Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Shotgun Wedding

Posted by Elyse Bruce on December 29, 2010

Rumour has it that Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII had a shotgun wedding in 1532.  And records show that it’s very likely that William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway had a shotgun wedding as their daughter, Susanna, was christened just 6 months after their wedding.

On October 30, 1667, it was recorded in Plymouth Colony court records that America’s first shotgun wedding was between Mary Alden and Thomas Delano, the son of Philip Delanoye, one of the original settlers of Duxbury, Massachusetts.  The groom was fined ten pounds “for having carnal copulation with his now wife before marriage.”  The judge who meted out punishment was John Alden, Thomas’s father-in-law and neighbour.

And then there’s the story of one William Marion who, along with John Cameron, went on a trip to Kansas in May 1872 to visit Marion’s in-laws. After a few days, Marion returned home alone to Nebraska. Eleven years passed and a boy allegedly wearing clothing identified as Cameron’s was found walking about. Marion was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to be executed for murder.

Though he was given a new trial due to lack of sentencing by a jury, a new jury convicted him as well and he was allegedly killed on March 25, 1887 by firing squad.  Oddly enough though, in 1891, four years after the execution, Cameron turned up alive and well.  He explained that he had run away to Mexico to avoid a shotgun wedding. Marion was pardoned six years later in 1897.

The New York Times ran a review on February 23, 1928 of a play entitled “Rope” by David Wallace and T.S. Stribling, and based on a novel by T.S. Stribling.  The reviewer, J. Brooks Atkinson reported that the duo had “fashioned a stirring melodrama Rope mounted at the Biltmore last evening.”  Mr. Atkinson referenced mischief makers, furtive meetings, loose gossip and a shotgun wedding among other things.  All in all, it would appear that the play was a great success in the reviewer’s eyes … or so he told the readers of the New York Times.

A year later, the Los Angeles Times ran an article on February 16, 1929 with the headline:  “Nevada Wrestling Match Rivals Shotgun Wedding.”

The Chicago Daily Tribune ran an article on February 20, 1937 with the headline:  “Charges Shotgun Wedding in Plea for Annulment.”  The story told was of one Charles F. Lyons, 20 years old, of 211 West Jackson Boulevard who claimed  his marriage to Miss Elizabeth Enright, 21 years old, of 3918 Flournoy Street was a shotgun wedding that began with the father of the bride kidnapping the groom and taking him to wed his daughter.  He filed suit in Superior Court to have the marriage annulled.

By the time WWII was underway, shotgun wedding also had a political meaning as shown by an article that ran in the Tuscaloosa News on April 9, 1943 entitled “Background of Peace” that dealt with WWII and the arrival of a Mr. Wilson in Paris in 1918.  It was a reprint from the Chicago Daily Tribune and read in part:

The guaranty was a note signed by Great Britain, France and Italy before the armistice accepting the fourteen points and supplemental conditions as a specific formula for the peace.  It was a sort of shotgun wedding, inasmuch as Lloyd George and Clemenceau had been told that Mr. Wilson might go to congress for a separate peace on that formula if they undertook to disappoint the hopes they had raised.  Shotgun or not, the diplomatic rites had been solemnized and the pledge was holy.

It would appear that the phrase shotgun wedding is an Americanism from sometime in the early to mid-1920s, being used with ease by newspapermen and playwrights by the time 1928 came around.

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