Chain is a series of stories, all set in the fictional town of Chain Alabama, population about 20,000.
Chain was named because it grew around a chain manufacturing factory, founded in 1855 and called simply “Chain Incorporated.” The motto of both the town and the company was “Binding Us Together in Iron” which, as we shall see in these stories, may have contributed to the nature of the town and its inhabitants.
Chain Incorporated started making anchor and other chain for the Navy and when the Civil War started supplied most of the chain for the Confederate Navy. Located between the iron smelting in Birmingham and the ports on the gulf, Chain was in an ideal position to capitalize on this industry. It also avoided the worst of the War’s destruction and flourished during reconstruction. Today, Chain Incorporated makes hundreds of types of chains from huge anchor chains for warships to decorative chains to hang planters. About half the people in town work for “The Company” as it is simply called by the residents of Chain the town.
The unique personality of the town was, most local historians agree, set by Chain’s founder Buford MacTavish. Buford was trained as an engineer in England before emigrating to America and settling in rural Alabama. Some say he left England after a scandal involving a male lover. In America, Buford was initially more careful to hide his sexual preferences. He courted and married the county’s most eccentric debutant, a Miss Willamina Frambrough. Willamina was ostracized by most of the families in the county and NEVER invited to balls or cotillions due to her refusal to wear corsets and her frequent habit of riding through the countryside in trousers and astride the horse instead of side saddle.
To Buford, she was perfect and after crafting and signing the only pre-nuptial agreement the country had never heard of, they had a simple courthouse ceremony in front of the judge. The pre-nuptial agreement was simple, it was a true marriage in that, financially, Buford and Willamina would share the land and other assets Buford had accumulated. But the agreement was unusual in that they would each have their own bedrooms and only have sex once a month until such time as Willamina gave birth to a son. And neither of them would ever question who their spouse chose to sleep with.
It worked perfectly. Buford started Chain Manufacturing and growth and profits were rapid. He bought land and started laying out a town. In public they were the perfect power couple. Since various families wanted jobs, land, influence, and the MacTavishs could provide all that, their social influence increased. Willamina started throwing her own parties, parties where corsets were highly discouraged and
Women were encouraged to smoke and drink. Buford started inviting the women he knew could ride to the spring Fox hunts. Because they gathered around them liberal minded people and encouraged those people to powerful positions in Chain the town and Chain the company, the MacTavish’s slowly and steadily set the town and county’s personality and culture.
Buford and Willamina’s influence was felt throughout the town, even to the local Baptist church. Buford had given the land for the church and most of the money for its construction. Long before the town had attracted enough settlers to afford a dedicated pastor, Buford had guaranteed the salary of a minister. Having heard, through church contacts, of a pastor in South Carolina who was fired and driven out of town. It seems that, after church one Sunday, the church outhouse door had blown open while the pastor was inside, and several parishioners were standing outside waiting their turn. The door had been quickly closed but not fast enough that several men saw the women’s bloomers around the pastor’s knees. Buford invited him to Chain.
Buford and Willamina hosted the pastor, Rev. Charles Packard, at their newly enlarged plantation house and had long discussions. When he arrived, Rev. Packard found a wrapped welcome gift on his bed, a beautiful corset, obviously large enough for his frame. In their dinner conversations Buford questioned Rev. Packard on his education, theology, preaching styles and pastoral skills. Willamina was much more direct, “I’m a lesbian,” she declared, “but I still know women’s clothing and I can buy it intown without raising questions. If you’ll tell me your preferences, I’m glad to help and even advise you on fashion. You’re also welcome to wear whatever you wish in this house; our servants are all discreet.”
An agreement was reached on salary and living allowance that included the understanding that Rev. Packard would not judge others sexual practices or orientation either from the pulpit or in pastoral meetings. He was free to preach against abuse of women or children and prohibit incest. He was free to promote family life and loyalty as long as he agreed that David and other biblical figures had multiple partners. The church elders approved the hiring of Rev. Charles Packard, after all, most of them worked at Chain Manufacturing and Buford had paid for the church.
Buford kept many of the town’s men and boys out of the Confederate Army by giving them jobs at Chain Manufacturing and declaring their jobs essential to the war effort. He declined to use slaves in the plant, even for menial jobs. He had enslaved house servants, but he did the best he could for them within the society they were living, giving them decent living conditions, never splitting families, and never beating them.
Buford got the town through the reconstruction years by quickly signing an allegiance with the Union after Appomattox and quickly signing supply deals with the Union Navy and Army artillery for chain. He fired any workers he suspected of KKK ties and generally made sure that free blacks in town were treated fairly. The first negro school in town was named The MacTavish school.
WWI and WWII just increased the company’s size and profits as Chain Manufacturing Inc. did its part for both war efforts. The company continued to grow but automation came into play in 1970’s. The plant was now huge, but because of automation, the size of the workforce stayed about the same as in the 1950’s. This meant that the town of Chain Alabama stopped growing but remained a prosperous and close-knit community.
And so, a tone was set for Chain Alabama that would continue into the twenty-first century. Sexual tolerance, open discussion of sexual issues in families, schools and church, equal and fair treatment of all races, colors, and sexual orientations.
These are the stories of Chain Alabama.