Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Wearing Courage

She hid a blackjack up her sleeve, it was said, in case a boarder was unruly.[1]  Of all that could have been remembered of Margaret, this story stuck.  It describes a fearless woman with a no-nonsense attitude and a willingness to wield a small club, if need be, to protect her family and its livelihood.

When her husband William Walker was crushed to death in a coalmining accident in England, she already had four children under ten.[2]  Miner’s insurance was not available in 1861,[3] and Margaret never remarried.  Supporting the family fell to her and her children. 

She may have sent her little boys into the coalmines to earn a few pennies a day. The older ones, eight and seven, could have worked in the mine as “putters” pulling baskets of coal to transport wagons or as “trappers” opening and shutting ventilation doors.[4]  Their small earnings would have been crucial to the family’s survival and worth the hardship of long hours in the dark underground and exposure to dampness and coal dust.

At the time of her husband’s death Margaret lived in a rough working-class neighborhood of Seaham Harbour, a port town about a mile from the colliery.  Her husband had been a mine laborer, not a miner, so they were not entitled to company housing at the colliery.[5]  She already had two boarders, also laborers.[6]  The blackjack story suggests that more boarders followed. 

After William’s death, she lost one child and gave birth to another.  In 1865 she gathered up her four children, ages thirteen to one, and, without known help, emigrated to the U.S.[7]  She left crowded, unsavory miners’ housing in England and went toward the Pennsylvania coalmines. [8]  Her sons would have work, and they could all live in company housing, two- to four-room houses of wood, unfinished, and cheaply built.[9]  It was probably an improvement over life at Seaham Harbour.

Margaret (Lauderdale) Walker
about 1900
 During the family’s time in Pennsylvania, two children died and another was born, leaving Margaret, always a single mother, with three sons who would survive to adulthood.[10]  Twenty years after coming to the U.S., the young men came out of the coalmines and took jobs in Cleveland’s steel industry.  Margaret shared a modest home in southeast Cleveland with one or more of them the rest of her life.[11]  

The need for her children’s incomes could have inspired Margaret’s fierce determination to keep her family intact.  They all worked for the common good, the widowed mother taking in boarders and the sons working in the mines or the mills, even as children.  Margaret kept them out of the workhouse and independent of parish relief.[12]  She taught them that by staying together and pooling their resources they could survive.  She offered them an example of strength and fearlessness, like the blackjack in her sleeve.

Margaret Lauderdale was born in October 1830 to William Lauderdale and Margaret Dove and baptized 13 March 1831 at Houghton-le-Spring, Durham, England.[13]  She died 3 October 1901 in Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio.[14]  On 27 April 1851 in Gateshead, Durham, she married William Walker.[15]  The son of Thomas Walker and Mary Russell, William was born in 1827 or 1828 in Shiney Row, Durham,[16] and baptized 12 October 1828 in Penshaw, Durham.[17]  He died 20 July 1861 at Seaham Colliery, Durham, and was buried at St. John’s Church, Seaham Harbour, Durham.[18]

[1] “[S]he ran a boarding house at some time, and was a no nonsense woman - kept a blackjack of some sort up her sleeve in case anyone got out of line.”  Great grandson Russell Walker, Greensburg, Pennsylvania, to Judy Kellar Fox, email, 2 August 2011, “another thought [re Margaret Walker].  For the image, see “Batong,” Nordisk familjebok (Stockholm: 1904), 2: 1070; digital image, Project Runeberg (http://runeberg.org/nfbb/0571.html : accessed 3 June 2013).
[2] “North-Eastern News: Accident at Seaham Colliery,” The Seaham Observer, Seaham, England, 27 July 1861, p. 1, col. 4.  Also, England, death certificate (photocopy) for William Walker, died 20 July1861; citing 10a/167/20, Easington registration district and subdistrict; General Register Office, Southport.
[3] Richard Fynes, The Miners of Northumberland and Durham: A History of Their Social and Political Progress (Blyth: John Robinson, 1873), 201; digital images, GoogleBooks (http://books.google.com/ : accessed 4 June 2013).
[4] G. C. Greenwell, A Glossary of Terms Used in the Coal Trade of Northumberland and Durham, 3rd ed. (London: Bemrose & Sons, 1888), 5, 88; digital images, Google Books.
[5] George Turns, Seaham resident and historian (george@durhamrecordsonline.com), to Judy Kellar Fox, email, “Record Office Lookups,” 7 June 2011.
[6] 1861 England census, Durham, Dawdon Parish, folio 71 verso, household 143, Willm Walker; PRO RG 9/3748, TNA; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com); citing FHL microfilm 543,181.
[7] Manifest, City of New York, 6 December 1865, unnumbered p. 2, unnumbered lines 45-9, Mary Walker family; “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com); citing NARA microfilm publication M237, roll 259.
[8] For the English housing, see “History of Seaham Harbour: 7. Events 1841-65” Durham Records Online (http://www.durhamrecordsonline.com/literature/dawdon.php : accessed 4 June 2013).  In the U.S., see 1870 U.S. Census, Tioga County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Bloss Township, p. 2 (penned), dwelling 10, family 12, Margret Walker household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com); citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 1496.
[9] Henry George, “Labor in Pennsylvania,” The North American Review, 143 (August 1886): 171.
[10] 1880 U.S. Census, Tioga County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Town of Arnot, Bloss Township, p. 42 (penned), dwelling 335, family 335, Margret Walker household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1197.  Also, 1900 U.S. Census, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, population schedule, Cleveland, 27th Ward, ED 140, p. 10 (penned), p. 270 (stamped), dwelling 188, family 204, Mrs. Margaret Walker household; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com); from National Archives microfilm T623, roll 1257.
[11] The Cleveland Directory, Margaret Walker entries, for year preceding date of publication: digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com), 1886, p. 630; 1887, p. 668; 1888, p. 705; 1889,p. 766; 1890, p. 784; 1891, p. 861; 1892, p. 928; 1893, p. 935; 1894, p. 982; 1895, p. 995; 1897, p. 1071; 1898, p. 1101; 1899, p. 1115; 1900, p. 1139.  Also, The Cleveland Directory for the Year Ending July 1901 (Cleveland: The Cleveland Directory Company, 1900), p. 1204 (FHL microfilm 1,376,758); The Cleveland Directory for the Year Ending August 1902 (Cleveland: The Cleveland Directory Company, 1901, p. 1282 (FHL microfilm 1,376,759).
[12] George Turns (Durham County Record Office), “Record Office Lookups”; report to Judy Kellar Fox, 7 June 2011 regarding Easington and Houghton-le-Spring Poor Law Union records and Ecclesiastical Parish Records of Houghton-le-Spring St. Michael Parish and Seaham Harbour St. John Parish.
[13] 1900 U.S. Census, Cuyahoga Co., Ohio, pop. sch., Cleveland, 27th Ward, ED 140, sheet 10 (penned), dwell. 188, fam. 204, Mrs. Margaret Walker household.  Also, Houghton-le-Spring Parish (Durham), Baptisms, 1822-1849, p. 2, no. 946, Margaret Lauderdale.
[14] Cleveland, Ohio, Department of Health, Death Records, 1898-1902, alphabetically arranged by date, 3 October 1901, Margant [sic] Walker; Cuyahoga County Archives, Cleveland; FHL microfilm 1,977,438.
[15] Gateshead Parish (Durham), Marriage Register, 1851-1863, p. 4, no. 8, William Walker-Margaret Lauderdale (1851); St. Mary’s Church, Gateshead; FHL microfilm 252,798.  Also, England, entry of marriage (photocopy) for William Walker and Margaret Lauderdale, 1851; citing 24/154, Gateshead Registration District; General Register Office, Southport.
[16]  Censuses place his birth between 6 June 1827 and 7 April 1828. 1841 England census, Durham, East Rainton Township, folio 6 verso, line 10, William Walker; PRO RG HO 107/312, TNA; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com); citing FHL microfilm 241,354.  Also, 1861 England census, Durham, Dawdon Parish, Seaham Harbour, f. 71v, household 143, Willm Walker; PRO RG 9/3748.
[17] “England, Diocese of Durham Bishops’ Transcripts,” digital images, FamilySearch, Durham, Penshaw, 1787-1865, Baptisms, 1828, no. 133, Willm Walker (image 416).
[18] England, death certificate (photocopy), William Walker, 1861.

© 2013 Judy Kellar Fox, 9395 SW 190th Ave., Aloha, OR 97007-6733; foxkellarj@comcast.net


  1. My grandmother (Gertrude O'Rourke was widowed at a young age. She took in boarders for her income too. My father insisted on his daughters having an education and not be subject to "unruly" boarders.

    I think perhaps Gertrude needed a blackjack too. It is sad what our women ancestors had to depend on after their husbands died young.

  2. The women who toughed it out alone without remarrying are tremendous examples of courage and strength. I honor them. What inspirations!

  3. Hi Judy,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2013/06/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-june-7-2013.html

    Have a great weekend!

  4. Some of my ancestors were miners in England (Northumberland and Yorkshire). Thank you for mentioning the books about mining in Northumberland. How good that both are available on google books. Thanks!

  5. You're welcome, Nancy. Google Books comes up with some amazing resources for us.