Courting Your Lady-Love
“Well, I’m sure you’ll find someone somewhere who’ll have you.”
― J.K. Rowling,
Often, I get asked, as a historian, how did people in the ‘olden times’ meet or date. Certainly, modern dating has fewer social limitations, but nonetheless, young men and women did mingle, often at community events. It is hard to give a definitive answer without direct evidence; luckily, when I was looking through archival files, I found an answer!
Apparently, Stone Mountain, the largest exposed mass of granite in the world, was a popular destination site. Men who took a fancy to a certain woman would take her out on a group excursion, to court her and, eventually if they were lucky, to see if she was amenable to marriage. This allowed courting to fit within permissible morality as women not alone in the presence of a man. Yet, as the excursions were on horseback, men and their ladyloves were paired side by side. Levi Willard, an early historian of Decatur history, says the following: “It was reported that matches were made on these little rides. It was easy to lag behind the company… [the woman’s] saddle was turning and must be girted tighter, or the blanket was slipping out of place, or some other excuse for the moment.”
Willard use one couple, Sam Peters and Sallie Jones as an example, “As the company has gone forward, [Sam] says to himself, ‘Now is my time, as no one is near, to pop the question as the expression is.’
Sam begins: I meant to – I tried once to ask you – I am afraid to say it – would you consent to live with me if I was fool enough to ask you?’
Sallie said: ‘Ride up, Sam, and we will overtake the company; we will talk over the matter some other time.’
According to Willard, many men were not smooth at courting the ladies. One small girl, who was in the excursion party with Sallie and Sam, asked her mother what ‘popping the question meant.’ When the mother explained it to her daughter, the girl was unimpressed, she replied, “Why mother, I could say that that as easily as I could say to Mr. Jones, will you give my mother your spinning wheel… Did father [similarly] stop and stammer and choke up?” Even the local pastor, Rev. A Kirkpatrick agreed; similarly, he recalled ‘popping the question’ to his wife, saying that
“Young ladies must have a presentment of what question was being proposed to them, for if it were not so, he did not think his wife, Susan, would have known anything of what he meant when he asked her to marry him – he did it in such a bungling way.”
Such arrangements were not always happy. One gentleman had a similar recollection as Levi Willard, “but his heart failed him and he never could nor did he get it [the question] out, [and] lost his lady.”
We all know the pressure of dating, the uncertain nervousness of looking towards the future. There is the constant testing and trying; sometimes you end up ebullient, full of love and other times you will end up in tears, heartbroken. Our ancestors felt the same way, they were fumbling along the road to love too. There’s something comforting in that.
Written by Samantha Mooney
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2000.
Willard, Levi. Early History of Decatur. Decatur, GA: DeKalb New Era, 1920.