“Goin’ Courting”

One of my all-time favorite musicals is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. For a humorous plot and great dancing, this one is definitely among the best. And it’s even got a little historical backing…

Warning: major spoilers ahead!

A Brief Synopsis

Adam Pontipee comes to town do a little trading and while he’s there he decides to pick out a wife and get married. He meets Milly – who’s out chopping wood and doing practical things – and decides she’s the girl. They get married quickly and happily head into the mountains to Adam’s homestead…or so Milly thinks!

The seven brothers have an idea…

However, when they arrive at the cabin, she discovers that Adam has six brothers and it’s been a situation of seven young guys not doing much housekeeping in that cabin. It’s starting to look like Adam got married just to get a girl to cook and clean. This causes a brief quarrel for the couple.

Then Milly sets to work, cleaning up the place and teaching the boys – Adam, Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank, and Gideon – some manners. The younger guys are interest in “going courting” so Milly schools them in etiquette before the local barnraising. At the barnraising, the guys steal the hearts of the girls from town before getting into a fight during the carpentry project.

Winter sets in, and the boys are lonely and unhappy. Adam, who had been reading some ancient classic literature found in Milly’s trunk, tells his brothers about the Romans and the Sabine women. They invent a plan to kidnap the girls and carry out the plot without telling Milly…until six crying girls show up at the cabin. Adam and Milly quarrel, and he heads off to his trapper cabin, leaving her to manage the revenge, courtship, and arrival of their baby!

By the time spring comes and the snow in the pass melts, the boys and their kidnapped girls are definitely courting. Adam comes back to Milly and their baby, and by the time the sheriff and the parson arrive, the girls and six bachelors are finally ready to tie the knot!

In Film

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is based on a short story by Stephen Vincent Benet. (You can find an online version here on Gutenberg.)

In visual entertainment, the story was first adapted as film musical, hitting the screens in 1954 and filmed in color. Composer Saul Chaplin and Gene de Paul collaborated with lyricist Johnny Mercer to create the beloved songs with a western/pioneer flair. Choreographer Michael Kidd took on the challenge to include frontier activities – like a barn raising and chopping wood – into the dance scenes, along with hints of traditional square dancing.

The film received numerous awards, including an Academy Award for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture and several other nominations. In the early 21st Century, American Film Institute called Seven Brides for Seven Brothers one of the best musicals ever made in American film history and a copy of the production is preserved in Library of Congress for its cultural significance.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was adapted for stage in the 1970’s and later for television in the 1980’s.

Some of the songs include:

  • Bless Your Beautiful Hide
  • Wonderful, Wonderful Day
  • June Brides
  • Spring, Spring, Spring
In this video, Milly teaches her brothers-in-law about the finer points of manners and getting a girl’s attention…

Going Courtin’ – Frontier Style

Supposedly this musical is set in 1850’s Oregon, and it does present one of the challenges for pioneer bachelors: where and how to find a bride? Many of the settlers had homesteads far from the growing towns and villages. That’s where community events became key.

Frontier settlers gathered for barn raising (as seen in the musical), harvesting days, cabin building, and sometimes hunting parties or autumn butchering. While the men did the heavy, manly tasks, the women cooked, quilted, or preserved food. When the “work’s all done,” it was time to eat, swap stories, dance, and get better acquainted. Many courtships began and flourished through these community gatherings.

Dancing at the barnraising!

Wilderness Weddings?

Well, you had to have a preacher… On the American frontiers, circuit preachers often traveled from cabin to cabin or community to community, sometimes arriving just a couple times per year. Couples wanting to get married might have to wait a while or make a decision about their future very quickly depending on when the preacher came!

Living History Farms’ Blog has a wonderful article and some pictures about a pioneer wedding they recreated for educational purposes. Check out their article here.

Inspired By History

While I certainly wouldn’t take a complete history lesson from this musical…(and don’t even get me started on the costuming!), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers offers wonderful music, humor, and dancing in a setting inspired by the past. Taking details from a short story by Stephen Vincent Benet and the historical fact that bachelors were looking for brides to bring to their frontier homesteads, the musical skillfully plays off historical themes and the stories of the American west.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Because it’s spring and Easter weekend, here’s one more song and scene from the musical!

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