Dragons, Princesses, and Hapless Knights.

I might start this story with an apology. I imagine that my great-grandfather, George Andrew McDonald, might wish this story remain buried with him. Sorry grandad. There isn’t much left of you and I would have liked to know you so I have to take what I can get. I wrote about George in relation to his service in World War I back in 2016. At the time, I figured his military records might be the closest I’d get to the man. I found more and it is newsworthy.

I was exploring Newspapers.com collections when I came across an interesting marriage announcement in the Times Herald of Port Huron, Michigan, (September 27th, 1918). It reads:

Marriage License

George A. McDonald, 25, Sarnia, Pearl Cummings, 24, Sarnia.

George A. MacDonald, a returned soldier, and miss Pearl Cummings, both of Sarnia, were united in marriage by Rev. J. E. Meally, of the South Park Methodist Episcopal church, at the home of the groom’s cousin, Mrs. Maggie Northrup, 625 Michigan street, Wednesday evening. The attendants were Mrs. Northrup and John Lashbrook both of this city. Mr. MacDonald has served three years with the Canadian Forces abroad and has been returned because of wounds. Mr. and Mrs. MacDonald will reside in Sarnia.

The Times Herald; Port Huron, Michigan · Friday, September 27, 1918; Page 2

Could this be my George A. McDonald? I’d never heard of Pearl Cummings. The dates line up. George sailed from Liverpool on the S.S. Olympie on November 6th, 1917. This marriage took place September 27th, 1918. Plenty of time to court Miss Cummings. George did serve about 3-years in the Canadian Forces, did return home wounded (a bullet or shrapnel to the knee), and would have been 26 in 1918. The timeline and the geography line up.

The mention of Maggie Northrup makes this being our George a near certainty. George did, in fact, have a cousin named Maggie Northrup. She was the daughter of Catherine McLeod (sister to George’s mother, Christina). Maggie married a Northrup in 1901. She later married an Alfred Lashbrook (presumably a relation of this John Lashbrook at the wedding). This naturally leaves me with more questions than answers. How did George and Pearl meet? Did they know eachother before the war? Was this a fast and furious falling in love and marriage? The sparsity of the wedding party eludes to elopment, or poverty, or both. What was life like for this young returned soldier and his new bride?

All those questions aside, what happened to this young marriage? George was a primary care giver for my father when he was young. I asked my father and he had no recollection of Pearl or recalled any stories about her. This isn’t particularly surprising. George died when my father was about 13. More than 40 years separated this marriage in 1918 and George’s passing. My grandmother (George’s daughter) was born in 1927. Sometime between 1918 and 1926 this first marriage ends. But how? Did Pearl die? Did they divorce? As far as I can tell, George never officially married my great-grandmother, Elsie. Why not? Did George leave his first wife and never officially divorce? These are all possibilities but I never would have imagined what appears to have actually happened.

Armed now with Pearl’s name I could do a bit more digging in the Newspapers.com database. Soon I was reading quite the story in the Windsor Star, from December 5, 1921.

Two Hubbys Live in Peace
Mrs. P. Cummings Remanded on Bigamy Charges

“One of the most extraordinary cases I have ever heard,” Judge Gundy remarked in Windsor police court today when disposing of the case against Mrs. Pearl Cummings, 963 Campbell Ave, charged with bigamy. In spite of the fact that she had two husbands, both were living with her under the same roof. Family affairs went along harmoniously, they informed the court.

Police said the triangular exploit went along perfectly for a year, until Saturday night, when N. Cummings, husband No. 1 quarrelled with George McDonald, husband No. 2, while under the influence of liquor. Cummings went to police headquarters and told the whole story. A few minutes later police had all three detained at headquarters, with the result that bigamy charges were laid against Mrs. Cummings and McDonald.

In court today the principals through their counsel, W. H. Furlong, explained that Cummings was legally married to the woman ten years ago, and about five years ago got a legal separation from her at St. Thomas, Ontario. Two years ago Mrs. Cummings was united in marriage to McDonald at Port Huron, and about a year ago came to Windsor to reside. A short time later husband No. 1, who had already been informed of the marriage, came to visit her. Mr. Furlong explained that the first husband and his wife understood that the separation procedure gave them the right to remarry, and that they did not know that the law was being violated. All three lived under the same roof, but only the woman and the second husband lived as man and wife, Mr. Furlong said.

In view of the circumstances, Judge Gundy allowed the woman to go on suspended sentence. The bigamy charge against McDonald was not pressed.

“It is a mystery to me that the three lived so peacefully and were satisfied with their domestic affairs,” Judge Gundy stated. The court was also informed that Mrs. Cummings has an eight-year-old daughter by her first husband. She promised the court that she would return and live with him.

The Windsor Star (Windsor, Ontario, Canada) · 5 Dec 1921, Mon · Page 14

Ummm what!? Talk about unanswered questions. I went in search of the court files for this, but alas, they appear not to have survived. I’d like to know Pearl’s backstory. Consider that if she married Mr. Cummings 10 years previous to 1921 it would have made her somewhere between 15 and 18. Her 8 year old daughter would have had Pearl well under the age of 20 and maybe as young as 15 or 16 when she bore that child. The final line in this newspaper story is perhaps the most soul crushing “she promised the court that she would return and live with him.” We are left with nothing but speculation. Did Pearl return to an abusive relationship under the thumb of a hostile government? Or was the persumable relationship of love with George not all that it was hoped for in 1918? Did George know and love this 8 year old daughter only to be forced to walk away? Or was the daughter with Mr. Cummings during this period?

Did young George fancy himself something of a white knight scooping up Pearl and her daughter from a broken relationship? When Mr. Cummings came around and spent the year with the young couple was George intimidated or did he think he was helping a weaker man? Or maybe something in between? Mr. Cummings comes off as something of a villain in this tale. The reporter leads you to believe that it was Cummings that initiated the separation from Pearl 5 years previously, thus abandoning her. Then he inserts himself into her new life and in a drunken jealousy drags them all before the law. The charity extended him be damned. Sometimes, it seems, the dragon eats the princess and the knight walks off into the sunset all alone.

By 1926, maybe before, George meets Elsie and they form a small family. My grandmother, Margaret, is born in late September 1927. Elsie herself fled a previous marriage and her first born child in about 1920. I can’t find any formal divorce proceedings for that relationship. Maybe George and Elsie found comfort in each-other, both damaged by dashed hopes and previous loves? Maybe Elsie escaped her dragon and saved a broken hearted George? Maybe George is rolling in his grave as I type this or having a hearty laugh as I try to unravel the mysteries he left. I like to think that life with all its attendant sorrows seems quaint from the perspective of the eternities. When I get to the other side I’ve got questions George.

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