Mary Cumming

Mary Cumming's father was the Rev. Andrew Craig, minister of Lisburn Presbyterian Church from 1782-1824. The family lived at Strawberry Hill just outside the town. In 1811, when only twenty, Mary married and emigrated to America with William Cumming of Armagh, a cotton merchant in Petersburg, Virginia, who acted as agent for a Baltimore trading house founded by his kinsman Alexander Brown, formerly of Ballymena.

Mary's letters home described the horrors of the Atlantic crossing to New York, the delights of the journey south along the eastern seaboard by steamboat or coach through brilliant autumn forests, the welcome by her husband's negro household - she could not bear to call them slaves, the whirl of social life, the spacious lifestyle adopted by the many Irish immigrants she met - some of them friends of her father before the '98 and the fervour created by the war of 1812 against the British. The letters reveal an emotional confict between Mary's devotion to her husband and an aching homesickness, only mollified by his promise to return to Ireland within afew years.

However, a shadow fell across Mary's life. Her baby died, and she became desperately ill. When warbroke outwith Britain her hopes of an early return home were dashed. In 1814 William was eventually able to plan their return for the following spring; but Mary knew she would not live to see it, and on her death-bed wrote farewell letters which make poignant reading.

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