The Legend of Annabelle Mac Alister

By Ernest N.Whitenack

"Part 1"


During those unsettled times preceding the American Revolution James Whitelaw was commissioned as agent to purchase land for a group of Scottish folk wishing to immigrate to what was then known as the New Hampshire Grant. In 1773 the Scots, led by Whitelaw, settled in Caledonia County in the areas of Barnet and Ryegate.

Now, we all have heard the stories, generally laced with a portion of eccentricity, of great heroism; of the hardiness, individualism, persistence and strength of character attributed to Vermonters. To many, much of this can be traced to those Scottish emigrants. Ask others and they will say, be it fact or not, that it is the magic of Vermont -- that people don't change Vermont, Vermont changes people. As a matter of fact, during the Civil War wounded Union Soldiers were regularly sent to hospitals in Brattleboro, Montpelier and Burlington. It is said that their rapid recovery was next to miraculous; being attributed to the Vermont air.

In 1838 A wedding took place, in the Presbyterian Church at Ryegate Corner, joining Jacob Mac Alister and Edith Keith. Being direct decedents of those earlier Scottish settlers we can assume this tale of courage and fortitude is a result of that lineage-- or was it the Vermont air.
It begins in the valley about half way between Ryegate Corner and West Barnet, on the farm Jacob purchased just a week before he took Edith as his bride

The Story

As often happened, in larger families of the time, the first born tend to have a hard and laborious life. And so it was for Annabelle Mac Alister. On April 3, 1840 Annabelle was born to Jacob and Edith Mac Alister in the main bed chamber of their, by most standards of the day, opulent farmhouse near Ryegate Corner Vermont. During the next eight years six more children came into the world via the Mac Alister bedchamber. Annabelle, of necessity, became a rapidly maturing mother's helper; caring for her brothers and sisters while Edith tended the many chores of a farmer's wife.

The silo attached to the large cow barn was nineteen years old. The fermentation of corn and grain had rotted the base timbers to the point that Jacob felt repairs where necessary to prevent the inevitable collapse of the structure. The work was going well. Sheering timbers were in place and about a third of the rotted wood had been cut away.

At twelve ten, on that fateful day in 1854, Edith sat the large basket containing the noon meal for Jacob, the hired carpenter and herself on the pile of boards and timbers near the silo. She often ate in the field with Jacob while Annabelle served the hired hands and children in the house.

No one ever figured out what really caused the silo to collapse. The hired hands in the house heard the loud report followed by a sound best described as stepping on a strawberry basket. The loud report was a supporting timber breaking from its load. It broke outward and hit the carpenter square on the back of the head as he sat with his back to the silo eating a chicken leg. Jacob was with Edith at the food basket some ten feet away filling the bowl of his home-made cheery wood pipe and, in a futile effort, rushed to the aid of the carpenter. He must have died the instant the timber hit him. As the farm hands ran from the house they saw the second, yet almost silent, explosion. In the tick of a clock the silo blew apart in the middle and then fell to the ground in the direction of the broken timber. Edith, Jacob and the dead carpenter were buried under tons of wood and iron bands. Jacob died under the rubble. Edith lingered for a day and a half.

With the exception of Annabelle, the children were divided between relatives in Burke Hollow and Keen, New Hampshire. Annabelle went to live with neighbors, the Caprons, on the next farm. This was to have Annabelle close to her home where she could handle the necessary choirs of packing and cleaning in preparation for the sale of the farm. Annabelle stepped right up and directed the harvest with the cooperation of the sympathetic hired hands.

The field of tobacco, being very important to the residence of the area, was harvested first and hung in the drying shed. Vermont was an unthinkable distance from Virginia and the Carolinas and good tobacco. Most of which was shipped to Europe. Jacob had received seeds from a cousin in Virginia several years prior along with a note saying not to expect the seeds to produce and reminding Jacob of the longer and warmer growing seasons in Virginia. Undaunted, the seeds were planted and young plants received great care. The mature plants did not reach the height expected and the leaves were small. That first small harvest was dried in the warmth of an "Indian Summer" sun. Seeds were carefully gathered and stored in an earthen pot for the next planting should the tobacco prove to be saleable. So, with great anticipation Jacob rubbed out a leaf and carefully loaded his newly made Cherry wood pipe. After two or three puffs Jacob's eyes lit up and a large smile appeared, much to the relief of Edith and the delight of the children. The Vermont grown Virginia was far superior to the Connecticut tobacco shipped to Vermont stores. The tobacco became a hit throughout Vermont and western New Hampshire and added significantly to the Mac Alister income. The success of the tobacco is a mystery seeing as other attempts to grow tobacco around Vermont produced a harsh and bitter crop not worth the smoking. The folk in the area attribute the success to the magic of the valley half way between Ryegate Corner and West Barnet that holds the Mac Alister farm.

On the day Uncle Angus arrived from Kansas to take charge of the auction of the Mac Alister farm, Sahara Whitten, Edith's cousin from Burke Hollow, came to the Capron farm with Hank. At eight, he was the third oldest of the Mac Alister brood. She told Mrs. Capron that he was a disruption to the family and should be with Annabelle. "After all, Annabelle had practically raised him these last four years what with Edith being so busy on the farm."

After the auction Annabelle and Hank returned to Kansas with Uncle Angus. The Caprons just could not take in an additional person and no one wanted to separate Annabelle and Hank. Angus had visions of a future hand in Hank and a very competent helper for his wife in Annabelle. According to how you look at it, for better or worse, Annabelle's life took a decisive turn on that mild, sun drenched October day.

Six years had passed since Annabelle and Hank were brought to Kansas. Her life was harder than she had thought possible what with a sickly aunt and demanding uncle. Annabelle, at twenty, had blossomed into a beautiful, voluptuous woman. With maturity, her ivory skin turned a golden hue from the Kansas sun and her mousy hair a raven black. Her pale blue eyes, framed by the gold of her skin and the black of her hair, were the first thing one noticed about Annabelle; then quickly the rest of her – her broad shoulders, high full breasts and a small waist that swelled into smoothly rounded hips. A figure strongly admired at the time.

Hank on the other hand, at fourteen, became the son Angus never had. He loved working with the horses and the cattle; grew strong and independent and was fascinated by the rough, rowdy men who drove their cattle to Kansas from mysterious places to the west. He was no longer the little boy who needed his sister so intensely and now, longed to see those places about which the drovers told stories. He grew rapidly, standing near five foot ten. Hank was as muscular as men five years his senior and could put in a days work with the best of them. Angus was proud of Hank.

Angus was also beginning to take more than a parental interest in Annabelle, what with his wife becoming sicklier as each day passed and his male longings needing satisfaction. It happened one evening in the barn while Annabelle was tending the milk cow. It wasn't anything she was surprised at considering the hugs, squeezes, and pats from her uncle these past several weeks. She had decided to be firm with him when she had to stop his advances. It was the violence she was not prepared for.
He threw her to the floor of the barn and tore at her underclothing, his rough hands and nails scratching her skin; followed by the hard thrust of penetration that sent shocks of pain through her groin. The scream stuck in her throat for a minute as the pain swelled. Hank, returning from seeing the drovers on their way home, was just approaching the barn when Annabelle's scream broke through. He spurred his horse to a gallop straight into the barn, dismounted on the run and kicked Angus with such power that he was lifted from Annabelle. Angus rose to one knee and then to his feet. The fire in his eyes showed through the blood that flowed from the gash on his head. With a growl, sounding more like a wounded animal than a man, he lunged at Hank. Hank pulled the carbine from its sheath on his saddle and fired twice, mounted his horse and left the barn never to be seen again.

After the inquest and investigation by the Circuit Judge, Annabelle's aunt was taken to a nursing home in Kansas City. Annabelle received the sympathy of every woman in Selina and the immediate area. She was offered numerous live-in housekeeping jobs but took an apprenticeship with the Milliner in town, considering a trade the best road to independence. It was in that hat shop she first met Judson Hart.

Judson was a handsome twenty eight-year-old notions salesman from St Louis who called on the shop each month. Annabelle didn't know such men existed. Polite, kind, educated, and completely charming, Judson Hart had little trouble winning the heart of Annabelle. For a year he courted her before asking for her hand. They were to be married in San Francisco where Judson's only relatives lived after leaving Missouri for greener fields in '58. They would live there and Judson would seek his fortune amidst the new wealth of the west.

Annabelle never met Judson's relatives. Fact is, she never saw Hart after the second day in California. Judson had already found his fortune in the west. She was the seventh of similar circumstance he sold into the tightly controlled network of brothels along the coast of central California.

As you can imagine, she did not adjust easily to the new trade. When she did she became the belle of San Francisco. In two years she had such a following among the Knob Hill aristocracy she could not meet the demands. She was well liked by the Barberry Coast "Bosses" and had the respect of her clients. She was also becoming smart and wealthy. Her natural aptitude for business and investment, along with advice from her clients, had greatly multiplied her earnings.

With the permission of the "Bosses", Annabelle bought a mansion on the fringe of Knob Hill; completely redecorated it and opened her own "house". Unlike her previous employer, she was very selective with her clientele. Engraved invitations were sent to everyone of importance. They responded in large numbers and gladly paid the exaggerated prices for the services of Annabelle's girls; after all, they were the best on the West Coast and Annabelle's house was comfortable and genteel without the sailors and longshoremen. Money flowed in like the tide and Annabelle, on sound advice, started investing in property and the construction boom that was taking place in New York. She also invested in emerging large tobacco companies starting to assume control of the sales and distribution of tobacco products. The tobacco action was driven not only by potential profits but by sentimentality. She often thought of that first tobacco harvest and the happiness of the family at its success.

All was not without problems, however. There was jealously in the ranks of her clients. Oh, not the average customers but those whom Annabelle favored, the richest and most influential men. One in particular became very bothersome.

Gerald Stanworth, the hair to Stanworth Shipping and a young man just slightly older than Annabelle, had become so enamored by her charm and bedroom skills that he was forever begging her to leave the business and marry him. It got so bad that he was demanding all of her time so she could be with no others. As a result, Annabelle forbad him to enter her house.

[Read Part 2]

Ernie Whitenack was born in 1928 in Springfield, Illinois and moved to Massachusetts in the mid 1930's. He is a Korean War veteran, worked as a photographic illustrator for 43 years and is now retired.

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