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A husband might sell his wife and then go to court seeking compensation for the new man's adultery with the wife.
Sometimes, a wife was sold by a husband to a new husband as a means of divorce, in which case sometimes the wife was able to choose who would be her new husband, provided she chose within a certain time period, and especially if the wife was young and sexually attractive.
In some societies, the wife could buy her own way out of a marriage or either spouse could have initiated this form of divorce.
The English custom of wife selling spread to Wales, Scotland, Australia, According to Morris, "although the administration of the law was in a somewhat unsettled state during this ["British"] military occupation [of Charleston], neither at common law nor under the marriage laws then in force in South Carolina would the sale of a wife have been valid". Also according to Howard, as published in 1904, "among the California Yurok 'divorce is very easily accomplished at the will of the husband, the only indispensable formality being that he must receive back from his father-in-law the money which he paid for his spouse.' In the late 17th–mid 18th centuries, among some Indian tribes of the Pacific Northwest, according to Elsie Frances Dennis, two Indians of unspecified tribe or tribes had been killed and "the widow and two daughters of one were wailing, for they were to be sold as slaves." According to W. had sold his wife 'down the river.' It was a source of constant grief for him....
When he had $200, he intended to return to Virginia and find his people." here, he [unspecified who] sold my mother to New Orleans, leaving my father at home.' ....
The English custom of wife selling largely began in the late 17th century when divorce was a practical impossibility for all but the very wealthy. A person of pure Caucasian stock from the Southern States came to Toronto, wooed and won her.
In the ritualized form, after parading his wife with a halter around her neck, arm, or waist, a husband would publicly auction her to the highest bidder. They were married and the husband took his bride to his home in the South.
Her master moved to Alabama, and died ..., leaving behind unpaid bills and seven slaves, all of whom a sheriff sold, save for her father", according to Daniel Meaders. Cooke) that "his master sold his wife and children to a cotton planter in Alabama to pay his gambling debts, and when he told his master he couldn't stand it, he was tied to the whipping post stripped and given 40 lashes. The bloodhounds were put on his track and caught him ....
This happened in sight of Nashville, the capital of Tennessee.
Some societies specifically forbade wife sales, even imposing death upon husbands violating the law, but a legal proscription was sometimes avoided or evaded, such as by arranging an adoption with a payment and an outcome similar to that of a sale.
A society might tax or fine a wife sale without banning it.
A wife could also be treated as revenue and seized by the local government because a man had died leaving no heirs.