Preparing for the wedding on March 5, 1865
Getting ready for the wedding was hurried. There was no point in putting it off and John had talked to Polly, She approved of him and knew that he would be good to her daughter. He was steady and already had land left to him by his father. It was good farming land and bordered the Clinch River. John had started a house next to the river against the granite face of a cliff. Using the granite as the back of the house, it was set on higher ground so it wouldn’t flood when the river was high. They didn’t plan to stay there forever and she imagined that they would have to build a bigger house if they had a few children. She liked it and it wasn’t far from her.
She wished she could provide more. She didn’t get much from James. Sometimes money would appear in a letter but it was nothing to count on. Her wages as a domestic barely keep them afloat. At least she had a few hogs and chickens, which provided meat and eggs. She saved the chicken feathers to use for pillows. She would make some for Martha and John although Martha had made some for her hope chest. The garden provided fresh vegetables in the spring and summer and root vegetables to store for the winter. The girls were busy with all the chores that should have been hers. Still, it was good training for them and they had all the skills they needed.
She had saved enough to buy some pretty lace to make a veil. The peddler who had come through a year or so ago had some fine fabrics. As lovely as they were, she only had a little to spend for frivolous fancies when she really needed the flannel for blankets. Martha’s wedding dress wouldn’t be extravagant. Martha didn’t seem to care, she had decorated one of her best dresses with beads and ribbons and it looked lovely. She was really excited about the lace veil.
The biggest contention came when they were deciding whom to invite. Polly, Martha, John, and his mother Lucy sat down to make a list. It started out quite simple. On Martha’s side, there were only three people: Polly, Caroline, and Sarah. Then there were the Rhea’s.
John Elijah Rhea had passed away six years earlier. Lucy had managed to maintain the farm with the help of the children. There were several still at home and they needed to be invited.
Lafayette was 13 and wanted to be a part of the wedding. They decided that he could be a groomsman opposite of Sarah. John wanted his brother Abijah, who was 29, to be the best man. Martha agreed to that with Caroline as the Maid of Honor.
Sterling, the oldest brother at 41 lived in Sneedville. He was the blacksmith for the town. He and his wife, Samantha had seven children ranging in age from 1-yr-old to 11-yrs-old. John’s oldest sister Elizabeth Ann who was 35-yrs-old and her husband Benjamin Burchett also lived in Sneedville. Their nine children ranged in age from 5-yrs-old to 18-yrs-old.
By the time they had counted up the two families they figured that they would need to have everyone bring food. Polly and Lucy certainly couldn’t afford to feed all those people alone.
They kept counting. James and his wife Raquel lived one county over. They weren’t sure they could make the trip but they counted them anyway, adding their five children.
George who was 30 and Jesse, 26, both lived at home so of course, they needed to be invited. 17-yr-old Sarah and her husband William Parten lived in Sneedville and made the list.
That did not include any of the family friends living in town. They finally decided anyone bringing food would be welcomed.
The weather in March of 1865 was not favorable for an outside wedding. Lucy’s house was bigger than Polly’s was so they decided that the wedding could take place in the parlor and the guest could spill over outside if necessary.
John and Martha picked March 5, 1865 as the date for the wedding. It was good time for a celebration. Succeeding from the Union and the loss of the war had devastated the folks in Tennessee. For one day, it would change the focus and give people a chance to have a good time. While the rest of the country would be celebration the 2nd inauguration of President Lincoln on that day, they would be celebrating something they could endorse.
It wouldn’t be until the 1880’s that the wedding poem would become the standard for all brides
Something old, something new
Something borrowed, something new
And a silver sixpence in her shoe
However, traditions did follow immigrants to America. The Scottish/Irish ancestry that made up most of the families in Sneedville came with its own customs.
“Martha, I have something for you.” Polly said to Martha as she came into the kitchen on her wedding day. She moved to the sideboard and pulled out a small package wrapped in tissue paper. Tissue paper was a relatively new invention used to make clothing patterns. The left over pieces were used to protect precious objects. Polly handed the package to Martha.
“I like the idea of you taking something old into your new life. It has certain merit keeping us connected.” Polly said. “My mama gave that to me on my wedding day. It was her prayer book. You can wrap it in your nicest hanky and carry it with a few flowers.”
“Oh Mama, do your really mean to give this to me?” Martha said with tears in her eyes. “I will cherish it.”
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