WEDDINGS, FUNERALS AND BLACK RUM (April 4/03)

In the past 50 years I’ve played the bagpipe at countless weddings and only on the rare occasion were alcoholic beverages served at the receptions. I can say the same about the great number of funerals at which I’ve piped. At these weddings and funerals it was usually tea, coffee and non-alcoholic punch.

I mention this to point out how times have changed. Four or five generations ago the serving of copious amounts of spirits at weddings and funerals not only was commonplace, it appeared to be mandatory. Witness what W. C. Milner had to say about rum’s dominance at weddings and funerals in the Minas Basin history he compiled about 90 years ago.

Commenting on funerals in the early 19th century, Milner wrote that the only time a Christian became jolly and enjoyed himself was while attending one. The reason? At funerals, the “imbibing of spirits (rum) was… sanctioned, which mellowed the austerity of the mourners.” And, Milner adds, “old time probate records show liquor at funerals was a legitimate charge against the estate.” The deceased, in other words, was paying for free rum.

After a wedding, or as Milner puts it, “the frolic that followed,” there was an old fashioned breakdown “to which all the neighbours came on foot or horseback, including a fiddler.” At these receptions the black rum flowed freely.

“Gallons of rum were laid in and it was strange if some present before morning were not laid out. Rum took an important part in all the functions. A wedding or funeral was not complete without it.”

Rum lubricated other events as well, Milner noted. “A barn raising, a chopping frolic with a country dance afterwards on the barn floor, a court sessions, a general muster were all inspired by John Barleycorn.”

One reason for the general imbibing was simply that rum was cheap. “A gallon of rum as late as 50 years ago (Milner was writing around 1918) costs less than half a bottle now. One could get drunk for 3d. and dead drunk for 6d. Dr. Styles, writing from Halifax a century ago, said the business of one half of the people was to sell rum and the other half to drink it.”

I like the quaint description Milner gives of the courtship period leading up to the rum-soaked wedding receptions. “A visitor – a youth – comes on a Saturday night under the thin disguise of trading oxen or talking about spring plowing or another mission. There are sly exchanges of intelligence and as the evening wears on, the family drops off one by one, leaving him seated on one end of the fireplace with his fair vis-a-vis on the other. There were no long courtships… and if during the course of three such visits he could not get his chair close to hers, he used not to come again.”

School Records Sought

The Kings Historical Society is looking for school records from the late 1800s to 1965. If you have records from this period you would like to either donate or permit the Society to photocopy, contact them at 902-678-6237.

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