Monday, March 17, 2014

Weddings in the West

Due to the number of weddings and funerals that happened along the trails, most Wagon Masters would not head west until a Vicar was procured to travel with the group. Out of necessity, Wagon Masters could perform these duties, but most didn’t relish the extra burdens. Often the Vicar or Circuit Preacher would return and travel with the next train west. Traveling preachers also provided many of the first trail stations or towns along the way with weddings or church services on a regular basis. The Circuit Preachers were also responsible for stopping at county seats or state capitols and filing all the deaths, births and marriages.

Even in towns, church weddings were rare in the early 1800’s. Usually the affair happened in the home of the bride or groom, or a family friend. Attendance was generally small, just a few relatives and friends. (This was true of funerals as well, and it was up to the family to prepare the body for burial. Usually more people attended funerals than weddings because a death meant the entire community had suffered a loss.) If needed small communities would assign one person to reside over weddings and funerals until a preacher traveled through and officiated the already performed ceremony by completing and filing the paperwork.

After their wedding, a newly married couple was expected to stay home for the next few days for others could call upon them. The dress was something the bride could wear again or already had. It wasn’t until 1840 when Queen Victoria wed Prince Albert in an elaborate white, satin gown that the tradition of a white gown started to spread. However, the color and ability to keep it clean held the tradition at bay until the early 1900’s.

Here’s an old poem, published on many internet wedding sites, (I couldn’t find the date of its origin)… “Married in white, you will have chosen all right. Married in grey, you will go far away. Married in black, you will wish yourself back. Married in red, you’ll wish yourself dead. Married in blue, you will always be true. Married in pearl, you’ll live in a whirl. Married in green, ashamed to be seen, Married in yellow, ashamed of the fellow. Married in brown, you’ll live out of town. Married in pink, your spirits will sink.” (Perhaps it wasn’t Queen Victoria, but this poem that encouraged brides to wear white!)

There were a few traditions most weddings tried to uphold. The veil being one of them, it signified maidenhood, and therefore usually skipped by the bride for a second wedding. Often veils were passed down from generation to generation. The tradition of the wedding veil comes from the times of arranged marriages. The bride wore a veil so the groom couldn’t see his bride’s face until after the ceremony, assuring the man couldn’t back out once he saw his bride. Also, a law in 1775 forbid brides to wear any kind of make-up, assuring the groom wasn’t trapped by an ‘illusion’.

The cake was also important, it signified fertility and abundance, and it was generally a fruit cake—that is until baking powder and baking soda were invented, then a white cake became popular and the fruit cake became the groom’s cake, which was usually cut into pieces and sent home with the guest.

And the ring…It signified eternal love. The wedding ring dates back to 2800 B.C., this was the time of ‘ownership’ and the ring signified possession. The tradition the wedding band to be worn on the third finger of the left hand is because it was believed that finger has a vein that runs straight to the heart.

Church weddings grew in popularity throughout the 1800’s and by the turn of the century weddings, which included dances following the ceremony, became more popular, namely because when the couple was married in a church, more people could attend, therefore the event became a social gathering.

I’m currently writing a few stories in the roaring twenties, when big parties and big weddings were stylish, hence the reason for the wedding post. Hope you all enjoyed it. 



Caroline Clemmons said...

Lauri, thanks for an interesting post. I write western romances set from 1870 to 1890, and the brides in my stories wear a pastel dress. In some areas, a hefty bond was posted by the groom until a preacher was available. If he changed his mind about staying with his bride before the preacher showed, the groom forfeited the bond.

Jacquie Rogers said...

In the PNW, lots of couples threw a party and announced they were married. No preachers around. When one did show it, he usually had several couples to marry officially, and many of those couple had children by then.

Julie Lence said...

Interesting piece, Lauri. And the poem is great!