Meeting Mary

Stephen Girard, the merchant sailor, looked around and saw that there was little chance he could go out to sea with the British Navy sealing off the ports. Girard was thankful that his English was bad and his accent atrocious. At least he would not be taken for a rebel. He took some time to explore Philadelphia. He learned that the city was bordered on the north by Vine Street and on the south by Cedar which later was to be called South Street. On the east border was the place where William Penn first landed on what was to be called Philadelphia as he traveled the Delaware River and on the west, the city was bordered by the Schuylkill River.

He decided he would become a land merchant somewhere near the busy port on the river. With the sale of some of his cargo, he rented a house with a shop front on Water Street. There he was able to store some of his cargo and sell what he had at retail prices. This kind of business was not foreign to Girard for he had done it as a young man for his father in France. In addition to items of his cargo, he decided to bottle and sell claret wine and cider. He also selected vegetables and sold them at a decent profit. Being near the port, he decided to sell cordage, sails, blocks and other materials for ship building.

Walking along Water Street one day, near the corner of Vine Street, he saw the most beautiful servant girl going to the pump for a pail of water. She was an enchanting brunette of sixteen, with luxuriant black locks curling and clustering about her neck. As she tripped along with bare feet and empty pail, in airy and unconscious grace, she captivated the susceptible Frenchman, who saw in her the realization of the songs of the forecastle and the reveries of the quarter-deck. He made her acquaintance by offering to pump the water for her which she happily accepted. Soon he made himself at home in her kitchen, bringing claret and fresh vegetables that he would cook for her. He smiled, looking at the water pump just outside the store window—a wonderful bit of luck and a means to meet Mary, more affectionately called Polly.

How could a young attractive girl be drawn to a man ten years older than she who was not physically attractive, with an unfortunate eye deformity? But there was attraction. Perhaps she saw in him a man of experience and means. As a servant girl her options were few and this man Stephen she believed had determination and intelligence. Mary Lum could offer nothing more than her youth and her beauty. However it happened, neither one discouraged the encounter. In short order, he proposed marriage and she accepted. The marriage took place on June 6, 1777.

Stephen wanted to know if Mary’s family was in maritime trade as well. Mary told him that her father, John Lum, was a shipbuilder. Biographer George Wilson speaks of the unfortunate death of John Lum three months before his daughter’s wedding. Cheesman Herrick reports that John Lum had built a small vessel for Stephen for local trading trips and that Girard named the vessel Water Witch.

The only honeymoon they were to have was to stay on board his boat while it was still anchored in the harbor— for only a couple of days. Then the British army moved on land to occupy Philadelphia. Stephen and his new bride moved to Mount Holly, New Jersey, taking his bottling business with them.

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