Leah

Marshyhope Creek. Courtesy of Zillow.com

(Author’s note: The following is an interpretive account of the life of Leah Ann Rickards (ca. 1836–1913), my great-great-grandfather John Henry O. Record’s sister. This account is presented in three parts, and is based on family papers and letters, along with vital and census records as available. These posts are my attempt at giving Leah a voice. Please forgive any historical inaccuracies, misrepresentations or presumptions, literary license, or otherwise.)

Leah Stack stood at the top of the stoop, gazing out toward the upper reaches of the Marshyhope.[1] Her husband had gone off with Mr. Lincoln’s Federals, and she came here most days awaiting his return.[2] But as with yesterday and each day before that, John Stack had not come home. Today was to be no different, save for her son Charles tugging endlessly at her skirts, ever hungry, while squalls from little Mary could be heard after a tumble off the cradle cot.[3] Her eldest son Levin, a boy she’d named after her dead father, Levin Rickards, had gone out earlier that day.[4] A silent, slight boy, he was hunting squirrels, or perhaps a shoveler, in hopes of providing meat for their watery slumgullion.[5] Yes, staring out from that stoop, hungry and cold, Leah couldn’t quite believe that her John was never again coming home.

It had been foggy the day a single picket had journeyed up from Dinwiddie, making his calls, and asking after the whereabouts of “Mrs. John Wesley Stack.” Leah’s emotions had given way to a pure and liquid grief, her mouth agape with disbelief at the picket’s news. Yet somehow, through it all, she could still feel her John. She could see his face clear in her mind, and remembered that despite all this misery, she would always be his; at least for now, she was still Mrs. John. Stack.

At the time, she couldn’t quite believe such happiness to be real. Even her mother, ever practical, had approved of their match, observing that the Stacks were certainly no layabouts.

Oh, how proud she’d been that March day when they’d finally taken their vows. At the time, she couldn’t quite believe such happiness to be real. Even her mother, ever practical, had approved of their match, observing that the Stacks were certainly no layabouts.[6] Yes, fine-figured and fine-featured John Stack had taken her hand in marriage. She admitted that she’d pined away for him a bit too long, and without his first noticing her. But in the end she’d succeeded in winning his heart, as she’d watched him walk past the Fishers’ road each day.

When they had finally become better acquainted, during those rainy days in ’57, John hadn’t seemed to mind her quiet Levin – or how she’d come by the boy – or even that she was Tom Fisher’s wife. Her mother had been firm about her prospects: Leah would be “naught but a flibbertigibbet” to turn Fisher down. “Better to be Tom Fisher’s milk bucket [wife] feeding her children than a ‘belly pot’ servant girl hiding her bastards,” Susanna had said. So on the fourth day of May 1855, she had done as she was told … and married the objectionable Tom Fisher, a man some years her senior.[7]

His odious gags and wheezes as he tried to bed her were stifling, but she knew well enough the ways of men, and Fisher was soon fast asleep or in his cups, allowing Leah needed time to complete her endless chores. Fisher had been a vitriolic beast of a man. Tall, grizzled, and irregular, he took no mind of his person, immortal soul, or his thoughts. How desperately she’d hated Tom, and the unspeakable things he’d later done to her. She could still hear old Fisher’s rants and yells of “LEAH, LEAAAAHHHH…” coming at her as she had waded through the mud caring for his household. Still, her marriage to Fisher had meant a modicum of security – at least she hadn’t needed to continuously move on, a peripatetic servant girl, always fading into the shadows when “enumerators” came to call on one’s master or brood, with all their silly papers and nosy questions. What did it matter the year she was born?

Still, her marriage to Fisher had meant a modicum of security…

That her luck had changed one day, when Fisher announced he was leaving for business in Baltimore City. He said he’d be gone about ten days, and when she’d had the nerve to ask what for, he, in a guttural harangue, told her to never mind his private considerations. (Such was the price to pay as the wife of Old Scratch.[8]) But as fate would have it, Fisher never returned from his conduct or his bids. No word of him came at all. And soon enough his sullen and ugly boys had come around to “accrue their father’s claims and chattels,” and they wasted no time at all hustling Leah and her bantlings out the door. She shed not one single tear over the strange disappearance of Tom Fisher or her removal from what was now his sons’ poor estate. (No doubt some wharf doxy had grown tired of him and done him to a turn.) In the end, only Margaret,[9] not so much Leah’s junior, had spared her any consoling glance, as if to say, “I understand.”

Continued here.

Notes

[1] A large creek flowing through Dorchester County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

[2] John Wesley Stack (ca. 1833–ca. 1861) was Leah’s second husband.

[3] Mary Wesley (Stack) Bryan (1859–1926).

[4] Levin Rickards, 2nd (ca. 1852–before 1870) named for Levin Rickards, Sr. (ca. 1812–before 1844).

[5] Slumgullion: A “watery stew;” per Merriam-Webster, originating in nineteenth-century English slums and formed from the words “slime” and “gullion,” an English dialect word for “mud” or “cesspool.”

[6] Susanna (Murphy) (Rickards) Neal (ca. 1814–1863).

[7] usgwarchives.net, Dorchester County, Maryland marriage records for “Fisher, Thomas [to] Ricketts, Leah, A.G.”

[8] Old Scratch: per the on-line etymology dictionary, at etymonline.com, a pseudonym for the Devil.

[9] Margaret Fisher, aged 24 years, enumerated with Leah in the household of William Peart; U.S. Federal Census (1870) District 2, Dorchester County, Maryland, presumed kin, and presented here as a daughter of Thomas Fisher.

Jeff Record

About Jeff Record

Jeff Record received a B.A. degree in Philosophy from Santa Clara University, and works as a teaching assistant with special needs children at a local school. He recently co-authored with Christopher C. Child, “William and Lydia (Swift) Young of Windham, Connecticut: A John Howland and Richard Warren Line,” for the Mayflower Descendant. Jeff enjoys helping his ancestors complete their unfinished business, and successfully petitioned the Secretary of the Army to overturn a 150 year old dishonorable Civil War discharge. A former Elder with the Mother Lode Colony of Mayflower Descendants in the State of California, Jeff and his wife currently live with their Golden Retriever near California’s Gold Country where he continues to explore, discover, and research family history.

8 thoughts on “Leah

    1. Elizabeth, my what incredibly kind words – thank-you. I have to think though that Mr. Dickens might roll over in his grave if he were to ever witness my attempts in telling Leah’s tale!

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