Thursday, May 6, 2010

Wedding Memories - 1855


Joseph H. Fowler and Miss Martha E. Leech were married in Livingston County, Kentucky 11 January 1855. Forty-nine years later they were living in Paducah when an interview with Joe Fowler appeared in the Paducah Sun on 11 January 1904. This article, which was accessed through Chronicling America, provides a good view of western Kentucky wedding traditions in the mid-1850s.

Captain Joe Fowler is one of the few citizens who fully appreciate the difference between the present time and 49 years ago. Today is the anniversary - the 49th - of his marriage. The ceremony was performed at Smithland, Ky., and was a very elaborate affair, and strictly in keeping with that time, although Captain Fowler himself admits it would appear somewhat out of date to the present generation.

"You see," explained Capt. Fowler today, "I'll never forget my wedding day. I worked on the wharfboat at Smithland then. I came to Paducah some times, and then returned to Smithland - whichever Watts, Given & Co., for whom I worked, preferred. At noon on my wedding day, 49 years ago, I quit work. There was a colored barber at Smithland who fixed young fellows up when they married, and I was told the proper thing to do was to turn myself over to him. This belief he shared, and although if I had known as much before as I did when he got through with me, I should have never submitted.

"We didn't have any bath tubs in those days in Smithland, and neither was there any of those perfumed soap you see nowadays. We used a common wash tub and lye soap - lye soap mixed with meal bran. When meal was sifted they saved the bran and put it into the soap. That is, they did all this in Smithland.

"So it was in a common wash tub that this colored factortum operated on me, and it was a steamboat brush and common lye soap that he used on me. I was over six feet tall, but was very thin. Therefore, when that fellow got through with me I was as red as a lobster and in places where my skin fitted pretty tight over my bones, he thoughtlessly took skin and all. I didn't miss it, however, until I put on my clothes. That's the reason my wedding day will always remain green in my memory as a very uncomfortable affair.

"That evening we had the wedding. I was quite a swell affair, and six people stood up with us. It took place at the home of my brother -in-law, and the next night we had at my own house an 'infair.' They don't have them 'infairs' these days, but they had to come 49 years ago, and mine was one to be long remembered.

"I guess such ways wouldn't suit the folks who have grown up in late years." sighed Captain Joe. "but they will always have a tender place in the hearts of us old people. I go back now and think with a great deal of pleasure of those happy days - and yet I'm not so old," declared the captain.

It is somewhat pathetic to realize that Captain Fowler is the last of his family and his wife is the last of hers. Forty-nine years ago today, when they were married, she had a mother and six brothers, and he had a father and four brothers. Today not one, including the six attendants at the wedding, is alive.

Captain and Mrs. Fowler will not formally celebrate the anniversary this years, but with their family and friends look forward with a great deal of pleasure to the golden wedding next year, if both are spared and enjoy their present good health, which everybody in Paducah hopes they will do.

Joe H. Fowler, son of the esteemed judge, Wiley P. Fowler, and Esther A. Given, died at Christmas time 1904. His widow, Martha Leech Fowler, died in 1921. Both are buried at Oak Grove Cemetery, Paducah.


Nancy said...

What a wonderful memory! Poor man, not knowing beforehand what he was getting into with the barber.

It's sad that he missed his 50th anniversary by less than 2 months.

I was just wondering how old Joe and Martha were when they married.

Thanks so much for sharing this.

kay said...

Thanks for the "Memories," Brenda.