By Katie Lovett
---- — For Newburyport’s history buffs, Valentine’s Day is coming a little early this year.
The Historical Society is hosting a holiday-themed dinner on Sunday during which they will share some of the city’s great love stories and celebrate the spirit of romance that filled the city in days gone by.
Before the Valentine’s Day dinner at Ten Center Street is served, Historical Society of Old Newbury curator Jay Williamson will give a short presentation that details the dating scene in Newburyport during the 18th and 19th centuries. He’ll share fun tidbits and stories about real couples, love affairs and the lovelorn and scorned, from the mid-1800s to the turn of the century.
“There’s going to be a lot of fun highlights,” Williamson said. The Historical Society began hosting the event three years ago as an alternative for couples seeking to have a nice Valentine’s Day dinner — but on a weekend evening without having to share the restaurant with the same crowds that the holiday can generate.
“I think it takes a lot of pressure out of going out on Valentine’s Day on a weeknight when it’s harder to get reservations,” Williamson said.
Among the topics Williamson plans to discuss is the transition in dating that occurred from one century to the next.
In the 18th century, couples would take time to get to know each other well, including each other’s faults, dislikes and interests, in order to determine if there were enough of a connection for the two to ultimately fall in love, Williamson said.
“There was really a dialogue of getting to know one another,” he said. “A lot of it factored into the ability to fall in love in time.”
Beginning in the 19th century, couples fell in love, and then determined if their relationship was enough to build a marriage on, he added.
“You married for love, first and foremost,” Williamson said.
Williamson will also discuss the popular fads and styles of the 18th century that people relied on to seem more attractive to the opposite sex, as well as the different social gatherings where couples would meet, such as dances and sleigh parties. Williamson will also bring examples of the ways individuals showed the objects of their affections that they cared, including a handwritten Valentine featuring a personal poem, and a “confession” journal in which a person professed their romantic feelings and asked a love interest on a date.
He will also touch on some of the more interesting couples in Newburyport’s history, including the romance between John Quincy Adams and Mary Frazier, a Newburyport girl he met and courted while studying law in the city under Theophilus Parsons. Williamson will also share the story of two close friends, John Lowell and Jonathan Jackson, who swore never to marry and lived together in a bachelor pad on State Street.
Alas, love soon intervened, as the two men each met and married their first wives within a couple of years. Ultimately, Jackson married twice, and Lowell married three times.
The soundtrack for the evening will round out the fun as organizers play songs from duets who dated, such as Sonny and Cher, and Herb Alpert’s theme song for the old television show, “The Dating Game.”
While the evening will offer entertainment and an array of interesting tidbits, the audience will also leave with a little more knowledge of Newburyport’s history, Williamson said.
“They are all true stories,” Williamson said. “Everything will have historical relevance and fact behind it.”
IF YOU GO What: Valentine's Day dinner to benefit the Historical Society of Old Newbury When:Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText Color Sunday, 5:30 to 8 :30 p.m. Where: Ten Center Street, Newburyport How:Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText Color $55 per person (alcohol not included). Call 978-462-2681 to reserve a seat. Space is limited. For more information, visit www.NewburyHist.org.