Review: ‘Suffering Succotash: The Comic Life of Molly Maise,’ by Lula Mae Barnes

Satire from the archives

Suffering Succotash: The Comic Life of Molly Maise,” by Lula Mae Barnes (Corn Fritter Press, September 2012), 4,837pp with illustrations, index, maps, and bibliography.

SufferingSuccotashAs time goes by, fewer and fewer people remain on this Earth who suffered through depression-era and Thanksgiving meals constructed substantially of succotash.

“As far back as the Revolutionary War,” writes Lula Mae Barnes in her new and overly definitive biography of the 1770s Rhode Island innkeeper, dancer and lady of the evening Molly Maise, “people were thankful to live off succotash when times were hard and just as thankful to get rid of the vile mixture when good fortune smiled upon them again.”

Barnes, who spent the last fifty years uncovering the obscure details of the inventor of succotash, claims that the mixture of corn, various forms of beans and minced oaths is far too improbable a concoction to have occurred by accident.

Young Molly Maise, an innkeeper on Aquidneck Island who supported the “divine cause of everything that wasn’t British,” devised succotash as a “devious treat” for British sailors enjoying her favors in the days leading up to the 1778 Battle of Rhode Island. Ever after, she claimed her succotash made the sailors so ill, they scuttled their own fleet to kill the pain. While historians agree that the fleet was scuttled, they do not cite succotash as a cause.

According to Barnes, Maise spent a lifetime giving humorous talks, some bawdy, about the ills of succotash and the role it had in the war. While her speeches and dance routines, including “The Succotash Rag” (which pre-dated the American Ragtime boom by one hundred years) were well attended, she failed to gain the validation as a soldier and inventor she was seeking.

In fact, the biography’s references clearly indict most, if not all, of the United States’ founding fathers, soldiers, newspapermen and historians of a “treasonous level of guilt” for their roles in covering up the role of Molly Maise and succotash in “the cause of freedom.”

Barnes’ epic work clearly shows that every human’s recipe for defeat is based on the foods they eat, how they mix them together, and what they name the resulting entree. Had Maise called her corn and beans a Corn & Bean Medley, history might have duly honored her for the suffering her invention caused herself and all the generations that followed.

The epitaph on Maise’s tombstone reads: “Loose corn and beans sink ships faster than loose lips.”

Jock Stewart


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