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In such a period—the first and second decades of the Nineteenth Century, and in such a society, it might be expected that public dancing at balls and parties would form the chief source of amusement among society people. And so it was. Every town and village had its ball-room, and its musician, al-most always a negro fiddler, and the occasions of the dance were very frequent, sometimes continuing through three consecutive nights, with feasting and drinking, on the part of the men. The ladies seldom partook of wine. Miss Mordecai in her History of Hastings (Warrenton) has given an interesting and unique account of one of these large balls.

As the hour set for the festivities to begin is very early, these preparations have begun before sunset. Let us first take a peep at the ballroom, all lighted up for the evening. It is a room twenty by thirty feet, with opposite doors opening into a front and back porch, a third door at the upper end opens into the supper room, some three or four windows, with small panes of glass bare of curtains or shades, are so near the floor that persons on the outside have a good opportunity of seeing all that is going on within, generally these are negroes, who greatly enjoy seeing a dance and hearing music. A sill has given way in the middle of the floor, which makes dancing a little difflcult, but what does that matter. The benches, without backs, are arranged around the walls of the room, it is lighted by tallow candles, stuck, in scones, which are hung on nails around the walls. A charming fire of hickory logs is sparkling on the hearth, these logs are supported on stout andirons; on the head of each has been placed a generous ball of grease, and as the fire increases it melts and runs down, blackening the iron.

The fiddlers, Sandy and Pompey, have entered the room and are climbing to the stand, which elevates them above the dancers. In order to tune his fiddle, Sandy has placed it between his knees, to which he bends his ear, while Pompey who has a horse-shoe as a triangle, looks at Sandy with great reverence, and when he says "now," bobs his head, stamps his foot, and the shoe goes to the gingle of the fiddle. The signal is given, and as the company enter, he plays "Hail Columbia."

A group of young men have just entered in high glee, having that day returned from a frolic in the country. The master of the revel is a young man of large fortune which he inherited from' his father, which he is spending faster than it was made. This young spendthrift is unmarried, living on his estate, the care of which he leaves to others, and indulges without restraint his wild and dissipated propensities. The companions who now surround him have been spending the past week with him at his country home, during which drinking and smoking to excess has been the chief enjoyment. At the close of this mad carousal beds were brought in the room in which the sideboard stood, regardless of trouble, a high-post bed-stead was also moved in, where these young bacchanals lay resting and drinking. A boon young companion came galloping up to the doors, and reigning in his horse with a sudden jerk, he shouted with all his might to announce his arrival.

He was hailed with delight, and the party within unanimously insisted that he ride into the room, and hitch his horse to the bedpost, nothing loth he complied, it was then agreed that every man that wished to replenish his glass should mount the horse and ride to the sideboard. While practicable, this was done, and as may be reasonably sup-posed before the end of the day the horse was not the only brute in the room.

The whole company being now assembled the young men met no negative when they approached the young girls with the proposal "take a dance?" The ball opens with reels, first six, then eight, then ten handed. The elderly ladies sat at the head of the room in quiet dignity, while their husbands stand with their backs to the fire, for the dancing spirit will not be fully aroused until after supper. The room is now full, and the great variety of ball dresses cause a kaleidoscope appearance, some are made short waisted, while some are long, some made of changeable silk, while others are of glossy calico, in the reel you see a spangled muslin, one lady has a long train pinned to her shoulder, while another holds hers in her hand, and it gathers wind as she sails along. A great variety of ornaments decorate the ladies, glass beads are strung in all styles, some necklaces are made of cloves alternating with allspice. Large lockets are also worn, some being miniatures, others, mourning pieces in black enamel or ivory, representing a tombstone, a willow, with a group of the family gathered as mourners, as the dance becomes more animated these mourning ornaments jump merrily, tomb-stones and all, with the chains from which they are hung. The ladies heads present quite as great a variety as the ornaments worn. Some wear powder, some do not, some have close crisp curls all over the head, while others have long stray curls, false or natural, hanging about their necks which are styled "kill-beau."

And the gentlemen, the old tailor coats shine out tonight new and stiff. The standing collar is the master of art, rolling over, burying each back of the head in its wave. The tie of the cravat was amazing, the double bow not so full, while the ends stand off on each side. The shirt collars must not be lost sight of, with edges almost as sharp as razors, and fitted so close under the ears as to threaten them with amputation. Some of the collars are embroidered on both sides with open work. It was esteemed a mark of great favor for a lady to work a collar and shirt bosom for a gentleman. Then the vest, some nearly half way to the knee, while others were so short as to be with difficulty, brought even with a sly jerk, to meet the band which awaits it at the waist. The style of shoes differed quite as much. Some were leather boots coming to the knee, out in front in a heart shape, with a black tassel hanging from it, that swayed merrily when the wearer was cutting capers. Others were made low, as for dancing.

But all must pause now for the supper is ready, Sandy and Pompey have ceased to play and must rest awhile. The company is now marching in grave order in the dining room. It is a very long, and to be hoped a very strong table, for it has to bear a great burden, filled as it is with all quantities, as well as of all qualities of food. At the head is a large dish of bacon and greens, hot with the liquor filling the dish, and plenty of hot corn bread, broken up, on the side table to eat with it. Then there are turkies and geese, ducks and fowls. There were two or three roasted pigs, with an apple in the mouth, to make it look natural, all sorts of bread, except the real light bread; there were biscuits and Johnny cakes. There were all sorts and sizes of cakes, the large ones were decorated around with fringed paper, and in the center hole a paper tree, or the place supplied by a branch of cedar, powdered with flour. Then there were pies and puffs and tarts and shallow dish puddings, while marecales crowded in with sugar, sifted over them. Tipsey Square with Charlotte Russe and Sally Lunn had not at that time appeared on the tables of the village. Tea, coffee and milk were at hand for those that desired either. There were good white earthen plates, and strong buck-handled knives, with two pronged forks around the table.

The ladies retire to the ball-room first, the gentlemen follow later. Sandy and Pompey have had their supper, and have mounted the stand, and the music is resumed by their striking up a minuet, that being finished a lively gentlemen calls for a "conga".  A reel is next danced, and a jig concludes the evening.

Old Sandy's foot, which has been pounding time the entire evening, now moves slower and slower, his head is nodding over his fiddle, which gives a faint squeak, as if bidding a wearied good-night to its bow, and sliding over its strings, almost falls to the floor from Sandy's relaxing hand. Pompey being roused by a sudden nod, which came near breaking his neck, jigs his companion, who seeks under his chair for his hat and his old green baize fiddle-bag, and cautiously descending from their scaffold, are the last to leave the now deserted ball-room


To those of the present day it will seem strange that negro men, who were fiddlers, conducted dancing schools for the whites, but to people of my age such a custom was not only not strange, but natural, because it was so general a habit. Within my recollection two most respectable, and very popular negroes, Trim Cawthorn and Ned Turner, at the same time that they furnished music for the dancing, in the homes as well at the "hops" in public places, instructed the young people as to the figures in the dance.

When large balls, and unusual dances were given, then regular bands of string instruments and comets were called into service. For twenty years or more before the War Between the States, however, there came to Warrenton professional dancing teachers, generally men, several times a year, who formed classes in dancing for the larger children, and young ladies and gentlemen.

Their sessions would last a month or six weeks, interspersed with public dances, to give confidence to the pupils, as well to show their progress in the terpsichorean art in the community.

I may add in this connection, that for some years prior to the War Between the States the people of the town, by subscription, employed a brass-band from one of the northern cities to furnish music for the public during the summer months. Late in each afternoon this band would give a concert, from the bandstand, in the courthouse square; and two nights in the week they furnished music for the dances held in the ball-room of the Brownlow Hotel.

In connection with her account of the balls and parties of early Warrenton. Miss Mordecai has given us equally as interesting a one of how the children and young people were taught to dance.

The dancing school was taught in the front room of the tavern. There at regular intervals of three or four weeks, the children of the village would assemble on Thursday, Friday and Saturday to be taught the grace of motion, and the prance of dance by everybody's dancing master, "Uncle" Peter Feggins, a negro man. He was one of the most celebrated characters of his time; being as he was, the only dancing master in all the neighboring counties of the two adjoining States, Virginia and North Carolina. He was accompanied by a sable satellite, Hardy Artis, who played minuets on the violin, while his superior circulated about the room, teaching his scholars a coupee, plain step, sink, and a bound. Which of Peter's pupils will ever forget these technicalities or the movements that followed these words of command:,. The coupee, toe raised, foot arched, and pointed to the floor, but not yet touching It, while the pupil stood In a, tottering- suspension. A duck can stand on one foot, and so can Uncle Peter with more ease than e child can, but here comes relief in the plain step. Then the sink was complicated. again, it bent one knee almost to the ground, while the foot sliding on the floor was at a given signal to appear, as the body was slowly elevated by the gradual straightening of the limb. To this succeeded the "bound," which was a sort of a prance, such as we have seen executed by a yearling calf, while quietly grazing, as if it had been all at once electrified.

Somewhat similar to this was the "bound" as made by inimitable grace by Peter's bald calf leg and doubled heel toe, both of which were well displayed in shorts and pumps.
When his pupils were proficient in these four movements, the young gentlemen were instructed, hat in hand, how to approach the young lady, and with all due ceremony re-quest the honor of a minuet. The favor, according to rule, was conferred with condescension, and with rounded el-bows, and linger barely touching at their tips; the little man handed the little lady to the head of the room. Her young partner stepping in measure, hat in hand, barely touched with his the tips of hers when they met in the dance.

But the minuet was not all that Peter Feggins taught, There was the "Congo," a livelier sort of minuet, danced by two or four. The contra dance was merrier still, particularly "thump the devil" which was a great favorite; but the merriest of all, and of course the most desired, was the good, but now, the old-fashioned reel, because it was gay and full of life, as were the young creatures, who felt as if they could dance forever and never tire, if Uncle Peter or Harry would continue to play "Polly put the Kettle on."

The signal for departure was "Washington's March," al-ways an unwelcomed sound, hats and bonnets were now sought, bows and courtesies were made at the door to the bowing Peter, and the grinning Artis, and being Saturday afternoon, the dancing lessons were ended for the month.


As few of the country people who came either to the elections or "to trade," as they expressed it, in-stead of "to shop," went to the tavern or public house to "put up" as was the expression, they came in on horse back, the wife, mother, or daughter rode behind the man, often bringing their strong home-woven cloth for which they got twenty-five cents a yard, and so they tied their horses to the racks, put up at public places, say near the courthouse or stores. These horse-racks resembled long gallows about five feet high, on the upper cross beam of which stout rounded pieces of wood were driven, over which the bridle was thrown when they dismounted. Near several of these horse-racks stood large graduated blocks forming steps of different heights, for the convenience of the female equestrians in mounting or dismounting. To protect their dresses the women wore what was called a riding coat; this was a very full petticoat made with a belt to button around the waist, on the outside of all the clothes, generally left open so that it could be easily put on or off, which was done in the street. When they either arrived or left town, they generally threw it across the pommel of the saddle, where they always found it when wishing to use it again. If the restlessness of the horse, poor thing, often left for hours, caused it to drop from the saddle, the first passer-by picked it up and replaced it, such was the' simplicity of that period and the remoteness of the village.

As the decades passed whilst balls and dancing parties lost nothing of the hold on the popular taste, conditions greatly changed, and continued to improve until the quarter of a century before the breaking out of the Civil War, when commodious and full furnished rooms were prepared for those festive occasions, orchestras were brought from abroad to furnish the music, candelabras of sperm or paraffin candles lighted up the dance, and the costumes of loth ladies and gentlemen were in good taste, stylish and hand-some.

The reel, the lancers, and the cotillion were the most popular dances, but the polka, mazurka, and waltz were danced on all occasions. At the first, and for long years, the gentlemen and ladies seldom waltzed together, but some years after the war when that popular dance, the German, was introduced, that custom was changed, of course. It must not be understood that public dancing was ever approved in Warren County and Warrenton by the people at large. It was indulged in by that class of the population known as society people; a great majority of the citizenship have always been opposed to public dancing, and are now opposed to it.

As to the feature of refreshments at balls and dances, the changes have been equally as great. About twenty-five years before the Civil War, the arrangement for the supper at large balls was about as this, a long table was well supplied with several kinds of meats, fowls, and oysters, if in season, breads, rolls, biscuit, pickles, hot coffee and tea; except chicken salad, no salads were known of or used. Sometimes this meat supper was served in a separate room from the sweet supper.

The table containing the sweets was artistically set and arranged, with a fancy center piece of tier of glass or china salvas, the largest at the bottom and so on to a small one on top, on which were placed alternately fruit, apples, oranges, jelly made of hogs-foot, syllabub, large pound, fruit and sponge cakes beautifully iced were placed on the table, generally at the corners, on the sides were piles of snow balls and Naples biscuit (cake baked in long narrow shape, iced and piled up as if making a pen for an enclosure) also cheese cakes, nuts, raisins, dried figs, and, if in season frozen custard, fruit cream, lemon sherbet, etc.

The guests stood around the walls of the supper room and the lady's escort supplied her with helpings from the table. Only elderly people were honored with a seat.

In referring to dancing again, it will be interesting to give an account of the negroes' fondness for and participation in the pastime, and the suddenness of losing all interest in it. Up to the time of his emancipation the negro's love of dancing was well known throughout the entire South. The race was and is musical, and whenever he heard music he was sure to manifest his pleasure as well in his bodily movements, as in his mental. Dancing was universal with them, and while awkward in the most of their bodily movements, in the dance they were agile and many of them graceful. On the plantations there was always a negro fiddler and on all holidays and festive occasions of all sorts dancing was their chief amusement. At the close of the Confederate War, as a people they ceased to dance, and they do not dance today in the South, except in large towns and cities. Simultaneously with their ceasing to dance they began series of religious revivals and their deep concern in Church meetings and religious worship still continue. Many people in the South have for all these years ridiculed the negro's religious devotion, unaware of the great benefits that have accrued to Southern society by the di-version of the negro mind from resentment over slavery to the rendering of thanksgiving to God for the blessing of freedom.


Montgomery, Lizzie Wilson; Sketches of old Warrenton, North Carolina; traditions and reminiscences of the town and people who made it, Raleigh, Edwards & Broughton printing company, 1924.

©2004 by Nola Duffy & Ginger L. Christmas-Beattie

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