The Pioneer Wedding


From History of the Early Settlement and Indian Wars of Western Virginia

 by Wills De Hass Chapter III (1773) Pages 99-102.

Published in Wheeling, VA, 1851.


Submitted by Barbara Blake Goddard.


“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 a little labor, and nothing else.


A description of a wedding from the beginning to the end, will serve to show the manners 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.


In the first years of the settlement of the 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.


On the morning of the wedding-day, the groom and his attendants assembled at the house of his father, for the purpose of reaching the home of his bride by noon, which was the usual time for celebrating the nuptials; and which for certain reasons 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, leggins, linsey hunting shirts, and all home made. The ladies dressed in linsey petticoats and linsey or linen bed gowns, coarse shoes, stockings, handkerchiefs, and buckskin gloves, if any. If there were any buckles, rings, buttons, or ruffles, they were the relics of olden times; family pieces from parents or grand parents. The horses were caparisoned with old saddles, old bridles or halters, and pack-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 horse-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 neighbors, by falling  trees, and tying grapes vines across the way. Sometimes and ambuscade was formed by the way side, 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 chivalrous 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.


The ceremony of the marriage preceded the dinner, which was a substantial back-woods 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 trenchers; a few pewter spoons, much battered about the edges, were to be seen at 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. Every man carried one of them.


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 setts, and jigs. The commencement was always a square four, which was followed by what was called jiging it off; that is, two of 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 to 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 to-morrow morning.’


About nine or ten 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 clapboards lying loose. 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, dresses and other articles of clothing, the candles being 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 placed 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, beef, pork and cabbage sent along, 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.


But to return. It often happened that some neighbors or relations, not being asked to the wedding, took offence; and the mode of revenge adopted by them on such occasions, was that of cutting off the manes, foretops, and tails of the horses of the wedding party.


On returning to the infare, the order of 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 were so exhausted with loss of sleep, that many 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 turn, would ask my reader, why are you so pleased with the histories 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 a state of society, and manners, which are fast vanishing from the memory of man, with a view to give the youth of  our country a knowledge of the advantages of civilization, and to give contentment to the aged, by preventing them from saying, ‘that former times were better than the present’.”