“Abigail in Flight,” chapter 15 of The Dragon Lady of Stockbridge: A Tale of Magic in the Gilded Age, has been posted. Injured and on the run, can Abigail acquire allies faster than she acquires enemies?
For the many of you who have just started following this blog, my thanks for your interest. I hope I can continue to engage it. I explain what happens on this blog here and here. If you want to follow Dragon Lady, I post a chapter every week on Friday, and you can start reading here.
I use a lot of names in Dragon Lady. A few belong to historical individual, whom I use in ways similar to their actual roles in history. Rev. Henry Martyn Field and Secret Service Chief James Brooks (first mentioned in chapter 9 of Dragon Lady) are examples. Others I constructed from appropriate names suitable to that period and culture. Jeremiah Farnsworth’s Biblical given name and English surname are examples of this type. However, there’s one name that falls in between these two categories. Readers, meet Bridget Leigh:
Yes, there was a real Bridget Leigh. She was born on December 22, 1827 in Annascaul, Ireland, the daughter of a blacksmith. She came to this country around the time of the potato famine. Her sisters joined her a few years later, walking barefoot all the way from Montreal to Boston in the wintertime because they didn’t want to wear out their only pairs of shoes. Along the way, a family in a small Massachusetts village took them in, and Nellie decided to stay and work for them. Bridget Lee, for that is how they spelled her name in America, joined Nellie in the village not long after. There, Bridget met a young man who was working for the same family as Nellie, married him, moved to their own farm, and had eight children. One died in infancy, but the other seven grew up and married. Bridget lived long enough to see three of those marriages before she died on January 29, 1882, only fifty-four years old. Her youngest daughter was still only fifteen. Her husband, who was sixty-one, never remarried, dying almost twenty-one years later.
Bridget is buried on sloping ground in a family lot. I’ve seen her grave many times. She’s my great-grandmother.
Although she left no ghost, Bridget’s influence continued on in several ways after her death. There were her children, of course, and their numerous descendants. One of her sons ran the village’s general store. Another, my grandfather, ran the old family farm. The store was more profitable than the farm, by the way, so my Granduncle Charles got the better of that deal. The village they lived in was growing because of the paper mills along the river, so it’s no wonder the store did well.
And this leads to the other way Bridget’s influence extended past her life. The old farming families were mostly Congregationalists, while the new mill hands and their families were heavily Catholic. Didn’t matter what they were, they had to leave the village to worship, as there were no churches of any kind in the village in Bridget’s day. Being a good daughter of Ireland that she was, Bridget traveled to the next town to have her children baptized as Catholics, but they grew up surrounded by Congregationalists, and by and large became Protestants of one kind or another.
Doesn’t sound like Bridget was all that influential, eh? But wait! In the 1920s, long after Bridget was dead, the Ku Klux Klan came to the North. They weren’t just against blacks, they were also against Catholics. The town where Bridget’s descendants lived became a hotbed of Klan activity. My grandfather, who still lived on the family farm, was horrified. He attended a Congregational Church, but he hadn’t forgotten his baptism, nor the faith of his mother Bridget. He opposed the Klan, and made it clear he expected his family to have no part of it. He even went another step further. There was an ambitious Catholic priest in town, trying to build a church for the Catholics in the village. My grandfather, who naturally had subscribed support to build the Congregational church in the village a few decades earlier, went and did likewise for this Catholic church that was abuilding, making him one of the few people to support construction of both churches in the village!
The two churches, Congregational (now UCC) and Catholic, still stand and both are in use. Personally, for me, they are a monument to the spirit of religious toleration. And they wouldn’t mean that to me, if it hadn’t been for the real Bridget Lee.