The Ballad of Margaret Murphy. A poem by Jennifer Wenn

Jennifer Wenn pic

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  

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Published by darcie friesen hossack

Darcie Friesen Hossack is a graduate of the Humber School for Writers. Her short story collection, Mennonites Don’t Dance, was a runner-up for the Danuta Gleed Award, shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Ontario Library Association's Forest of Reading Evergreen Award for Adult Fiction. Citing irreverence, the book was banned by the LaCrete Public Library in Northern Alberta. Having mentored with Giller finalists Sandra Birdsell (The Russlander) and Gail Anderson Dargatz (Spawning Grounds, The Cure for Death by Lightening), Darcie is now completing her first novel where, for a family with a Seventh-day Adventist father and a Mennonite mother, the End Times are just around the corner. Darcie is also a four time judge of the Whistler Independent Book Awards, and a career food writer. She lives in Northern Alberta, Canada, with her husband, international award-winning chef, Dean Hossack.

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