On Sunday, Catharine Dickson “wed” Dr. Alexander Williams for the second time at the Greeneville mansion named after their families after first getting married there almost 200 years ago.
The Dickson-Williams Historical Association hosted the most recent “wedding,” which was a carefully researched reenactment of the couple’s original ceremony in 1823.
Sunday’s grand event, held on the exact same day of the year the couple got married in the 19th century – Aug. 29 – was held as part of a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the completion of the mansion.
The brick Federalist-style mansion, which later served as the location of an academy, inn and Greeneville Hospital, since shut down, has been exquisitely restored and furnished. It is located at the corner of Irish and Church streets, on a slight hill behind the General Morgan Inn.
On Sunday, about 100 people, including some dressed in appropriate historical attire, stood on the hill in front of the mansion to hear music and song from the past era and witness the reenacted wedding ceremony.
Co-organizer Wilhelmina Williams said 200 tickets costing $50 for single adults and $100 for couples were sold prior to the event. Many others who did not attend donated funds, as well, she said.
The goal of the funds raised was to purchase 1820s-era shutters for the many windows in the mansion, which will complete the exterior renovation of the home, Williams said.
Shortly before vows were exchanged by the young couple representing Dickson and Williams, 26 reenactors in period attire walked up the path to the front steps of the mansion, each introduced by emcee Glenn Prosser, a radio news reporter in Nashville and Knoxville.
The reenactors represented some of the family and friends of the couple, including many dignitaries, who attended the wedding in 1823.
Prosser began the early evening event by saying the wedding reenactment had been “throughly researched to make it as authentic as possible to the era.”
The couple who portrayed Catharine Dickson and Alexander Williams in Sunday’s event are Hallie Elizabeth Williams of Knoxville and Washington, D.C., who is the third great-granddaughter of the 1823 groom, and John Haley.
Sunday’s wedding was sort of a practice run for the young couple’s real wedding scheduled in September at Hilton Head, S.C., they said after Sunday’s event.
Hallie Williams said she wore an exact replica of the cream-colored wedding dress Catharine Dickson wore in the 1823 wedding. She even wore the original veil and a hairpiece used by Catharine Dickson in that wedding. The original wedding dress, apparently in fragile condition, is still stored at the mansion.
Beverly and Wilhelmina Williams were co-chairs of Sunday’s event. Beverly Williams is also vice president of the Dickson-Williams board of trustees. Wilhelmina is secretary.
Interestingly, Randy Boyd, president of the University of Tennessee, entrepreneur, and former Republican gubernatorial candidate, portrayed Dr. Charles Coffin, who performed the wedding in 1823.
Coffin was one of the early presidents of Greeneville College and East Tennessee College, which became UT, said Wilhelmina Williams.
Boyd’s wife, Jenny Boyd, played the violin on Sunday, along with the Good Times Ceilildh Band. Cindy Sams performed Bach’s “Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.”
Carolyn Gregg also played music from the 1800s era.
Jenny Boyd played “Si Beag Si Mor” along with the Ceilidh Band during the processional.
Cindy Sams sang Mozart’s “Alleluia” during the wedding ceremony.
During the recessional, Carolyn Gregg played “Trumpet Voluntary” by Purcell and “Psalms XIX” by Marcello.
Dr. Dan Donaldson, retired from the pulpit of First Presbyterian Church in Greeneville, was the consulting minister for the 1820s service reenactment. Extensive research included material from the Presbyterian Historical Society and the National Archives of PC (USA) in Philadelphia, Pa.
The fact that the public was able to witness the outdoors ceremony on Sunday was also an accurate reenactment of the 1823 wedding. Catharine Dickson “wanted everybody in town invited. Out-of-town people also attended,” Wilhelmina Williams said.
Free tours of the mansion were held prior to Sunday’s reenactment.
According to organizers, the Dickson-Williams mansion was long known as the “Showplace of the South.”
William Dickson, who immigrated from Ireland when he was 16, and his wife, Eliza Douglas, built the mansion as a wedding gift for their only child, Catharine Douglas Dickson.
The mansion was built between 1815 and 1821 by local craftsmen and designed by Irish architects that the Dicksons brought from their home country, according to a press release.
Catharine Dickson was 20 when she married Dr. Alexander Williams, who was 30. They had nine children. Five died in childbirth.
Hallie Williams, who portrayed the original bride on Sunday, admitted that the first wedding dress was smaller than the one she wore, because Catharine Dickson was more petite than her. Erin Schultz constructed the dress that she wore Sunday.
Haley, her real-life fiance, said during a summer supper meal served after the reenactment beneath large white canopies that Sunday’s “wedding” was almost like a practice-run for their planned wedding next month.
Haley said they will be married Sept. 25, jokingly adding, “Unless we just were. Someone will tell us.”