Probert also points out that the word broomstick was used in the mid-18th century in several contexts to mean ‘something ersatz, or lacking the authority its true equivalent might possess.’ She therefore argues that because the expression broomstick marriage, meaning 'sham marriage', was in circulation, folk etymology led to a belief that people must actually have once signified irregular marriage by jumping over a broom. Parry, Associate Professor of African American Studies, contests the claim that no literal jump was used in Britain, arguing that enslaved people of African descent and British migrants engaged in numerous cultural exchanges during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Some also began to use the phrase to refer to non-marital unions: a man interviewed in Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor admitted: "I never had a wife, but I have had two or three broomstick matches, though they never turned out happy." Charles Dickens' novel, Great Expectations (first published in serial form in the publication All the Year Round from 1 December 1860 to August 1861), contains a reference in chapter 48 to a couple having been married "over the broomstick." The ceremony is not portrayed, but the reference indicates that the readers would have recognized this as referring to an informal, not a legally valid, agreement.
Its revival in 20th century African American culture is due to the novel and miniseries Roots (1976, 1977).
Dundes (1996) notes the unusual development of how "a custom which slaves were forced to observe by their white masters has been revived a century later by African Americans as a treasured tradition".
Enslaved people who mentioned Slave-owners were faced with a dilemma regarding committed relationships between slaves.
While some family stability might be desirable as helping to keep slaves tractable and pacified, anything approaching a legal marriage was not.