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Talking with Carol Jarboe - aka Maggie Delaney

By Kathy Cummings

It has been since 2009 that Carol Jarboe has been presenting the story of Maggie Delaney. Frank and Carol Jarboe came slowly into re-enacting. They traveled to events and they watched and they listened. They spent longer than most deciding just want they wanted to do. Frank chose to portray a parson and took the name Parson John. (His full name is actually John Frank Jarboe.) Frank not only began to portray a man of the cloth he became one. As he was asked to perform marriages, baptisms and funerals, not only to “re-enact” them, he saw the need, and became a licensed minister with a traveling congregation. He can now be found most Sunday mornings conducting services at historical venues.

Carol is first and foremost a teacher. When she began to study indentured servitude, she too found her calling. Realizing that the romanticized picture of indentured servitude, most often only available in historical fiction, was far from the truth, she wanted to not only teach but show the reality. And Maggie Delaney was born.

Carol draws her research from dozens of sources. But no one source gave her a complete life of an indenture. Maggie Delaney was a name snatched from the pages of history and fleshed out with bits and pieces of various accounts to become a complete character.

The original intent was to teach one on one the life of an indentured servant. It was in 2008 that Fort Boonesborough manager Bill Farmer asked her if she was ready to appear at one of the Fireside chats. Carol declined but Frank told him yes. He told Carol she could simply do a lecture style program of her research.

But once she was committed Carol decided it would be first person, and all engaging. She had seen Melanie Kuntz at the Fireside Chats portraying Anne McGinty and Esther Whitley and drew her inspiration from those performances. For the next 5 months, she worked on Maggie. She knew that Maggie was a storyteller and that this would be the story of her life.


In a recent interview I asked Carol what she has learned about people in the years that she has been bringing Maggie to the stage. Her answer was two part - of course how little people know of indentured servitude. Even people who have known that an ancestor arrived in this country by buying their passage with years of their life - had no idea just how cruel a life it was. The other thing she has learned is just how much in common all people have when it comes to raw emotion. Although it is a story of the 18th century, it touches deeply those who have lost a spouse or a child. Jarboe makes you feel those things as she relates Maggie’s story. She deftly paints the pictures with her words and draws the listener in. 

Occasionally she will have someone in the audience that refuses to believe her. Or more often they are incredulous at the time frame. They may buy the fact that indentured servitude existed in the 16th or 18th century. But when she tells them that it existed in some form or another up until the early 1900’s they are in disbelief. It just does not compute for some, that people throughout time have bargained with someone’s life. That being an indentured servant was all encompassing - you had no freedoms, no choices. Once the agreement was made - as Maggie says “I did not belong to myself anymore.” Most interesting she has found are the African Americans that hear her story. Well acquainted with their own history of slavery they can’t believe that the world mostly remains ignorant of this whole other segment of the population that was also enslaved and most of all that they themselves were unaware.

The performance at Fort Boonesborough last week was by all accounts her best ever. I asked her what she still would like to accomplish. Her research is never ending. The more she studies the more she tweaks Maggie’s story. So for her Maggie will never be finished. She has recently been adding schools to her audience. For them she does a somewhat scaled back (emotionally) performance. Depending on what age the students are she tries to give them what they can understand.

Asked by many living history venues to do Maggie’s story she sometimes declines, preferring to do the laundry onsite and engage in one on one conversations about indentured servitude. Her appearance alone, in her ragged clothes and with the collar of the indenture around her neck is enough to spark conversation. An outdoor venue where people can come and go is not really conducive to hearing Maggie and for those that get entirely wrapped up in the story, crowd noise from other nearby tents can be annoying. A quiet indoor setting works best and Carol hopes in the future to move beyond some of the historical venues and into more general events. Educating the public is her mission. And telling Maggie’s emotional story is how she accomplishes that mission.


The “look” of Maggie Delaney has changed and evolved over the years but the passion for what she teaches never changes.


All of that raw emotion takes it’s toll. Jarboe will spend most of the day of a performance isolated, “getting into Maggie’s head.” And afterward she is usually depleted. Emptied, exhausted, emotionally spent. I asked her if that would ever stop her from presenting Maggie - but it is a place she goes willingly. For Carol is a teacher and a storyteller. And as long as their are audiences to hear and see her - Carol Jarboe will be - Maggie Delaney.


See the Newsreel of Maggie Delaney’s 2013 Fireside Chat

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