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Assenath And Her Mother

By John I. Blair

Assenath "Sena" Piggott Patterson was my great-great-great grandmother, Frances James Ballew Piggott Collard, my great-great-great-great grandmother. Both were born in the 18th century and lived well into the 19th century, on the Illinois-Missouri frontier where America ended at the Mississippi River until the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. I wrote this poem for their memorial pages on Find A Grave. Frances had been born to wealthy parents in Maryland but was abandoned, with several children, on the wild frontier by her first husband. The story of her life and how she survived to wed two more times, have several more children, and live to a ripe old age, honored in her community, is quite a saga.

Sena, when she bore you
Frances was forty, old for frontier folk,
Honed by weather and by work
To craggy angles, leather skin.

Mother of ten, to three men wife,
She was anything but frail
(And would live to eighty-two).

But she had been a lady once,
Banished from a gentle world
For marrying a handsome wretch
Who ran off and abandoned her
In Illinois.

Thrown upon the mercy
Of Mississippi River French,
She and her children lived from door to door,
Barn to barn,
Until the Captain took her in,
Seeing perhaps a mother
For his own orphans at the fort.

I think he truly loved her, by and by;
Certain it is they lived together,
Bearing another four without a priest;
Certain it is he raised them all the same.

They wed before your birth,
Giving you a shame-free home.

I wonder what you thought
About your mother,
About the stories neighbors told
When they believed you couldnít hear.

From what Iíve read about her
I think Frances set your mind at rest,
Letting you know she built her life on love,
Foolish at first, defiant then,
But finally serene,
And always true.

©2011 John I. Blair

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