Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Historic Tennessee Wedding and Traditions

As printed in Then & Now, Robertson County Times 18 Mar 2009
Weddings have been a time for celebrating the marriage of a couple and the joining of two families. This week we will learn about historic weddings of our area.
Stories from the very first weddings in Middle Tennessee were recorded by Jo C. Guild in his book, Old Times in Tennessee (1878). 
The first wedding in the colony which settled at the Bluff, near the French Lick (now the city of Nashville,) was that of Capt. Leiper and his wife [a Miss Susan Drake] in the summer of 1780. They were married by Gen. James Robertson, who was the founder and a trustee of the Cumberland settlement [and namesake for Robertson county.] This wedding was followed by a feast and dancing. It is mentioned that roasting-ears were the great delicacy for the ladies on this interesting occasion. 
A short time afterward, Mr. James Shaw, also a trustee, married on one day, Edward Swanson to Mrs. Mary Carvin [the widow of Ned Carvin], James Freeland to Mrs. Maxwell, Cornelius Riddle to Jane Mulherrin and John Tucker to Jenny Herod [daughter of James and Elizabeth Herod], all in one day. [John and Jenny Tucker moved to Robertson county.] Several traditional stories have survived about the marriage of Cornelius Riddle to the beautiful Jane Mulherrin. The Cumberland settlement was then in its infancy and the settlers were not supplied with the means to make a wedding occasion brilliant. They possessed neither  … “gorgeous dresses, a table laden with rich viands and luxuries to tempt the fastidious appetite, and a fine band to furnish music while the guests ‘tripped the light, fantastic, toe,’ as the older settlements [in the East] could do.” There were those  immediately interested in making this wedding affair as grand and imposing as circumstances would admit, especially as it was among the first weddings in the new settlement. They were well supplied with game of almost every description, but there was neither flour nor meal in the whole colony with which to make bread, nor had there been for six months. In this emergency two of the settlers mounted horses and hurried off to Danville, Ky., for a small quantity of corn in order to supply the wedding table with bread. The couriers returned in a few days, bringing with them each one bushel of corn, which soon found its way to the mortar and pestle, where it was converted into excellent meal. From that meal was baked the first ‘bride’s cake’ of which this new settlement boasted. It was made of pounded corn meal, with the only additional ingredients, a little salt and water. All things were in readiness and the happy pair pledged their love and fealty to each other; their lips and lives expressed the sacred vow that they professed. 
“Amid the dangers that environed the settlement, the hearts of this band of pioneers grew happy while celebrating this wedding with song, dance, and feast, rendered exquisitely delightful by the introduction of the wedding ‘pound cake,’ and perhaps no cake on a similar occasion before or since was enjoyed with more zest.”
One hundred and twenty-one years later, a young couple were married in Robertson county. Let’s learn about Richard and Birdie Qualls from a biographical sketch published in 1922.
On the 22nd of September, 1901, occurred the marriage of Mr. Richard E. Qualls to Miss Birdie Holman. Miss Holman was born January 1881, near Springfield, the daughter of R[obert] S. and [Mary Catherine] ‘Katie’ Porter Holman. Her father was a veteran of the Civil War, having served throughout that conflict in the Confederate army and was still living [in 1922] at the age of eighty years. Mrs. Holman was also from one of the most prominent families in the state. She is still living [in 1922] at age 78 years. Mr. and Mrs. Qualls were the parents of four children: Rayburn W. who was a student at the Peoples-Tucker School; Paul Richard, who [in 1922] was attending high school in Springfield; Katherine Rebecca; and Mary Wilmouth. Mrs. Qualls was a woman of much culture and refinement and was prominent socially. She was a consistent and active member of the Methodist Church. 
A man of good business capacity , R[ichard] E. Qualls, who was owner and active in the conduct of the Qualls Motor Company in Springfield, and the owner of the Ford Agency at Elkton, Kentucky. He was born in Robertson county, 13 March 1878, the son of Jesse E and Emmaline Purcilla (Porter) Qualls, both native of this county. Jesse E. Qualls [in 1922] was 76 years of age and actively engaged in farming 400 acres of valuable and well improved land in the 5th district, near Cedar Hill. His wife, who was a daughter of  Edward  and Cordelia (Henry) Porter of Cedar Hill, was deceased. [Emmaline Purcilla Qualls died 19 Nov 1910.] 
In the acquirement of his education R.E. Qualls attended the common schools of this county until he was 19 years of age. At that time he put his textbooks aside and engaged in farming with his father for two years. At the termination that time, he made his initial step into the business world as bookkeeper for W.T. Henry and taking advantage of every opportunity offered him, he acquired a fine knowledge of salesmanship. For some time he was engaged in selling pianos and organs and subsequently he ventured into the grocery and hardware business of Adams. He was active in the conduct of that business from 1908 to 1914, in which latter year he took the Ford agency at Adams. At the end of two years he saw the necessity of locating in a larger town and moved to Springfield, where he has since resided. In the most recent year, 1922, Mr. Qualls sold 366 cars & 65 tractors. He has sold over 200 tractors in this county. In early life Mr. Qualls learned the value of close application to the thing at hand and he had taken only one week’s vacation in five years. He was a progressive and public-spirited man and conducted his business on a modern basis, making each department self-sufficient. 
Mr. Qualls gave his political endorsement to the democratic party and the principles for which it stands. Fraternally, he was a Knight of Pythias. He was a member of the Methodist church and served as superintendent of the Sunday school and chairman of the board of stewards. He was also active in the Kiwanis Club and in furtherance of every movement for the development and improvement of the general welfare. 
Tickets ($15 each)are now available for “A Historic Presentation of Robertson County Brides” that will include a reception, presented on April 25, 2009 at 2 pm, Robertson County History Museum. Call 382-7173 for more information.
Sources: Old Times in Tennessee, Tennessee, The Volunteer State.

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