Matilda's mother married Matilda's father against her parents' wishes. The family essentially "washed their hands of her when she ran off to marry a carpenter, a tradesman...when she was seventeen". Matilda's mother's family felt that her mother was throwing her life away, marrying below her station.
Matilda's father was a skillful carpenter, and he built his family "a sturdy home". In addition, he built the coffeehouse which over the years would provide their livelihood. The coffeehouse, located "just off the corner of Seventh and High Streets, did poorly at first, but business improved "when President Washington's house was built two blocks away". Tragically, Matilda's father died two months after the coffeehouse opened, when he fell off a ladder and broke his neck.
Matilda's mother was devastated at the death of her husband. As she describes it, she "supped sorrow with a big spoon". Matilda's mother never did overcome her grief at being widowed after such a short time. Her disposition turned "sour", and she became a bitter, complaining woman.
Working with her father-in-law and Eliza, a free Negro who worked for the family, Matilda's mother was able to support herself and her daughter. Running a coffeehouse was "a respectable business" for a woman in her position, and although she herself could not cook, with the help of Eliza, the coffeehouse did well (Chapter 2).