensure that the man would push forward with the wedding.

Being pregnant and unwed was frowned upon back then, and some still stand by that belief to this day. Unwed mothers were shunned, and to save face, some hid their pregnancies while others resorted to shotgun weddings. Apart from restoring the reputation of a pregnant woman, shotgun weddings also had other advantages. As noted by The Philadelphia Tribune, it ensured financial stability for both the mother and child. The concept of a shotgun wedding is real, but were real firearms really involved?

Reported instances of shotgun weddings

It is true that some men need a little bit of convincing to marry a woman they got pregnant, but back then, did fathers really have to resort to extreme measures to ensure the wedding took place? Some believe the use of firearms is an exaggeration, but according to Word Histories, there were articles from publications that prove that shotguns really were brought to weddings.

An article from The Cincinnati Enquirer titled "Pistol Persuasion" dated April 15, 1872, detailed the shotgun wedding between William Fowble and Mary Olhausen. Fowble filed for divorce after saying that he was forced by Olhausen's father and uncle to marry the woman. According to his account, the father and uncle fetched him from his home and threatened to shoot him if he refused to marry Olhausen. He only agreed as the muzzle of a gun was directed at him.

Another story, this time from The Telegraph dated August 21, 1883, recounted how a well-off farmer by the name of George Maynor gathered a few of his relatives to coerce a doctor named F.F. Roberts, who he believed seduced his daughter, to marry her. Maynor secured a marriage license and used shotguns and pistols to keep Roberts on his property. However, the doctor was able to leave, and it isn't known whether the marriage took place.

Shotgun weddings today

As views about women being pregnant out of wedlock changed over the years, the rate of shotgun weddings dwindled. According to a 2016 article from Yale University, the number of children born out of wedlock has increased since the 1960s. For instance, in 1964, less than 10% of children were born out of wedlock and in 2008, the number increased to 40%. From then, the rate remained pretty much the same until 2020 (via Statista).

Shotgun weddings still occur today, but not in the way they happened back then. Literal shotgun weddings are a thing of the past, and the term "shotgun wedding" has taken a figurative meaning today. Many couples choose to wed after getting pregnant to legitimize the child's birth. And when it does happen, it's usually because both parties think it's the right course to take. Others, however, choose to raise the child together while remaining unmarried.