Pioneer Customs and Society

Every section of Sabine parish now presented evidences of the labor of the settler. The dense woodlands were transformed into open fields for the cultivation of crops which furnish food, as well as for cotton, the great staple which brought the ready cash. In the early days the houses were constructed of pine logs. The remains of some of these structures are yet to be found. 'Many of them were rudely built, while others were most elegant structures of the kind. The better houses were built on what is called the "double-pen" plan; that is, with one or more rooms in two separate enclosures under one roof, the two sections being divided by a wide open hall. A long gallery or porch usually extended the entire length of the front of the house, and chimneys or fire-places were erected at one or both gables. The chimneys were sometimes of brick, but most commonly of mud. The old type of country house is used even in modern day, when the finished product of the sawmill has supplanted the pine logs and the carpenter with effective tools has taken the place of the woodsman with no tools more convenient than an adz and an auger.

If a planter owned slaves, he provided them with suitable cabins. Clearing the woodland plantation for the cultivation of crops was a hard labor, but the task that fell to the lot of the women of the household was so strenuous that it was akin to drudgery. Pioneer stores were not filled with ready-made clothing. The United States had not embarked very extensively into manufactures and the fabrics which were to be found upon the counters of the local merchant were, as a rule, importations from Europe, comprising only broadcloths, calicoes and cottonade, and the prices of these staples were very high. The greater portion of the cloths which went to make the clothing of the pioneers was manufactured by the women. In even the unpretentious home was found the ancient spinning wheel and loom. The women carded the cotton and wool into rolls which were spun into thread, and with the loom wove the thread into various fabrics. Many older people of today can remember the times when they were awakened at the midnight hour by the hum of the spinning wheel or the bumping of the loom. Those were the days when the women of the land were as much slaves as those blacks which were held as chattels. It is a happy reflection, however, that the emancipation of the mothers and daughters from the drudgery of supplying the family with "homespun" clothing was not accomplished by the shedding of blood, nor through the agency of the ballot, but by the ingenuity of the army of American inventors whose creations of labor-saving machinery and methods for manufacturing the necessary articles for the comfort of humanity have done so much to make life's walk less burdensome. Not only has woman's work been made lighter in the home, but improved machinery enables the farmer to cultivate his field with a greater saving of labor. A wide field of industrial progress covers the few short years when farmers of Sabine used wooden jack-plows, still there is heard the wail of the agitator denouncing a system of government which has made progress possible and urging the repeal of constitutions which leave the field free to individual endeavor and legitimate competition. The invention of the cotton gin, the steamboat, the railway, the telegraph, the sewing machine, and the countless labor-saving devices and conveniences made their advent during the past century, and nearly all are the product of American genius, made possible by our system of government. May that system never be repealed to satisfy the demands of Utopian dreamers and noisy communists.

As there were no railroads in, Sabine parish prior to the civil war, the chief trading points were Natchitoches and Alexandria, both river towns. A great many people went to market only once or twice a year, taking cotton and other marketable produce, and returned with supplies for their homes and plantations. Ox teams were the ordinary means of rural transportation and several neighbors usually journeyed to market together, and as it frequently required several days for the Sabine farmers to make the trip they camped out on the road.

The farmers of the old days produced many articles at home which they now buy from stores, such as soap, sugar, and tobacco. The country had lanyards which made leather for the manufacture of shoes. Salt and soda were frequently scarce, and it was necessary to go to the salt works to procure that article. In cases of emergency certain kinds of ashes were used as a substitute for baking soda.

Sabine parish was a veritable paradise for hunters. Wild game, such as deer, bear, wild turkey and other animals which were sources of food supply, was to be found on every hand. These wild luxuries have rapidly diminished in numbers until they are practically extinct. The forests with their crops of nuts and acorns enabled the farmers to have fat hogs without feeding them his cultivated crops. The hogs were allowed to roam at will and soon became wild, and when their owners were ready to lay in their supply of meat they were usually compelled to hunt the animals with dogs and guns. Previous to the civil war these wild hogs had become so numerous that the owner who had failed to mark his hogs was frequently unable to identify them.

The days of the pioneers of Sabine were not without their pleasures. The dealings and associations of neighbors were of the most happy character. Every good citizen was ever ready to render assistance to his fellow man when the call for aid was made. The harvest time was especially the season for mutual aid and the giving of neighborly feasts. The men gathered for miles around to help gather in neighbor's crop, which was usually accomplished in one day, and the women came to assist in making quilts for the household. The day was one of jolly work, sumptuous dinners, and at night came the inevitable dance, which brought delight to the young people and which continued into the morning hours. Every neighborhood boasted of a "fiddler" whose knowledge of the masters, poetic quadrilles and dreamy waltzes may have been a trifle limited, but his rustic airs never failed to inspire the dancers to enter into the spirit of the occasion. "Candy-breakings" and the "play party" were other sources of amusement for the pioneer youths, and when the country afforded places of public worship, those gatherings were also of a social nature.

In pioneer days early marriages, and the rearing of large families were the rule, and the custom apparently has never been abrogated by the people of Sabine parish.

The people were practically all engaged in agricultural pursuits, and the newlywed couple, no matter how limited their finances may have been, found waiting for them a tract of land, and by industry and frugality they were soon enabled to own a home. Up to 1840 the nuptial knots were usually tied by magistrates and judges, except among the Catholic population where priests officiated, but after that time ministers of other denominational appear on, the records as celebrants of marriage ceremonies The first marriage to be officially recorded in Sabine parish was filed July 8th, 1846, the ceremony having been performed June 5th by Justice Abuer Bradley. The contracting parties were Joseph Simpson and Hannah Self.

A few Marriages

In 1847, G. W. Johnson, who signs as a minister of the Gospel, united in marriage Lewis White and Mrs. Elizabeth J. Wood, the witnesses being Stephen Wiley and James Waldrop.

Other marriages recorded in 1847 were:

Abram Holt and Miss Elizabeth Bloodsworth,
James D. Pate and Mrs. Martha Ann Wright (the witnesses of the later ceremony being S. G. Lucius, A. Duckworth and Absalom Wright),
Vincent A. Montgomery and Miss Mary Eliza Gandy,
James Murphy and Miss Matilda Shull,
E. C. Davidson and Miss Elizabeth Baldwin (the witnesses being Daniel K. Gandy, Henry McCallen and P. H. Dillon),
William R. McCollister and Miss Margaret Frances,
Haney Curtis and Miss Elizabeth Sneed.

The last wedding, except one, recorded in 1847 was that of Alfred Litton and Miss Nancy Critchfield, at which Justice of the Peace R. K. McDonald officiated and James Brown, John Self and J. W. Scritchfield signed as witnesses.

The marriage of:

Mark McAlpin and Miss Emily Smart was recorded in 1848, John Carroll, Thomas Stephens and Amos C. Smart subscribing as witnesses.
Other marriages during the same year were:
Elbert Mains and Miss Celia Ritchey,
Hurry Burr and Miss Mary Ann Magee,
John Hendricks and Miss Eunicy Parrott.

The latter wedding was celebrated at the home Mrs. Eliza Parrott, on November 30th, the witnesses being W. B. Neal, Miss Mary Ann Martin and James H. Word.

On the 13th of December following that wedding the marriage of two of the witnesses, W. B. Neal and Miss Marlin is noted.

William Self and Mary E. Boswell, Solomon Arthur and Miss Evilina Curtis (W. C. Southwell, Benjamin C. Arthur and John Carroll being witnesses),
Olivier Sanders and Mary Ann Vidler,
Taylor Morris Cook and Miss R. Q. Hill, were also among those who were married in 1848.

The following marriages were recorded in 1849:

Thomas B. Stephens and Miss Blender Smart,
John Outright and Amanda Pate,
John Forbis and Miss Martha E. Brown.

In 1852, John Vines and Miss Ionah Butler were united in marriage, Justice of the Peace J. C. Alford officiating. During this year George West, minister of the Gospel, makes returns of marriage ceremonies which he had performed.

From 1852 until after the civil war there does not appear to have been any definite system of keeping the marriage records at the court-house. Other public records were scrupulously cared for, but the system of keeping a record of deaths, births and marriages which prevailed in many commonwealths, was apparently neglected to a large degree. In later years these matters received better attention, and the system of keeping the marriage records, in conformity with state laws, are especially good. 

Sabine Parish | AHGP Louisiana

Source: History of Sabine Parish, Louisiana, by John G. Belisle, Sabine Banner Press, 1913.

 

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