All images and information in this blog are from: “Levi and Catharine Coffin State Historic Site; Underground Railroad Station,” Midwest Wanderer, 28 February 2018. Website:
The image above is of a hiding place in the Levi and Catharine Coffin house, located in Newport (now Fountain City), Indiana. The Coffins were Quakers and originally lived in North Carolina, but moved north to an anti-slavery state in 1826 because of their pro-abolition position. Once up north, they became part of the Underground Railroad.
As is the case with Maggie and her boarding house, the Coffins’ activity on the Underground Railroad was secret. The only other people who know for certain that Maggie harbors freedom seekers are some people who live on Water Street, the street in Blaineton that is home to most of its Black population.
Levi Coffin was involved in various economic activities: he owned a dry goods store and a bank, had an interest meat packing, and approved mortgages as a director at a bank in another town. Unlike Maggie, Coffin was well-respected. Even those who knew of his activities would never think of reporting him (harboring people escaping from slavery was an illegal activity). And while Levi was out and about in the community being a good citizen (which he was), Catharine was at home caring for their visitors by providing food, clothing, and other comfort.
In 1839, the Coffins moved from living above the dry goods store and into a house of that Levi had designed. The place was designed to hid freedom seekers. One room had five doors in it. Should “slave catchers” arrive at the house, the self-emancipators were able scatter in five directions. Down in the basement was a full kitchen, where meals could be prepared in secret for the Coffins’ guests. The basement also contained a spring well which, when they had extra people inside the house, hid the fact that the Coffins were using more water than normal.
Finally, the Coffin house had a fifteen-foot-long closet in an upstairs bedroom. The entrance to the closet easily was hidden by putting a piece of furniture in front of it. The image of the closet from the Coffin house was what gave me the inspiration to include a closet in the Old Caretaker’s House on Maggie’s property.
Now, on to my story.
The final installment of “The Newcomer” answers Eli’s question about the cellar (I think the answer, given my blog above, should be obvious). As it turns out, that answer is something with which he is quite familiar.
Although "The Newcomer" involves the Old Caretaker's House on Maggie Blaine's property, the image above is just a stand-in. It really is a photo of Meade's Headquarters that I took on a visit to Gettysburg, PA. But the structure is a small building with, if memory serves me correctly, one room on the first floor, and there appears to be something of a second floor or an attic above. So it does the trick!
As for the second section of "The Newcomer," we find Eli making deals with Maggie to rent the Old Caretaker's House. He also meets the other residents of the main boarding house, and works on how to build and/or pay someone to build a flatbed press so he can start a newspaper.
The only thing Eli cannot do is find out why that cellar door is locked. How frustrating!
The image from the cover of "The Newcomer," purchased from istock.com
I published the first Saint Maggie novel in 2011, but it wasn't until 2019 that I decided to tell the story of how Eli and Maggie met - and that was after at least three full-length novels. I knew the basics of their backstory, but I wanted to flesh it out.
And so I wrote a little tale set in 1855 about a semi-sketchy guy named Eli, who, while his way to New York City, decides to sojourn in Blaineton in order to raise enough money to continue his journey.
As he checks out the little New Jersey town, he meets a kind-hearted widow named Maggie who runs a boarding house. She hesitantly agrees to rent him the old caretaker's house. But as nice and welcoming as she is, Eli senses that Maggie is hiding something. And it has to do with what is behind the door to the cellar in the old caretaker's house.
Download the fee PDF file below to read the first part of the story. It will be followed by other installments, which also will befree. They are my gift to you.
Janet R. Stafford
I’ve always said that I never intended to write a series, but when I look back on the way I wrote as a teen and young adult, I must admit that I already was writing and telling stories that way. Most likely I was influenced by the structure of television, which produced long-running shows at that time. So, I’m now the author of my own series, the Saint Maggie series. There are at least three ways to look at the stories within it.
1) We may read them by type: novels, novellas, and short stories.
2) We may read them in the order I published them, starting with Saint Maggie (2011).
3) Or, we may read them in chronological order according to the historical setting in which the characters live. This is what I will be doing for the next few weeks.
This blog is dedicated to “The Dundee Cake,” which deals with Maggie’s life before 1860.
I am by no means a best-selling author, but in my world as an unknown author, “The Dundee Cake” is my biggest selling book. I have a couple of ideas as to why that might be.
First, it is an old-fashioned Christmas story with echoes of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” and Louisa May Alcott’s Christmas scenes in Little Women.
Second, it has a recipe for a Dundee cake at the end of the book.
Third, there’s that gorgeous picture of a Dundee cake on the cover. Seriously, I’d buy the book just to drool over that image. However, since I have actually made the cake, I am of the opinion that if you’re going to drool over something, make the cake and drool over that. It’s delicious!
Anyway, “The Dundee Cake” takes us back to 1852. Maggie Beatty Blaine is a widow and a grieving mother. John Blaine, her husband of ten years, and their two-year-old son Gideon both died of rheumatic fever in February 1850. To add to Maggie’s pain, Aunt Letty Blaine, who had given the young couple a place to live after their elopement in 1840, died earlier in the year.
Fortunately, Letty was a wise and compassionate elder and was determined to help Maggie support herself and her two daughters (Lydia and Frankie). Letty turned her home on the Blaineton town square into a boarding house and, under her tutelage, Maggie became a landlady.
Maggie is not a terribly successful landlady, though. She has a big heart and takes in men who barely can afford to pay their rent. In Letty’s absence, Maggie also struggles with the cooking, cleaning, and other duties. Desperate, she manages to scrape together just enough money to hire a cook and assistant housekeeper. The cook’s name is Emily Johnson, and although the two women are of different colors (Maggie is white, and Emily is black), they become friends as they work and talk together about their lives.
Now it is Christmas. Although Maggie still struggles with her own grief, she seeks to make Christmas Day special for her daughters, as well as for her four boarders. Her problem is obvious: she has a chronic shortage of cash, and there is no way that this Christmas will be the celebration that it had been in the past.
It is only when Emily Johnson and her husband Nate experience a tragedy that Maggie puts her own troubles on the back burner. With the assistance of her daughters and boarders, she sets out to help her new friends.
You may find “The Dundee Cake” at:
Barnes & Noble ($7.00)
Kindle ($0.00 Kindle Unlimited; $0.99 to buy)
Amazon paperback ($7.00)
Until next week, stay strong and be kind!
Janet R. Stafford
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder