Fort Boonesborough, KY
A pleasant, balmy day was already on it’s way to a cold, windy and wet night by the time the third Fireside Chat was about to start. The fire in the fireplace was a welcoming place for arriving guests in the blockhouse to congregate.
Of course everyone wanted to peek into the large iron kettle and see what was on the night’s menu as the aroma filled the room.
Guests were entering the blockhouse as soon as they arrived at the Fort on this night. Some evenings I have seen them linger outside where Bill Farmer usually has an outdoor fire burning too. But not this Saturday night.
Friends gathered inside and greeted each other in the warmth of the blockhouse. The topic of many conversations was Carol Jarboe who would be portraying “Maggie Delaney - Indentured Servant” after dinner. Although Carol and Frank Jarboe are a familar sight to fort visitors - this was to be the first night that Carol actually presented Maggie as a live first person presentation.
As soon the great dinner of Kentucky Burgoo made by Jack Winburn was over, the tables were cleared and the chairs rearranged for the performance. Unlike some of the Fireside Chats that feature famous names from the frontier - people were not exactly sure what to expect from Maggie Delaney.
Carol Jarboe is certainly not new to re-enacting. She and husband Frank have been attending events for almost six years. Frank usually portrays a man of the cloth known as Parson John. Carol did not start to portray Maggie until she had done a lot of research. Both of the Jarboes’ are well respected in the re-enacting community and attend as many or more re-enactments than we do.
There were no formal introductions of Maggie, “Pastor John” who was seated in the front row, called his indentured servant, Maggie out from the kitchen to tell her story at the request of one of the the visitors.
The lights went down and there was Maggie. Head down, dirty clothes, poor teeth. She carried a basket of wool she was working on. The only sound in the room was the pop and hiss of the fire.
Maggie began hesitantly, talking of life with her husband and children in Ireland. It was if her thoughts had a long way to travel back to that time. Their life as tenant farmers was a hard life - but a good one.
Carol Jarboe not only treated the crowd to a narrative of her life but she wove a fine history lesson in it. How the Scots Irish Presbyterians came to be in Northern Ireland. And how they were forced out by rents too high for any man to pay. She talked of the looks on the faces of her starving children, and her husband’s discovery of a way out of impoverished Ireland - by signing them on to a ship as indentured servants.
Carol Jarboe held the entire room nearly spellbound for over an hour. As she explained just what being an indentured servant meant - being separated from her family, being sold time and again, being beaten. She related tale after tale of a life she had never expected. She occasionally made the crowd laugh - but more often than not they cried with her. Most people today are unaware of the atrocities of indentured servitude - this was a form of slavery that most Americans know little about even though a large percentage of immigrants entered the United State in this fashion. In return for their passage they signed away 4, 7 or sometimes more years of their lives.
Maggie came slowly back to her present - as a servant for the parson. You could feel the audience making the same journey back to the present. They had been spellbound for almost an hour, but I believe, I and the others could have stayed on Maggie’s journey for another hour had she kept talking.
The audience responded with a long standing ovation. When Carol asked if there were any questions - at first not a hand went up. She had covered the subject so thoroughly I thought there might be none. But then as people realized that it was now Carol Jarboe in front of them and not Maggie Delaney - questions pored forth. And the subtle history lesson continued as both Jarboe’s answered questions with facts and figures of a time and lifestyle many know little about.
Once again Fort Boonesborough’s Fireside Chats brought a new character to life. Carol Jarboe’s years of research and study paid off for the visitors to the February 2009 Fireside Chats. If you have a chance to see this first person interpretation (and I’m sure she will be asked to do it again and again) don’t miss Carol Jarboe as Maggie Delaney!