In her 1896 book Customs and Fashions in Old New England, Alice Morse Earle describes the dating ("love-making") habits of colonial Puritans, by opening with a quote from an Englishwoman:
"'On the South there is a small but pleasant Common, where the Gallants, a little before sunset, walk with their Marmalet-Madams till the nine o'clock bell rings them home to their respective habitations.'
This simple and quaint picture of youthful love in the soft summer twilight, at that ever beautiful trysting-place, gives an unwonted touch of sentiment to the austere daily life of colonial New England. The omnipotent Puritan law-giver, who meddled and interfered in every detail, small and great, of the public and private life of the citizen, could not leave untouched, in fancy free, these soberly promenading Puritan sweethearts."
The Puritan law-givers retained some power, however. As she continues:
"In 1672 Jonathan Coventry, of Plymouth town, was indicted for "making a motion of marriage" to Katharine Dudley without obtaining formal consent. The sensible reason for these courtship regulations was "to prevent young folk from intangling themselves by rash and inconsiderate contracts of maridge." The Governor of Plymouth colony, Thomas Prence, did not hesitate to drag his daughter's love affairs before the public, in 1660, by prosecuting Arthur Howland for "disorderly and unrighteously endeavouring to gain the affections of Mistress Elizabeth Prence." The unrighteous lover was fined £5."
But of course, love finds a way:
"Seven years later, patient Arthur, who would not "refrain and desist," was again fined the same amount; but love prevailed over law, and he triumphantly married his fair Elizabeth a few months later.
Earle concludes, however:
The marriage of a daughter with an unwelcome swain was also often prohibited by will, "not to suffer her to be circumvented and cast away upon a swaggering gentleman."