Tag Archives: marriage

Firing guns at weddings

Archival Moment

February 10, 1882

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives VA 104-22.1; Royal salute or feu de joie for a wedding party at Harrington Harbour. International Grenfell Association photograph collection. Note the men with the guns in the background.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives VA 104-22.1; Royal salute or feu de joie for a wedding party at Harrington Harbour. International Grenfell Association photograph collection. Note the men with the guns in the background.

There is a long established tradition in Newfoundland that encourages the “discharging of fire arms” for the purpose of creating a noise especially to celebrate a marriage. As the bride and groom leave the church the men of the town stand about discharging their guns in celebration.

On February 10, 1882 the Editor of the local paper the Twillingate Sun, Jabez P. THOMPSON, spoke out against the custom suggesting that rather than discharging their guns, pistols and firearms that they would be better served to buy present for the newly married. He wrote:

“It has been suggested that if persons are anxious to manifest esteem for their newly married friends, could it not be done in a more tangible way by presenting them with a valuable present, which the cost of the powder so used would be likely to procure. We would recommend such a plan.”

Francis BERTEAU, Stipendiary Magistrate in Twillingate was another who was not fan of discharging guns at weddings. The Magistrates objection was prompted by the fact that a case was before him in his court, a short time before, the cause of the complaint being that the plaintiff’s horse had taken fright by the firing of guns while passing the public streets.

The Editor argued:

“Magistrate BERTEAU has given caution against the unnecessary discharging of fire arms, as prevention to any serious accident that might accrue by a persistency in such a dangerous practice.”

The government of the day was also keen to stop the practice, in January 1882 a new law was passed that read:

“Any person firing any Gun, Pistol or other Fire-arms in any City, Town, or Settlement in this Island for the purpose of creating a noise or disturbance, or without some necessity or reasonable excuse for so doing, shall for every such offence pay a penalty not exceeding Twenty Dollars.”

The new law was to fall on deaf ears; the tradition of firing guns at weddings continued and remains a tradition in many communities throughout the province. Those who fired the guns always found “some necessity or reasonable excuse.”

The tradition of ‘firing the guns’ at a wedding continues in communities long the Cape Shore. Do you know of other communities?

The ‘firing of the guns’ is not to be confused with a ‘gunshot wedding’!

Recommended Archival Collection: Planning on doing some family research. The Rooms Provincial Archives is home to the largest collection of Parish Marriage Registers in the province.

Recommended Reading: Getting Married in Newfoundland and Labrador: http://www.servicenl.gov.nl.ca/birth/getting_married/



Leapers, leapings, lads and ladies


February 29

Asking for your hand in marriage

The Leap Year tradition of women proposing marriage on 29 February is thought to have started in 5th century Ireland, when St.  Bridget of Kildare complained to St Patrick about women having to wait for so long for their men to propose to them. Commonly known now as St Bridget’s Complaint, her wish was granted by St. Patrick and women were allowed to propose marriage to men every four years on Leap Day.

Another tradition has it that Queen Margaret of Scotland legalized in 1288 the tradition that a woman could ask a man to marry her on February 29. The tradition also insisted that if the would-be husband refuses, he’s liable to a fine but most definitely must reward the woman with a kiss, a silk gown and or 12 pairs of silken gloves. The intention is that the woman can wear the gloves to hide the embarrassment of not having an engagement ring.

The leap year day tradition stems from the fact that February 29 was not a real day and had no status in  law, therefore normal customs had no status either.

A review of the acts of the Scottish Parliament have failed to show convincing evidence that this unusual decree was issued. But law or not  – the tradition seems to be firmly grounded in literature dating back as early as the 1600’s.

 Establishing The Tradition

In the Elizabethan-era stage play called The Maid’s Metamorphosis, first performed in 1600 (a leap year) the line can be found:

Master be contented, this is leape yeare, Women weare breetches, petticoats are deare.

In another publicationTreatise Against Judicial Astrologie by John Chamber, dated 1601 the leap year tradition is again referenced:

 If the nature of anything change in the leap-year, it seemeth to be true in men and women, according to the answer of a mad fellow to his misstress, who, being called knave by her, replied that it was not possible, “for,” said he, “if you remember yourself, good mistress, this is leap-year, and then, as you know well, knaves wear smocks.”

The tradition is again given support in a book published in 1606 entitled Courtship, Love and Matrimonie the author writes:

 Albeit, it is nowe become a parte of the Common Lawe, in regard to the social relations of life, that as often as every bissectile year doth return, the Ladyes have the sole privilege, during the time it continueth, of making love unto the men, which they may doe either by wordes or lookes, as unto them it seemeth proper; and moreover, no man will be entitled to the benefit of Clergy who dothe refuse to accept the offers of a ladye, or who dothe in any wise treate her proposal withe slight or contumely.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: VA 94-90.1:  A Labrador wedding.  Do you recognize this church? Can you tell us what community this wedding is taking place in?

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives: VA 94-90.1: A Labrador wedding. Do you recognize this church? Can you tell us what community this wedding is taking place in? (Click on photo to enlarge for detail)

In North America as early as 1827 in the publication The American Farmer readers were informed that that they should be aware that women   “as part of the Common Law”   have the right to ask a man to marry them on February 29.

Those born on February 29 are known as leapers and leapings.

Thirty days hath September,
April, June and November;
All the rest have thirty-one
Save February, she alone
Hath eight days and a score
Til leap year gives her one day more.

The first of the volunteers to be married

Archival Moment

28 September 1914

Caught at the OutpostWith the declaration of war in August 1914 many young men and women in Newfoundland and Labrador began to reexamine their relationships. Maud Hollett of Spencer’s Cove, Placentia Bay and William Manston of Manchester, England decided it was time to marry.

William had originally come to Newfoundland two years previous “in the employ of Mr. Reid as chauffeur.” With the declaration of war he was determined to return to his home country to fight for King and Empire.   On September 9, 1914 he left the Reid property to sign up.   Within days he was living in the training camp at Pleasantville with all of the other recruits.

Rumors in camp were that the newly formed Newfoundland Regiment would be departing at any time for the trenches of Europe; many of the young men in the camp were looking forward to getting a taste of battle. William realized that his time was short; if he was to marry he would have to do it quickly. On September 28 at 7:30 p.m. at St. Mary’s Church, South Side, St. John’s he waited for his bride. It was “the scene of a quiet wedding.”

The ceremony was performed by the Rev. Henry Uphill, Rector of the parish. The bride was given away by her cousin Charles Rodway and was attended by Miss Brace and Mr. PaveI. Immediately following the ceremony the young couple were  received by Mr. and Mrs. R.G. Reid. Mr. Reid kindly placed his automobile at the service of the wedding party. A considerable gesture in the day given that this particular motor vehicle was one of the few in the country.
The local newspaper, The Evening Telegram reported “He is the first of the volunteers to be married and we trust that he will return from the front in good time and that in his domestic life he will find that happiness which he deserves.”

It was not a long honeymoon. Just five days later (October 3, 1914) the newly married Lance Corporal William Manston marched with the Newfoundland Regiment (the First 500) to the S.S. Florizel that had been converted into a troopship and would take him home.

Maud packed her bags to return home to Spencers Cove to await the outcome of the war.

Recommended Archival Collection: “Distinguished Service: the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in the Great War”, this on line exhibition documents the lives and experiences of the province’s soldiers and aims to encourage interest in research on the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. The service records of the First 500 and others are available at the Provincial Archives at The Rooms. Many of the service records (but not all ) are on line at http://www.therooms.ca/regiment/part1_entering_the_great_war.asp

Recommended Exhibit: Pleasantville: From Recreation to Military Installation. Level 2 Atrium

Pleasantville before the First World War was the site of the St. John’s cricket grounds. With the declaration of war, Pleasantville quickly emerged as a tent city, the home of the storied “First 500”. It was here that the First Newfoundland Regiment recruits began preliminary military training during the months of September and October of 1914. This exhibition highlights some of the activities and training of the Blue Puttees up to their embarkation on the SS Florizel for overseas service.