An “Infair” to Remember

As I have been working on the archives from my husband’s family over the last 3 years, I have been studiously avoiding one particular folder.  It is full of faint photocopies made in the 1960s, of original handwritten documents from 1901 to 1913, that reference family stories from 1783 through about 1876.  And they all look like this (except most of the time the handwriting is a messy scrawl):

60-year-old Xerox copy, of 110-year-old handwritten account, of an event that happened 238 years ago!

So it’s the oldest and most interesting information, but in the worst shape.  Before deciphering these files, I needed to learn who was who in the past generations.

I have finally come to that point, and I have been rewarded with a lovely description of a family wedding from 1806!

Image from Lady’s Magazine, 1805, Special Collections and Archives, Cardiff University, link to source

Actually there are three accounts, all written by the same author in 1900, 1901, and 1913, so I am going to combine details here:

John and Elizabeth Buchanan Walker married in the fall of 1806 at the farm of the bride’s father William Buchanan in Virginia, by Rev. Brice.

The ceremony occupied nearly or quite an hour including a sermon on the husband’s and wife’s duties to each other (mutual duties) and to others. As they were good Presbyterians believing the Bible to be the only true rule of faith and practice Rev. Brice likely quoted advice freely from Paul’s epistles. In later years grandma Elizabeth repeated to her daughters his charge that they not be tale-bearers among their neighbors. It may be noted she didn’t have any temptations in this way, for when they moved to Ohio in the spring of 1807 and got a cabin built for themselves their nearest neighbor was four miles away; and she saw no white woman for 18 months.

The bride was handsomely dressed in white lawn, short waist, four or five inches under the arm, half low neck, short sleeve, yellow kid gloves fitting to the elbow. The groom wore, I suppose, a swallowtail coat, high collar, perhaps ruffled shirt front, knee breeches and low shoes and fine perpendicular narrow striped blue and white cotton hose fastened at the knee with silver buckles. Shoes had buckles too. Hair braided in a queue. As they were good Presbyterians there was no thought of dancing but it would seem the company spent most of the day together. There was no hurry to get off on the expensive or extensive wedding trip.

The second day dress or infair dress was buff chintz (fine cambric) with black flowers.  As there was an infair dress there must have been a party at John’s father Robert’s in a day or two, six miles away in Pennsylvania. He was 23 years old, had five brothers and two sisters younger. With some invited friends they must have had nice interesting time at the infair.

I kept coming across that word, “infair,” that I had never heard before.  Online dictionaries were no help, so I went to the Internet Archive and searched books.  Many examples turned up, in books that were written in the 1890s and early 1900s, usually books that were written to leave a record of the authors’ memories of the early 1800s. Even then, the word and custom must have fallen out of use, because when the authors mentioned “infairs,” they felt the need to explain the word to their readers.  An infair was defined as a celebration at the groom’s family home, the day after the wedding. 

Here are three excerpts from old books; if you are interested in this tradition, there are a lot more examples at the Internet Archive.

From Ohio:

Weddings have been interesting and popular in all times. Sixty years ago … The ceremony was more simple, and was performed with much less expense for wardrobe or outfit. No wedding presents were usually expected.

The average girl was considered well provided for when her mother furnished her with a good bed and bedding, a side saddle, a cow, six knives and forks, the same number of plates, cups and saucers, teaspoons and tablespoons, a tea- kettle, dutch oven, and a wash tub, in addition to her wedding and Sunday dresses. Generally the bride wore a neat cap made out of light stuff, and well trimmed with ribbons, and the groom wore his best new suit made for the occasion.

Bridal tours were not then taken to any extent, and usually housekeeping immediately commenced. The night of the wedding the couple generally had a grand serenade, the music being made by cow-bells, horse fiddles, and horns, not very harmonious, but loud in tones. The next day after the wedding there would usually be what was called an “ Infair,” at the home of the groom, where most of the wedding guests would meet and have a great family dinner.

There was a custom of running for the bottle at the infair. Three or four of the party having the best horses, the cavalcade being generally on horseback, would start in a race to reach the groom’s home first; it often was a neck-and-neck race for miles; and he who got there first was entitled to the bottle filled with whisky, with a red ribbon around its neck,, which he would carry back with great pride to the coming company, and for the time he would be the hero of the occasion.

Farm Life in Central Ohio, Martin Welker, 1895, pp. 63, 64

From Indiana:

I always went to all the weddings that I was asked to. There was no place or gathering of young people that I liked to go to so well as to a wedding. I was often called on to stand up with the groom. Bridesmaids and bridegrooms were all called waiters. The waiters were expected to be about as well dressed as the groom and bride. When I was a young man the bride and her waiter wore caps on the day of the marriage and also on the day of the infair. The young ladies prided themselves on having very fine and nice made caps to wear at a wedding. Then for some time after she was married whenever the young bride put on her wedding dress or dressed up pretty nice she wore her fine cap, too…

On Thursday, the 19th day of September, 1839, I and Miss Martha Young were married, at the home of her mother… [Author then describes ceremony.]
Then we had a nice wedding dinner and a pleasant party full of joy and delight.
Next day, the day of the infair, soon after breakfast, your mother and I and all the young people who were going with us to my father’s to the infair, mounted our horses and away we went. When we got within about three-fourths of a mile of father’s home two young men on horseback met us, whom he and mother had sent to meet us with a bottle of sweet wine. They called us to a halt. The bottle was passed around; then they escorted us on to my father’s. When we got there we got off, tied our horses, and walked through the gate and into the house.

There father and mother met us at the door and took my wife and me by the hand and welcomed us to their home, and invited us to come in and to take seats, and had our hats put away. Then all who were present came and took us by the hand and congratulated us over our happy marriage and wished us a long and happy life. We soon were taken out to dinner, where all first partook of the wine, then sat down to a table well loaded with the delicious luxuries of life. When dinner was over and the dishes washed and put away, the young people spent the bal ance of the day in sport and amusement. Our waiters accompanied us to the close of the infair. My wife and her waiter wore beautiful white dresses and nice caps, ornamentally trimmed with very fine ribbons. I was dressed in a suit made of fine blue broadcloth ; the cut of the coat was what was called close-bodied or “pigeon-tail,” trimmed with flowered brass buttons plated with gold, a silk hat, and a pair of fine kid boots.

Some Recollections of My Boyhood, Branson Lewis Harris, 1908, pp. 65 – 70

From Missouri:

Speaking of infairs has reminded me of a good joke on me and two of my brothers in our youth that caused us laughter for many years, though at the moment we may have been peeved a little.

It was the usual thing to invite to the infair all the guests who attended the wedding, so usual indeed that the matter ordinarily went without saying. Immediately after the wedding, invitations were issued to the infair.
My brothers and I were invited to a wedding in a family with whom we were acquainted but not at all intimate. As the wedding was held at a distance from our home, we arranged to stay during the festive days with a friend in that neighborhood.
We all saved our prettiest and best garments for the infair, wearing the second best to the wedding. But — doubtless through some oversight — the invitations to the infair never arrived! I had even to send away a swain who called at our friends’ home to escort me to it.

Down the Avenue of Ninety Years, Martha Campbell Vivian, 1924, p. 120

It’s too bad we don’t have a scrap of the wedding dress or infair dress, but I enjoyed learning about this forgotten tradition!