Tuesday, February 06, 2007

When great-great-great grandpa went a-courtin'

Recently, one of my aunts sent me the full text (as recorded in a local newspaper) of a speech delivered in 1887 by my great-great-great grandfather on the occasion of his fiftieth wedding anniversary. I was charmed by my ancestor's account of his courtship, which began in 1836 or perhaps the year before:

I became acquainted with a very pretty little girl living on the Little Miami, near Newton. Somehow or other I got to sidling down that way occasionally to see the folks and test my little girls cooking, I some times staid two or three days, and thus it ran on for a year or two when I discover that the exposure to bad weather or some other cause, there was getting something the matter with me, though my gerneral health was good. Did not know exactly what ailed me at first, so I thought I would go down and tell my little girl about it, and after chalking on my hat "Barkis is Willin” and supposing that she was getting tired of boarding me so long for nothing, proposed that we get married and board ourselves.

Well, after hemming and hawing awhile she thought may be, perhaps we had better. That little matter being settled the next thing in order was to hunt up the old folks and see what they thought about it. They did not seem to be much surprised and being of good old hard predestination faith I guess they thought that what was to be would be any how, gave their consent and the old lady thought that if we kept in the same mind we ought marry the following summer. Ida thought in the spring would be a nice time. Well that was some concession on their part, but did not satisfy me by any means and I proposed the fore part of the next week as the proper time. But after higling and jewing for some time the best that I could do was get them down to a month ahead, and we settled on the 29th of January 1837. Meaning business now, and to save another trip, I went to the clerks office and procured a license (marriage) of old General Harrison and put in my pocket, thinking now that I had a preemption right to my girl at least. I then felt in good humor and went around whistling "Yankee Doodle" and occasionally a bar of “Old Dan Tucker”, as if there was nothing the matter. After a long month expired, I hastened down to finish the matter up, and be done with It. Found a nice crowd of friends there and among them good old Deacon Ferris, whose occupation was preaching the Gospel on Sunday and blacksmithing the balance of the week. Then we stood up and he struck a few sledge hammer blows while the iron was hot and made the weld, pronouncing us one bone and one beef, or something of that sort.

I had a good chuckle over the part about him chalking "Barkis is willin'" on his hat, but then it occurred to me that my great-great-great grandfather might have been having a little joke on his audience. I looked it up to be certain, and yep, David Copperfield was just in a twinkle in Mr. Dickens' eye back in 1836, when my ancestor proposed to his "little girl" (sometime around Christmas). The novel wasn't published until 1850. So what, if anything, did Grandpa chalk on his hat?

The smooth-talking old rascal. He was a judge and a state senator, but apparently he wasn't averse to stretching the truth for the amusement of others. But if he was the first in the family to make up (or at least, embellish) a romantic story, he certainly wasn't the last. Apparently, writing romance novels is in my blood.

He was 77 years old on that day in 1887 when he and his wife celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. The newspaper article notes that friends and relatives made a "very respectable crowd of 40 or 50." One august gentleman made some opening remarks, and then at least eleven letters were read from well-wishers unable to attend the celebration. A poem was recited at one point, and then my great-great-great grandfather took the floor to tell the story of his courtship and marriage. Here's how he concluded that speech:

Here on the ground where we are now, we pitched our tent, under the shadow of a beach tree, which as a memorial stands unto the present day.

Before we got fairly settled in our new abode there came an imperative necessity for a few yards of calico and some other small fixings, and in due time a bouncing little girl made her appearances and took her place as natural as life at the head of our tribe, which has now grown to what we now see here today} four of the first generation and 19 of the second, all standing fair and square on their pins, physically and mentally allright, apparently and if they continue to grow up making good, industrious and useful members of society then the way we look upon it, the country will be slightly in our debt. But if any of them should be so unfortunate in their growing up as to become dudes or drones or shams, or idle drones, then we would have to acknowledge ourselves indebted to the State for their room. Be that as it may we know that we love you all and hope for the best.

Now, reserving the best of the wine for the last of the feast, we will proceed to business, which will be to step into the dining room and assault the turkey and enjoy ourselves the best we can.


Anonymous said...

What a crazy/clever family we have!

I am getting caught up on the blog...been gone several days.

Just so you know: I love you. And I very much enjoy the blog--anyone who does not should just play elsewhere.


Anonymous said...

Oh, that was a delight! He had a marvelous way with words.

I wish I had such legacies in hand. I have so little of my family stuff. Comes of being a "refugee" and from folks who, in large part, were not all that literate and quite, quite poor. Oh, well.

Enjoyed this a great deal.


Brenda Coulter said...

Hey, my sister is back! (Are you sure you don't have some work to be doing?) I love you, too.

Mir, I'm very well aware of how blessed I am. Since you appear to be interested, here are two other notes:

1. The engraved invitation to the anniversary celebration carried the usual formal wording for such an event, but included this note at the bottom: "Golden Wishes and Compliments to be received at par, but no gold metal of less value than $500.00."

2. My great-great-great grandfather, whose Christian name was John, was the grandson of an Irish immigrant and (documented) Revolutionary War veteran. John's father, who fought in the war of 1812, was said to have had "six sons six feet tall" (which I gather was a remarkable height for that time). One of John's sons married a woman named Sallie. She attended the anniversary celebration along with the rest of her family, which included a two-year-old boy who was to become my great grandfather. I knew him quite well and visited him almost weekly when I was a child. Naturally, his mother was long dead by that time, but I am honored to be the current caretaker of Sallie's prized set of sterling silver butter knives. I have used them many times at afternoon tea parties because they're gorgeous and they're great for splitting scones.

Neal said...

Fantastic story -- legacies like this are like gold dust (I know, because like you I'm fortunate enough to have some).

And I'm so glad you mentioned the "Barkis is willing" because I was just about to find out when David Copperfield was written myself!