Tri-Counties Genealogy & History by Joyce M. Tice
Pioneer & Patriot Families by Heverly
Bradford County PA
Chemung County NY
Tioga County PA
Weddings When Our Country Was New

Pioneer and Patriot Families of Bradford County, Pennsylvania

By Clement F. Heverly

in Two Volumes

1913 & 1915

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The following is extracted from Clement F. Heverly, Pioneer and Patriot Families of Bradford County, 1770-1800, Vol. 1, Bradford Star Print, 1913
Weddings When Our Country Was New

The wedding event has always been a happy and merry-making affair. Looking back a hundred years it would seem that the wedding celebration was the novel gala occasion for fun and mischief in the neighborhood. It was, indeed, a "frolic," by which it was known. Some of the capers cut at the old-time weddings are thus described by a "participant" in the Bradford Porter of 1840:

"For a long time after the first settlement of this country, the inhabitants in general married young. There was no distinction of rank, and very little of fortune. On these accounts the first impression of love resulted in marriage: and a family establishment cost but little labor, and nothing else. A description of a wedding from the beginning to the end will serve to show the manner of our forefathers, and mark the grade of civilization which has succeeded to their rude state of society in the course of a few years.

"At an early period the practice of celebrating the marriage at the house of the bride began, and it would seem with great propriety. She also had the choice of the priest to perform the ceremony. In the first years of the settlement of this country a wedding engaged the attention of a whole neighborhood; and the frolic was anticipated by old and young with eager expectation. This is not to be wondered at when it is told that a wedding was almost the only gathering, which was not accompanied with the labor of reaping, log-rolling, building a cabin or planning some scout or campaign. In 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 certain must take place before dinner.

"Let the reader imagine an assemblage of people, without a store, tailor or mantuamaker within a hundred miles; and an assemblage of horses, without a blacksmith or saddler within an equal distance. The gentlemen dressed in shoe-packs, moccasins, leather breeches, leggings, linsey hunting shirts, and all homemade. The ladies dressed in linsey petticoats and linsey or linen bed gowns, coarse shoes, stockings and 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, 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 horses’ 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 the neighbors, by falling 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 commonly took place before the party reached the house of the bride, after the practice of making whisky began, which was at an early period. When the party were about a mile from the place of their destination, two young men would single out to run for the bottle; the worse the path, the more logs and deep hollows the better, as these obstacles afforded an opportunity for the greater display of intrepidity and horsemanship. The English fox chase, in point of danger to the riders and their horses, is nothing to this race for the bottle. 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 to 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 always prevailed, although the table might be a large slab of timber hewed out with a broad-axe, supported by four sticks set in auger holes; and the furniture, some old pewter dishes and plates; the rest wooden bowls and trenches, a few pewter spoons, much battered about the edges, were to be seen on 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 dances 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 or the four would single out for a jig, and were followed by the remaining couple. The jigs were often accompanied by 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. Toward 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 Tomorrow Morning.’

"About 9 or 10 o’clock a deputation of 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 clap boards lying loose and without nails. This ascent, one might think would put the bride and her attendants to the blush, 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 ends were well hung with hunting shirts, petticoats and other articles of clothing, the candles being put 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 place him snugly by the side of his bride.

"The dance still continued; and if seats happened 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 refreshment; 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, pork and cabbage sent along with her as would afford a good meal for half a 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 anyone 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 it up in his right hand, he would say, ‘here’s health to the groom, not forgetting himself; 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, as we were few in number, and engaged in perpetual hostility with the Indians, the end of which no one could foresee. Indeed, many of them seemed to suppose that war was the natural state of man, and therefore did not anticipate any conclusion of it; every big son was therefore considered as a young soldier. On returning to the infare, the order of the procession and the race for Black Betty was the same as before. The feasting and dancing often lasted several days, at the end of which the whole company was so exhausted with loss of sleep, that several days’ rest were requisite to fit them to return to their ordinary labors.

"Should I be asked, why I have presented this unpleasant portrait of the rude manners of our forefathers, I, in my turn, would ask my reader, why are you pleased with the history of the blood and carnage of battles? Why are you delighted with the fictions of poetry, the novel and romance? I have related truth, and only truth, strange as it may seem. I have depicted the state of society and manner, which are fast vanishing from the memory of man, with a view to give the youth of our country a knowledge of the advantage of civilization, and to give countenance to the aged, by preventing them from saying ‘that former times were better than the present.’"

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