Wedding customs before the Civil War

Pre-Civil War weddings in Sangamon County had their peculiarities, often including macaroon pyramids and very early starting times, as Caroline Owsley Brown remembered in 1914. Here are Brown’s descriptions of some of those weddings.

Barret/Johnson

Caroline Owsley Brown

Caroline Owsley Brown

Miss Eliza Barret’s wedding at Island Grove in 1846 was a notable society even, and the guests were all from Springfield. She married a Mr. P.C. Johnson, a wealthy man from New York, who had traveled a great deal when European travelers were few and far between …

They were married at the Barret home about three miles from Old Berlin — Lizzie Todd and Harry Grimsley, Miss Barret,  Kentucky belle and beauty, and Mr. Campbell were the attendants. The ceremony was performed by Dr. Bergen of the First Presbyterian Church. … The wedding breakfast consisted of such substantial viands, as cold boiled ham, tongue, prairie chicken, beaten biscuit and Sally Lunn — followed by Syllabub, pound cake, fruit cake and all the other cakes our dear grandmothers could find within the leaves of their cookery books — not to forget the bride’s cake that required the whites of thirty-six eggs, and the conbined skill of all the wise women of the family to make.

The bride was gowned in a changeable silk that shimmered from gold to blue, and wore a white bonnet tied in a great bow beneath her pretty chin, with broad white ribbons. After breakfast, a coach and pair drew up before the door in which the groom, and the bride’s father and mother seated themselves, the bride and the rest of the bridal party following in a great blue farm wagon, the kind of a wagon, called a prairie schooner, because its bed rose in a graceful boat like curve at each end. It was in fact the vehicle in which Mr. Barret, Sr., had driven his family across the prairie from their old Kentucky Home.  It had been filled with straw over which were spread numerous fur rugs that Mr. Johnson had brought from Russia. Six yoke of oxen drew the unique vehicle, each with a huge white satin wedding favor on his head-gear. …

A wedding must have been rather fatiguing in those days for Mrs. Ridgely assured me, after dancing all night the merry party returned to the Barret homestead for the Infair — The Bride having for her second day dress another gorgeous toilette of changeable shot silk of flame color and blue, on which which was brocaded thickly, small bouquets of brilliant colored blossoms. I must not forget to add that a great rabgble of country folk chivaried the bridal pair and made night hideous with horns and tin pans until placated by a gift of whiskey and cakes. …

Barret/Fonday

Mrs. Ridgely has also told me of the wedding (in 1854) of another sister, Mrs. William Fonday, whom many of us knew and loved. The Barret family had moved into town and lived on Monroe and 3rd street. … There was no Chicago and Alton R.R. then and the yard was filled with great forest trees, and on the night of the wedding was illuminated by a head light lent by the Wabash R.R. A wedding always causes a great turmoil and this was no exception. All the beds were taken down and the furniture carried to the barn. The porch was lighted and draped with flags, and supper served in the basement.

Mr. Watson iced the cakes and the bride’s cake was especially adorned with a small bride with a flowing veil and orange blossoms. Two great pyramids of maccaroons, with a web of spun sugar thrown over them, stood on each end of the table, while a noble tower of glaced oranges reared its tall head in the center of the board. … There were four bridesmaids and groomsmen — the Misses Caroline Lawrie, Nannie Barrett, Fannie Todd and Jennie Barrett, known to us as Mrs. Charles Ridgely — she said she had just been vaccinated, and her arm was so red and swollen that she had to tie a broad white ribbon to conceal it, but no satin ribbon could cure the little school girl’s headache and she was compelled to go to bed with a high fever as soon as Dr. Smith had performed the ceremony. …

Ridgely

Mrs. Ridgely also gave me a description of her own wedding, which took place at the Fonday home. It was an evening wedding. … About six o’clock as Mr. Watson was bringing in the three tall pyramids of maccaroons and oranges that were to ornament the table, a terrific clap of thunder caused him to drop the trays and shattered all the luscious sweetness. Of course, it was too late to make more … (b)ut all available hands were hastily set to work, and calf foot jelly of pink abd white, sparkling in tiny wine glasses were built up into pyramids by means of glass cakes stands, and great bowls of white madonna lilies stood in the snowy loveliness along the table, and while solids were not lacking, champagne flowed in such quantity that the guests were quite jovial. …

Mrs. Ridgely said she was completely dressed at six o’clock and married at eight, but meanwhile was not suffered to sit down lest she should mar the effect. Among the guests was Stephen A. Douglas, who was himself a recent bridegroom. …

As Mr. Douglas congratulated Mrs. Ridgely, he said, “I have never seen you since you were a little curly headed girl, do you remember me?” “Indeed I do,” replied the bride, “you came home with my father from a political meeting and seeing me in the yard said, ‘little girl where were you born’ and when I told you in Illinois, you said ‘then you are a mud sucker,’ and I felt I could never forgive you.” …

Matteson

Governor (Joel) Matteson‘s administration (from 1853 to 1857) was a very gay time in Springfield society. … Mrs. Godell, the eldest daughter, was married in the old mansion on Capitol Avenue and also had an infair there, receiving for several days in her wedding gown and veil — sometimes these festivities would last for a week.

Miss Lydia Matteson fell in love with a Mr. McGinnis and when her parents refused their consent to the engagement she retired to her room and would see no one. … (F)inally the parent had to give in, and Miss Matteson married the man of her choice. It was the first wedding in the beautiful new mansion, and was at the witching hour of 6 A.M. It seemed the beaux of that period had to rise very early to ring the belles. …

Logan/Hay

It seems a strange eccentricity to us that anyone should rise at the dreadful of five and six o’clock in the morning to be married, but such was the custom of our mothers. Inaugurated however because the Chicago and Alton R.R. ran only one train a day to St. Louis, and that seemed often the point selected for the honeymoon. I can recall the family getting up one morning in the dim twilight to go to the wedding or Mr. and Mrs. Milton Hay. … Miss Puss Logan, her sister, was her bridesmaid and Mr. Ned Taylor groomsman. Of course the two latter accompanied the bridal couple on their wedding journey, which was first to St. Louis, where they took the boat for St. Paul, stopping at various points to visit relatives of both bride and groom.

When they arrived at Madison, Wisconsin, Mr. Taylor who was somewhat tinctured with Southern sympathy, made some unguarded remarks that caused him to be seized as a Southern spy, and feeling ran so high that it took all the skill of Judge Logan, and his influence as a trusted patriot, to set the gentleman free.schs logo (2)

From Springfield Society Before the Civil War, written in 1914 by Caroline Owsley Brown for the Anti-Rust Club, reprinted in Rewarding Years Recalled, a collection of reminiscences by Christopher Brown, Caroline Owsley Brown and Elizabeth Brown Ide, 1973 (available at Lincoln Library’s Sangamon Valley Collection).

 

 

 

 

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