The Ballad of Margaret Murphy The spring of another century, an ancient land cherished and cared for by First Nations now flooded by waves of settlers from an ocean away and beyond, British, Irish and more, all escaping and searching. Upper Canada in the newcomers’ parlance, cradled by the Great Lakes, the budding towns, villages and homesteads of the 1830’s ruled by a masculine colonialist elite in distant York; and caught up in the tides of history was an Irish girl named Margaret. Rugged Ireland, the Emerald Isle, home to music, poets and pride, and, even before the great famine, home to some lured by opportunity said to beckon from Upper Canada, including young Margaret, a daughter of the prolific Murphy clan. Fate took her to the heart of the peninsula, an area replete with United Empire Loyalists escaping the revolutionary States; Quakers, Baptists and Methodists seeking freedom of worship; site of Norwichville, boasting a tavern, and so many called the town Sodom. David Hagerman, born in hilly Duchess County New York, wife Frances and three daughters, 10, 5 and 1; established in Sodom now, aged 40, a carpenter, a big man in town; this David needed a servant, and Margaret Murphy needed a position. As summer 1837 faded into fall, Hagerman’s walls hummed with the master’s complaints: The Family Compact in York control everything, they’re corrupt, filched a pile of land hereabouts for the Church of England; floors meanwhile hummed with the relentless swish of Margaret’s broom. Just back from Bedford’s Inn, David trumpeted, William Lyon Mackenzie in York is the hope, Dr. Duncombe is our man here, we’ve got the Norwich Political Union now, I’m the Quartermaster, we’re not letting this stand! And on it went; what next, wondered Miss Murphy, crouched low cleaning out the fireplace. Fall wore into winter, December stole in, rebel officers met at Hagerman’s, nervous whispers of but treason? swept aside by glorious cries of taking up arms to help Mackenzie, Duncombe’s brigade coming together, and on it went; trouble, thought Margaret, cleaning up detritus from the great conclave. December 12, Margaret, remember this day! Cross and Davis wouldn’t give up their guns but we got supplies from Wallace’s store. Duncombe has a sword, pistols and a dagger; Mackenzie’s taken York, we are off to capture Brantford! That’s all well and good muttered Margaret, but I’m off to the laundry and linens. It’s all fallen apart, we only got to Burford, Mackenzie failed, the Queen’s Militia is marching, Duncombe is a coward and vanished, Luke Peasley is hiding in a swamp, I can’t stay, the Loyalists are looking for me, Frances, take care of the girls; Margaret—you are in charge here now. Farewell. Rumors were flying through town, Loyalists said to be on the rampage, not just hunting men on the run but scavenging for abandoned loot. Brave and Hospitable, so ran the Murphy motto. The first part leapt to the fore; the second stepped into the shadows. Floors, fireplaces and laundry gave way to fearless command, the day well and truly seized: If they’re coming, I need to be ready; I think I know where he keeps a couple of convincing helpers. I’ll be damned if that rabble gets anything here! Wild Irish shores birthed the Murphy name centuries ago, Sea Warrior the noble wellspring. A long way from the coasts was Margaret but the martial blood ran true; a long way from the ocean and no trident here, but land-bound kindred implement awaited her tenacious grasp. Up strode the mob, all bluster and swagger, Hagerman’s gone to ground, easy pickings here. But in the doorway stood an Irish lass, hair a-billowing, savage look in her eye, two pistols stuck in her belt, angry pitchfork primed and ready: By God you’ll get nothing here! Sweet words and appeals to reason availed naught but oaths and imprecations; smirks soon soured to grim realization, threats beget counterthreats, haughty barging in quashed by tines to the throat or a gun barrel to the gut: You can all go to Hell, you’ll get nothing here! Defeated by implacable feminine will, would-be pillagers slunk off in search of easier plunder, pistols and pitchfork showing them the way, assorted curses ringing in their ears, young Margaret looming triumphant, spirit ablaze with history and the moment. The government did change, but not yet, Hagerman caught and tried for high treason; acquitted, to the shock of many, returning home to an intact house, thirty years of a henceforth peaceful life and a servant named Margaret, still cleaning, but never the same again
Jennifer Wenn is a trans-identified writer and speaker from London, Ontario. Her first poetry chapbook, A Song of Milestones, has been published by Harmonia Press (an imprint of Beliveau Books). She has also written From Adversity to Accomplishment, a family and social history; and published poetry in Beliveau Review, The Ekphrastic Review, Watchyourhead, Open Minds Quarterly, Tuck Magazine, Synaeresis, Big Pond Rumours, the League of Canadian Poets Fresh Voices, Wordsfestzine, and the anthologies Dénouement and Things That Matter. She is also the proud parent of two adult children. Visit her website at https://jenniferwennpoet.wixsite.com/home
WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.
Make a one-time donation
Make a monthly donation
Make a yearly donation
Choose an amount
Or enter a custom amount
Your contribution is appreciated.
Your contribution is appreciated.
Your contribution is appreciated.DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly