Mary Ann Wodrow Archbald
Longing for Her “Little Isle” from a
Farm in Central New York
In the future it must be the pen alone that will waft the soft inter-
course from soul to soul.
—Mary Ann Archbald to Margaret Wodrow, February 1807
Once more I am permitted to end the year with you and fain
would I for a little while lose the present in the past.
—Mary Ann Archbald to Margaret Wodrow, December 31, 1824
Your letters are now so necessary to me that I cannot live comfort-
ably without them and would wish to die with one of them in my
hand, or at least under my pillow but at any rate if recollection is
granted you will be in my mind at that awful moment.
—Mary Ann Archbald to Margaret Wodrow, April 1840
In the Firth of Clyde, not far off the coast of Ayrshire in western Scotland, lie two islands—Great Cumbrae and Little Cumbrae. Though only three-quarters of a mile off the coast of Millport, Great Cumbrae’s principal town, Little Cumbrae has been the much less thickly settled of the two. Most of the 723-acre island was then, according to a 1934 travel guide, depopulated, and “except for a few patches of grass … a moorland of bracken and heather, burrowed by rabbits and grazed by sheep.”1 Small as it is, the island nonetheless long remained partly wild, with caves whose unexplored, subterranean depths were a part of local lore for many centuries. Fierce and constant winds caused the sea around Little Cumbrae to boil. The rough passage over dangerously shallow waters, which was made more perilous by frequent, dense fog, probably discouraged anyone from going there to view