Mary Seacole, having no idea how great her presence would be there, unaware of the lives she would save or the many people, rich and poor, who would one day grow to call her Mother Seacole, and at the time not even having the last name Seacole, called Mary Jane Grant, took her first cautious steps off of the shaky cargo ship and onto London soil for the first time.
Mary, age sixteen at the current date of 1821, would have caught the attention of any onlooker who who didn’t know of her origin. She was clearly Jamaican, given away by her voice, but her skin was much lighter than most. And despite her apparent heritage, the white workers of the cargo ship weren’t even attempting to look down their noses at her as she exited the ship. Quite the contrary actually, as some of the workers even seemed to look at her with respect.
What’s more, Mary didn’t seem surprised by this respect in the least, taking it all in stride as though it would have been more strange for them to not show their respect for the at least half black woman.
Even Mary’s stride would, and indeed did, attract attraction from the natives. Like anyone stepping into London for the first time, she looked around the docks. Unlike most, however, she didn’t look around like a tourist or an immigrant, eyes darting around in excitement and awe, overwhelmed by the sheer sight of the place. No, Mary’s eyes moved at their own pace, as though she’d known exactly what to expect and wasn’t disappointed.
One of the aforementioned onlookers who was curious about Mary was a man by the name Edwin Seacole. Edwin, walking along the docks with a few associates of his to check on cargo and investigate possible future business ventures, caught sight of Mary and pointed her out to his friends. The group didn’t see what he was going on about at first, but began to notice her confident movements and behavior, and soon they all became curious, and approached.
“Hello, the name is Edwin Seacole, me and my associates were wondering who you were.” Edwin greeted Mary. Rather than regard them suspiciously, like most people both from London and form pretty much anywhere else would have, Mary smiled, “Mary Grant, pleasure to meet you. Sorry if this is rude, but could you help me? I’m not sure how I’m going to get my cargo to my aunt’s house.”
Such a request would have been considered rude from a fellow Englishmen, and reprehensible from a foreigner, but the group was curious about her, and eager to question her about her purpose there in London. They got a carriage, and allowed Mary to ride in it with them to her aunt’s house. The moment she was in the carriage with them, the questions about her began. Mary giggled, not the least bit taken aback by the prodding.
“Papa was a Scottish Soldier. He met Mama at her hotel, Blundel Hall, in Jamaica and they fell in love on the spot, or so they tell me. I can’t help but feel things were a little less wholesome than they’re willing to tell me. Anyway, they people back home always told me I got my mother’s business sense and my father’s wanderlust.” Mary explained, “My brother Arthur is the same way. He left for Panama the first chance he got.”
A few of those in the carriage scoffed at this, the notion of her Jamaican mother being wiser than her Scottish father being utterly comical to them, but some of them, such as Edwin, were intrigued by Mary’s vigor, and began to ask her more.
“Well, Mama may have owned the hotel you see,” Mary continued, content with the knowledge that those questioning and mocking her had already stopped listening to her, “But she also acted as the nurse.”
“Couldn’t afford more workers?” One man questioned, though whether he was asking to belittle her, or just out of reflexively profiling her was unknown. Mary shook her head, “No, we had loads of workers, there just wasn’t anyone better at it than Mama.”
Indeed, Mary’s mother had many times treated residents of her hotel. Mary, though she had never been able to explain why even to herself, had always been fascinated by her mother’s work as a nurse. She would sit in the infirmary and watch her mother work for hours on end.
Mary memorized the motions and cures, and practiced them on her own patient; her long suffering doll who’d been afflicted from any number of diseased and busted limbs. After so many years, her playing actually ended up teaching her. Through this, and some more direct mentoring from her mother, Mary had actually learned quite a few things about nursing people back to health, even helping her mother.
“Ah, so you’re here in London to be a nurse then?” Edwin asked curiously, and though it had been a logical deduction, Mary giggled in amusement at it. “Not quite. I’m just here to be here.” Mary stated, much to the confusion of those in the carriage.
For as much as Mary had loved being a nurse to her doll, there was one thing she had always loved more. Whenever she got the chance, Mary would go to the map of the world she had on her bedroom wall and trace one specific, special route with her fingers. She’d done this so often, she had nearly worn down the ink on the map altogether.
More than anything in the world, Mary wanted to follow that route in person and travel from her home in Kingston all the way to London.
“When my aunt invited me here to stay for a season, I jumped at the chance,” Mary said, “I’m not even sure what I’m expected to do here. I know she does something with trade...but even still,” Mary looked around as she stepped out of the carriage and looked around, seeing the streets of London, the buildings of London, and the people of London all around her, “I don’t think anything short of slave labor could make me bitter to this place.” She said with a laugh, much to the surprise of those around her.
It was not common place for those of foreign descent, any foreign descent, to make jokes in reference to slavery, as it was the general mindset that all foreigners thought of themselves as comrades to those enslaved. But as London would soon see, Mary was anything but commonplace.