Shivaree was a nineteenth and early twentieth century Appalachian custom (originally dating back to sixteenth-century France) of teasing a married couple on their wedding night or shortly thereafter. The bride was carried around in a tub at times, and the groom was ridden on a rail. In Tennessee the custom was more commonly called serenading, and in West Virginia and western Virginia the term belling also referred to this raucous, spontaneous celebration.
“Shivarees meant different things to different people,” said recording artist and television host Tennessee Ernie Ford. “To the kids it meant running around the house beating on pots and buckets and dishpans, having a wonderful time making the biggest and worst racket possible. To the women it meant preparing and toting a mountain of food and doing a lot of gabbing and staying busy in the kitchen. To the young man getting married, well, the shivaree was something to be real glad when it was over.
“When I was just a kid I thought it was fun, watching the poor guy bouncing around on that rail, with all his pals whooping it up. But when I got a little older I began to feel for the victim.”
“One of the things that people really looked forward to was when a couple got married, they would have what they called shivaree. Everybody that was going to take part in it, they would slip right easy, and nobody would know they was anywhere about until the guns went to shootin’.
They would just march around the house shooting guns one right after another. When they would go so many rounds around the house shooting their guns, and then they would go to the door and stick a fence rail through the door and the man would get on the rail and they would ride him around the house on the rail or down the road.
Sometimes the women would join in and push the man’s wife in a tub and carry her. I was shivareed. They put me on a rail and rode me around, and I fell off of it and I just got up and went in the house and told them that was all the riding on a rail I was going to do.”
Oral Page, Monroe County, KY
Rosa Walden, Pi Beta Phi Settlement School (Gatlinburg, TN) teacher and Tacoma, Washington native Ruth Sturley participated in a serenade in September 1919, and described the event in a letter to her family:
“One of my girls Flora Reagan has a sister who was married . . . and the young people got up the affair in their honor. Abbie [Runyan], Evelyn [Bishop] and I went with three of the school girls and a dozen more youths. Lillard Maples took us girls in his Ford three miles up to the Forks of the river [to the newlyweds’ home]. . . .
We stopped and assembling our forces proceeded to march round and round shouting–blowing ox horns–ring cow bells–sheep bells and I know not what. My noise was produced by clapping together two tin pan covers–then some sticks of dynamite were set off–by this time strange to say the cabin was astir.”
sources: “Monroe County Folklife,” Lynwood Montell Ed. Monroe County, KY: privately published, 1975. p 72
Tennessee Ernie Ford, This is My Story, This is My Song, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1963