We’ve talked a bit about how back at the end of the Civil War, an enterprising young man named Asa Mercer decided to bring widows and orphans from the East Coast to marry lonely bachelors on the West Coast. The heroines of my Frontier Bachelors series have so far all been fictional members of Mercer’s party. They left everything—family, friends, vocations—to travel around the continent to pioneer Seattle. One of the questions readers often ask me is whether I would have been willing to be a Mercer Belle.
The answer took some thought. Could I have been as brave and bold as those ladies?
Widow Allegra Howard, heroine of The Bride Ship, boarded the Continental to sail with Mercer because she was fleeing oppression. In her case, it was in-laws determined to run her life down to the last moment, including telling her how her daughter should be raised. Many of the real-life Mercer Belles were fleeing economic oppression. During the war, they had worked in factories and mills, bringing much-needed income to their families. But the returning soldiers would take their places, leaving them out of work. They hoped to find opportunities on the frontier.
Catherine Stanway, heroine of Would-Be Wilderness Wife, came to Seattle hoping to start anew. Her father and brother were killed in the war, leaving her alone in the world. The real-life Mercer Belles had also seen loved ones—sweethearts, fathers, brothers—die, and the men who returned in some cases came back hollow shells with no interest in marrying. They hoped for a brighter future in the West.
Rina Fosgrave, heroine of Frontier Engagement, came to Seattle to become her own person. Raised by charlatans who made her believe she was someone special, she wanted to contribute something to society. The real-life Mercer Belles also felt strongly about giving back. Many saw it as their mission to be a civilizing force on the new frontier.
Maddie O’Rourke, heroine of January’s Instant Frontier Family, wanted more than what she had. An Irish lass with a skill for baking, she’d served as a laundress in New York, lugging heavy loads up and down three flights of stairs and laboring in the heat and harsh chemicals. She dreamed of a nice house rather than a tenement, leisure time with her family instead of endless, back-breaking work. The real-life Mercer Belles also looked beyond what was expected of them. Asa Mercer may have accepted bride money from a number of men, but that didn’t mean the ladies had to marry them! They went on to be lighthouse keepers, teachers, and yes, wives and mothers of the next generation in the Northwest.
I like to think I look for opportunities to make the most of my skills, that I see the possibilities in the future, that I give back to society, and that I’m willing to work for what I want. Maybe that makes me good material for a Mercer Belle.
What about you?