Maggie Comes to America
The year was 1848 and the potato famine was driving the Irish to America. Uncle Eddie, who had a reputation for being a drunkard, arrived at his sister Peggy’s home ready to go to Boston on a ship leaving in two days. He wanted to take Peggy’s family. In Boston they would stay with their sister Catherine who ran a boarding house for men. Peggy had two girls in the family, Maggie and Fanny. Maggie, age fifteen, was older and stronger than Fanny who was eleven. Peggy told Eddie that she only had money for one to go, and she would tell him her decision when he arrived in the morning.
Uncle Eddie arrived as the sun was coming up. Peggy chose Maggie to travel to America and gave Maggie money for the trip. She took Maggie aside and warned her to be wary of her uncle. Peggy was suspicious, but the family was starving and she believed she had no other choice. At least one of them would survive. Maggie and Eddie headed off in their cart on the forty-mile trip to Limerick. On the trip Eddie admitted that he did not have enough money to travel, but said he would get the money he needed by selling his horse and cart when they arrived at the ship. When they reached the ship, Uncle Eddie sold the horse and cart, but for less than he had hoped. A man approached Eddie and offered to sell him tickets for two-thirds their face value. Eddie bought the tickets, but then saw the man selling tickets to another traveler and he realized he had bought worthless tickets.
Eddie told the other traveler that the tickets were worthless and the two men chased the con man, wrestled him down, and took their money plus some money they found in the con man’s pockets. Eddie returned to Maggie and asked a sailor if they could stay overnight on the ship on which they were to sail on in the morning, but he was told no. They slept on the floor a boarding house. The next morning they boarded the ship, the Rebecca, and found their bunks, which were more like shelves. The Captain called the roll. Eddie and Maggie were disguised as father and daughter so that Maggie could get half fare. The following morning the ship moved down the Shannon River toward the Atlantic Ocean. As the sails filled, the Rebecca started to pitch and roll. Passengers were both homesick and seasick. During the voyage Maggie met two girls, twelve and thirteen, and the three became good friends. They spied on a young sailor, Roger, and Maggie even talked to him.
Chapter 4 Maggie had her first menstrual period during the voyage. She received help from the mothers of her two friends who referred to her menstrual period as the curse. The two mothers got permission from the Captain to give Maggie a sponge bath on the dock. Maggie appreciated the help, but still did not understand what was happening.
The Rebecca ran into a storm. Soon the water was calf level on the passengers. The passengers were terrified. An elderly man had recently died and his body was bashing about in the storm. Sailors came below deck to operate a pump. One of the sailors that worked the pump was Roger. Maggie was excited to have another brief conversation with him. After six hours the storm subsided, the sails were up again, and the Rebecca began to make good time.
After 57 days the shore of America was visible. The ship was north of Boston, so it had to sail south for two days. As they disembarked Maggie said goodbye to Honor and Hanna, but did not have the nerve to say goodbye to Roger. All the passengers had physical exams and Maggie feared that if she failed the exam, she would have to return to Ireland. However both she and Eddie passed. Eddie’s sister, Catherine, was not there to meet them because their arrival time could not be predicted. They asked a policeman for directions. They followed the direction and u
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