Jeanne: Love at First Sight–a Family Legend

On Sunday, Jilly posed the query: Do you believe in love at first sight? In my family, belief in this occurrence has been passed down since the Civil War.

Stock photo–NOT my great-great-great grandfather

After the war ended, in April of 1865, many of the soldiers walked home. That makes sense: only the cavalry would have had horses, and the trains would have been overloaded (not to mention the great sections of track that were destroyed during the conflict).

According to the family legend, my ancestress and her sister were sitting on their front porch in the spring of 1865 when a soldier walked by their place. My ancestress took one look at him and said, “That’s my man if I never get him.”

Her sister thought that was pure foolishness. “You don’t even know him. Why, for all you know, he could already be married.”

As it turned out, he was married–or at least, he had been. By the time he got home, though, his wife had died. He made his way back to the girl who had fallen for him at first sight and married her.

Is the story true?

My great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Peters, was born on Christmas Eve, 1847, in Scott, Virginia. That would make her seventeen when the war ended. According to the decennial censuses, somewhere between 1860 and 1870, Elizabeth moved from Virginia to Kentucky. And on July 12, 1865, Elizabeth Peters married Nathaniel Thornton Arvin in Estill County, Kentucky.

So, it certainly could be true.

But was it really love?

In a world where approximately 1 out of every 20 men in the country had been killed in the previous four years, just the fact that Nathaniel was alive and healthy enough to stagger home probably made him a prize. Elizabeth and Nathaniel stayed married till they died, to the best of my knowledge, but most couples did back then.

What makes true love more likely, in my opinion, is the fact that the story got passed on to Elizabeth’s daughter, Nancy, who passed it on to her granddaughter, my Aunt Louise, who passed it on to me.

Because true love is the stuff of legends.

6 thoughts on “Jeanne: Love at First Sight–a Family Legend

  1. I see a story here! *hint, hint* This could be your first foray into historical romance!

    As the family genealogist (along with my aunt), I love this sort of thing, especially when you can go back into the historical record and see that these people got married (via census records or what have you). I have a membership to Fold3, a military database, and I found a record for Nathaniel T Arvin, serving in the 47th Kentucky Infantry for the Union. If it’s the same guy, they actually have his war records (when he was absent/present during muster rolls–it seems he was in hospital for illness a few times). He enlisted when he was 23 for a period of 1 year. So fun when you find this stuff!

  2. I love family legends. Why not believe in love at first sight? It’s better than the alternative. In my family history, there’s a story/legend of a distant relative, born in eastern Europe, who was a world-famous aerialist, traveled the world performing in circuses and general variety-type spectaculars, had a tumultuous love life (including but not limited to “the love of her life”), and then fell during a performance in New York and died three days later. (There’s even a book about her, so it has to be true, right?) My mother’s side comes from eastern Europe, and the names fit. But … all I can say is, if she really lived the life as described, and if she was an ancestor, I sure didn’t get the gymnastics gene.

  3. Whether it was true love or your ancestress just calling “dibs” on a living breathing man, one may never know, but it’s a nice legend regardless.

    My family doesn’t boast any such legends, but we’ve always gotten a laugh out of the story surrounding my parents’ own meeting. They met after the end of WWII (they both served) stayed married till they died as most couples did back then. My father was working as a bartender and my mom went to the bar with a friend. Apparently, my mom and dad hit off and the rest is family history. Whenever their meeting was brought up, the discussion invariably included the following:

    Dad: “We met in a bar.”
    Mom. “We met in a restaurant.”
    Dad: “it was a bar”
    Mom: “it was a restaurant”
    Dad: “Just because they served peanuts doesn’t make it a restaurant.”

    I don’t know why, but just remembering that exchange still sends my son and I off into giggles. The meting may not have been love at first sight, but at least we got a bit of a story out of it.

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