Sunday, December 6, 2009

Boone County's Judges Solemnize Marriages

From The Bench and Bar of Boone County Missouri by North Todd Gentry, Columbia, Missouri, 1916, pp. 108-111. Available in the Wilson-Wulff History and Genealogy Library at the Walters-Boone County Historical Museum.

Photo at right shows the Court of Common Pleas building in 2006.


Shortly after he was appointed judge of the probate court, Hon. Jas. A. Henderson was called on to marry a couple, at the home of the brides' parents, some three miles from Columbia. Judge Henderson hired a livery team, and invite Hon. Lewis M. Switzler, then a young lawyer, to go with him. After making a beautiful talk, giving the young people plenty of advice, Judge Henderson confidently expected a good supper and a good fee. The groom called the jude out into the hall, and taking out a ten dollar bill, asked him how much he charged. Judge Henderson looked wistfully at the bill, and, hoping that he would ge tall of it, replied that he made no regular charge. The groom smilingly said, "I am so much obliged to you, Judge Henderson." Judge Switzler says that Judge Henderson looked as small as the point of a cambric needle.

When Judge Switzler became judge of the probate court, and married his first couple, the groom told him to charge his fee to the account of love and affection.

Prior to 1881, our statute did not require any marriage license; but it did require the officiating minister, judge or justice of the peace to certify in writing to the marriage, and to file the same for record with the recorder of deeds. The recorder's fee was fifty cents, and when the groom failed to pay, the officiating minister of justice often failed to file a certificate of marriage. At one time, Thomas B. Gentry, J.P., married a couple in the county court room, in the presence of a goodly company; and, as soon as the ceremony was concluded, the groom called him to one side, and announced the fact that he had no money. But the groom further told him that he had some cord wood for sale, which the justice readily agreed to accept for his fee. Relying on that promise, the justice filed the certificate of marriage and paid the recording fee; but never saw either bride or groom again, neither was the cord wood forthcoming.

Ben Cave, who lived in this county for many years, coming to Boone county when, as he expressed it, "there wasn't a tree missing in Columbia", told the following story a short time before his death. The first marriage in Boone county occurred in a log cabin which stood where Christian College now stands; and, as was customary, every person for miles around was in attendance. The cabin, which was a one story structure with a loft above, was the home of the bride's parents. At the appointed hour, the bride was in the loft, and several lady friends were helping to decorate her; and Judge Lazsarus Wilcox and a good company were in the room underneath. Unfortunately, the bride stepped on one of the loose planks, which flew up and precipitated her to the room below, her foot striking Judge Wilcox on the head as she fell. She was not ready to come down. Much was her embarrassment and the embarrassment of the entire company, no one seeming to know just what to do. at that trying moment, the mother came to her rescue and called out, "Sal, run to the fodder shock." So Sal ran out the door of the cabin, beat a hasty retreat to the fodder shock. The mother climbed the ladder and procured the remaining garments for the daughter from the loft and soon the blushing bride returned and the wedding ceremony proceeded. In concluding, Uncle Ben Cave said, "This was one of the most interesting weddings Boone county ever had."

Before the days of the marriage license, the minister, justice or judge was required to ascertain the ages of the contracting parties to the marriage, and he was prohibited under heavy penalties from marrying a person under legal age. Judge J.W. Hickam was once prosecuted for solemnizing a marriage, when the young man was under twenty-one; and this possibly accounts for the unusual certificate of marriage that Justice Hickam executed. It is as follows:

"I do hereby certify that upon April 1, 1838, I was called upon to marry Absalom Corn to Phebe Martin. I accordingly went to one Priestly Rogers where I found the parties Before I proceeded to join them in the bonds of matrimony, I asked Mr. Corn some questions as to his age. He stated that he was twenty-one years of age the 25th day of December, 1837, and Mr. Rogers and others who were present stated that they had heard the mother of Corn say at different times that he was twenty-one years old Christmas Day, 1837. I had been acquainted with Mr. Corn for nearly three years, during which time he acted for himself, nor had I the least doubt but what he was of lawful age. I proceeded to join them in matrimony and went away. I had not left more than three minutes until I was informed that some one had said that Corn was not twenty-one years old. I immediately went back and told Corn what I had heard and that as I did not wish to involve myself in any difficulty and that if he would go to his mother and get a certificate all would be right. He stated that it would be unnecessary, that he would prove himself to be twenty-one years old. I then ordered him not to consider himself married; but he declined to comply with my order. J.W. HICKAM, J.P."

It is not surprising that the case against Judge Hickam was dismissed.

Before the days of bridges across Perche Creek, John Slack, one of the early justices, was invited to marry a couple on the other side of the creek from his residence. Several hours before the appointed time, there was a heavy rain and the creek could not be forded. At that time, justices were few and ministers were fewer, and the distance to the nearest town was great and the roads almost impassable. Accordingly, the justice stood on the east bank of Perche and the contracting parties stood on the west bank, and the marriage ceremony was performed with all the solemnities. required by the statute. Mr. Slack had them to procure a lantern, so that he and the two Witnesses could see that the bride and groom joined their right hands.

About 1828, Young E. Hicks and Richard Gentry, the former county judge and the latter justice of the peace, left Columbia, in company with Amos Marney and others, to engage in the Santa Fe trade. As they neared Rocheport, they met a couple of young people on horseback, and evidently in great haste. Inquiry developed that they were running away to Boonville to be married. Justice Gentry was outside of his township, so he feared he did not have jurisdiction, but Judge Hicks knew he did have jurisdiction, so he performed the ceremony, all parties being on the old state road. Judge Hicks was seated in his wagon, and the bride and groom were on the same horse.

Judge S.N. Woods was usually very careful, but occasionally he forgot to attend to an important matter. It is said that one of his neighbor boys wanted the judge to come one evening at eight o'clock sharp and officiate at his wedding, which the judge promised to do. Shortly after supper, however, Judge Woods proceeded to disrobe and go to bed, forgetting all about the would-be bride and groom. But he was unable to sleep; he tossed from one side of the bed to the other, till ten o'clock, when he heard some one coming in the front gate of his pasture. He wondered who it could be, when all at once he discovered that it was the young man, and his girl was with him; also two or three friends. The weather was mind, and the moon was bright. Without any apology, Judge Woods, called to them from his up-stairs window, "Join your right hands, I will marry you righ here and now." And, without stopping to put on his breast pin, and indeed with nothing on but his night shirt, Judge Woods, to use his own language, "In three or four word, I made one out of two." And then to even matters up, the judge declined to make any charge.

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