Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Jackson County Ante-Bellum Wedding

When nearly eighty years old, Mrs. Fannie Bryan Chapman wrote a series of articles for the Pensacola Journal newspaper recalling her youth and life in Jackson County.  Anyone who has read my book knows of my admiration for Mrs. Chapman.  In addition to her courage and talents, she was also a very charming writer, as evidenced by the following article dated Dec. 19, 1909.


By Mrs. Fannie Chapman, Marianna, Fla.

In compliance with a request of the editor of The Pensacola Journal for acontribution to that widely-read paper, I have decided on a sketch of country weddings many years ago when Jackson county was new.

In those days the population was dense in spots. The people of whom I shall write were mostly cultured citizens of older states and held to the customs of the communities from which they came. They were from well-to-do up to wealthy, but wealth created no class distinction among them. All were neighbors and friends. The homes were not palatial, but large and comfortable. Hospitality was of the most generous Bible type.

When there was a prospective wedding everyone was kindly interested, although engagements were often the French style-not made public. Something might transpire that the marriage was not consummated and no explanations would be necessary. I never knew an instance of failure, but our elders wished their girls to be kept on the safe side.

When the parents had sanctioned the engagement the preparations began. The pigs for barbecue, without which no southern banquet was considered complete, were at once selected and put in pens to fatten. The flock of turkeys and chickens and ducks received attention, no matter if the wedding was months off. Long engagements were not favorably considered, three or four months being thought quite long enough unless there was some reason for delay.

When the set time approached for the marriage preparations began in earnest. The bridesmaids were selected and invited to spend as much time of the intervening days at the home of the bride as was convenient. There were always from four to eight in number. The groom selected his attendant friends. There were no “best man” nor maids nor matrons of honor. All we knew of such maids was of those in queens’ palaces. A maid of honor at a wedding looks lonesome to me now, marching along behind the pairs of ladies and gentlemen. There was no “giving away of the bride”; her father and mother did that when they consented to the marriage. The cake-making took from a week to ten days. Invitations were issued by hundreds, and all written by hand. It would not have been considered at all complimentary to have used printed notes. Brides and their attendant ladles all wore white, but the maids were not confined to any particular style in the making. Gentlemen wore the regulation black broad--- coat and white vest.

When all things were in readiness, the house was opened to the coming guests. Upon the arrival of the bridesmaids they were ushered into the bride’s chamber, while the groom and his friends were taken to another. As soon as the girls had put on the last finishing touch to their own and the bride’s toilet, they went into the family sitting room and the gents were notified that the ladies were ready to receive them. The minister was placed in position in the parlor and the crowd divided to make an open way for the coming party. The pairs of attendants took their places to the right and left of the minister, the bridal pair advancing a step or two between the lines.

When the marriage ceremony that united them for life “till death us do part” was completed, congratulations were cordial and profuse. There was no wedding march, as there could not have been space enough in those large parlors for one to sit at a piano. The music came after- all along in the evening at intervals.

About eleven o’clock supper was announced. The bridal party led the way to the dining room-which might aptly be styled a banquet hall. The sight of one of those wedding supper tables would be a revelation to the present generation. There were pyramids of lighted candles, the only means of illuminating at that time; pyramids of the best of cake, at least two and a half feet high, decorated with icing in a manner that might well be the envy of noted confectioners; and cakes, fruit cakes, square cakes, big cakes, little cakes, layer cakes and every sort we know anything about or our neighbors could suggest; orange, apples, grapes, the finest of candies, among which was a good supply of the old-time kisses with a wish of some sort wrapped in the fancy paper. Ice cream was not among the delectable dainties, as ice could not be had, but the richest of syllabub and boiled custard instead of the cream. The meats were served from a side table, also hot coffee and tea. Dining rooms were twenty feet square-in fact, most of the rooms were of that size- and it may be imagined what a jolly crowd could do in such a room, and at such a table.

It took at least two hours with all the dispatch possible to get through with the supper for all the guests. As there were no trips abroad taken, the people stayed as late as they pleased, and it was often near the dawning of another day before the house was quiet. The attendants were expected to dine with the family next day, also any visitors who might be in the house when dinner was announced.

The receptions all came after the wedding and continued for a week. But few bridal presents were offered and these were not expected. The parents and near relatives were the donors of housekeeping goods and furnishings. After the complimentary parties and dinners were all over, the young couple went to their own home and settled down to their new life. Had it been the custom to give such numberless and costly presents in that far-away time, it would have been done. It comes in very nicely to have all the silver, cut glass, china and table linen provided by the friends of one’s youth, but such offerings would have been in very bad taste then.

While discussing this subject with a friend of long ago in the presence of one of her young daughters, the girl said such extravagance was a sinful waste of good material. Perhaps it was, but we and our friends enjoyed it and the retrospection is delightful now. I shall never see the like again. I wish I could one more time in my life.