The tradition of a June wedding can be traced to ancient Roman times. The monthof June is named after the Roman goddess Juno, the goddess of marriage. The Romansthought the gods would bless a June marriage bringing happiness and prosperity. Juneweddings continue to the present day to be a popular time to tie the knot.
Weddings and the marriage ceremony are full of symbolism and traditions; the dress especially plays a significant role. Since antiquity, brides have always worn special clothing on their special day. A wedding garment can reveal a lot about a bride’s culture, and position in society. The more lavish the dress, the more it displayed the wealth of the brides’ family.
White has not always been the color of wedding dresses. It was not until 1840 when Queen Victoria got married in a white wedding dress did the tradition of the bride wearing white become popular. Before that time, it was common for a bride to get married in any color dress she chose.
According to museum records, it appears that Miss Telitha Catherine Walker wore the wedding dress on display. She married Nathaniel P. Tinsley on Sept. 20, 1838, in Macomb. The 172 years old dress is a lovely cream-colored silk, and consists of a skirt and blouse. The skirt has a flowing train trimmed in lace, the blouse is decorated with lace and beading. The high quality silk fabric, the fine hand sewing, the delicate beading and trim, all indicate that this garment was of very high quality and was not an ordinary, everyday piece of clothing. The bride’s family obviously spared no expense on the garment.
Telitha was married when horse and buggies and dusty, muddy streets were the norm. The lace-trimmed train would have been an indulgence for even a wedding dress unless the woman had a carriage and help to keep the dress dragged on the ground.
It appears that this dress was intended only for the wedding day. The fancy lace and beadwork are extravagant for everyday wear. The fine condition of the lace and trim, seem to indicate that this dress was probably not worn often after the wedding day.
For most 19th century women, owning a dress that was worn only once was not only unrealistic, but also impractical. Most women had a very few number of dresses, so it was not unusual for a woman to have only one “best” dress that she used for all special occasions, from wedding, church functions, all the way to her funeral.
It was quite common for a bride to keep her wedding dress and incorporate it into her regular everyday wardrobe. Even Queen Victoria kept her wedding dress, reused it, and wore it again.
What is known about the bride, Telitha Catherine Walker? Records show she was born April 19, 1823; her parents were Joseph M. Walker and Mariah Collin. Her parents were very early settlers and farmed in the area. They must have been successful to be able to outfit their daughter so beautifully for her wedding.
Telitha married Nathaniel P. Tinsley on September 20, 1838, she was just 15 years old and the groom was 28. The blouse of the dress is extremely small, almost child-like in size, and this is understandable considering the age of the bride.
Sadly, the young married couple only had a short time together. Telitha died on June 12, 1847, she was aged 24 years, 10 months and 17 days. The couple was married for a little less than 9 years. During their brief marriage, Telitha and Nathaniel had four children. Only one child lived to adulthood, Mary Catherine, born Dec. 7, 1845.
Telitha is buried in a lovely spot on a hillside in Camp Creek Cemetery, in the countryside outside of Industry. She is buried near her father, Joseph M. Walker, who had preceded her in death on Nov. 7, 1846, aged 52 years.
In the 1800s, family members were buried around a group marker. Telitha rests near her three children, an unnamed infant daughter, a son, Seth who died Feb. 26, 1842, aged eight months and 26 days and another son, Edwin, died July 2, 1844, aged one year, one month and 25 days.
The harshness of pioneer life and the stark reality that many children did not survive childhood and that few adults lived long lives, can be read into the heartbreaking record of noting the exact number of months and days each person had lived in their brief life.
Who was the groom that stood next to the young bride dressed in the lovely wedding outfit on display? Nathaniel P. Tinsley is an important figure in the early history of Macomb. According to the History of McDonough County of 1885, Tinsley was one of the most successful and prominent businessmen of his day.
Born in November 1, 1810 in Virginia, as a child he moved to Kentucky, and from there moved to Macomb in 1836. He had only been living in Macomb for two years when he married Telitha. The Walker family lived in Kentucky before moving to Macomb and it is possible the families knew each other before settling in Macomb.
Upon arriving in Macomb in 1836, Tinsley immediately opened a general merchandise store, it was among the earliest businesses in Macomb. Later, he started the first large flour mill in McDonough County. A merchant and a miller, he was well regarded in the community.
In county histories, he is described as enterprising, progressive, and prosperous. In addition, it was noted, “he was a man of ample means, high ideals, great force of character and pure motives. He was generous to a fault. He was plain and unassuming.”
He died in 1882, “leaving the impress of his noble character and worthy deeds upon the community to which his life was so great a boom.” “His action always seems to have been characterized, not by any selfish motive, but solely for the public good, and thus he is, and ever will be, held in grateful remembrance.”
From county marriage records, it appears that Tinsley never re-married. After his young wife died he alone raised his two-year-old girl, Mary Catherine. He stayed a widower for the remaining 35 years of his life.
This wedding dress tells a story of a young bride from a good family marrying an up-and-coming young man. It tells of a brand new couple in a pioneer town looking forward to a bright future together.
Preserved for prosperity in the museum, the dress remains as a record of a special event in early pioneer life in McDonough County and a poignant memento of a family from a distant past.
Essay by Heather Munro