Home Arts and Leisure Cabbages and Biscuits: New England Superstitions About Choosing a Husband

Cabbages and Biscuits: New England Superstitions About Choosing a Husband


Choosing a husband or wife was as tough for old-time New Englanders as it is today. Fortunately, there were plenty of old New England superstitions about choosing a husband. The lovelorn could hang a cabbage over the door or put a piece of bone marrow in a buttonhole to move things along.

But if you’re looking for a mate, don’t take the last biscuit at the dinner table.

From the collection, What They Say in New England comes the following list of old methods and sayings New Englanders used to determine their true love, figure out if they are destined to marry soon or learn if, in fact, they will ever marry at all.

Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Mifflin by John Singleton Copley.

Choosing a Husband or Wife

  • The person who wishes to know whom he will marry may settle the question in the following manner: Roll up your stockings when you go to bed at night. Name them after girls, put them under your pillow and get into bed over the footboard, backwards. If you have a bedfellow, don’t speak a word to him after this. You will marry the girl you dream about after naming a stocking for her.
  • Keep track of the white horses you see, and count them up to 99. The next person of the opposite sex you shake hands with will be the one you are to marry. The modern girl, particularly if she lives in the city, has it that after counting the requisite number of white horses, she should note the first person who tips his hat to her. He is her fate.
  • On Halloween hang up a cabbage-stump over the door. You will marry the first person of the opposite sex who comes in the door.

Kids’ Stuff

  • Children sometimes try this to determine whom they like best. For a boy, he gets a companion to name two apple seeds. Then he takes the apple seeds, wets them, puts one on the upper lid of each eye and proceeds to wink as fast as he can. When one falls off, the companion tells him what girls he named the seeds for, and which was which. The seed that stayed on longest indicates the girl he loves best.
  • On the first night you sleep in a strange bed, name each of its four posts. If you dream about one of the four persons you named the posts after, you will marry that person. Unhappily, custom holds, the person who tries this frequently fails to dream of any one of the four, and, indeed, may not dream at all.
  • If by chance you tread on some one’s toes, you love that person.
  • Girls sometimes determine whom they will marry in this way. On each of 12 slips of paper the girl writes the name of some boy. These she puts in an envelope, and sleeps with them under her pillow. Each morning she draws one of the slips at random, and throws it away. The last one left names the one she will marry.

Finding Your Fate

  • Let a boy light a match, and burn it till a charred end drops. See which way the big end of this points, and that will show where his ”best girl” lives.
  • Light another match, and when one end is charred take hold of that end, and see if you can hold it without breaking till the flame eats clear through to the other end. If you can, it proves that your girl loves you. But if the match breaks in burning, your girl does not are for you.
  • Wear a bit of marrow in your button hole, if you are anxious to know whom you will marry. The first person of the opposite sex you meet afterward is your fate.
  • Put some apple-seeds on the stove. Get a friend to name them. The one that pops first reveals the person you love best.
  • When you go to a wedding, carry away with you a piece of the wedding-cake. Sleep with it under your pillow that night, and the person you dream of will be the one you are to marry.
  • The boy who dreams of the same girl three nights in succession may know that she is the one he is to marry.

Finding Out If You Will Marry Soon

  • If three of the same first name sit at table together, one of them will marry within a year.
  • If you sit on a table, it is a sign you will not be married for one year. Others say that this a sign that you want to get married.
  • If you braid your hair and accidentally leave out a little strand, it is a sign you will be married within a year.
  • If from three lamps set in a row some person unthinkingly takes one, that is a sign that person will marry within a year.
  • When, of an evening, three persons, one after another, come into a room and set a lamp down, it can be accepted as settled that the third person will marry within the year.
  • When a person’s nose bleeds, it is a sign that the person is lovesick.
  • When a girl trims pie-crust, and the trimming falls over her hand, it is a sign she is going to marry young.
  • If, when a young woman tries on a dress in the process of making, it is accidentally pinned to the clothing beneath, that is a sign she will marry soon.
  • The person who tips a chair over backwards will not marry that year.
  • When three of the same Christian name meet under the same roof, one of them will marry within the year.
  • If a girl has thirteen after-dinner coffee cups given to her within a twelve month, she will be engaged within the year following. To bring about this result the one who gave the first one must also present the thirteenth.

Choosing a Husband–Not

  • The girl who puts on a bridal veil and orange blossoms on any occasion but for her own wedding will never marry.
  • If a girl can comb and do up her hair neatly without looking in the glass, she won’t be an old maid.
  • A girl tickles another on the knee and says, Tickle, tickle on the knee, Laugh or smile, an old maid you’ll be. If a laugh or smile results, then both know the tickled one will be an old maid always. When this is tried on a boy, you have to insert the word bachelor in the place of maid in the rhyme.
  • The young woman loves cats will be an old maid. Likewise, if a girl likes cats better than dogs, that is a sign she will never marry.
  • A girl who finds a crooked pin should hasten to throw it away. If she saves it, she will be an old maid.
  • If a young man at the supper-table or at a party takes the last biscuit on a plate, he will be an old bachelor. The young woman who does this is likewise fated to live single.
  • Be careful to sweeten your coffee or tea before you put in the milk. The person who puts in milk first will be crossed in love.

This story about choosing a husband last updated in 2022.


Molly October 13, 2015 - 9:11 am

Loved this article!

Massachusetts’ Celery Bug Bill - New England Historical Society April 7, 2016 - 7:16 am

[…] to settle down for a more traditional life. Hopkins chose Massachusetts for his new home. But the old superstitions he had lived by at sea were of little use to him on dry land. He needed to find a new philosophy to […]

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