Known as Castle Tucker, an Italianate mansion on a hill overlooking the Sheepscot River in Wiscasset, was home to a young woman whose venturesome spirit got her embroiled in one of the great political scandals of the late 19th century.
Jane Armstrong Tucker, who much later in life would publish “The State of Maine Cook Book,” was the daughter of a successful shipping agent and sea captain who expanded and modified a Federalist mansion to suit his Victorian tastes. She learned office skills that enabled her to find jobs in Boston and New York City and to make connections that eventually immersed her in political espionage when Congressman William C. P. Breckinridge’s misconduct became a national scandal.
Breckinridge was a five-term Democratic congressman from Kentucky from a prominent political family. He was a cousin of the Breckinridge who served as Vice President under James Buchanan. He was 30 years old and married in 1884 when he seduced Madeline Pollard, then a 17-year-old student at Wesleyan College. Their liaison lasted ten years, and Pollard gave up their two children to a foundling hospital.
Then Breckinridge’s wife died and Pollard published a wedding announcement. However, the congressman had secretly married his cousin, so Pollard sued him for breach of promise. Breckinridge didn’t believe that she would brave the notoriety and humiliation of a trial, but he was wrong.
Jane Armstrong Tucker (1866-1964) had shown herself to be a dependable office manager when she worked for a Kentucky businessman in New York City. He hired Tucker to spy on Pollard to learn anything that might be useful for Breckenridge’s defense. Under the pseudonym Agnes Parker, Tucker presented herself as a repentant fallen woman at the convent in Washington, D.C., where Pollard was hiding from attorneys and reporters. Tucker befriended Pollard and passed information to Breckinridge’s legal team.
The trial began in the spring of 1894, and an all-male jury found in favor of Pollard. She was awarded $15,000 in damages (though she never received it). Breckinridge was up for re-election. Outraged Kentucky women organized protest rallies, and former supporters deserted him. The scandal ended Breckinridge’s political career and inspired some women to become politically active.
Tucker published a book about Pollard, but the scandal was soon forgotten, and it did not sell well. She continued to do temporary office work in Boston and New York and traveled in the West selling McCalls sewing patterns. She returned to Wiscasset in the summers to help her widowed mother who took in boarders seasonally to make ends meet. When her mother died in 1922, Tucker inherited the family home, Castle Tucker, which is now a Historic New England property open to the public from June to mid-October.
Tucker continued to work and to be politically active. She edited a cookbook in the early 1920s as a fundraiser for Maine’s Democratic Party. Some of the most interesting recipes in “The State of Maine Cook Book” were from Jane’s Grandmother Armstrong. The following recipe for smothered chicken was one of these old family recipes.