Stagecoach Mary

In 1832, she was born a slave in Tennessee, she was freed in 1865 at the age of 33.

When she was freed she worked for Judge Dunne, who some believe had been her owner. When his wife died in 1883, Mary took his children to their aunt’s home in Ohio. The aunt was Mother Mary Amedeus the Mother Superior of a convent. Mary stayed near Mother Mary Amedeus until the Mother Superior was transferred to Montana to start a school for Native American girls. In 1884, Mary heard of Mother Mary falling ill with pneumonia. She traveled to Montana to nurse her back to health.

So far this sounds like a loyal slave caring for former owners. But Mary Fields was no subservient ex-slave. Unlike most slaves, she had been taught to read and write. She stood six feet tall and weighed 200 lbs. To say she was an imposing figure, would be putting it lightly. If the persona didn’t intimidate you, be aware, she carried a pistol under her apron and a shotgun in her hand. She smoked hand-wrapped big black cigars and usually had a whiskey jug someplace close by her.

stagecoach+mary+fields

Mary Fields was not afraid of anyone or anything. And was know to not back down from a fist fight. She stayed at the convent, when the Mother Superior got well, to help out. She hauled freight, chopped wood, did laundry and cared for the chickens and garden. The Native Americans called her White Crow because she acted like a white woman but had black skin.

In 1894, her temper got the better of her when a male worker made derisive comments concerning a black woman getting higher pay than him. Mary grabbed her gun and went after him. They had a shootout behind the convent. A bystander was slightly wounded by a stray bullet which was the only injury after Mary and the male worker had emptied their six guns. The Bishop told Mary she would have to leave, he was tired of her temper and foul language.

The Mother Superior helped her open a restaurant but it went broke in ten months. Mary made a habit of feeding people whether they paid or not.

Then in 1895, at the ripe old age of sixty, Mary found her calling. Having the fastest time hitching up a six horse team, she won the job of US postal carrier. This made her the first black woman postal carrier and the second black woman ever hired by the US postal service. She delivered mail with a team or with her mule, Moses. If the snow was too deep, she’d put the mail on her back and hike the trail in snowshoes. She once walked ten miles through the snow. She never missed a day. Her dependability earned her the name Stagecoach Mary.

When she hit seventy, she quit the postal service. She started doing laundry and ran an eating establishment. At seventy-two, a man tried to stiff her on a laundry bill. She reared back and laid him on the ground with one punch. Mary was still a force to be reckoned with.

I am Mary Fields.  People call me “Black Mary.”  People call me “Stagecoach Mary.”  I live in Cascade, Tennessee.  I am six feet tall.  I weigh over two hundred pounds.  A woman of the 19th Century,  I do bold and exciting things.  I wear pants.  I smoke a big black cigar.  I drink whiskey.  I carry a pistol.  I love adventure.  I travel the country,  driving a stagecoach,  delivering the mail to distant towns.  Strong, I fight through rainstorms.  Tough, I fight through snowstorms.  I risk hurricanes and tornadoes.  I am independent.  No body tells me what to do.  No body tells me where to go.  When I’m not delivering mail,  I like to build buildings.  I like to smoke and drink in bars with the men.  I like to be rough.  I like to be rowdy.  I also like to be loving.  I like to be caring.  I like to baby sit. I like to plant flowers and tend my garden. I like to give away corsages and bouquets. I like being me, Mary Fields.

Mary Fields

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Oldest Bridge in Connecticut

I’d like to share another fascinating bridge in Connecticut. It’s called the Mill Brook Bridge. It actually was on the edge of our neighbor’s yard. Our neighbor’s daughter and I used to play under this bridge when the water flow was low in the summer. Sometimes we would sit in the four foot high cavity and let the water flow over our legs.

mill brook bridge 2

This is a stone arch bridge that was built with no mortar, just the stone. It’s ten feet in length and 18 feet in width. As fascinating as that is, it’s not the most important aspect of this bridge.

This bridge, that I innocently played under, was the oldest bridge in Connecticut and one of the oldest in the entire country. It was built in 1790. That was when George Washington was president! Did George ever cross it? There’s a good chance he might have walked across it and over the property where I lived.

A couple of things point to this possibility. First, that was the main route in the area and second is the secret no one in the area cares to talk about. You see, I grew up in a small rural town called Lisbon, CT. About five miles away is the city of Norwich. Now the shameful secret of Norwich (which the town people are reluctant to tell) is that Norwich is the birthplace of Benedict Arnold. And no, there is no monument to him in Norwich, which is actually against the law seeing as he was declared a traitor.

But I like to think George and Benedict may have traveled over my bridge on their many journeys.

mill brook bridge

Unfortunately the bridge was destroyed by a flood in March 2010.

Frog Fight Of 1754

I grew up in Connecticut and visiting my sister in Mansfield, we had to cross the Frog Bridge of Willimantic. Now, you may think having 11 foot bronze frogs on the four corners of the bridge ridiculous but to the people of Willimantic it’s a badge of honor.

frog-bridge-willimantic-ct

In 1754, having done battle with the French and the Indians, the militia were on the alert. One night in June, they were awaken by a cacophony of noise. Some were sure it was the French, others just as sure it was Indians. The noise was so terrifying some were convinced it was the Day of Judgment and fell to their knees.

Many brave militia men grabbed their muskets and ran to the battle. Though they searched and even fired rounds toward the noise, they did not come in contact with the enemy.

In the morning an investigation began. It was soon discovered that the horrendous noise had not come from the French, Indians or even God. The town people had been in a drought for some time and most ponds had dried up. There was one pond left in the area and masses of frogs had converged and fought a huge battle over territory. Hundreds of frogs lay dead and dying at the pond.

News spread of the silly Willimantic residents being terrified by a bunch of frogs. They were shamed for a couple of decades. Then someone pointed out that they could have been being attacked and they had been armed and ready. The frog fight lost it’s shame and became a symbol of honor.

So, in Connecticut, we look at the Frog Bridge with pride for the New England spirit of readiness it symbolizes. And we secretly smile because nothing is better to a New Englander than a good joke on ourselves.

frog bridge

ps The frogs sit on thimbles of thread because Willimantic was a thread mill center at one time.