Margy’s Multi-Colored Threads

Margy’s Multi-Colored Threads

“A Conversation With…”

By Gwladys Bowen, Society Editor, The Portland Oregonian

July 12, 1927 at the Academy of Music in Buffalo, New York

Good afternoon, ladies, my name is Gwladys Bowen and I’m the Society Editor of The Portland Oregonian. I’m here in Buffalo as part of our series, “A Conversation With…” During our time today, the artist of the images behind us tells how she was born into slavery in 1836, crossed the Santa Fe Trail in 1851 with a large military wagon train, lived in New Mexico for five years when it was still a territory, lived in New Orleans before the Civil War, and then moved to Buffalo in 1858 after she was set free. Uncertain as to what was going to happen to her next, she launched a career as a seamstress, then as a costume and set designer at this academy. Now, at age 91, Margaret Leavell’s extraordinary life is finally being celebrated. Let me introduce you to her.

GB: Margaret, I feel like I’ve known you all of my life. I’ve been told we met in Buffalo when I was about seven years old, but we haven’t seen each other since. My father, Colonel William Holman Cary Bowen, remembers you well, of course, and has told me stories about Margy, as he called you when he was a child. I’ve also been reading letters written by my grandparents in the 1840s and 1850s, and many of them mention you. Please tell us about your early life and how you came to Western New York as a young woman.

ML: Nice to finally see you, again, Miss Gwladys. You look just like your father, Willie, as I called him, and sometimes Master Willie when he got on airs. At my age, I can remember those days better than I can remember what happened yesterday.

GB: My own memories are tied to my father’s various Army posts, when my mother became ill with a tropical disease in the Philippines, when she died, and to my father’s obsession with General George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. He finally got his book, Custer’s Last Fight, published in 1913. Do your early memories work the same way?

ML: Yes, my early memories are also tied to where I lived, births, and deaths. From that early time, I remember Sarah, my mother; the Leavell Plantation in Kentucky; Cap and Miz B., and their young children – Willie, your father, of course; his sister Agnes, whom we later called Kate after her mother; and of course, Millard Fillmore, who we call Fill. I also remember Robert, the baby who died. I’ll always remember 1858 as a year of death and rebirth.

GB: Tell me how you came to live with Captain Isaac Bowen, whom you called Cap, and his wife, Catherine “Katie” Cary Bowen, whom you called Miz B. They were the grandparents I never met.

ML: Up until I was stripped of my human dignity, the first time, I was a household servant on the Leavell Plantation, near Louisville, Kentucky. Actually, I started out as a nanny to the younger white children. When old enough, I was taught to mend, wash and iron clothes, help in the kitchen, and to serve meals to Master and Mistress Leavell. That’s where I took my last name, and kept it all these years – to remind myself. In the house, we were always on duty, any time of day or night, and I slept on a pallet in the hallway by the bedrooms in case I was needed to empty a chamber pot, or bring fresh water – or whatever was needed. Although we helped to cook and serve food to the white folks, our rations were much different. There was never enough to eat, but the punishment for stealing food, or anything else, was severe – whippings, hangings, or just being shot to death.

As a child, I was also taught the ABCs along with the white children I was watching. I suppose it was so I could read recipes and messages, but I found out later that it was unusual for a slave to be taught letters. Later, in New Mexico, I learned more from the books belonging to the Bowen children. I had also been given a bible by my new mistress, Miz B., before we left Kansas to travel on the Santa Fe Trail, but it was hard to read and understand. I learned more about bible teachings when I took Willie and Agnes to church, but I’m still not sure how much of it I believe.

My old master died suddenly when I was likely about fourteen or fifteen and his wife had to sell me to settle his estate. At least, that’s what I understood at the time, but it may have been because my master’s son was sniffing around me like a dog, if you know what I mean. I was never told who my father was, but I bore a resemblance to that old master. My mother, Sarah, was freed, along with some of the other household slaves, and she moved up to Louisville where she could find a place to live with other freed slaves. Being sold like cattle, it’s something you never get used to or forget. I wanted to survive, but I was scared and didn’t know what would happen next. My mother was out of her mind with fear and worry, she told me later, because young girls my age and light skin color were highly prized and frequently sold to slave dealers to use for sexual purposes. She had heard stories about this.

Standing on the auction block, stripped naked to my waist for inspection, is depicted in my first panel behind us. Me with wild eyes. I did have my head-wrap, which they let me keep to slow down the spread of lice. The slave dealers didn’t appear to understand that my head-wrap was the only part of my childhood that I could keep. I still remember the man’s name who sold me. His name was Matthew Garrison, and he had quite a reputation for keeping female slaves for the basest purposes. Fortunately for me, due to an old debt, Garrison was forced to sell me to a man called Arterburn, who put me on a steamboat bound for Saint Louis, where there was a bigger market. All I had in the world was my filthy shift, my head-wrap, an itchy scalp, and my hot tears.   

In Saint Louis, I was sold to another human trafficker who was looking for young female household servants. I was one of a few women offered and three of us were chosen to be sent by boat to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Before this, I had never been off the plantation, or on the water. We were forced to sleep on the deck of the boat, far away from paying customers, and our rations of food and water were pitiful. I vomited up most of it, anyway. The water was too muddy to drink and the food was usually spoiled.

GB: You didn’t know where you were going or what would happen, and it would be hard to imagine how that experience shaped you and changed you over time. What was your emotional state when you were sold?

ML: I have to admit that it took me years to get over the shock and trauma of being torn away from my mother. I was confused at being taken away from the only life and place I’d ever known. Fear of the unknown has always haunted me and I still flinch when being touched by a stranger. I was also angry at my mistress for selling me, and angry at my mother for letting it happen. In my child’s mind, I thought if I was a good girl and behaved, life would go on as usual after my master died. Then I was depressed and cried a lot. I felt helpless and embarrassed at being sold, like a piece of meat! I have chronic aches and pains, which is normal for being 91 years old, but I’m told I still carry the trauma of the auction block in my body.

GB: When did you meet my Bowen grandparents?

I first met Cap at the dock in Kansas. He looked us all over and made an offer for me, after speaking to me like a human being. He asked me my name, where I was from, why I was sold, and what I could do. I proudly told him, “I can read and write, cook, sew, mend, knit, wash and iron.”

He explained that he and his wife were headed to New Mexico, a new territory won from Mexico. I didn’t even know where or what Mexico was! My mouth must have hung open when he asked me, “Do you want to come along on our journey? It will be a long trip, possibly dangerous, and we may not come back this way for several years. If you want to come, we’ll get you a bath, some sturdy clothes and a pair of boots, and a man’s hat to wear over your head-wrap to keep the sun off your face. Among other household chores, you will prepare and serve our food, and be welcome to eat it yourself. There will be no stealing, slacking off chores, no back-talking, or running away. You must learn to speak proper English and keep yourself clean. What do you think?”

I’m sure I blinked at him, hardly believing that he was asking me about anything, much less my future. These were the first kind words I had heard from a white man, maybe ever. I explained to him that my mother was living in Louisville and that I would like to see her again sometime, and he agreed that was a possibility. Then I nodded my agreement, not daring to shake his hand with my dirty one. Cap said he would get word to my mother – another kindness. I later learned that the two other slave women were sold to families who lived at Fort Leavenworth, where they took care of white children, cooked and cleaned, and kept flies off of food when it was served and eaten. It was a much better life than they could have hoped for.

GB: How long did you stay at Fort Leavenworth?

ML: It was just a few weeks and they made good on their offer of two linsey-woolsey dresses, boots, and a well-worn man’s hat. I was put into another household that had slaves, to save money, but I cooked for the Bowens in the communal kitchen. Cap got sick with cholera and I was asked to make the kind of healing broth that he could get down. I knew how to do that. Miz B. seemed pleased with my cooking and also asked me to make bread, just for them. I served meals in their room at the fort and washed clothes as weather permitted.

It rained and thundered something fierce, but eventually it was dry enough for the oxen to get traction and we left on the military road to join other travelers on the Santa Fe Trail. It was a big group of wagons. We had cattle, sheep, mules, horses, and pigs on our journey, too. The Bowens generally rode in a carriage pulled by mules, but sometimes on horseback. I mostly walked, but sometimes rode in a wagon.

Before leaving, along with the bible that I still have, Miz B. gave me a pencil and a few sheets of paper so I could write to my mother about our trip. She wrote letters to her family and friends all the time, which seemed her primary occupation, besides gossiping with other ladies and sewing. I suppose it was natural for her to encourage me to write down my observations on our journey. My scribbles were mailed with their letters when there was a rider going the opposite direction. My mother said she got a few of them, but they were lost at some point.

GB: Tell me about your collection of items from that time. Is that where the idea of the “lost and found” panel came from?

ML: I first started picking up small things when we got on the Santa Fe Trail. It had been used for many years by merchants and the army, and before that, Indians. I found things like a key, a hat pin, pieces of fabric, a glove, bird feathers, broken glass, a book of hymns – all kinds of debris on the trail from many years of travelers. I did not pick up the bones I saw, some of which may have been human, or the snakeskins. We saw a lot of snakes on that trip! When I was walking alongside the wagon, I saw shiny things hidden in the long grass or sand. Other things were buried in mud at campsites. I didn’t intend to keep all those things I found, but in a way, they were my diary of things lost and found. These were the threads of someone’s life. Eventually, I made a pouch hanging from my waist to store them.  

GB: That collection is now shown in the second panel, with you walking alongside a wagon. Tell us more about your experiences on the Santa Fe Trail going out to New Mexico. The timeframe was the summer of 1851.

ML: It rained a lot at the beginning of the trip, which slowed us down. In clear weather, I slept under Cap’s main wagon on some old blankets, alongside Bruno, his big black dog. I don’t know what kind of dog he was, but Cap had him shipped to Fort Leavenworth along with their household goods from Philadelphia, where they lived before. Bruno and I became good friends because I gave him scraps after dinner and scratched his head. He alerted us to nearby wolves or other critters, and he also kept strangers away from me. When it was dry enough to travel, we started out at dawn and stopped in the early afternoon. I slept hard, and kept close to the Bowen’s tent at camp, but felt mostly safe because of Bruno. When any of the young soldiers traveling with our group tried to get friendly, Bruno would snarl and send them packing.

When we had to lay over at a campsite to let thunderstorms pass, Bruno and I slept inside the main wagon, which was tightly packed with boxes of household goods, barrels of vinegar and cider, jars of pickles, and other food stores like flour, sugar, and coffee. Sleeping on bags of soiled clothing and towels was uncomfortable, and I was afraid of the high winds and lightning, but at least we stayed dry. Bruno didn’t seem to mind the storms like some dogs do. Trips to the latrine trenches were quick and he guarded me.

At one three-day campsite stay, Miz B. was laughed at when she had me heat up two cauldrons of water from a nearby stream to wash clothes. She wanted me to keep busy. We ended up having to hang wet clothes in the wagon when the road dried up enough for oxen to travel without sinking into the mud. On dry days, my daily duties included waking up before sunrise to start a fire for making biscuits and coffee. Our group was envied because coffee and breakfast were delivered to the Bowen’s white palace – that’s what they called their 9×9 white army tent with a bed, small table, chest of clothes, and an oil lamp. If it was rainy, I had to manage breakfast from the store of goods in the wagon. If needed, we snacked during the day on old biscuits, crackers, sardines, cold beans, or whatever was handy. But Miz B. was pregnant with your father, Willie, and having morning sickness. Sometimes only weak tea and crackers would do for her. I don’t think she ever told her mother, old Mrs. Cary, that she was with child while on that trip. Mrs. Cary was probably already worried enough. I met her years later and she was an anxious woman in general.

GB: What did you think about the Indians you saw?

ML: The Indians we saw near Fort Leavenworth were farmers. They were peaceful and dressed pretty much like poor white folks, but some of the Indians we saw later were frightful. I had never seen a red person, or a naked person either, other than when my mother and I bathed in our quarters on the plantation. The red people were sometimes decorated with feathers, bits of bone and tin, and different colors of paint. Some of the men wore only a piece of cloth to cover their private parts, and some were unclothed entirely. The Indian women were dressed in calico or deerskin, or a combination of cloth and skin, but were never naked. I could tell that some were slaves to other women, and we saw a few women and children who looked Mexican or white, who may have been stolen. This was a new kind of slavery I had not seen before.

GB: Let me read a few descriptions from Katie Bowen’s journal on the trail. As you know, Margaret, I’ve started typing the journals and letters written by my grandparents between 1846 and 1858. It’s sometimes difficult to read them due to the differences in handwriting, stains, the type of paper, ink pens and pencils used, and folds and stains. Katie’s style was spidery and cramped, and she sometimes cross-hatched to save paper, while Isaac’s handwriting was loopy and easier to read.  

This part is at the beginning of your trip on the Santa Fe Trail in July of 1851. Katie kept a journal on the trail so that she could tell her parents back in Maine about everything she saw. Her parents had never traveled west of the Mississippi and were very curious. Katie was a very dutiful daughter!

“When we got near a creek called Pottawatomie, we passed several log houses and I noticed one squaw washing her dishes and scouring her tins and knives in the sun. They shone like silver. They were dressed like white people, and all sitting or working outside. One woman was making a blue calico shirt. After we had passed them, one horrid old Indian tattooed with powder, and drunk as well as half naked, came riding furiously past us, giving the mules a cut with his whip and brandishing his whiskey bottle, calling us to stop. The teamster sent him off with some smart cuts around his red legs. He frightened one team so much that the mules fairly jumped out of their harness. Captain Bowen said if the man showed his head again, the soldiers would tie him up to the wheel and give him a tremendous lashing. But he moved on.

Further along, somewhere near Cow Creek, three Indians followed us to camp. Captain Bowen conversed with the head one and discovered him to be an old warrior of the Osage Nation. He was an intelligent man, about 80 years old, and he laid out a map on the ground with sticks, telling us the rivers north and west of the Missouri, correctly, where all tribes up and down the Missouri were originally settled. He said that when he was a young man, he went to Detroit and all around the lakes occupied by the English. They tried to buy him and his tribe, but he said no go, he was Captain Jim of the Osages and he much like ‘em Americans because they were always good to him. His father was more than a hundred years old when he died, and once went to Washington to see Big Father. The Big Father gave him a silver medal, which this son has worn for 38 years, bearing the portrait of James Madison on one side, and on the other an American and Indian hand-clasped in friendship surmounted by the pipe of peace and tomahawk crossed. The medal is five inches across and nearly half an inch thick, worn almost smooth. When Captain Bowen asked him what he would take for it, Captain Jim frowned horribly and clasping it to his heart, said ‘Me no sell ‘em never.’ He expressed himself and tribe friendly to all whites and all Indians, except the Sioux and Pawnees, and showed us three bullet holes on his neck and legs where he had been shot by the Sioux. He said there was a time when he had plenty of money, heaps as he expressed it, but now he had none, was poor, and wanted a little ‘baccy. He said he had 27 wives and talked more than any other Indian I can remember.

When we go to Fort Mackay, all the Indians had left the area. We were told that several thousand lodges had been spread around there a few weeks ago, but all were now hunting and laying in their stores of furs. The soldiers told us that while there, they saw a Mexican woman who had been stolen. She was so unhappy that the sutler bought her, intending to send her back to Chihuahua. She had an Indian child about a year old and they made her carry wood all day and herd mules all night. She said the Indians were very cruel to their women. She said her father and mother were killed, and herself and three sisters carried off, and that she had been their slave for four years.”

GB: That’s very descriptive writing by my grandmother. Do you remember those incidences that she wrote about? You were approximately fifteen years old at that time. Did you show yourself to the Indians?

ML: I do remember seeing some of those Indians, but I was always told to hide in a wagon. Miz B. didn’t want me seen in case they tried to steal me. I’m grateful that I was not taken prisoner and forced to be one of “wives.” Apparently, they worked hard, went hungry quite a bit, and had to move their camps all the time. Like I said, this was a different type of slavery to me.

GB: Of course, and I can see why Katie wanted you to hide. Did you also encounter Indians when you lived with the Bowens at Fort Union?

ML: We did have Indians come into the fort, which did not have any walls while we lived there. It was just a collection of buildings then, made of adobe and wood. It became a small village with a lot of people coming and going all the time. Cattle and all kinds of other animals wandered through the grounds and messed with our chickens. One time an Indian man with a really wide face peered into our window in broad daylight and Willie fell backwards off a chair in a fright. Fortunately, he did not crack his skull, but Miz B. was plenty mad and shooed the man away.  

GB: Are there any other stories you’d like to share from your trip across the trail from Kansas to New Mexico?

ML: Well, I guess I got a bit drunk on cider. Cider was new to me and I was surprised when I got giddy. Everyone drank cider to avoid scurvy, which was nothing I had ever encountered on the plantation. I liked it because made me feel better and it seemed to cheer me up. Bruno liked it too! There is one other story about Bruno, wolves, and sheep that Miz B. liked to tell her children. I memorized it.

“One night, Bruno must have slept wondrous sound, for a wolf went to the fire and ate what scraps were left in the pots, rattled among the tin pans so that the teamsters were disturbed, and then put out for the herd. He had a big fight with an old gentleman sheep in trying to get one of the lambs, but the old fellow kept him on the defensive so long and whipped him so badly that at daylight, one of the sentinels discovered how matters stood and finished the career of Mr. Wolf. They were so tame that we would often see them in the road directly in front of us, but they soon hid themselves in the long grass.”

GB: I’ve seen a drawing of the tents all of you lived in for several months during the winter, before a house was built for the Bowens. And Katie Bowen was very pregnant with my father, who was the first child born at Fort Union in January of 1852. How did you manage?

ML: The location of the fort was about a hundred miles from Santa Fe and six from the nearest town, with plenty of wild prairie. Mountains were close by in the rear and we had good water. It was said to be the coldest place in New Mexico and I think they were right! Some soldiers were already there when we arrived and were building log cribs covered with earth, but they were not skilled workers and progress was slow.   

Sometimes the weather was warm and we had clear blue skies, but sometimes it was very cold. It was always windy and the air was very dry. It made my nose bleed, so I took some oil and rubbed it around inside my nose. The wind blew all kinds of dirt around, first one way, then the other. We had to cook over fires outside our three tents, which was hard to do with the wind. The tents were stretched over frames and were double thicknesses of duck cloth. On nice days, we rolled up the sides to catch the breezes. When we had a cold snap, keeping warm in our tents during the night was almost impossible, and we wrapped up in every warm piece of clothing and blankets that the Bowens brought with them. I tried to keep big fires going in front of our tents on those nights.  

Like always, Miz B. made friends quickly and was very social with a couple of the other officer’s wives. They ran into each others’ tents nearly every day to sew together, gossip, and to share butter and milk. Miz B. had a paddle and earthen pan for working butter and one of the other ladies had a stone churn, so they exchanged favors. When she wasn’t writing letters or visiting with her new friends, Miz B. was always busy with sewing, including clothes for me. My dresses were blue check for summer and homespun plaid woolen for winter, with strong underclothes of factory cotton. Miz B. made underclothes for everyone else, but mine were bought before we left Kansas.

While still living in our tents, Miz B. got sick with a cold, chills, and fever, and I was concerned about her condition. Then Cap had to turn in for a week and had to be poulticed with mustard, cupped, and confined to his bed. He suffered a good deal and his bowels ran for some days, but he regained his strength with the broth I made for him. I remember this so well because several days later, Cap took a bad fall while chasing some wild cattle. His horse fell, throwing him and rolling over him, which bruised his chest and arms. Cap was not a stout man in those days and said he had lost forty pounds since leaving Buffalo to start on this journey. Fortunately, he recovered.

Finally, after living in our tents for almost three months, our own house was framed, mostly finished, just before a big snowstorm, but we only had a sod roof. The houses for officers and their families were finished first, built by the soldiers and local Mexican men as fast as they could work in that kind of weather. We had a pine forest nearby and the Mexicans made adobe bricks out of straw and mud. The wind whistled through the chinks of the walls at first, but at least we had a roof over our heads and could keep warmer.

At first, we had only one room and a kitchen, so I slept near the large stone fireplace to keep a fire going all night. About a month later, the front room was finished and a sleeping room was up fixed for me. I had never had my own room before, and I wanted to share it with Bruno, but he had to sleep outdoors in a shed that Cap built. Miz B. did not especially like dogs, even a good boy like Bruno, and didn’t allow them inside the house.

Sometimes we had to leave the doors open at night so the smoke would draw out, and I was constantly having to clean up because of the ashes and constant dust blown in. For furnishings, Cap had carpets made up by a dragoon tailor and we had homemade lounges and benches. Cap had frames of two easy chairs made at Fort Leavenworth that Miz B. covered with turkey red cloth. It was comfortable enough.

Fort Union was near a spring and we had water delivered twice a day by prisoners. They also delivered firewood, which we kept in a Bruno’s shed. Right away, Miz B. sent to a nearby town called Las Vegas for ice, vegetables, hens, and chickens so we could have our own eggs. She also began to make butter every week and she was really proud of it. Eventually I took over that task when she got busier. I made good butter, too.

The Mexicans brought in venison, wild fowls, and onions, and we managed to set a good table. A mule power corn mill furnished us with nice corn meal, much better than we got at the plantation. Cap didn’t waste any time building a barn, a chicken house, and other outdoor conveniences, if you know what I mean. He was always busy making something to help us live easier.

In early January of 1852, when it was time, Miz B. was attended to by the army surgeon and I was there to help bring little Willie into the world. I got to see him before Miz B. did. That was the first time I had seen a child born, up close and personal. I was taught how to bathe and dress him, and of course change his diapers. They called him Cary at first, then Willie Cary, then just finally Willie. I surely loved that child. Everyone did.

GB: And I know that my father loved you too! I’d like to read a passage from one of my grandmother’s letters about my father’s birth on January 7, 1852. It was written about a month later to Catherine Cary, Katie Bowen’s mother in Maine.

“My dear Mother, very glad am I to be able to write to you that I am well and strong, having passed through my troubles most fortunately and have a fine healthy boy which I hope to show you and his grandfather ere he is many years old. I have had no bad feelings of any sort, not even a headache, but to be on the prudent side, did not put my foot on the floor until the eleventh day and since then have been up nearly all the time. I usually take a nap sometime in the day and then can bear with the child’s wakefulness during the night, if he happens not to sleep well. As a general thing he sleeps well day and night, but has been troubled a good deal with colic and cries sometimes to test the strength of his lungs. We named him for Father and call him Cary, as there is a Willie and a Holman in the family.

Isaac wrote to you by an express that left a week after he was born. Did Isaac tell you that the doctor had hard work to save the little fellow’s life? For several minutes before he was born, the doctor kept his finger in the baby’s mouth to keep it breathing. The cord was wound around the child’s neck so close that it came very near strangling and probably would have done so with a less prompt surgeon. He did not cry for some seconds and I began to wonder what was the matter. I have had the best possible attention. Isaac has to go out on tour, but our servant, Margaret, is a host in herself and will sleep on the floor to keep fires for me. Isaac’s clerk will sleep in the parlor, and the kitchen and storeroom can be locked up. A man in Isaac’s department will take care of the horses, cows, pigs, and chickens. Our big dog, Bruno, oversees the whole and watches at night.

Margaret has just brought me a plate of molasses candy and here I sit rocking the cradle with one foot and employing my left hand to furnish my mouth with candy. She is a very good girl and cooks nicely, as well as being an excellent house servant. She has all the care of the milk and butter making, and I shall be sorry to part with her in case we move to a free state. Her mother is a free woman in Louisville, Kentucky, and able to buy her, so if possible, we will carry her to her mother or set her free.”

GB: Were there other Negro slaves at the fort? Or servants who were not slaves? If so, did you have any friends among them?

ML: There were a few other servant girls and slaves to gossip with from time to time, but Miz B. would not let me associate with the Negro slave belonging to one of her closest friends. She said she was an ugly Black, which I thought was mean. Miz B. could have a sharp tongue and say harsh things about people sometimes. Anyway, once Willie was born, I didn’t have the time. And then a few months later, Miz B. broke her leg in a bad accident.   

GB: My father remembers that his mother walked with a limp. What is your memory of her accident at Fort Union?

ML: When Willie was about eight months old, Miz B. was holding him and got her foot caught in the trench outside the house to carry rainwater away. Willie was crying, but not harmed in any way, and Miz B. had immediate medical care, but she never really recovered. I was just inside the kitchen and took Willie from her arms when she was on the ground. Do you have a copy of the letter that Cap wrote to her parents?

GB: Yes, and it’s hard to read, but I’m happy to share it.

“Dear Father and Mother Cary, from seeing my writing, you will probably apprehend that something is amiss with Katie and such is the case. She is confined to her bed with a broken leg. Last Monday morning, the 27th of September, I had my mule harnessed early, intending to drive to Rayado with Dr. Byrne (Capt. Shoemaker and Capt. Sykes being in another carriage) after some plums for preserving. We had breakfasted and Katie had stepped into the kitchen with Willie in her arms to see that lunch was properly packed for us. I was putting some things in the carriage about 25 yards from the kitchen door when I heard a fearful succession of groans from her. I turned and saw her lying on her back, holding the boy still in her arms. In stepping from the kitchen, her foot slipped on the edge of a small trench dug to conduct the water when it rains, and she had fallen forward striking her elbows. In this condition she could not recover herself without dropping Willie, and she turned to her right to sit down. In doing so, the toe of her left foot caught in the perpendicular bank of the narrow trench and snapped the bone of the leg in two places near the ankle under the old scar and the shin bone about midway between the knee and ankle. Dr. Byrne was soon in attendance and dressed and set the leg.

The swelling has been great, but that was to be expected as she is so fleshy and plethoric and the flesh was considerably lacerated by the sharp edges of the broken bone. The boy was not hurt a particle and has been the best child that ever was since his mother was hurt. Katie has suffered a good deal more from nervousness, however, than pain. She has not had the bandages removed yet, and in fact has not moved her body an inch except involuntarily. The doctor has been devoted in his attention, as well as all the good people, our friends here. Miss Carrie Shoemaker and I have sat up with her alternate nights during the week. The doctor told me after visiting her this morning that I might assure you that she was getting on well, that she was without fever and that the swelling and inflammation of the leg were subsiding. He has this morning given her some pills to operate the bowels, which have not been moved since the morning she was hurt. You may be sure that she has every care and attention that is possible to bestow, but still it is very trying to her patience and endurance to be unable to move or be moved, even with assistance, for so long a time. I have had to administer morphia to her occasionally to quiet her nerves and let her sleep. Katie says to tell Mother that she is cross as a bear, that she wants to get up most awfully, and thinks she could kick the roof off the house if she could get up.”

GB: Katie later wrote to her mother about the splint she had to wear.

“You would laugh at the queer harness that I have my limb in. It is an open case made of splints of wood and iron and a narrow boot to lace the foot in. Screws are so arranged that after a fracture is set, it can be turned to the right or left, and by that means keep the foot in proper line to prevent a crooked ankle or twisted leg. Mine has been moved three times since the bone commenced to knit, but has not pained me much. Next week the doctor says he is going to walk me some. I feel very well and will be glad to move once more. My leg has been swung from the ceiling since the 10th of October and of course I have not moved off my back.”

GB: Is this when you took over more of the household duties, other than Katie’s constant sewing and mending of clothes?

ML: Yes, I was already making the butter, cooking, cleaning, keeping the fires and doing the wash, but with Miz B. laid up in the bed all the time and Cap gone on business, I had more care of Willie. By the following spring, Miz B.’s leg was still swollen and she missed out on a lot of parties, but we had a few small dinners at the house. She could walk about the house without getting very tired or limping much, but the ankle joint was very weak, and the swelling was bad when she stood on it much. She kept it bandaged constantly until her flesh got so sore with the pressure of the bandage that she was forced to leave it off. We soaked it every night in hot water, and she kept quiet all that she could, but when at its largest, it measured three inches more than the well one. It did get better over the next few years and she always hoped for a perfect recovery to dance with Cap again.

GB: You got to watch Willie grow up. His teeth came in, he learned to crawl and walk, and was apparently a healthy boy.

ML: He was funny. When about a year and a half old, Willie learned to feed himself a little and was quite fond of bread and milk. But he preferred apple pie, and if there was none in sight when he opened the pantry closet, Miz B. would have to stand round. I was so devoted to him that I always had a turnover ready for him.

GB: What happened to Bruno?

ML: When we were still at Fort Union, for a week we were tormented by the nightly visit of a polecat to our chicken house. Other dogs at the fort set up a fuss as soon as it made its appearance, and then there were odors for all noses. One night they had a pitched battle and Bruno got one of his eyes torn out, while the other dogs were so offensive to themselves that they howled all the next day. I was so sad to see Bruno suffer, and he died after a few days. Cap was sad too. The Bowen children had other pets later, but Bruno was my friend and protector. I missed him.

That third panel behind us shows me at Fort Union, wrapped in a Mexican blanket that Cap bought for Miz B. in Mexico. I was standing outside with my back to the snow-capped mountains and thinking about my life so far. I was still a slave, but a lucky one, all in all.

GB: According to the timeline of the Bowen letters, after Fort Union, you moved to Albuquerque when Isaac was transferred. Katie Bowen was pregnant again and something very dramatic happened to you. We can skip that if you like.

 ML: No, it’s part of my life that’s ugly and sad, but I’m too old to have it upset me further. To be blunt, I was raped at Fort Union by a soldier, before Cap got his orders, which may have been a blessing in disguise. Fortunately, I never saw the man again, because Cap would have had him court-martialed, or worse, if he had known at the time. I was alone while the Bowens were on a carriage ride, and afterwards, I never told anyone. I was too ashamed, confused, bruised, and felt like my human dignity had been stripped from me again, like on the auction block. I hid the evidence. I washed it from my body and underclothes. To this day, pushy men with scratchy beards and bad breath bring it all back.

I had no idea that I was pregnant until a few months later. Miz B. was pregnant with Agnes, but in those days, white ladies never told anyone until after about six months. She and her friends called giving birth a “tea party” and sent out invitations as a way of telling folks. When I realized my situation, we were on a wagon headed to Albuquerque and there was nothing I could do, except hope for a miscarriage. We kept pretty busy setting up our new house. We weren’t inside a fort or near any of the other officers and their families, so it was kind of quiet. I spent most of my time looking after Willie, and of course, cooking and cleaning. The Bowens hired a local man for out of doors chores and a washerwoman, so that was good thing to happen, especially in my condition. Washing, bleaching, drying, and ironing were hard work and my least favorite jobs, plus it was winter, although the weather was milder in Albuquerque than at Fort Union.

Amazingly, and because it was winter we layered our clothes, I hid my pregnancy from the Bowens and they never knew until after I gave birth. I was by myself, cut the cord with a kitchen knife, soaked up the blood with my dress, cleaned him off, and wrapped my boy in sheets. I don’t really understand why I hid him outside under a peach tree, but I guess I thought he would not be born into slavery that way. But it didn’t turn out well. The next morning, I “discovered” the baby and Miz B. called for the Albuquerque authorities to find out whose child he was. My baby boy was taken in by a Mexican woman to nurse. After my confession, I was able to visit him once a day, but was not allowed to keep him. Then my boy was stolen and Cap offered a reward for his return. He was brought back, but died four months later. They said it was his heart, but I don’t know for sure what happened. I never even got to name him, but the Mexican woman called him Jesus. We buried him under that peach tree and I think of him every December. He was my Christmas baby.

Miz B. gave birth to Agnes a few weeks later and I had to help her care for both children. Because of my boy, Miz B. was unkind to me and treated me poorly for several months, which turned me against her for a while. I gave her the silent treatment, but Cap acted nicely with the reward offer, and continued to be his usual self. Honestly, I always liked him better.

GB: That’s an incredible story and thank you for sharing. I’m sure you would have made a good mother to your son.

ML: I was a slave, and my son was born to a slave. We were both powerless over our lives. Maybe it’s best that he died too soon. Miz B. kept a closer eye on me after that, even though we lived in the middle of nowhere. Because of all the new activity in the house with the birth of Agnes, I never really had the chance to explain what happened, or to defend myself. Anyway, Miz B. would probably have blamed me for flirting and bringing unwanted attention to myself, which was not the case.

GB: How long did you live in Albuquerque?

ML: Just for about a year before Cap was transferred again, to Santa Fe this time, which we all preferred because we were closer to other people and it was easier to get fresh vegetables and meat. Cap set up quarters for us there before we took the wagon trip north with our household goods. We found a muddy mess due to heavy rains, but it got sorted out. Cap’s office was in the same long building as our house, so he was always close by, which Miz B and the children enjoyed. We were near a stream and the main Plaza, where everyone strolled and enjoyed themselves on fine days. The Bowens let me take the children there when Agnes was walking, and I had more freedom. I was light-skinned, lighter than the Mexicans and Pueblo Indians living around Santa Fe, and I pretended that Willie and Agnes were my children. We even went to a Catholic church a few times. The Bowens were not Catholics, but there was always nice music. I didn’t understand the language. We just went for the sights and sounds. Cap said he remembered Catholic churches from his time in Mexico and encouraged us to go.

GB: After Santa Fe, you finally went back to the states. Was the Santa Fe Trail trip different, five years later?

ML: The trip back over the trail was much faster and there was a lot more traffic, coming and going. We went back to Fort Union first and joined a large group of soldiers with about 30 wagons. The original plan was to go to St. Louis and stay there a few weeks until wintertime in New Orleans. The Bowens did not want to go to a southern city on the water due to the hot and humid climate and terrible yellow fever epidemics, but they had to go where ordered. The plan changed, though, and I was blessed. From St. Louis, Cap arranged for me to go on with another family to Louisville so I could visit with my mother. I hadn’t seen her since I was sold and it was a joyful time, I assure you. She was so happy to see me all grown up and I poured out my heart about everything that had happened. Mama was not feeling well due to a bout with the fever, but we made the best of our short time together. A few weeks later, the Bowens returned from a visit with Cap’s family in New York and my mama got to meet them all. They would have taken her with us to New Orleans, too, had she felt better. That was the last time I ever saw her. The fever got her, like so many others. I still miss my mama.

GB: I’m so sorry for your loss, and I still miss my mother, too.

ML: Thank you, but I’m just grateful that I got to see her before she died. And my mama could tell how much I loved those white babies, Willie and Agnes. And Miz B. was pregnant again, I could tell, and I hoped for another child myself someday. I did love babies!

GB: New Orleans in 1855 must have been very different than living at remote army forts. Where did you live?

ML: The Bowens decided to live at a boarding house run by a large white woman named Mrs. Jenks, where we could get several rooms together on the same floor. It was near the Exchange, but Cap had an office in our rooms, which he preferred. Miz B. got bigger and bigger, and so did Cap. They couldn’t get as much exercise as they did in New Mexico and three meals a day were provided on a strict schedule. I’m sure that Cap missed riding, working with the animals, and fixing up things like he always did at Fort Union. He got quite heavy, which is not good in hot, humid weather, and the flying insects bothered him.

I had a lot of care of the children and we went out when weather permitted. Miz B. mostly just sewed, mended, read, and wrote letters. Because she got so heavy, it affected her lame leg. We sometimes rode the omnibus that went from one end of town to the other, and that was pleasant. The carnivals and processions were exciting, too. They called it Mardi Gras, or the fatted ox. The Bowens went to several masked balls the next spring and told me all about them – the hundreds of guests, the costumes, the supper tables, and the music. I wanted to get a fancy dress and go to a ball myself someday.

I also remember the inauguration of the Jackson Monument. It was a fine day with clear skies, which wasn’t always the case in New Orleans. The streets were clean and there were crowds of people. Children were all dressed up and their mamas looked very proud. We had a position near the square on a balcony by the street where the procession passed. The various badges of different societies, companies, and associations were beautiful. The military and naval officers had a prominent place in the procession, and the banners of firemen and bands of different squads made the children clap their hands. They screamed with delight when they saw Cap. The procession took an hour and a half to pass.  

After all the parties and parades, Miz B. gave birth to a big baby boy. They eventually named him after their old family friend, President Fillmore, who was pleased about that. Millard Fillmore Bowen was his whole name, but I always called him Fill. He grew up to be a lawyer, just like his uncle and his namesake, the president, and I helped with his own children, many years later. I know the grandchildren, too, and am especially close with Gertrude, Helen and Kathleen, the children of Ruth Bowen, who was one of Fill’s daughters. We finally got more girls in the extended Bowen family, which would have pleased Miz B. and Cap.

GB: According to the letters, a few months after Fillmore was born in 1856, Katie Bowen went back home with the children to see her parents, siblings, their families, and friends. It had been almost six years since she had seen her aging parents, but you did not go with them to Maine. It was not a slave state. Did you stay in New Orleans to keep house for Captain Bowen that summer while they were gone?

ML: What I remember is that Miz B. hated that Cap couldn’t get leave to go with them, and she was afraid of exposing the children to diseases while traveling. But she also wanted to see her parents, especially, so she hired a nurse to go with them to help with the children. Cap was very sad to see them go, but understood, because his own parents were old and in failing health. To answer your question, Cap got a good family to send me out of town with, over the lake, as they called it, so I could be in a healthier place. Summers in New Orleans were dangerous because of diseases and everyone who could leave until cooler weather, did so. Everyone called summer there the sickly season.

I did not like the family I had to work for that summer and fall, but I had no choice. I won’t tell their name. In my mind, they overworked me, or maybe I just wasn’t used to doing all that heavy washing and ironing again. I had to get up early to go to market, then start fires and cook meals all day. I missed my Bowen babies, too. When I had the chance, I got a photograph made and sent it to Cap with a note. I wanted him to mail it to the children in Maine so they didn’t forget their Margy.

GB: Did they forget you?

ML: No, of course not, but I surely spoiled them when they got back to New Orleans. Cap got a few weeks leave after all and went up to Buffalo to see his parents for a bit. Miz B. the kids were there by then, and on the way back south, they picked up one of Miz B.’s cousins, Theodore Cary, in St. Louis, who was sent to live with them for a few months. I was the happiest girl in the world to see the children again. Because Theodore was living with them, Cap found me a room in another boarding house near the water. I would get up early to travel across town and tend to the children, and go back to my room after putting the children to bed. As Theodore and I were about the same age, we became friends and spent a lot of evenings together exploring the city. The Bowens thought he was out with new friends, but he was really with me. It was the happiest time of my life in New Orleans. I had my freedom in the evenings, could wear more colorful clothes, and Theodore treated me like a lady friend – which I definitely became. I was so sad when he had to go back to Maine the next summer, but we vowed to see each other again, somehow, and we did, which is another story! Young love.

The fourth panel behind us shows me joyfully dancing in colorful skirts at Mardi Gras. I developed my love for colorful clothing made of different fabrics while living in New Orleans. It was an exciting time for me, especially being around people of so many mixed heritages.

GB: We are now up to the summer of 1857 and Katie Bowen, with her children and a nursemaid, travelled back to Houlton again to escape the heat, humidity, and danger of diseases in New Orleans. Where was Captain Bowen and where did you live next?

ML: First of all, Cap could not get leave at all that summer and suffered terribly from the heat. He always said, even on our first trip across the Santa Fe Trail, that mosquitoes would be the plague of him, and they were. He especially hated the no-see-ums that attacked him without that tell-tale whine. With the family gone, Cap mostly stayed in his room at the boarding house, took cool baths, and fanned himself. He worked hard during the day, but he was so lonely. I had to go back across the lake to work for some old friends of theirs from Philadelphia. That meant giving up my new-found freedom of nights in New Orleans, but I was still a slave, no matter what. Again, I felt overworked and complained to Cap about it. He was sympathetic, but I was stuck there for months.

GB: It sounds like it was a hard time for everyone. According to her letters, Katie Bowen tried to get back to her husband at the end of the summer, but was delayed for months. 

ML: Yes, that summer of 1857 in New Orleans was bad for yellow fever, with a lot of poor people dying every day. It was heart-wrenching. I knew several girls from my boarding house who died that summer. I was tucked away in a safer place, but I was very cautious about using my mosquito net at night. Up in Buffalo, where Miz B. went to visit with the Captain’s family, the children all got the mumps. And then Cap’s old mother died. Miz B. got to see her before she died and wished that Cap could have been there, too. Right around Christmas, Miz B. finally got back to New Orleans and was very pregnant with Robert. That was news to me, so soon after Fill, but these accidents happen. They brought Cap’s sister-in-law and her son, Eddie Bowen, with them, so more rooms had to be rented at their boarding house. I was so happy to see them again and slept in the same room as the children so I could tend to them morning and night. Fill was very sick on the trip home and with a new baby being born, extra loving arms were helpful. I was their Margy again.

GB: Tell us what happened in 1858.

ML: After Miz Mary Eliza Bowen and her son left to go back to Buffalo several months later, Miz B. decided it was too much to travel back home to Maine for the summer with four small children. Cap rented a cottage for all of us in Pass Christian, Mississippi, which was close enough for him to receive his mail and go into the city when needed. It was called a cottage, but the house was huge and we had our own dock on a salt marsh. There were friendly neighbors and the area was sort of a resort for rich folks during the summer. It was supposed to be a safe place.

We had a vegetable garden again, fruit trees, lots of crabs, a borrowed cow, and a horse and carriage to drive us around. Miz B. made a new best friend, Mrs. Eliza Hiern, and they spent afternoons gossiping on the veranda, watching the children play in the yard. Willie was 6, Agnes was 4, Fill was 2, and Robert was a few months old. Cap made some good friends, too, and the men would go fishing together a few miles away. They got sunburned and tired and swore never to go again, but they went every week. Cap hired an Irish woman to do most of the heavy work, and she had a brother just off the boat from Ireland who tended the animals. It was a delightful summer. I didn’t have to work as hard and life was pretty good, until the yellow fever got to some of the kids in Willie’s school. Cap made him stay home to protect him, but Willie was at that age where he just wanted to hammer a nail into something all the time. Any old nail that needed hammering, he would find it. Agnes had her curls cut off due to the heat and had a mind of her own, even at that age. Fill was a quiet boy, really still a baby, who played mostly by himself until drawn out. Robert was a perfect baby, even better than Fill, and everyone in Pass Christian knew him. He was a favorite.

And then Cap started feeling poorly that September. That was not unusual, because it seems like he got sick a lot. He told me it was from his time in Mexico when he got cholera a couple of times. I made him broths, but I don’t think they helped much. Miz B. said she felt fine, and then one evening, they both took to their beds. I went and got Mrs. Hiern because I didn’t know what else to do. It all went downhill after that.

GB: I know this is difficult, sharing this part of your story, but you were there for the children like no one else could have been. You were their Margy and they loved you, as you loved them.

ML: Death by yellow fever is the worst, but not everyone dies when they get it. Scientists now know something we suspected, living in New Orleans with ships coming in from all over the place. Yellow fever is a virus transmitted to humans through the bite of a certain kind of infected mosquito. Some came across from Africa and South America on those ships and even though ships were quarantined in the harbor, mosquitoes can fly! And Cap always said there were the plague of him. He was so right. After he took to his bed and Miz B. sent for a doctor, she got sick too. Cap didn’t think he was dying – no one did – so he didn’t say much before he lost his senses and died within three days. We could not understand how that happened at the time, and we didn’t have much time to grieve when Miz B. lost her own senses two days later and died. She knew that her husband had died and I think she didn’t want to live without him, despite having a baby she was nursing and three other small children. The Bowens always talked about trusting in divine Providence, and not wanting to know their future. Maybe they were right. But the saddest part was the baby, Robert, who died ten days later after Miz B. Mrs. Hiern tried a wet nurse and cow’s milk, and he had medical care around the clock, but he died anyway. All three of them were buried in the same grave in Pass Christian, and later reburied in Buffalo at the Bowen Family Vault. That’s where I’ll probably end up too, thanks to Mr. Dennis Bowen, Cap’s older brother.

GB: You were set free upon the deaths of my grandparents, and took care of the three remaining Bowen children for about two months until Dennis Bowen, and his wife, Mary Eliza, arrived to take the children back to Buffalo. Did you want to go with them?

ML: Oh, yes, those children were my whole world, with my mother and Miz B. and Cap gone. They all died of the fever and I did not want to stay in the south. Mr. Dennis offered for me to go with them up north when he saw how close I was to the children, and how much they depended on me. At age 23, I was a free woman all of a sudden, but I loved those children like my own and did not want to be parted from them. They were confused, sad, and angry by the death of their parents. It was hard to talk to them about death, but we had to be straight with them about the situation. Fortunately, they had spent time in Buffalo with Dennis and Mary Eliza and felt comfortable with them. It was a blessing for them to be taken in by a loving family. Dennis and his wife had lost so many of their own babies. Miz B. told me about that. Only Eddie had survived, and he and Willie were good friends.

That’s the fifth panel, with the Bowen children clinging to my skirts while I was sewing them jackets out of their parents’ clothing. I grabbed some clothing of Cap’s and Miz B.’s after they died so the children would remember them by the fabric and smell. It’s funny. Those jackets always smelled like their parents.

GB: Did you get along with the new Bowen family?

ML: I did. That Mr. Dennis! He was such a big tease. After a while, he told me that he was going to find me a husband, and he did. Henry worked at Mr. Dennis’s club for many years and was asked by Uncle Jumbo, as we called President Cleveland, to be his butler at the White House, but Henry didn’t want to uproot us. I first knew Henry in New Orleans, before the Civil War, years before he came to Buffalo to find me, and he was the love of my life. Sadly, he died of the influenza in 1890 that spread so quickly from Russia to our country, but I was spared for some reason. It was hard to go on, but my work saved me from going crazy with grief.

GB: My condolences, and I’m sure you still miss him. From other articles and interviews, many of us in this auditorium know some of your story, but if I may summarize, would you please comment? We know that, as a free woman, you lived with your new Bowen family in Buffalo for many years, as the children grew and matured. After your marriage to Henry, all of you lived with Agnes Bowen, who changed her name to Kate Agnes Bowen, in honor of her mother. Kate became a teacher, attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and later became a principal. She also encouraged your career as an artist. We also know that you stayed close to the extended Bowen family.

ML: That’s mostly correct. When we first got to Buffalo with the children, after Cap and Miz B. died (and baby Robert, of course), Mr. Dennis asked me if I wanted to work in the kitchen. As a free woman now, I had a choice for the first time in my life, but I had nowhere else to go. I asked him if I could continue to take care Willie, Agnes, and Fill, and also his son, Eddie, who was a few years older than Willie. For as long as they needed me. And I also wanted to have lessons on the Wheeler & Wilson sewing machine that Miz B. gave to me before she died. Mr. Dennis agreed and that’s how I learned to sew pretty well, and later apprenticed myself to a seamstress. I learned quickly and started experimenting with different fabrics for gentlemen’s vests. Surprisingly, they became popular, and maybe Mr. Dennis helped with that a little. Each one was unique and that’s how my career started. Henry continued to work at club because he enjoyed it and was treated well.

GB: I knew my father’s siblings fairly well, but we traveled so much with his military career that I didn’t get to spend much time with them. You and my cousin Agnes, later known as Kate, also ran a boarding house for many years. Little did you think that one day you would have your own housekeeper to run things! As you know, Fill followed in his adopted father’s footsteps and got his law degree. I know Fill’s wife and their children from our infrequent visits and have met some of their grandchildren, like the Munsell sisters.

ML: Those Munsell sisters are a caution! Ruth, the oldest, is studious, serious, and already has plans for her life. Helen and Kathleen are more playful and it will be fun to watch how they turn out. It’s just like watching the children of Cap and Miz B. They’re all different in temperament.  

GB: Our time is up and I want to thank you again for being here to talk about your life. Based on your observations of my grandmother, Katie Bowen, and from reading her letters, she would have made a good society editor!

ML: I’m happy to share with you and this young audience. I’m honored to be here as a free Negro woman. I was born a slave, bought by a decent family, became skilled at sewing, and known for my multi-colored vests. What a surprise! Women liked them too and Miz B. would have shaken her head in disbelief! Later, through some of Mr. Dennis’s connections, I was asked to design costumes and backdrops for plays here at the Academy of Music. It was during that time that I developed my love for multi-colored quilts that tell stories, threading together pieces of our lives. A couple of Negro women here in Buffalo heard about this and sent me their family quilts to use. The sixth panel shows me dressed like a proper old lady in a hat, with spectacles, concentrating on sewing.

From slavery to a free woman who made her own independent living. And who knows, I might be able to vote someday! It’s a been a long journey so far, and I was very fortunate. I eventually got to choose my own path and had a lot of support, financially and otherwise, from good white folks and many Negroes too. I will always feel a part of the extended Bowen family. I’ve lived a full life and if my art can highlight our journey from slavery to emancipation, I’m pleased to share my story. And it’s not over yet!

GB: Thank you, Margaret, and I look forward to spending more time with you in the future. I have a lot more questions about all the changes you’ve seen in the past 91 years, including the fight for women’s voting rights in New York State and your involvement with the National Association for Colored Women. I’ll see you at the march tomorrow!

End of Interview

Written by Susan Lee Ward as a companion to Lifelines – The Bowen Love Letters, which is currently available on, Dorrance Publishing Bookstore, and The Last Chance Store of the Santa Fe Trail Association:

Margy’s Multi-Colored Threads is a work of creative non-fiction, imagining the life of Margaret Leavell.

The images referenced are wall hangings which depict various stages of Margaret’s life:

Black woman, naked to the waist, on the auction block, wild eyes

Black woman in head-wrap and man’s hat on the Santa Fe Trail, cloth pouch at waist, collecting lost items

Black woman wrapped in a Mexican blanket, snow-capped mountains in the distance, thoughtful

Black woman dressed in multi-colored skirts at Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, joyous

Black woman dressed in calico, sewing jackets and soothing three small white children

Black woman dressed like a lady with spectacles, sewing fabric on quilts

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