Courtship and Marriage in Early Kentucky
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Attending church had other merits to the young gallants of long ago than vigorous preaching. It was quite the thing if a young man had the means to escort his lady to church on horse back. The less fortunate walked and then ” went home ” with his girl after services. On such occasions it was no uncommon thing after getting out of sight of the church for the young lady to remove her morocco slippers and fine stockings and walk home with her escort barefooted. If Kennedy is to be trusted ” the general custom was to see your sweet-heart at night, take your seat by her and embrace her in your arms, with many kisses, sometimes reciprocated; take her on your lap, with your arms wound around each other in all innocence and virtue.” In describing an instance, when with a friend he put this theory in practice, Kennedy relates the story as follows: ” Well, Henry took his girl to one corner and I the other one in the remote opposite corner. We sat down as close as we could, and Henry laid off his fine beaver (which cost $12) carefully in the corner near the wall, and happened to set it very plumb in the skillet in which they had fried meat for supper. It was quite dark in the house, the little fire had gone out, so we enjoyed ourselves until the small hours of the night. I proposed that we leave, and Henry, seizing his hat by the brim, raised with it the skillet and all. The gravy, a half inch deep, had cooled enough to stick tight. He soon discovered the situation, and the poor girls were greatly mortified. They got a little stump of a tallow dip, and with a case knife we scraped it all we could. We were not in the habit of swearing, but Henry said he could not do the subject justice without some profanity.”
The early settlers generally married young. There was no distinction of rank and but little of fortune; a bachelor was a helpless body as a pioneer, and a family establishment cost little more than labor to provide. These early weddings were picturesque affairs, as described by one who witnessed many of them. ” In the morning of the wedding-day the groom and his attendants assembled at the house of his father for the purpose of proceeding to the home of his bride, which it was desirable to reach by noon, the usual time of celebrating the nuptials, which ceremony must at all events take place before dinner. On approaching within a mile of the house two young men would single out to run for the bottle, which, well filled with whisky, was in waiting for the successful competitor at the end of the race. The more difficult the path the better, as obstacles afforded an opportunity for the greater display of intrepidity. Returning to the company the victor distributed the contents to the company. After the marriage ceremony the whole company proceeded to dinner, which consisted of beef, pork, fowls, game and vegetables. After dinner the dancing began, which continued until late at night or till morning. About 9 or 10 o’clock a deputation of ladies stole off the bride and put her to bed. This done, a deputation of young men in like manner led off the groom and placed him snugly by the side of his bride. The dance still continued, and if seats happened to be scarce 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 be in need of some refreshments; ‘ Black Betty’-the name of the bottle containing whisky-was called for and sent up-stairs, but generally it went well attended. Sometimes as much of the substantial edibles of the dinner as would suffice for a half-dozen working men would be sent also, and the new couple were obliged to partake of both. The marriage over, the same company took a lively interest in seeing the newly-married pair well settled. A site was chosen on the property of one of the parents, and if not already built a cabin was put up, and when ready for occupation, the house-warming gave occasion for another merry-making, with dancing continued far into the night.” But these pioneer scenes, with their simple-hearted actors, their homely joys, their trials and their achievements have passed away “as a tale that is told.” The changes which have concurred to make the advancement of the present are not unmixed with evil, and the few who remain as connecting links between that day and this may well be pardoned the
” Sigh for the grace of a day that is dead.”