January 5, 1857 - Honeymoon Song


Tuesday 5th. Started for Uncle Clinton Garter's, [west of Grand Rapids]. Rather a cold day to ride, but Otis heat a brick & put to my feet & I was quite comfortable. . . . We passed through a wee village named Berlin. . . . Aunt Harriet is a lively, good little woman, the three little ones, Thomas, George & Sarah, are full of life & mischief, & Uncle is what I call a model of a handsome man, & moreover he looks very much like Otis. Uncles folks have a great deal of company I should think. . . . Mr. Birdsall, Mr. Perkins, who is a good singer, & Alonzo Van Gordon a brother of Aunts & who was here to supper; called. Uncle has a fiddle & plays better than any man I have heard in this center portion of the state.


[In large script]


Down on the Mississippi floting

Long time I trabled on the way

All knight the cottonwood a toting

Sing for my trulub all the day


Nell was a lady

Last night she died

Tole the bell for lubly nel

My dark virginny bride


When I saw my nelly in the morning

Smile till she opened up her eyes

I carried like the light ob day a doning

Jis before the sun begins to rize


Now I am unhappy and am weeping

Can't tote the cotton wood no more

Last night while Nelly was a sleeping

Deth came knocking at the door


Close by de margin ob de water

Where de lone weeping willow grows

There libed Virginny's lubly daughter

There she in deth may find repose


Down in the meadow mong de clober

Walked with my Nelly by my side

Now all dem happy daze are ober

Farewell my dark Virginny bride


Henry Garter Jr.




Of course we may know this song as "Nelly Was a Lady," by Stephen Foster, published in 1849. It seems Rosette was so taken with her new Uncle Henry she assumed he'd written this very popular song.


Otis and Rosette Churchill took their wedding journey by horse-drawn sleigh, a "cutter" that the menfolk constructed the month before and had "ironed" - fitted with runners - in Portland. Others rode with them for short jaunts of several miles, so it was presumably not the smallest size. On their journey they headed west beyond Grand Rapids, then came back through the city for, among other things, the opportunity for Otis to have an "ambrotype" photograph made of Rosette.


The people they visited included Otis's aunts and uncles on his mother Betsey Garter Churchill's side - her brother Henry, named for their father, and one of three sisters who married three brothers of the King family. Back in Orange Township, where they settled, another of these sisters - Lucinda - and her husband Myron King became very important to the newlyweds. Details of the extended Garter family come from the journal and from the beautifully detailed work of William Robert Brittenham (deceased 2008), The Garter Family of New York and Michigan.


Enjoy listening to this version of

"Nelly Was a Lady"

by Charles Szabo.


Imagine how captivating this tune must have been in the cordial company of a family celebrating a new marriage,

with good singers and a good fiddle to lead them all.


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