My Rebellious Landlady, Maggie
Big-hearted Maggie: landlady, Methodist, mother, abolitionist working with the Underground Railroad, and half-way into the book, new wife.
Here's the story of her development.
The first drafts of Saint Maggie were told as a first-person narrative, but another writer advised me not to use the first person. The problem was I honestly liked Maggie’s voice and didn’t want to lose it. At length, something dawned on me. Maggie was a nineteenth-century Methodist and she very well might have kept a journal, as did many other pious Methodist ladies. Happily, I was able to convert many of Maggie’s observations into journal entries that reflected her innermost feelings and reflections.
She has a deep faith. And it led her to become an abolitionist involved with the Underground Railroad. Specifically, two scripture verses shape her attitude about slavery.
If you were ask to her for proof that all human beings are equal, she will quote St. Paul (from the King James Version of the Bible, of course): “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28). Or she might give you Jesus’ take on the greatest commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22: 37-39, KJV).
Maggie is serious, but she is not a Bible-thumper who is all talk and no action.. She has so much integrity that she would never be able to call herself a Methodist or a Christian if she did not practice what she preached..
Her religious attitudes about treating all equally and loving all regardless no doubt developed when she fell from polite society after marrying John Blaine, the son of her family's business rival. She and John were both disinherited and left to live in poverty, That is, until John's independent-minded Aunt Letty invited them to live with her. Maggie experienced what it was to be pressed down and then given hope and help.
Her experience and her beliefs were further strengthened by her choice of reading material. This turns up in the short story, “The Dundee Cake:”
Like some Methodists, Maggie was an abolitionist. Her one luxury was a subscription to a newspaper called The National Era, a weekly antislavery publication from Washington, DC. During her infrequent spare time she devoured it and had read with great interest a serialized story by Harriet Beecher Stowe called “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” In March of 1852, the tale was printed in novel form, and everyone seemed to be talking about it. Since Maggie did not have the money to buy the book, she was pleased to read the story in serial form and was prepared to comment should someone ask her. No one ever did, though.
Maggie long had been against slavery, but after reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, she had become passionately abolitionist. In her eyes enslaved people were men and women. Thus, they were children of God. It was beyond her comprehension that one group of people would treat another as a commodity and not as fellow human beings.
My research indicated that people involved in the Underground Railroad were predominately black: they could be from Christian denominations (like the African Methodist Episcopal Church) or from anti-slavery societies, and they could be free born or self-emancipated. The movement also was supported by white people: those of various religions (Methodists, Quakers, or Presbyterians, for example), and those belonging to anti-slavery societies, as well as other related groups.
As much as she might support the cause of anti-slavery in her heart, it is unlikely that a poor landlady like Maggie would undertake such a radical activity all on her own. After all, it was illegal to hide people who were escaping slavery. If a person was caught hiding a self-emancipator, that person could face a jail term and a hefty fine. It was quite a risk to take on by oneself.
Enter Nate and Emily Johnson, an African-American couple who run a station on the Underground Railroad. They also happen to be Maggie’s good friends, and it was natural that once knew they could trust her and ascertained that her abolitionist sentiments were genuine, the couple would invite her to help them with their work on the Underground Railroad.
For such a seemingly strait-laced individual, Maggie turns out to be a bit of a radical. In fact, she seems to break rules left and right. She ignores basic business logic by providing rooms for financially embarrassed men. She stands up to the power centers in her local congregation. She breaks a social taboo with her close friendship with the Johnsons, something that automatically causes the white people in town view her with suspicion and/or disdain. And finally, she is engaged in an act of civil disobedience that very well could put her in legal trouble.
A woman like that deserves a partner and a love interest. But she would not be interested in a handsome, tall, muscled hero who wants sweep her off her feet and set her on a pedestal .Maggie would never go for that guy. No way.
Enter Elijah Smith.
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Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder