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A Pioneer Wedding


Taken from History of Kanawha County, George W Atkinson, Charleston, WV, 1876.

Every nation has its customs, and every age has its peculiar whims of fashion, dress and style. The wealthy citizens of the great cities kill the "fatted calf," wine flows freely, and they have grand balls, and bridal tours which, in many cases, "take in" all places of note and importance in both hemispheres; but the poorer classes, of course, can not indulge in such extravagence when their sons and daughters are united in holy wedlock. It is their custom, however, to have all the fun they can on such occasions, and they seldom fail to enjoy themselves hugely.

It is my purpose, in this chapter, to give a pen picture, as best I can, of a wedding on the Kanawha before Charleston was a city, and before you and I were born.

The parson lived fully eighty miles away. Mountains, creeks, and rivers intervened. The wind blew gale, and the snow fell thick and fast. The messenger called at his cabin and informed him of his mission. The parson hesitated, but the messenger told him that he must not falter; that there was no other minister nearer than Hacker's Lick; that the young couple were bent upon a marital union, and would, of course, listen to no excuse; that the entire settlement were preparing for the occasion, and the hearts of many would bleed if he disappointed them. The old parson, who had ridden thousands of miles, through rain and ice, to meet his appointments as an itinerant minister of the Gospel, and had never failed, while in health, to be on time, after a lengthy consultation with his wife, at last consented to go. He saddled his horses, and in the company with the guide, and his wife, who always accompanied him upon such occasions, they started westward to the settlement on the Kanawha.

Passing over the adventures and the suffering which were then consequent upon a ride of eighty miles through a trackless wilderness, I find them at the settlement the evening before the day appointed for the marriage. The parson was the first minister who had ever left a foot-print in the sands of this frontier settlement, and there was no little excitement over his arrival. They rode up to the door of the parents of the young lady who was to be united in marriage, and their presence was announced by a number of little tow headed urchins, from a fifteen or twenty pounder in size up to a round hundred or more avoirdupois, in the following fearless and undismayed manner:

"Mother! mother! hyur's the circuit rider and his wife, and they're nothin' but people like us, either. He's a big fat man like Uncle Bill, and she's big too, and has got a black straw hat with a turkey tail all along the side on it! Oh Kate, you out to jist see his nose. It's longer nor Uncle John's and as crooked as the gourd handle, and turns down at the eend like pap's off ox's horn, that one what ain't broke off, you know!"

"Hush! children, hush! shouted a womanly voice from the rear shed of the cabin, "keep quiet now and behave yourselves like good boys and girls. Billy, you take "Watch" and hiss him on the black Spring rooster, but don't make much noice. Nance, you quit rockin' the baby and sweept the dirt off'n the ha'th. Jane, you quit churnin' and drive out that good-for-nothin' dog. Jim, shove that shoe bench under the bed, and wipe the water off'n them cheers for the preacher and his woman to set on, and don't fool about it neither. Be quick! handle yourself!"

By the time the matron had reached the front door, and opening it, confronted the parson and his wife.

"Come in," she said, "and make yourselves at home. We ain't very well fixed for keepin' company, but you are welcome to the best we've got. Come in. Set up to the fire. Most froze, aint' you? I know you are. The old man, he's up the holler feedin' the hogs and waterin' the calves, but he'll be along presently, and will put up your horses. We've got plenty sich as it is, and you're welcome to it. Now make yourselves at home," and she left the room.

In a short time she returned, dressed in another gown, and wiping the perspiration from her face with a tow-linen apron, continued:

"Well, parson, we've hearn of you afore, but its the fust time any of us ever seed you in these parts; and this is your woman? I'm reel glad to see her, too," and she gave her another shake of the hand. "We was afeerd she wouldn't come, as it was so fur and so cold and rought. You must excuse my looks, I hain't had no time to comb my head since yisterday mornin'. Work, you know, must be done fust, and fixin' up arterwards, 'specially when there's a weddin' on hands. Shoo, there! Sammy, drive them ducks out'n the kitchen. Sall, you take the woman's fixin's and hang 'em on the rack. Set right up to the fire and warm yourselves, and make yourselves feel as though you was jist right at home. We done keer for style down hyur. We're plain home people." The old lady then subsided, and the parson and his good wife had a moment's rest.

By this time, the barking of the dog and the yells of the boys, evinced the fact that there was a serious time among the chickens. The "black rooster" had been executed in short order, and his bulky carcass was thrown lifeless on the kitchen floor. Sally picked him up and dropped him into a large kettle of boiling water, and proceeded to remove his feathers instanter. The disturbance in the poultry yard gradually quieted down, until not even the musical quacking of an independent duck could be heard; and in a few minutes later the old fat hound who had taken an innocent part in the chase, had fallen asleep in the corner, and was beginning to enjoy his systematic snoring, when the front door opened and two or three tow-headed boys entered, and, before they could close the door, a large cur pushed his shaggy form into the room and made a direct drive for the fire. The matron observed the presence of the intruder, reached for the poker and "went for him." "Watch" howled piteously and struck a "bee line" for the kitchen, and as he had no time to work his rudder or measure distances, he ran into the churn, upsetting it; and bearing slightly to the north-east, he collided with the kettle of scalded rooster, and in like manner turned it in promiscuous order upon the puncheon floor. At this juncture the situation was somewhat serious in the pioneer household. The preacher had been an eye witness to the unfortunate occurrence, and that was what was the matter. If it had only been kept from his ministerial gaze no one would have cared. Well, it was no use to "cry over spilt milk," so the matron came promptly to the rescue.

"Get the wooden ladle, Nan, and dip up the milk, and don't scrape no dirt up neither. Keep the scrapin's for the pig. Be nice about it, daughter, because the preacher hyur, and we read in the good book that 'cleanliness is next to Godliness,' and besides, you are to be spiced up to-morrow. Kill that dog if he sticks his head inside this house ag'in. Keep the children out of mischief, and hurry on the supper, for I know that the parson and his woman are well nigh starved, as they hain't had nothin' to eat since they crossed Sewell mountain early this mornin'. Push things, Nancy, and show 'em you're the smartest gal in the settlement, 'kase I know you are."

"Oh mother, please shut up. I'll do everything right, and more, too," said the unpretentious bride elect.

Well, supper came, and, although very hungry, the parson and his wife partook of that meal cautiously and thoughtfully. They had witnessed some things on that evening in the culinary department of that household which had a tendence to weaken the demands of the inner man; and yet nothing extraordinary at all had transpired. Customs vary in every locality. The parson, though an old itinerant minister, had not yet fully completed his education. He had not yet fully mastered the field of the itinerancy, or the simple fact of the upsetting of the churn would not in the least have troubled his appetite. "A man in Rome should do as Romans do," but our parson and his wife had not quite attained to that degree of perfection in the study of human peculiarities which would enable them to put this principle into practice. Had the demands of the inner man been less exacting, in all probability no supper would have been eaten by the parson and his wife that night. They ate, however, and ate heartily.

Night came, and the parson, being weary, after reading the scriptures, singing, and praying, desired to retire. One of the boys lighted a pinetorch, and bidding the parties to follow, started for the second story of the cabin by means of a step-ladder in the chimney corner. The parson hesitated, but in response to the cries of "come on," he went, followed by his wife. Saying nothing of the bruised forehead, which he received by colliding with a girder of the building, and a narrow escape from a fall to the room below, occasioned by the giving way of one of the boards in the floor, they succeeded in laying themselves down to rest in a raccoonskin bed with straw underneath. Five of the family slept in the same room, and all of them snored as musically as the low, hoarse rattle that emanates from the throttle of a rusty steam-valve. The parson dreamed, slept, prayed and listened, in about the order named, and how he longed for the dawn of day!

Morning came, and they arose. The wind was calm, and the sun smiled upon the grand hills which surrounded this pioneer home. Nature was rejoicing, and so were the family, for it was now but a few hours until the oldest daughter and sister to be united in wedlock with a young man of the neighborhood, whose rifle never missed fire, and who had never lowered his arm in a contest with the savages.

The hour for the marriage had arrived. The crowd had assembled. The bride was attired in a flannel gown striped with red and blue, and around her shoulders was neatly thrown a white, blue, and red woolen scarf, knit from mountain-spun yarn. She was elegantly dressed, and was fresh as a morning-glory and white as a lilly. She was the symbol of beauty and elegance. Her hair was fixed up a la frontiere, with rooster feathers through and through. She was a fresh-blown rose from the mountains of the Great Kanawha.

The bridesgroom came at an early hour. He was dressed in buckskin pants, calf-skin vest, tanned with the hair on, and wore a blue jeans hunting-shirt and beaded moccasins. He was a stalwart young man. His shoulders were broad, and his chest was full and rounded. He was fleet of foot, and when he pulled the trigger on his rifle something always fell.

The house was filled, a score of more stood outside the doors and windows, and all were anxiously waiting for the old parson "to tie the knot." The bridegroom took his position on the floor, and called to Nancy to come on. She was in the back shed of the cabin, and failed to respond to the call of her lover. He called again, and still she refused to come to time. The old gentleman, however, soon brought her to the front, and the parson began the ceremony; and when he reached the place where the question is asked, "if any person can show any just cause why this couple should not be joined together, etc., let him now speak, or else hereafter forever hold his peace," there was a pause. The silence was profound. "Twas as the general pulse of life stood still."

But the silence was soon broken. A tall good-looking man over in the farm corner, in a very excited tone, exclaimed"
"I have an objection!"
The parson asked him to state his objection.
He replied: "Sir, I want her myself!"

The parson decided that his point was not well taken, and proceeded with the ceremony. After he had gone through it, and pronounced them man and wife, he ordered the young man to salute his bride, and her to salute her husband, which they did with an earnest embrace and a hearty kiss. Then followed the congratulations of the crowd, who approached the couple, one by one, shook hands with both of them, and, men and women, kissed the bride; after which, in like order, they withdrew from the building.

The parson, after a breakfast of bear meat, venison, corn-cake, and hominy, received for his services a promiscuous package of all kinds of fur skins, wrapped neatly around several pounds of tobacco, which was not only considered a luxury, but in those days was a legal tender also. The old parson and his wife took their trophies and left for their home beyond the Sewells, and the party, led by the newly married couple, went to dancing, which they kept up, without intermission, for three days and nights.

The foregoing description of a frontier marriage will not apply, altogether, to every family of that day, but on the whole it is not overdrawn or exagerated. Times and styles change as well as men, and a rehearsal of old history often appears quite ridiculous and unreasonable, yet such things have literally occurred. I was not present at the wedding described, not was any one who is now living, but tradition has given us a well preserved record of how people were married a hundred years ago in this beautiful Valley, which was then seldom transversed by any other than a savage race, and it is my privilege and pleasure to put it in print and hand it down to posterity.


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