Chapter 1: Commitment

Two men with mustaches stared at young Jennie, their question hanging in the air. As Jennie struggled for words, she pictured Papa’s hands with a needle and thread—how deftly he moved among seams, tied off strands, started new lines, switched to scissors and back. Jennie took a deep breath and looked at the man in the suspenders and shirt, the one who was not in uniform.

“Well, child?” said that man. “You must tell the truth. It is essential that we know the truth in order to help your family.”

Jennie opened her mouth, but she couldn’t force out the words.

“You must answer Mr. Cobean,” said Mary Ann Wade, Jennie’s mom.

Jennie looked at her mother, then at her sister Georgia. Georgia moved between her and the men. “We talked about this, Jennie. What will happen with Papa is serious. The men must have witnesses, and you must say what you have seen.”

The office they stood in felt as though it were closing in. The light from the window seemed to dim, and Jennie’s gaze fell to the dusty wood floor. “They say Papa hits people and burns things,” Jennie said at last. Georgia moved away from Jennie and back to Mary Ann’s side.

“We know what they say, child,” said the constable. “We need to know what you have seen.”

“Papa is a very good tailor,” Jennie said. “He has very sure hands. He has taught me all about sewing. He is better than Mama at it.”

“He is a fine tailor, indeed,” said Samuel Cobean. “One of the finest in town. And I am sure that your papa wants to be a good man. But there is another side to him, is there not?”

“I suppose you mean the times he hit Mama,” said Jennie.

Mr. Cobean leaned forward slightly. “You have seen him hit your mother?”

Jennie looked at him, tears forming. She nodded.

“I need you to say it,” Mr. Cobean said.

“Yes,” said Jennie. “He has hit Mama. Sometimes for no cause. And Georgia. He hits Georgia because she sticks up for Mama.”

“What about you?” said the constable. “Does he strike you?”

“He’s never hit me for no reason. Just a few times when I was giving him lip. But Georgia told me not to give him lip for any cause and I would be okay. I think he likes me better than Georgia, though.”

“Has he done anything else you want to tell us?” said Mr. Cobean.

Jennie looked at Georgia who nodded at her and said, “Go on. Tell them what we talked about.”

Jennie looked at the floor, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. “We have things show up at our house that Georgia and me know we didn’t buy. Things that we’ve seen before at Fahnestock’s store. Georgia got cross with him one day about it, and he told her she’d best be quiet because he had burned places before and he would do it again if Fahnestock or anyone gave him trouble.”

“Were you there when he said that?” said the constable.

“I was,” said Jennie. “I heard him say it to Georgia.”

The constable looked at Mary Ann. “This will work. I need you to sign the affidavit we talked about for both you and the children. Then you will sign the commitment papers, and we will see to the removal.”

Mary Ann knelt down and hugged Jennie, then Georgia. “You have done a brave thing, girls. This is for the best. We are going to help Papa. Now scoot outside while I finish the papers.”

Twenty minutes later, Mary Ann emerged from the office, and the three set off together to the home of the Skellys . . . a place they had lived for a couple of years when Jennie was five or six. After a few hours of playing with Jack Skelly there, Jennie followed Mary Ann and Georgia home where they found no trace of Papa.


After reading Chapter 1, teachers, parents, or learners may want to dive into more historical sources by visiting the Chapter 1 resource page. Resources for all chapters can be found at the book’s resources page. Or keep reading by going to American Crucible.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: