Wedding Wear, 1855

By Maureen A. Taylor

Lumber merchant Peter Whitmer (born 1828) and his bride Lucy Jane McDonald (born 1837) had the means to pose for two portraits when they wed in February 1855. In the first, the couple posed alone.

Peter sits with top hat in one hand and his other gloved hand rests on the shoulder of his bride. Lucy looks contemplative, with her chin resting on one hand.

In the second wedding portrait, they posed with best man Dr. Charles Parke and bridesmaid Margaret McDonald, Lucy’s sister. In the same year, Parke was commissioned a surgeon for the Russian Army during the Crimean War. His diary of the California Gold Rush has been published as Dreams to Dust.

Look closely at both portraits and you’ll see the details in this well-dressed couple’s wedding attire. Lucy wore a plaid dress with a wide lace collar and an open bonnet with silk interior that framed her face.

Peter’s wide, horizontally tied silk neckwear was very fashionable over an upturned collar. His long frock coat and patterned vest was suitable for a wedding or formal business dealings. His hair and that of his best man reflects the popular style, long and combed into an upward peak on the top of their heads.

In 1855, most brides married in the home surrounded by family and friends. Clothing for the occasion was similar to everyday attire, but if the couple could afford it, outfits included a few extra touches such as a nicer fabric, silk trim or special lace.

While both of these portraits look like paper photographs, the originals would have been shiny reflective daguerreotypes. Candace LaPrade shared other pictures of Peter Whitmer for last week’s column.

Six of Lucy and Peter’s seven children lived long lives. In 1900, their children and grandchildren gathered for a portrait.

The little girl sitting second from the right in the front row is Candace’s grandmother. Peter and Lucy are in the center.

Candace’s grandmother wrote down all the names of the individuals in this group portrait and kept that paper in an envelope with the picture.

Candace is one lucky genealogist! She has multiple pictures of some of her ancestors and information to go with them.

Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now