Wednesday, May 05, 2010

May 1870: A Grand Tournament

The image of the old South as a society role playing the chivalrous world of a Sir Walter Scott novel is not entirely Hollywood myth. Riding skill competitions and feasts with fanciful medieval-like pageantry and ritual had been common in the South since the 1850s. In the post-war years, these events became even more popular. Jackson County held a particularly "grand tournament" in May 1870:

The field of play was set up midway between Marianna and Greenwood where a ring was suspended from an arch and a rostrum erected for the judges. In a nearby grove, a throne and dinner table were assembled. Captain Joseph Barnes of Greenwood commanded the band of twenty knights, dressed in "tasty and attractive costumes," who rode "their noble and beautifully caparisoned steeds with an ease and grace that challenged the admiration of all." John M. F. Erwin, serving as "Field Marshall," read the program and William D. Barnes addressed the audience. After tilting for the suspended ring, the champion, Robert Hearn, crowned Miss Lizzie Bryan the Queen of Love and Beauty. Other successful Knights chose four Maids of Honor. After a sumptuous dinner, the crowd returned to Marianna for a ball held across three large halls, and dancing lasted until dawn."

Such festivities must have been cathartic after the violence of the previous fall. Black citizens, however, did not attend, except for members of the "delightful band which discoursed sweet music the while." At least for a few hours, some Jackson County residents could pretend that nothing had changed.

This account is adapted from the forthcoming book, The Jackson County War.