Thursday, December 4, 2008

Weddings in the 1800's

Due to the number of weddings and funerals that happened along the trails, most Wagon Masters would not head west until a Vicar was procured to travel with the group. Out of necessity, Wagon Masters could perform these duties, but most didn’t relish the extra burdens. Often the Vicar or Circuit Preacher would return and travel with the next train west. Traveling preachers also provided many of the first trail stations or towns along the way with weddings or church services on a regular basis. The Circuit Preachers were also responsible for stopping at county seats or state capitols and filing all the deaths, births and marriages.

Even in towns, church weddings were rare in the early 1800’s. Usually the affair happened in the home of the bride or groom, or a family friend. Attendance was generally small, just a few relatives and friends. (This was true of funerals as well, and it was up to the family to prepare the body for burial. Usually more people attended funerals than weddings because a death meant the entire community had suffered a loss.) If needed small communities would assign one person to reside over weddings and funerals until a preacher traveled through and officiated the already performed ceremony by completing and filing the paperwork.

After their wedding, a newly married couple was expected to stay home for the next few days so others could call. The dress was something the bride could wear again or already had. It wasn’t until 1840 when Queen Victoria wed Prince Albert in an elaborate white, satin gown that the tradition of a white gown started to spread. However, the color and ability to keep it clean held the tradition at bay until the early 1900’s.

Here’s an old poem, published on many internet wedding sites, (I couldn’t find the date of its origin)… “Married in white, you will have chosen all right. Married in grey, you will go far away. Married in black, you will wish yourself back. Married in red, you’ll wish yourself dead. Married in blue, you will always be true. Married in pearl, you’ll live in a whirl. Married in green, ashamed to be seen, Married in yellow, ashamed of the fellow. Married in brown, you’ll live out of town. Married in pink, your spirits will sink.” (Perhaps it wasn’t Queen Victoria, but this poem that encouraged brides to wear white!)

There were a few traditions most weddings tried to uphold. The veil being one of them, it signified maidenhood, and therefore usually skipped by the bride for a second wedding. Often veils were passed down from generation to generation. The tradition of the wedding veil comes from the times of arranged marriages. The bride wore a veil so the groom couldn’t see his bride’s face until after the ceremony, assuring the man couldn’t back out once he saw his bride. Also, a law in 1775 forbid brides to wear any kind of make-up, assuring the groom wasn’t trapped by an ‘illusion’.

The cake was also important, it signified fertility and abundance, and it was generally a fruit cake—that is until baking powder and baking soda were invented, then a white cake became popular and the fruit cake became the groom’s cake, which was usually cut into pieces and sent home with the guest.

And the ring…It signified eternal love. The wedding ring dates back to 2800 B.C., this was the time of ‘ownership’ and the ring signified possession. The tradition the wedding band to be worn on the third finger of the left hand is because it was believed that finger has a vein that runs straight to the heart.

Church weddings grew in popularity throughout the 1800’s and by the turn of the century weddings, which included dances following the ceremony, became more popular, namely because when the couple was married in a church, more people could attend, therefore the event became a social gathering.

In my recent release, Shotgun Bride—The Quinter Brides Book One, Jessie Johnson and Kid Quinter are married, not by choice, in his mother’s kitchen. Here’s an excerpt…

The brothers scrambled out the door in such a flurry they left it wide open. Cool, night air filled the room. Jessie took a deep breath, hoping it would clear her confused mind and calm her jumbled nerves. Was she really married? That’s all it took- a few words from a preacher and a kiss on the cheek? She’d never dreamed of falling in love and living happily ever after, knew that wasn’t a reality in the harsh, vast land of the west, but she’d always held a slight longing of finding someone she could care for, some one who’d care for her as they fought to survive their lot in life.

“There’s no need for you to ride over to my place. It’s out of your way. I assure you, I’m not going to harm them,” Kid Quinter said.

The sheriff let out a low chuckle and walked across the room. “You must be forgetting how well I know you.” He tipped the brim of his wide hat her way then pulled the door shut as he walked out.

Blood pounded in her ears. She’d hoped Kid was the good brother, while Skeeter was the bad. But from what the sheriff implied, it appeared to be the other way around. Her gaze went to Russell. Eyes closed, his head rested on the back of the chair. He didn’t appear to be at all concerned for her welfare. Many times over the past ten years she’d felt alone, but she’d never felt as lonely as she did at this moment. Tears pricked at her eyes again. She tried to buck up, to face this new adversity with courage, but felt her shoulders droop, even valor had deserted her.

The door behind her flew open. Skeeter and Hog, or maybe it was Snake, the two looked a lot a like, walked in. “Ma, we’ll bring your chair back,” Skeeter said as they picked Kid up, chair and all, and carried him through the open door.

Stephanie Quinter walked over to the table. “You don’t have anything to worry about, sweetie, Kid will be good to you. He’s a good man, the best of the bunch.” The woman’s voice sounded soft and sincere.

Jessie didn’t know how to respond. He may be the best of the bunch, but it was a very rough bunch.

Available now at The Wild Rose Press


Judith Leger said...

Wonderful information, Lauri. Thanks for sharing.

The excerpt was excellent. Enjoyed reading it!

Celia Yeary said...

Lauri--this is a fantastic post, and I love stories about shotgun weddings. It's not a new topic, but an enduring one--I'd read every one.
Also, arranged marriages have always held a fascination.Do you remember the old movie WESTWARD THE WOMEN? It was slightly on the corny side--Robert Taylor, by the way--but if it ever is shown once more on AMC, I'll drop everything and watch it. Why? I have no idea. Just love it and the idea. Very nicely done--Celia

Paty Jager said...

Great information!

Awesome book!

Tanya Hanson said...

Awesome excerpt. And oh, I love weddings. Our daughter jus got engaged at Thanksgiving so we just started the delightful throes of planning one!

I just love arranged marriage/mail-order bride stories.

Ps. My online short story, His Christmas Angel, will be released December 15 sy TWRP. Watch for it!

Loretta said...

If I ever need research about pioneer brides, I'll certainly keep "Weddings in the 1800s" in mind. Excellent information.

Lauri said...

Thanks, Judith!

Celia, I'll have to look for that movie!

Thanks, Paty!

Congrats, Tanya. Enjoy the wedding plans! I had one son get married in 06 and another this year. My husband says, 'two down, one to go'!

Thanks, Loretta!

Happy writing all!

Linda LaRoque said...

Great post, Lauri and I love the sound of this book. I've read another excerpt and can't wait to read more.