A Back Woods Wedding

In 2000, John Edwards French, great grandson of Jacob Van Orden, donated to the Society, some French and Van Orden family materials including some letters from Jacob's father, Lucas Van Orden, which were written in the 1840s. At the time, Lucas was unmarried and living the bachelor's life in rural Dodge County. He wrote a letter to his cousin Sarah in February 1848 describing a rural wedding he stood up for. Although it was not in Sauk County, it is quite comparable to something that would have happened here during that same era.

Letter to cousin Sarah from Lucas Van Orden , Feb. 19,1848, Neosho, Dodge County

(Reprinted as it was written, with minor punctuation and paragraph break additions to help readability.)

Well dear Cousin Sarah last evening's mail brought a letter from you and you may be assured it was opened and the contents read with the deepest pleasure. I can assure you, I did not know but that you had forgotten that you had a cousin at the west who liked to hear from his friends to. I must say that! For I do not think you can forget so easily. But good cousin 'tis only them who are separated far from those they love who know the value of a letter. It comes like a balm to the wounded spirit when the spirits sometimes droop (as oft they will) what cheers them like a missive from home; it drives for the time all dark feelings away. It is among the pleasantest things we have in this troublesome world of ours. In fact, what can be more pleasant than to hear from those we love.

I was much rejoiced to hear that you are well again. Now for the description of the back woods wedding...The groom, who was a young man who had been living near me, a very clever young farmer, invited me to stand up with him and to use his own request, said "The folks there didn't understand fixing these things, we want you to help." Of course I must accept.

Time rolled away as if something uncommon was going to happen. At last the eventful evening came and I pushed forth to perform my duty as became a man. I went to the home of the bride and there found the family of the bride all seated 'round the f re. In the house was but one room (as is the case with most of our Log houses) all was quiet as the grave except now and then a voice from behind a blanket that had been put up for a partition for the occasion. Presently in came the groom and met me very cordially and taking me aside asked what he must do first I answered to get married surely and gave him some few more instructions. He being very impatient, went and knocked at the door of the Ladies dressing room but knocking at the blanket did not make the noise requisite he called aloud presently and the bride with her sister as bridesmaid appeared but the Dress of each! Her description fails me but I'll try.

Around the head of the bride was bound a wreath of (dare I call them) flowers that would have put all horticulturists to the blush, her hair in the great bundle in the back of her head about her forehead was bound a blue Ribbon. A dress that once had been white with its beauty alas was faded. About her neck was a scarlet Ribbon with a pin the size of a small tea cup in it, about her waist a Ribbon of blue, which seemed her favorite colour and upon her feet a pair of white kid slippers that from appearance were not the first time they were married. The bridesmaid's (my partner) dress was much the same except a green Ribbon graced her waist Their hands were covered with woolen gloves of thin knitting. The hands of the groomsmen covered with Buckskin Gloves that Nick can describe to you.

Presently in came the Justice and now came my turn to arrange them, which I did as best I could, and the Justice performed his duty well giving them all the advice that was necessary. Now came the refreshments, and of course, the duty devolved upon me to cut the Bride's loaf and curiosity was in tip tow who should get the Ring in it I made my preparation with becoming dignity while all eyes were upon me, I put the knife into the loaf, which was a large Ham. I done my duty as best I could and all went merry as the "marriage bell at 11 o'clock we separated all well satisfied" with each other and I asking myself whether I ever should come to this. So good cousin I have fulfilled my promise but my pen is inadequate to the task. I wish you might have been an eyewitness.