There’s strength and then there’s strength. My female ancestors didn’t just sit around in pretty dresses and fill their idle time the way the women did in Gone With the Wind. They performed the hard labor that was the daily routine of life before electricity and modern conveniences, including working in the fields alongside their “men folk.” It was not an easy life. Women also lived with the pain of losing children who died at tender ages. Any death is difficult; bearing many children only to have a handful survive, if that, is something we don’t really experience today.
My great-great- grandmother Margaret Brookmire was a strong woman for a very long time. She was born on 2 October 1845 in Scotland to Irishman Robert Brookmire and his Scots wife, Isabella McAusland. At age 19, she left for New York City on board The Progress, leaving from Ireland and arriving at Castle Garden on 22 June 1864. She was a spinster traveling alone, or at least without other family. Can you imagine how difficult that was, leaving your home and sailing across the ocean to a country enmeshed in a Civil War?
Margaret made her way from New York to the coal-mining region of Pennsylvania, where she married Scottish immigrant Charles Morrison on 20 February 1865 at the home of a Presbyterian minister in Summit Hill. We don’t know how they met or if they knew each other in Scotland, or if she was perhaps a “mail order bride.” Life in coal country was hard and dirty. Charles worked long hours in the mines and had returned from his Civil War Union Army Service with injuries received at Gettysburg, making it even harder.
By 1870, Margaret and Charles had moved to Larksville in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, where he continued to work as a miner. They had five children between 1866 and 1872, with only Isabella, John, and Jane surviving. Margaret and Charles were founding members of Snowden Memorial Presbyterian Church in Larksville in 1871 and four of their five children were baptized there; the fifth appears to have died before he could be baptized.
Life got even more difficult for Margaret in November 1874 when her husband Charles was committed to the Danville State Hospital for the Insane. He was indicted for lewdness but found not guilty by reason of insanity. He was to spend the next 21 years in the asylum, where he died. This left Margaret married but without a husband or his income, raising three small children on her own. In the 1900 census, Margaret listed her occupation as “nurse” so it is possible she worked as a nurse during this period of her life as well, although I haven’t found anything to prove that.
In February 1880 Margaret married Andrew Segar, a shoemaker from New York City, at the home of another Presbyterian minister in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. One of their two witnesses was Jas. Brookmire, who is possibly but not yet proven to be a relative. We know nothing about what Margaret may have told Andrew about her still-living husband. She applied for Charles Morrison’s Civil War pension in 1882. The Army investigated and told her that, oops, he was still alive and she wasn’t entitled to it.
Her second husband Andrew was an invalid by 1890 from his own war injuries, and Margaret worked as a nurse. Her children were married by then and Margaret and Andrew lived with her eldest daughter, Isabella, first in New York City, then Washington, D.C., and finally in New Jersey, living with her youngest daughter Jane down the street from her granddaughter and her family. Jane took in boarders to make a living.
In 1930 Andrew died and Margaret applied for his Civil War pension. It was the Great Depression and she was 85 years old; every bit of money helped. Except the Army didn’t want to give it to her, since she and Andrew had not been legally married in 1880 because Charles was still alive. The Bureau of Pensions sent an investigator to meet with Margaret, who told a series of different versions of Charles’ death and her second marriage. The investigator concluded that she was “lying to beat the band” but had apparently decided to tell the truth. Part of that truth was having lied to her children in 1874, telling them that Charles had died instead of what really happened.
Depositions from family and friends confirmed that Margaret and Andrew were devoted to each other and had remained by each other’s side for 50 years. She died in 1939 at age 93, having lived a life far removed from Scotland. She did what she needed to do, including lying and bigamy, to keep her family together and alive in tough times.