High Point couple weds in 18th-century style
Symbolically speaking, a battlefield may not be the best place to begin a marriage, but this couple doesn’t seem to mind.
No salvos were fired Saturday morning when Johnny Oakley and Tia Shelly, of High Point, tied a Colonial knot at Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in Greensboro. Decked out in authentic 18th-century costumes, the couple pledged their vows — before a similarly clad parson — in what is believed to be the first period wedding held at the historic park.
“We’ve both been married once before,” Tia says. “(Johnny) was married by a justice of the peace, and mine was a formal church meeting, so this was like neither one of them.”
Indeed, it was not.
The outdoor ceremony took place near the park’s famous statue of Nathanael Greene, on the same grounds where, 232 years earlier — almost to the day — one of the most hotly contested battles of the Revolutionary War took place.
Furthermore, the wedding not so coincidentally coincided with the annual re-enactment of the historic battle, so there were plenty of wedding witnesses on hand who were wearing period costumes.
“It all started with a dress,” Tia says, referring to a Colonial-style garnet dress she and Johnny saw at a dressmaker’s shop in Williamsburg, Va.
The couple, who participate together in Revolutionary War battle re-enactments and English country line dancing, had gone to Williamsburg for the annual George Washington Ball. While there, a friend insisted Tia go look at a dress, so she and Johnny went.
Although they hadn’t been dating very long, Johnny looked at the dress and remarked, “I could see that being your wedding dress.”
Tia freaked out at the time — it was way too soon to think about wedding bells — but when they eventually did get engaged, they remembered the dress and decided to have an 18th-century wedding.
In doing so, they not only wore period costumes — Tia found a garnet dress similar to the one they’d seen in Williamsburg — they also did some research and adhered to 18th-century wedding traditions.
One of those traditions was a ritual known as “the announcement of the banns,” which requires the couple to go to their church and state publicly — on three consecutive weeks — their intentions of getting married. Doing this allowed others to state any reasons that the wedding should not take place, “and it gave other men the opportunity to make a better offer,” Johnny says with a laugh.
So the couple did this, making the announcement on three consecutive Sundays at their church, Covenant Church United Methodist on Skeet Club Road. The senior pastor, the Rev. Billy Rintz, played along with the couple’s wishes.
And when it came time to perform the wedding ceremony, Rintz was a good sport there, too, wearing an 18th-century parson’s costume.
Tia’s parents and other family members came down from Wisconsin for the wedding, and her father stunned her by agreeing to dress up for the ceremony.
“He’s just not the type that would do that — he’s very traditional,” she explains. “So when I asked him if he would give me away, I told him he would have to dress up, and he said, ‘I guess I can do that.’ I was just floored.”
Following the ceremony, the newlyweds and their English country dance friends went to the park’s visitors’ center, where they celebrated by dancing.
The next afternoon, the couple renewed their vows at the park before that day’s battle re-enactment, so more spectators could see what an 18th-century wedding looked like.
“We’ve had a lot of fun with it,” Tia says. “It was a very memorable experience.”
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