Marriage Ceremony



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History of Washington County, Pennsylvania


Marriage Custom And Ceremony.

In connection with the church, I shall add a sketch of an oldfashioned wedding party, from the rare work of Rev. Dr. Dodridge, such as was practised by the first settlers. When neighborhoods became in some degree settled, and boys and girls had grown to manhood and womanhood, mutual love resulted in marriage, which was celebrated different from weddings of the present day. An eye-witness and a participant gives the following glowing description of a wedding day among our early settlers:— Iii the morning of the wedding day the groom and his attendants assembled at the house of his father for the purpose of reaching the mansion of his bride by noon, which was the usual time for celebrating the nuptials, which for certain must take place before dinner.

Imagine an assemblage of people, without a store, tailor, or mantua-maker within a hundred miles, and an assemblage of horses without a blacksmith or saddler within an equal distance. The gentlemen dressed in shoepacks, moccasons, leather breeches, leggings, linsey hunting shirts, and all home made. The ladies dressed in linsey petticoats and linsey or linen bed-gowns, coarse shoes, stockings, handkerchiefs, and buckskin gloves, if any. If there were any buckles, rings, buttons, or ruffles, they were the relics of old times, family pieces from parents or grandparents. The horses were caparisoned with old saddles, old bridles or halters, and pack-saddles, with a bag or blanket thrown over them. A rope or string as often constituted the girth as a piece of leather.

The march, in double file, was often interrupted by the narrowness and obstructions of our horse-paths, as they were called, for we had no roads, and these difficulties were often increased, sometimes by the good and sometimes by the ill-will of neighbors, by felling trees and tying grape-vines across the way. Sometimes an ambuscade was formed by the wayside, and an unexpected discharge of several guns took place, so as to cover the wedding party with smoke. Let the reader imagine the scene which followed this discharge, the sudden spring of the horses, the shrieks of the girls, and the chivalric bustle of their partners to save them from falling. Sometimes, in spite of all that could be done to prevent it, some were thrown to the ground. If a wrist, elbow, or ankle happened to be sprained, it was tied with a handkerchief, and little more was thought or said about it.

Another ceremony took place before the party reached the house of the bride. When the party were about a mile from the place of their destination, two young men would single out to run for the bottle of whiskey, the worse the path, the more logs, brush, and deep hollows, the better, as these obstacles afforded an opportunity for the greater display of intrepidity and horsemanship. The start was announced by an Indian yell, logs, brush, muddy hollows, hill and glen, were speedily passed by the rival ponies. The bottle was always filled for the occasion, so that there was no use for judges, for the first who reached the door was presented with the prize, with which he returned in triumph to the company. On approaching them, he announced his victory over his rival by a shrill whoop. At the head of the troop he gave the bottle first to the groom and his attendants, and then to each pair in succession to the rear of the line, giving each a dram, and then putting the bottle in the bosom of his hunting shirt, took his station in the company.

The ceremony of the marriage preceded the dinner, which was a substantial backwoods feast of beef, pork, fowls, and sometimes venison and bear meat, roasted and boiled, with plenty of potatoes, cabbage, and other vegetables. During the dinner, the greatest hilarity prevailed, although the table might be a large slab of timber hewed out with a broadaxe, supported by four sticks set in auger holes, and the furniture, some old pewter dishes and plates, the rest, wooden bowls and trenchers ; a few pewter spoons, much battered about the edges, were to be seen at some tables. The rest were made of horns. If knives were scarce, the deficiency was made up by the scalping knives, which were carried in sheaths, suspended to the belt of the hunting shirt.

After dinner the dancing commenced, and generally lasted till the next morning. The figures of the dancers were three and four handed reels or square sets and jigs. The commencement was always a square four, which was followed by what was called jigging it off, that is, two of the four would single out for a jig, and were followed by the remaining couple. The jigs were often accompanied with what was called "cutting out," that is, when either of the parties became tired of the dance, on intimation, the place was supplied by some one of the company without any interruption of the dance. In this way a dance was often continued till the musician was heartily tired of his situation. Towards the latter part of the night, if any of the company, through weariness, attempted to conceal themselves for the purpose of sleeping, they were hunted up, paraded on the floor, and the fiddler ordered to play "hang out till to-morrow morning."

About nine or ten o'clock a deputation of the young ladies stole off the bride and put her to bed. In doing this it frequently happened that they had to ascend a ladder instead of a pair of stairs, leading from the dining and ball-room to the loft, the floor of which was made of clapboards lying loose and without nails. This ascent one might think would put the bride and her attendants to the blnsh, but as the foot of the ladder was commonly behind the door (which was purposely opened for the occasion), and its rounds at the inner end were well hung with hunting shirts, petticoats, and other articles of clothing, the candles being on the opposite side of the house, the exit of the bride was noticed but by few. This done, a deputation of young men in like manner stole off the groom, and placed him snugly by the side of his bride. The dance still continues, and if seats happen to be scarce, which was often the case, every young man when not engaged in the dance was obliged to offer his lap as a seat for one of the girls, and the offer was sure to be accepted. In the midst of this hilarity, the bride and groom were not forgotten. Pretty late in the night some one would remind the company that the new couple must stand in need of some refreshments. Black Betty, which was the name of the bottle, was called for, and sent up the ladder. But sometimes black Betty did not go alone. I have many times seen as much bread, beef, pork, and cabbage sent along with her, as would afford a good meal for a half dozen hungry men. The young couple were compelled to eat and drink more or less, of whatever was offered them.

In the course of the festivity, if any wanted to help himself to a dram, and the young couple to a toast, he would call out, " Where is black Betty ? I want to kiss her sweet lips." Black Betty was soon handed to him, then holding her up in his right hand, he would say, " Here's health to the groom, not forgetting myself, and here's to the bride, thumping luck and big children." This, so far from being taken amiss, was considered as an expression of a very proper and friendly wish, for big children, especially sons, were of great importance ; every big son being considered as a young soldier.

It often happened that some neighbors or relations not being asked to the wedding took offence, and the mode of revenge adopted was that pf cutting off the manes, foretops, and tails of the horses of the wedding company.

On returning to the infare, the order of procession and race for black Betty was the same as before. The feasting and dancing often lasted for several days.