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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John W. Snipes, November 20, 1976. Interview H-0098-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Courtship and marriage as teenagers in rural North Carolina

Snipes describes his courtship and marriage to Lessie Mae Smith. Snipes recalls that he and his wife virtually grew up with one another because her father was a tenant farmer on his father's land. Snipes explains how, before marriage, their social interactions primarily occured at school and at church, and how he went about procuring a marriage license at the age of seventeen. Additionally, Snipes explains how their families reacted to their early (and secret) marriage, as well as outlining their actual wedding ceremony.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John W. Snipes, November 20, 1976. Interview H-0098-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

BRENT GLASS:
Let's move on to when you got married and started your own farm. When would that be?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
April 18, 1919 when I got married. My wife was fifteen and I was seventeen.
BRENT GLASS:
How come you got married so young?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Well, we got to courting.
BRENT GLASS:
How did you meet your wife?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
She was a tenant that lived in a house on my father's place, a little old girl seven or eight years old. From then on I knew her from the day she was born at my father's old place there. Her mother died when my wife was, I believe she was about three years old or something like that. Then her uncle took her and raised her there on the farm in the tenant house where my wife's mother died. It was on our old big plantation, the old Snipes plantation. It was 640 acres, and it was a grant from England, a square mile.
BRENT GLASS:
Right, you mentioned that the last time. What was your wife's maiden name?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Smith.
BRENT GLASS:
What's her first name?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Lessie, Lessie Mae Smith.
BRENT GLASS:
So you knew her since she was a small girl. You grew up together.
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Oh yes, yes sir. We were born and raised together.
BRENT GLASS:
How did you court?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Well, we went about a mile and a half to an old one-room schoolhouse through the woods. There was about four or five families. I was thinking about it the other night; sometimes there'd be as many as twenty-five of us. And we walked about half as far as from here to Pittsboro through the woods on those paths.
BRENT GLASS:
To go to school?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
To go to school. And it was just one room.
BRENT GLASS:
And that's how you got to know each other?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Yes sir, we went back and forth to school together, then went to church together (I mean the same church).
BRENT GLASS:
Which church would this be?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Mann's Chapel. It was originally the old Shady Grove. We lived adjoining that plantation.
BRENT GLASS:
Well, did you have a chance to be alone at all with your wife before you got married?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Not much. Just walking, and maybe we'd get behind sort of going to school, you know. [Laughter] We'd lag along behind, maybe drop a book or something and we'd get behind. We could whisper and talk a right smart. [Laughter]
BRENT GLASS:
Did people think that was kind of young to get married at that time?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Yes sir. We just surprised the whole neighborhood. My oldest brother, he was in World War Number One; he's living in Florida now. There's not but one in our precinct, a World War I veteran from November 11, Armistice Day. I checked everywhere, and I knew this man Partin from up here near Mann's Chapel. As far as I know he's the only living World War Number One veteran in Baldwin township. There's some in Center township. I remember when he came home. I remember I was plowing on November 11; I was sowing wheat on November 11, 1918. And I large to my age. He says, "Hello, John Atwater. What in the world are you doing over here this time of night?" I said, "I want some marriage licenses." He says, "Who do you want them for?" I said, "I want them for John Snipes." "Do you know him?" I says, "Yes, I do." He said, "Do you know who he's marrying?" I said, "Yes, I do."
BRENT GLASS:
Well, you told the man that you were John Atwater?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Yes sir.
BRENT GLASS:
Oh, I see.
JOHN W. SNIPES:
[Laughter] I was buying them for John Snipes. And so he issued the licenses. I carried them back home. And our old two-storey house, the weatherboarding, of course, runs from the top to the bottom. And between those studdings I laid it up on the sill. Never will forget it, laid it up on the plate, hid them about four or five days before Sunday. This was about the first of the week. Well, I went to look for them about Saturday, Friday or Saturday, and they weren't there. And I figured that this old studding run straight up from the plate to the bottom and they fell all the way down to the sill, fell down there I reckon sixteen or eighteen feet. Well, I had to ease off a piece of weatherboarding, and I found them. That Sunday I went in horse and buggy to church, and my wife walked through the path to church. When she came out of the Sunday school she crawled in the buggy, and we lit out there in the road with that horse and buggy and come right along down yonder. The magistrate lived out yonder, A. T. Ward, We asked his wife where the magistrate was. She said he was down here Sunday evening, sitting down here on the porch with a bunch of men talking. Well, I drove on down there in the buggy, me and her. I had the horse in a lather. He got in the foot of the buggy, and we carried him back up to his house. And he got the Bible and he married us.
BRENT GLASS:
Did he know what you had come for?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
Yes sir. [Laughter] He had to marry us. We had the license. And we were related. Cousin "Don" Ward was a justice of the peace, I believe most of them called them then.
BRENT GLASS:
So what happened? You went home?
JOHN W. SNIPES:
No, we didn't go home. We lit out and went up to a friend, Jack Norwood's and Nettie Norwood. They lived up there and they were friends of ours. And we spent the night there.