would like to introduce you to someone who lived what seemed to be a tiny speck of a life here on Martha’s Vineyard from 1814 to 1890. She did the best she could, against huge odds, which has caught the fancy of generations and has made her a folk hero. Her name was Nancy Luce.
or years, on my way up-island, I would pass the graveyard where Nancy Luce is buried, and notice the headstone at the back of the cemetery that’s surrounded in fake chickens — all colors, little and big, cement and plastic, in the snow and in the grass, but I never understood why they were there.
ne day, in our used bookstore, I found a biography of Nancy Luce, written by Walter Magnes Teller in 1984 (and out of print now), called Consider Poor I, and that’s where I learned the story of the chickens in the graveyard.
Consider Poor I. This was Nancy’s phrase. It was what she asked of those around her.
o let’s do what she asked. Nancy lived most of her life in a dark, lonely world of poverty and illness. She didn’t start out that way; when she was young, she was a good horsewoman, rode twenty miles to and from Edgartown, often, and did all the trading for her family. But she became ill in her early twenties. At the time, no one knew what she had, so they couldn’t help her. (I have a friend who’s a doctor and he thinks, from looking at her symptoms, she may have had Lyme disease.) Whatever it was, it was debilitating and it lasted the rest of her life.
ust about the time she fell ill, her parents passed away; Nancy was on her own, and prey to avarice of family and neighbors; they tried to steal her home from her; there are minutes from the town meeting at that time showing what they tried to do. She fought them and won; but it left her vulnerable; her enemies didn’t like losing to her; it shamed them; she became the butt of local jokes (schoolboys came by to scare her and make fun of her), leaving her even more isolated than she already was.
he lived in her little house, all alone, winter, summer, spring, and fall, in the middle of nowhere (with no electricity, no personal physical strength, no family, and no money). What she had, were chickens, which she needed for the eggs they supplied. And she grew to love them in an extraordinary way. As anyone would in her circumstances. They were all she had.
he other thing Nancy had, but probably wasn’t as aware of as I am now, was an indomitable spirit. I don’t think it gave her much comfort at the time, probably made things even worse, but it gives me great comfort to see how she soldiered on, despite the difficulties in her life.
he tried not to care what others thought; she loved her chickens, and so when they died, she buried them in real caskets, and spent all her egg money on carved granite headstones for them; she made a little graveyard for them next to her house. This of course made her the object of fun, people would come by to laugh at her, as if she was crazy or something, but she most definitely was not crazy.
ecause of her ailments, sounds were disturbing to Nancy, loud noise hurt her, inspiring her “enemies,” as she called them, to serenade her by beating pots and pans at her door. Someone “brought in cow dressing and put it in my entry and shut the door against it.” She tells many stories of neighborly abuse. But despite everything, when she was around forty-six, and with no outside help, she had the courage, and amazing inner reserve, to write, illustrate, and self-publish her own small books; the first was called Poor Little Hearts, a book about her chickens. These books aroused interest from curious tourists who began to beat a path to her door (not everyone was horrible to her, some people were just curious).
xploiting her own peculiarities, since it was clear people were interested; she tried to pay her way (taxes, wood for the fire) by selling the little books. She also had photographs taken of herself and her chickens (which is saying something for the 1860’s in nowheresville, USA). Others made money on her too; hundreds of picture postcards of her were sold, of which she got not a cent. Because of her own original self, because she followed her heart and did her best, Nancy ended up being the most well-known island person of her time, although there wasn’t much comfort in that for her. At the end, at age 75, she fell in her house, alone. It was days before anyone found her; she died shortly after, in poverty, and was buried by the town where she is today– surrounded by chickens left for her by admirers with “good hearts and tender feelings,” Nancy’s preferred type of visitors.
ancy was a folk artist and poet. She was fanciful and totally charming when naming her chickens (I took pains to spell them as they are written in the biography, these are not typos!): Teeddla Toonna, Lebootie Ticktuzy, Jafy Metreatie, Otte Opheto, and Aterryryree Opacky — to name just a few.
ne of her poems, called No Comfort (she wrote what she knew and she knew no comfort) starts like this:
You don’t know how hard it is to me,
Because I cannot ride somewhere,
I cannot ride, or walk, impossible yet,
I used to ride once in a while
On a canter, gallop and run,
O what a comfort that was.
When one of her favorite chickens,
Ada Queetie, died, Nancy was in terrible
mourning and remembering the good
times when she wrote:
Poor little Ada Queetie
She used to do everything I told her,
let it be what it would,
And knew every word I said to her.
If she was as far off as across the room,
And I made signs to her with my fingers, She knew what it was, and would spring quick and do it.
If she was far off, and I only spake her name, She would be sure to run to me at a dreadful swift rate, Without wanting anything to eat.
I used to dream distressing dreams,
About what was coming to pass,
And awoke making a dreadful noise,
And poor little Ada Queetie was making a mournful noise,
She was so worried for me.
ancy’s books were hand-written, covers were made from bits of old wallpaper, they were filled with vignettes of her life and loves (her hens). They were how she stood up for herself.
ust knowing about such courage reminds me of all the amazing, hard-working, giving, brave, and sometimes lonely people there are in the world.
ecently I was at an Island Fair, one of the people exhibiting was a famous local artist by the name of Dan Waters. He had this WONDERFUL PRINT (printed from a carved block of linoleum on a hand-operated printing press), which, as you can imagine, I snapped up immediately and have hanging in my studio. Recently I asked if he could make a few more; I was thrilled when he said he would; I was thinking maybe some of you might like one. We only asked for a few; but I think we can get more of them if you’re interested. (Just click on WONDERFUL PRINT to learn more.)
Whenever I think I have troubles, I just have to look at my wall, see Nancy Luce flying with her chickens, and I feel much better. If she can do what she did, surely, I can do anything. I have electricity, I have a kitty, I have Joe, I don’t need a horse, and I have you.
It’s so sad how cruel people can be. Nancy sounds like such a wonderful, warm, loving woman and it would have been to people’s advantage to have tried to understand and know her. Surely God has a special place in heaven for her and there she is content. (Are there replicas anywhere of her books? Her artwork, assuming the lettering, etc. is hers, is darling.)
Not yet, but I think there’s going to be renewed interest….a local magazine just came out with a story on her!
Susan….Can you tell me the name of the magazine that published an artitcle on Nancy ? I would like to see if I can get a copy of it. Thank you!
I think it was Edible Vineyard.
Susan, thank you so very much for sharing her story. I did read the August story in your calendar but just got to your “Willard” tonight and had to cry because both her story and your comments were so touching and inspiring. What preserverance, compassion and heart Nancy had. There was no malice in her at all despite all the unkindnesses she endured. I do think she is in heaven looking after the chickens on earth that suffer cruelty (I’m not trying to sound silly-I really do think so). My mom passed away last Fall and I remember so much of what she’s taught me and her words. She would gently but firmly say:”If they can do it, I (or you)can do it.”There’s something in Nancy’s struggles and strength that reminds me of my mom’s courage and strength. Facing a possible very difficult school year coming up (teacher), I welcome the encouraging reminders. Thank you for the beautiful story. You are a great inspiration too. I hope you know that.
You are kind to say that. Wanted to wish you luck for the coming school year; loved my teachers, they meant the world to me.
Thank you so much, Susan. I greatly appreciate your sweet support. I wanted to tell you that I received my Nancy Luce print a couple of weeks ago (I ordered it shortly after you had it available in your store) and at first it made me sad to look at it. However, something has changed and everytime I see it, it makes me happy that Nancy overcame her difficult life and is now happy doing good on earth. Not sure how to articulate all that but there’s no sadness now and it cheers me on. Thanks for bringing another inspiring person into my life!
Thank you for sharing Nancy’s story, it’s so touching!
I save my Saturday mornings to reading your Blogs and anything else pertaining to your wonderful site. I so enjoyed reading your tribute to Nancy Luce…a touching and warm story. She was quite a woman! Thank you for sharing her story. I look forward to reading your “Willard”, and re-reading your story of her in the August calendar was refreshing! You are such an inspiration to all of us, and thank you for YOU!
A very touching story. I guess there have been cruel people since time began, & people who rise above it!
Anymore historical stories/anticdote (spelling?!)? Love this sort of thing.
What a lovely story, thank you for sharing it.
i am always amazed that people can be so cruel as to isolate someone who needed their help but they chose to look the other way and only focus on the fact she was not like they were. how sad. and how sad it is that people haven’t changed over the years, they are still that way today. maybe if folks could read about Nancy Luce, they might see the cruelty they inflict on others. loved all her lil chickens around her grave, i too raise chickens for the eggs to use in my cooking and baking and what i don’t use i sell to anyone who wants them. maybe someday people will stop being so cruel to others in society, and we can all get along. love reading the blog on her, and i love the recipes. can’t for Fall here, its my favorite season of all with all the beautiful colors and especially the holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving. enjoy your trip and Happy Fall!!!! 🙂
I’ve heard of her, but yours is the best telling of the story! Have you seen any of her original art? I would travel to see it. I’ll post a link to your blog for my blog readers (chicken fanatics all).
–Terry at hencam.com
Wow. I just found this through a link on Facebook from Terry Golson. What a wonderful story. You have made my day.
I recently “discovered” another wonderful author from years ago. Please do yourself a favor and find “Aunt Jane of Kentucky” by Eliza Calvert Hall. I’m in love!
It’s for free on Kindle on Amazon, so no excuses now not to read it. Thanks for the recommendation.
Thank you for sharing this story about Nancy Luce. It is so touching. I read her poetry and am so glad that it is not lost. Her story is also a good reminder to look at the people around us and their feelings too. I have told everyone I know to read the story of Nancy. Think it would be neat to send a “chicken” to put on her gravesite. There should be thousands of them………….to fill the place up!
So glad you enjoyed her story, she was very special!
Love Nancy Luce’s story. What a great object lesson. Love you for sharing the story.
Love Nancy Luce, love you for coming by!
This is a touching story, I actually started to cry. Sweet Nancy Luce, all she wanted was to have a little love shown to her. I am a HUGE animal lover, and find comfort and solace in my two dogs and crazy cocktatiel. People can be so harsh! Lets all remind ourselves NOT to be the way the townspeople were, and to reach out to people ( and critters) a bit more. Thank You for this tale.
My pleasure, Sue.
How I ever missed this story is amazing. I am in tears knowing she was treated so very poorly. Oh and Adie Queetie crying with her in the night. My kitten woke me when I was having a heart attack. I can’t imagine her losing her lil friend. Please lets all promise to be kind? Isn’t that what we are all looking for on Susans’s site? Lets take it to the street lets be nice to each other!
We are definitely in the right place for kindness . . . there would be no Nancy Luce’s if we had our choice.
When I flipped my calendar page back in Aug., little did I know what I would learn. The beautiful, sad story about Nancy Luce tugged at my heart strings. The name “Luce” stood out. A few years ago I began to research the genealogy of my family, lo & behold I found she is a descendant of mine. This woman felt such compassion & respect of feelings for these chickens who became her family then what was shown to her. Shame on the townspeople. It truly is a gift to be simple!
I was charmed by this story. I too love chickens and feel they are often treated cruelly. I’ve practically given up eating them and their eggs because of stories I’ve heard. Love Nancy Luce. Wish I could have been there to help her in her distress. Thank you for the story.
I think we all do!
What a wonderful reminder for the “eccentrics” of the world (i.e., the prophets) that they will not be appreciated in their own communities, but that they can be comforted in knowing they will leave a legacy for others to benefit from. Your retelling of this story is a way to pass on the love that Nancy Luce desperately wanted to share. Thank you!
I am never going to look at a chicken in the same way again.
or an egg.
loved this so .
She was something special! Julie your art is beautiful!!
Nancy Luce…woman with gumption! Thank you for this wonderful story about such a little know woman with such a huge heart filled with love for her feathered friends. While scrolling thru the comments I was pleasantly surprised to see Terry Golman’s name. I’m one of her followers on her blog where she shares her life and love of hens (other animals too) with a web-cam.
It’s a small world…thanks for sharing your part of it.
Meant to say “little known woman”
Is it still possible to purchase one or more of these Nancy Luce prints???
I believe they’re on the website, ask Kellee@184.108.40.206/~susanbs3/susanbranch/
I just checked it’s HERE, scroll down, it’s on the right hand side . . .
Thanks for the reminder to be kind to all people.
You went to England and from there you destroyed my Lamb Chops now you come home only to ruin my Fried Chicken ……… I hope you don’t know any Corn on the Cob stories !
Oh come ON! laughing . . . you are such a softie!
You ARE funny, Jack! On the days when there are 100s of comments and I know I won’t get to all of them in one day, I find myself scanning for “Jack” among the names. Just GOT TO see what you have to say… Please keep them coming… I’m beginning to realize that clearly some of Sue’s considerable literary skills were inherited! :>)
Jack – I’m guessing Sue will draw a firm line in the sand at Pork Chop Stories. No messing with the family favorite! :>)
No, no, never, never will I eat a lamb chop! They’re way too cute to even think of eating one of those sweet little lambs. As for piggys. Bacon got to me a long while ago. I think about ending my bacon habit, but I’m very, very weak. I love chicken too. Now that I’ve heard this chicken story, I’m sad for all the chickens I eat. I’m just a total MESS. (Sandy from Chihuahua Flats)
Above comment from Jack? That’s my dad. He’s so funny!
In all my years of visiting and discovering bits of the island, I have never heard of Nancy Luce – thank you for sharing! What a brave soul, and how very sad, the cruelty that people are capable of. I wish Nancy could now the adoration she has acquired over the years…
Me too, I can just imagine her in the winter on the island, alone in the house, with her chickens, and I’m overwhelmed with her perseverance.
What strength that poor woman had! She made the best of what she did have, and I’m sure her chickens loved her right back. Animals are so underestimated. Once, while visiting a animal rehab place, I was kind of watching a small garter snake in a glass tank–people walked by, and it never seemed to notice, but when the care-taker approached the tank, it suddenly lifted its head and clearly watched her as she walked past. I remarked to her about what I had noticed, and she replied that “Yes, he knows that I’m the one who feeds him.” Before that, I had never dreamed that a snake might pay attention to individual people. I’m still amazed to have seen that.
And whales! How they come up to a boat so innocently, just to look at the people!
Ah, the answer to my question was right there in your blog….senior moment. Very interesting. Hope residents keep the chickens around by her stone. I’ve always loved “quirky” people.
Such a touching story. It is very inspiring to see that she pushed on, even though I am sure she spent many hours of sadness and loneliness. I’m so happy she had her chickens! I love how other species don’t notice our weaknesses, incompetencies, vulnerabilities. They just love us! And I don’t believe for a minute that it’s only for the food!
Thank you, Susan, for sharing her story with us.
♥Debbie♥ of Buckley WA
Dad, you know what this means? No more arroz con pollo. Our dogs will starve. 🙂 Cool Story Sue … XO Mayr (7th pork chop, chuleta de puerco, numero siete.)
Hi Mary!! XOXO
This woman has my mother’s name first and last. Her story is so interesting, loving and sad, yet fills the hearts of those who read it with joy, perseverance and best of all hope. I will be sharing nancy’s story with my mother who needs some encouragement at the moment. Hopefully she will find it as ironic as I do.
Please give my best to your mother, Nancy Luce, and to you too Heather. If the Nancy Luce that I wrote about had a daughter, I bet she would have named her Heather too!
A friend linked me to this post, knowing how much I love my chickens. Why, just yesterday a little orphaned chick spent 5 hours with me whilst I wrapped up garden chores. She was never more than 4 feet away. For a lone woman like Nancy Luce, I can understand why she would enjoy the companionship of lovely fat hens, full of personality and comedic antics. It is so very dear, that she ceremoniously buried them and sent them on to the land of heavenly feathers. I wish I had known Nancy , I would have been her friend. I am pretty sure we could exchange some good chicken stories, and my hen graveyard is probably as vast as hers was. Although, sometimes, there is nothing left to bury but a handful of feathers.
Sad but sweet story. I will have to share it with my children. It’s just like today, if many people spent half the time being kind and compassionate as much as they are mean and rude, what a world this would be. Let’s teach our children early on to be considerate of other’s so that they will grow into compassionate and kind adults.
Thanks for sharing,
Thank you for introducing us to Nancy Luce. A Complete Edition of the Works of Nancy Luce by Nancy Luce is available free online via Gutenberg. I will go this route until I am able to locate on of her books.
She hand wrote and illustrated her books. Sounds like another Island woman that people with good hearts, tender feelings love to visit. 😀
What a wonderful story – touched my heart & thank you for sharing. As a child my best friend was a little feather legged banty. She rode in my bike basket, in a babby carriage and I was known to dress her up on occasion. I still remember my surprise the first time she laid an egg in my lap. She was a true friend. I completely understand how Nancy Luce felt and I’m sure she brought as much to their lives as they did to hers.
Thank you Pam, what a sweet story!
what a great read, I know how she felt about her chickens, chickens have such personalities and can be some real people lovers, I have some of them, like Misses POlly that died of cancer, now its Miss Bella, she came on her own to love me, and does she let me know, and daily they are all (75 of them) such company. I can fully understand How Miss Lucy felt, as her love was returned from her feathered friends , she knew somebody loved her………………….after all chickens are GOD’s creatures too………..people are so cruel …………….we must be more vigilant to the poor
Thanks you so much for that story. I was on MV and drove by that Cemetery and made my husband turn around as I thought the chickens were real. Next time I ‘m on Island, I’ll surely drop back by the cemetery for a visit.
It’s such a lovely thing the way she has been honored, exactly as she would wish I think.
Do you have any of the Nancy Luce block prints left? I would love to have one. Thanks!
I’m not sure Kathy … go on to the shopping pages and scroll to the bottom, there’s a contact there, ask Kellee if we have anymore.
Thank you for relating this story. I so enjoyed it. I love your website. Please keep them coming. Thank you again.
Thank you for sharing that wonderful story of a fragile, but brave woman. Who rose above those around her with dignity & grace. I hope after her passing someone took good care of the hens she left behind.
I just discovered Nancy Luce while reading Vineyard Enigma by one of my favorite mystery authors, Philip Craig, It was just a brief mention of Nancy’s grave site and the chickens, but enough to make me curious to find out more about her. A google search brought me to you – another of my favorite authors.
Thank you for the tender story.
My pleasure, she was quite a person, and despite everything her impact endures. Nice to meet you here Madge.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!……in the past two days I’ve joined the Friends of Gladys Taber so that I can visit Stillmeadow in June (an hour ride for me)……and now I’ve learned about a great MV literary idol, who never lived to realize her greatness. I will be at the library in the morning to try to find one of Gladys Taber’s books……..and to research Nancy Luce. Tonight, as “I lay me down to sleep, I’ll pray the Lord my soul to keep” and thank him for you, Susan Branch and your blogs, which I’ve been reading just for the past several days. Loneliness creeps up on everyone sometimes, but a lifetime of loneliness is too much to bare; hence Nancy’s love for her chickens! these scripts have given me a renewed spirit ….. and…..”if I should die before I wake………I pray the Lord my soul to take” and lead me to Nancy Luce……I will be her friend in heaven!
That makes me happy to hear! Looking forward to seeing you in June!
What a beautiful sentiment, Ann!
I cannot say how filled with joy I am reading all your stories and am RELISHING the new book! I went through a Tasha Tudor phase recently and now feel so lucky to have found you – just reading about Nancy Luce and Jane Austen and Beatrix Potter- I could just sit here with my coffee, cat in lap, and read all afternoon- and I love the Musica!!! Thank so much for everything you write- I feel like I am spending the afternoon with a kindred spirit! Please do another book- I don’t want to finish this one because then it will be over 🙂 OH the little hens- too wonderful to read about Ms. Luce
So happy to meet you Amanda! Thank you! xoxo
I have been sobbing over the loss of my chicken Peggy Hill, and a friend sent me this link. I have to admit that it made me feel better. I have to love this story because, in many ways, it is my story. Although fours are always welcome, I tend to prefer my two legged company with feathers. And, although my mother says I shouldn’t share such information, I will miss sharing the couch with my friend, Peggy Hill. Furthermore, I will admit that I can’t wait until August, when I will make my way to the State Fair in New Mexico, and I will look to buy one of the kid’s 4H chickens….one that has been raised with the love of a child….and I will take her home and love her for the rest of her years. Thanks for this story….her story. When I get over this week, I will try to write a poem to commemorate the life of sweet Peggy. For now, I can only say that I carefully bundled her up and buried her, with honor, in the back yard.
Ohhh Amy, soft-hearted girl, I’m so sorry about your loss. Thank you for sharing your story, I’m glad you found a kindred spirit here in Nancy Luce. xo
So sorry for your loss Amy. (Sandy from Chihuahua Flats)
I love this story and will share it with my granddaughter Molly, 8. We call her the chicken whisperer, since she has a real way with the family’s chickens – all five of them. Sometimes, when Molly, the middle child, gets upset with her older brother and younger sister, she heads out to see the chickens, hold them and hug them. And she tells people, at times, “The chickens are the only ones who understand me.” Sounds like it was the same for poor Nancy Luce. How sad that people couldn’t be more tolerant and understanding of her eccentricities. So glad she had her chickens to dote on and love….
Me too, and lucky for your daughter too, that she has not only the chickens, but you. ♥
I just love this story – she was a remarkable woman living her life with her chickens. I would like to buy a copy of the print you mentioned but did not see how to do so. Please let me know if you are able to make more of them.
I so enjoy your writings about life on your island; life is so different than on the mainland of the USA. I live on an island too but at the other end of the country.
The last time we checked the person who made those wonderful prints wasn’t doing it anymore. I should check again.
Nancy Luce really was a remarkable woman ~ rising above her circumstances and finding a way to carry on, in spite of it all. She was treated cruelly, but didn’t become cruel herself……that says a lot about her strength of character. Thank you for sharing her story. I love the bond she had with her chickens ~ when others turned their backs (and worse), she still found a way to give and receive love.
Ahhh…I love her; Nancy Luce is officially added to my list of heroes. What lucky chickens; to be loved that much. . . and what a comfort to her. Love comforts. Gladys was rich in love. I’m currently reading Another Path. It is a book to be read, savored, and gifted to anyone experiencing loss. I feel her hand holding mine each time I read a book from my own personal Gladys library; it is a thrill.
Thank you for bringing Nancy’s story to our attention. It is the courage of these unique individuals that teach later generations the importance of compassion for all that is “different”. In a world that forces sameness & conformity, it is nice to be reminded that bringing our own gifts to the table benefits all.
Yes, yes, yes! xoxo
I am adding my own yes and amen to your comment, Julie, about the importance of compassion for what is ‘different’ and to have the courage to bring our own gifts to the table in a world that tries to force sameness & conformity.
What an inspiring life Nancy Luce lived, and isn’t it interesting how nowadays she isn’t seen as an object worthy of ridicule but a soul of immense worth? I’ve heard it said that troubles either make you better or bitter. Those who tormented her were bitter people, but Nancy was ‘better’ through and through.
Having grown up on a farm between two small towns (pop’s. 300 and 700), I have a particular appreciation for Doris Haddock’s quote “Small towns make up for their lack of people by having everyone be more interesting.” To this day, the stories of Dado and Tut, Coon Clair, Mr. Eviston and Mr. Lamb still are topics of discussion when my girlfriends and I put out feet up in Janet’s secret garden to enjoy a glass of local wine.
I have found through the years that memories are pretty much what we make of them. If we choose to let go of the not-so-good or sad memories and remember the lovely or funny moments of our lives, we are ever so much better for it, don’t you think? (I have a feeling that this little adopted girl with white blond hair who surreptitiously kicked the shins of the boys who taunted her on the playground for her questionable roots, is one of the ‘interesting people’ the Converse boys ‘painfully’ recall over their beer at the reservoir! 😀
Thanks for sharing about Nancy Luce, Susan. She is definitely worth remembering!
You give me such an uplift….enjoy everything about your life.
I found her book for free on the Internet Archive (a great source): ia600300.us.archive.org/0/items/completeeditiono00luceiala/completeeditiono00luceiala.pdf
Loved your blog. Wish I had known about this years ago when I vacationed there. Will share your URL with a friend who also raises chickens and is vacationing there this month.
She will love to see Nancy’s grave. Thank you Deb.
Thank you for sharing this story. Nancy was a relative of mine. I wonder if she has the same ailment too. I have a genetic disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis and the symptoms are very similar to Lyme Disease. I know it comes from my grandmother’s line since she most likely had it too and my mom has the gene but wasn’t sure if it was the Luce line or her father’s. This does make me very curious! It’s a very debilitating disease so I can understand her connection to animals rather than people. I actually am quite isolated myself. My grandmother and mother did the same. It’s just easier. I also am sensitive to noises when I have a headache because of this disease. All my senses are exaggerated at times. But worst of all is the horrible arthritis that comes with it… particularly the spine and hip. I would love to read this biography some day.
Sharon, Thank you for this. My heart bleeds for her and the way people were cruel to her. All she wanted was to be allowed to live in peace and survive. I hope you are doing well and have more good days than bad. Her story should be mandatory reading for every high school student to learn how to treat people kindly and how much it hurts when they are mean. Again thank you for sharing.
I really enjoyed reading about Nancy Luce. Her story was so compelling.
As I looked for some of her books on Amazon.com, I was pleased to get a free kindle book of some of her works ! 😀 I hope someone else can take advantage of this. Thanks much, many Blessings, Linnie
Thanks for letting us know. She’s quite something.
I would love to get a Dan Waters, “Wonderful Print” of Ms. Luce’s story…a wonderful sweet tale of someone in isolation, who persevered and thrived with her birds. I will pass this story on to my children too. Thanks for telling it, and passing it on to us all.
Stay warm…spring is on its way in a few weeks!
Happy to do that . . . she was something!
Dear Ms. Branch,
Thank you so much for writing the above article. Funny how stories and history fall into your lap! I came across the portrait of Nancy Luce and her two chickens while doing a web search. I am also a “crazy chicken lady”. I run a Facebook page just for my flock. They are my therapy animals, much like hens were for Nancy. I have now been scouring the internet all morning (when I should be working) looking for more info on her. Your article was the first I stumbled upon. I would like to include a link to it in my article about Nancy for my Facebook page. I hope this is ok. I see you and I have many interests in common. I look forward to following your blog and Facebook page. Thank you so much!
Peace, Love and Chickens
Of course it’s OK Michelle, Nancy will fit in perfectly with you and yours! 🙂 She would LOVE it.
I was wondering if her last name was spelled Louce, since that is what it looked like to me in one of her poems? Just curious and loved the story.
It’s definitely Luce, an old Island name.
How do I change my email address to receive your blogs in my mail box again? New email listed above.
I sent your request to Kellee, I think she’ll do it for you Evelyn.
As a young child, my mother taught all of her children to be kind to people and tolerant. If we ever made fun of anyone, the consequences would not be good. I can not imagine how cruel these people were to poor Nancy Luce. Her neighbors should have comforted her. So sad, yet at the same time, so uplifting that she was able to comfort herself with her chickens. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story.
I love that story-5 years ago I bought 6 chickens & named them after my Mom’s sewing club, church women that met 1 time a week. My chickens names r Elizabeth Brown, Mabel Churchfield, Minerva Hardick, Louise VanSyckle, Dazalla Morrow & midge Sassman. The girls r very entertaining & easy to take care of. I have 2 each of Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks & Araucanas. I would be interested to know about the print, I look forward to all ur blogs & share them w/ my friends!
Those names! 🙂 Too cute!
Thank you for sharing this–it’s left me sad and inspired in equal measure. I really loved the names of her chickens, and having raised many chickens, they make perfect sense (and poetry) for calling out to them. With her illness and sensitivities, she reminds me just a little bit of my favourite writer, Mary Webb, who lived and wrote in Shropshire. What a story and what a woman. So touching. Thank you.
Very touching story. A real treasure.
Wasn’t able to find the Nancy Luce “Wonderful Print” in your on-line
shop? Need more direction! Thanks, Judy
I asked Kellee to check on this for you Judy.
Thank you Susan for sharing this story!!
The book about Nancy can be found new and used at abe.com and Amazon has Jane of Kentucky as a free ebook.
It’s a very good book.
People can be so cruel. I wish I knew her, I would have helped her and shamed the folks that made her hard life even harder.
Thank you for writing about Nancy Luce.
I have been doing some soul searching and stumbled upon Nancy.
What is wrong with caring for chickens? Why not love them and care for them like any other pet? Why do some people have such harsh feelings for those that care for chickens? I cannot figure it out.
Please read our story and vote for chickens in the Gaithersburg “pet of the year” contest. It would be poetic justice if a chicken could win. Here’s our story:
I agree, chickens are wonderful things! Good luck with your pet of the year contest, and contest in which there can be no losers!
So proud to share a name with Nancy Luce.
She was something!
I wonder if Ms Luce is the author of a surprisingly heartrendng short story about chickens!! Cannot remember title or where I read it.
reading about Nancy Luce reminds me of my egg man named Mick, who loves his chickens so much! He has a beautiful home in Southern Chester County, PA with two beautiful coops. It’s the most pristine environment ever. He has a very sunny room in the basement of his 1870’s house where he raises his little peeps. I love the photo’s of him as a child holding his chickens, you can tell it’s a lifelong passion. He recently got a pair of Black Spanish chickens, one of the first breeds introduced by Spanish settlers. His eggs are so clean, as he gently wipes them free of soil and tucks them into their crates. It’s a joy to live where I can visit so many farms, some Amish, where there are interesting, yummy things for sale.
You are so lucky Debra! We have lots of little farms here too on the Island, thank goodness!
What a sweet, sad story. Another gem on this website. I can relate to Nancy in the way she loved her chickens so dearly. I think it’s amazing and not crazy at all how she honored her chickens with beautiful carved headstones. As an adult, I have had 2 cats…first Phoebe (himalayan) and then Mimi (persian). Both have crossed the Rainbow bridge.They meant the world to me. I keep their ashes in beautiful little wooden boxes along with a lock of their fur. These boxes are kept inside my altar space with other treasures that I hold dear. My cats will be placed inside my casket along with me when I’m ready to leave this place. Call me crazy…I don’t mind.
I don’t call you crazy, I call you LOVE. xoxoxo
coca do lo do.fatastic.well done susan branch.
I learned about lovely Nancy Luce when reading your Martha’s Vineyard Isle of dreams. I wonder if Jokgu’s friends found out how chickens are so smart by reading about Nancy Luce and her beloved chickens. Thank you 🙂 youtu.be/Mk25XTWqGAg
My mother lived almost in the same way. She lived in Nashville ,where her mother worked at a factory. They ate onions for breakfast and the salvation army fed them most of the time. Her mother died when she was 9 yrs. old and her brother was 11. They went to her fathers house in Florida to live. He was a doctor and had 300+ acres of orange groves. A 27 room mansion , that my mother had to clean , and then work in the fields the rest of the day. Her half brothers went to Harvard, while my mother was abused in the worst way. But she left when she was 19 and came back to Nashville, where she met my wonderful father that treated her like a queen, and they lived happily ever after. And she always said ” A fool will lose tomorrow looking back at yesterday” She was so happy in the life she finally deserved.
Your brave mom. I’m so glad she found a happy ending. xoxo People amaze me, what they survive and then thrive through.
I fell in love with the Vineyard through my husband. His family has vacationed on the island since the 80’s, and we always feel the magic there. You really captured the feeling of the island so beautifully in Isle of Dreams, which my husband bought for me at Bunch of Grapes 🙂 and which I’ve read twice 🙂
My mother-in-law (another Susan, like you) shares your fascination with Nancy Luce. A few years ago she was even inspired to write a children’s story about her, a little historical fiction for kids. I hope you’re having an event while we’re on the island the last 2 weeks in July, as I would love to meet you and have you sign my book. I need to pick up a Fine Romance as well. For some reason I just can’t buy your books on Amazon. It’s worth waiting for a Vineyard bookshop.
How nice of you to say that, it’s true, I think you get a little salt air in the bargain when you get your books from Bunch of Grapes. Ties all the words together in a neat little package. xoxoxo
I had to link back to here after reading the May-2019 post about ‘Normalcy’, Susan! It’s true, after reading about Miss Luce, a person can’t help but feel courageous, almost in tribute to her. Fascinating; thank you for sharing this story onward from 2011. I feel emboldened. She had enormous self-preservation, not ego, but just a tremendous will to not be counted out and know that she had value when everybody else would try to tell her she didn’t. God Bless her, the dear lady. Talk about strength of spirit and character. Somehow, she must have had the beauty of HOPE, despite overwhelming obstacles. Maybe it was trust in her God; that she was able to summon faith. And she found love, with her pets, given and received. She seemed to be educated when many women weren’t in her time. Maybe that, too, helped. She could reason things out; try to understand … and forgive cruelty of others.
I’ve often wondered about people of decades past who suffered from chronic ailments that are even a struggle in the 21st century – – and that’s with medical intervention (so what on earth did they do when nothing was known of their diseases or conditions?). Nancy is one example of a person with lifelong physical suffering, and then to add on to that, NO HELP from anybody, and she lived to her 70s like that? I can’t imagine; just c.a.n.n.o.t imagine.
No, I really can’t imagine. I had a relatively short time of experiencing the terrible sadness of true loneliness and ever since then I know what a soul-searing thing it is. I worry about “all the lonely people” behind closed doors, because I think it’s a disease of our times. To think of a lifetime of it, in a time when there was nothing to distract you but your own mind, and things of your own creation. She wanted so badly to be remembered, and she did it, in the healthiest possible way. I feel her to her bones. Pure admiration. I wish I could tell her how sorry I am.
I think I love Jack! What a kidder.
Thank you for sharing this! Karen
Nancy Luce and I share the same surname. I wish I knew her parentage. My family originated in Martha’s Vineyard in the 1600;s I would love to add her to our family tree
Still a very well-known name here, very old family, you probably are related to her. Her dad was Philip Luce and her mom had another old Island name, Anne Manter. Go HERE and scroll down a bit for more Nancy genealogy.
Heartbreaking and inspiring. I hope she’s in heaven with chickens! Is the print available anywhere?
They might have it at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum… try there!
I am a descendant of the Nancy Luce family and have been reading all I can find about her. I’m amazed about the things we have in common even though I never knew her. She is by far the most colorful person in my family tree, and I’m proud to have her in my family.
You should be. She was a brave, determined, hard-working, creative woman, I love her too!
My heart goes out to Nancy Luce. Her story touched so many women, .one doesn’t have to be sensitive to not like male youths banging a pot outside your door.
Susan thanks for your Isle of Dreams book I loved reading twice and your delightful painting and photos. I live in UK, never been to U.S.
No, very scary. Thank you so much Claire, I’m happy you liked it! 💞
Hi, Susan, loved reading more about Nancy Luce and am interested in the Wonderful Print but failed to get any info with your link. As they say in England, no joy. Any further instructions from you? I so enjoy your blogs and books!
You can google Dan Waters art on Martha’s Vineyard. He is the designer of that poster … I THINK he is still making it.🌷