Solemnizing Marriages Not-So-Solemnly: Humor From a Justice of the Peace

When two people got married in Nashville during the 19th century, it was not unusual for the officiant to write something along the lines of, “I hereby certify that I solemnized the rights of matrimony between the above named” on the back of the marriage certificate, and sign it. Some of these notes are wordy and elaborate, some are short and sweet. In the case of Justice of the Peace Willie Barrow, the notes also contained flashes of dry wit and sarcasm. Barrow appears to have gone above and beyond the call of duty as an officiant by giving us some tidbits of information that we normally would not have:

“I certify that I married the within named persons at the house of Dudly Kingston on the evening of the 11th March 1819 being the evening after the steam boat arrived and while I was marrying the couple there was two fights in the yard.       W. Barrow”

No doubt this wedding was a very festive and exciting affair.

On other occasions, Barrow chimes in with his own thoughts about the happy couple:


“April 14, 1825  Willie Barrow solemnized the wrights [sic] of matrimony between the within named parties on this day — and not very great Folks.”

That’s a shame.

Other times, Barrow simply injected a bit of sarcasm into his notes:


“The undersigned acting Justice of the Peace for Davidson County solemnized the rites of matrimony on the night of 20th January 1825 between the within parties, the groom’s first wife had been dead for at least five weeks.   W. Barrow”

I guess sometimes five weeks is all you need.

So, who was Willie Barrow, other than a dry-witted (and possibly slightly jaded) Justice of the Peace? According to John McGlone in a 1989 article in Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Willie (sometimes Wylie) Barrow settled in Nashville in 1795. Other sources in our Barrow family file state that he married Jane Greer in 1799, and had three children: David, Alexander, and Jane. A few years after he was widowed in 1802, Barrow married Anne Wilson Beck. Together, they had several more children, including future soldier, newspaper editor, and politician George Washington Barrow. According to our will books, he died sometime in 1825.

While his family file tells us the facts, it is the routine notes on the backs of these marriage licenses that give us a small idea of his personality. As a Justice of the Peace, he appears to have seen it all – from wedding-side brawls to inebriated witnesses to freshly-widowed grooms. And it appears that he had a healthy sense of humor about it.


Certificate of Marriage, Willie Barrow to Ann Eliza Beck, 6 June 1807, Davidson County, Tennessee. Metropolitan Government Archives of Nashville-Davidson County, Nashville, Tennessee.

McGlone, John. “‘What Became of General Barrow?’ The Forgotten Story of George Washington Barrow.” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 48.1 (1989): 37-45.

Will of Willie Barrow, 5 June 1825 (filed 5 October 1825), Davidson County, Tennessee, Will Book 8, page 483. Metropolitan Government Archives of Nashville-Davidson County, Nashville, Tennessee.

Yerger, George S. “Barrow’s Lessee v. Nave.” In Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Tennessee. Ed. William Frierson Cooper, 201-204. Louisville, KY: Fetter Law Book Company, 1903.

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Emergency Procedures: How One School Responded to the Cuban Missile Crisis

An intriguing, coffee-stained document from Hillsboro High School was unearthed in the Archives back in 2003, hidden amid a pile of materials marked “somewhere else.”   It was a simple, routine form for students and parents from 1962; however, it was a simple, routine form that told a much larger story.


This form was given to students at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, requesting that parents decide how their children should get home from school in the event of “any type of attack.”

Sent just four days after President John F. Kennedy’s address to the nation, this form – as simple, routine, and coffee-stained as it is – connects us with a time in which the world came the closest it has ever been to nuclear war. It represents a moment in which Nashville, along with the rest of the world, held its breath and waited.

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