The 2017 Book List

For the past 10 years or so, I’ve kept a list of all the books I’ve read. Lately, that’s been somewhere between 15 and 18 books. This year, it was 16. Here are the books I read in 2017, with some thoughts about each:

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher (Timothy Egan) — I really enjoyed this book about photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis, who was famous for photographing American Indians over a 30-year period. Because I’m also working on a book project that could take decades, Curtis’s journey gave me hope that I can finish my “big idea” someday, too.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (Trevor Noah) — I enjoy watching Trevor Noah videos on YouTube, but I like him even more after reading his book. It’s funny, touching and just a great memoir.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (Gabrielle Zevin) — A novel about a bookshop owner who becomes an accidental father. I loved it. I don’t read a lot of novels, but I definitely recommend this one.

American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt (Daniel Rasmussen) — I didn’t know that this 1811 slave uprising even happened before I found this book at my local library. Also, it was good research on how to go about writing my own narrative nonfiction book, what do to about citing sources, etc.

The Boys in the Boat (Daniel James Brown) This book has been popular for a while, but I finally got it as a 2016 Christmas gift from my husband and read it. I learned a lot about rowing and enjoyed the story.

A Lucky Child (Thomas Buergenthal) — The true story of a boy who survives the Holocaust. Good book.

The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead) — I need to read this book a second time. I enjoyed it, but wondered whether there was something “deeper” that I had missed along the way. With all the press that it got and all the “smart” people that liked it, I think I was supposed to be more wowed than I was. I did enjoy the story, though, and plan to re-read it someday.

In a Sunburned Country (Bill Bryson) — I always like Bill Bryson. His books make me want to travel and have adventures. This book about his travels in Australia did that as well.

Thirteen Moons (Charles Frazier) — I really, really liked this novel, more than I thought I would. It’s the story of an orphan who is sent to operate a general store on the North Carolina frontier, in Indian Territory, in the early 1800s.

Having Our Say: The Delaney Sisters’ First 100 Years (Sarah and A. Elizabeth Delaney with Amy Hill Hearth) — As the title indicates, two sisters tell the story of their lives. The African-American sisters grew up in North Carolina and later migrated to Harlem, where they were both very successful and never married.

Looking for Lost Bird (Yvette Melanson with Claire Safran) — The story of a Jewish woman who discovers her Native American ancestry and goes west to find her family. The book also was made into a move called, “The Lost Child.”

The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic that Shaped our History (Molly Caldwell Crosby) — Worth reading just for the opening story, but I learned a lot that I didn’t know about the yellow fever. I definitely learned to stay away from it and it made me (temporarily) terrified of mosquitoes.

Memorials of a Southern Planter (Susan Dabney Smedes) — I confess, I skimmed a couple of chapters of this book because I read it primarily for research for my book project. I also skimmed a book about Natchez and two books about historical resources related to Natchez, including what can be found in the Natchez Trace Collection at the University of Texas. “Memorials,” however, is the story of the family of a “character” in my book, Col. Thomas S. Dabney.

The Training Ground (Martin Dugard) — Before reading this book, I knew nothing about the Mexican War. Now, I know something. It also sort of factors into my book project, because the story takes place at the same time as the Mexican War and would have been a topic of discussion among people. It also was prominent in the newspapers in 1847 and 1848, when my story takes place. Also, one of the people mentioned in my book (when it’s actually a book) will be someone whose son enlists in the Army during the Mexican War. So, it might come into play.

Truevine (Beth Macy) — Another book that taught me a lot about how to write the sort of book I’m working on. It also was a very good story and I learned a lot about the circus/carnival industry, which also plays into my book project.

The Optimist’s Daughter (Eudora Welty) — I found a copy of this book at Goodwill and figured I should get it and read it. After all, reading it would make me sound very smart, and Southern, right? In the end, I got through the book but I wasn’t impressed. Perhaps I’m not smart or Southern enough to “get” Eudora Welty. I guess that means I’d better not try any Faulkner!

Clotilda found?

Today, I saw this article online about how a reporter in Alabama had possibly found the long-lost Clotilda, the ship that is said to have been the last one to bring African slaves into the U.S. in 1860.

I wrote about the Clotilda about a year and a half ago after returning from a trip to Mobile, Alabama. While in Mobile, husband John and I also visited Africatown, a community where survivors of the Clotilda settled after Emancipation and where some of the survivors are buried.

And, in case you missed my post last month, a book about Clotilda survivor Cudjo Lewis by Zora Neale Hurston will be published in May 2018. Lots of press about the Clotilda lately. Good.

I’m also working on my (very late, sorry) Book List for 2017. I read 16 books last year, some of which were pretty darn good, so I want to share those titles with you. Hopefully soon.

Zora Neale Hurston book about Cudjo Lewis to be published

I saw this article online today, about a previously unpublished book by the late-Zora Neale Hurston, author of “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” The new book, titled “Barracoon,” is about one of the last surviving American slaves, Cudjo Lewis, who was brought to the U.S. in 1860 aboard the Clotilde (also spelled “Clotilda”).

Cudjo Lewis - NYPL
Cudjo Lewis. New York Public Library.

The book, based on conversations Hurston had with Lewis in Alabama in the 1930s, will be published in May 2018.

A barracoon, for those who haven’t heard the word (I hadn’t until recently), was a place where slaves were confined.

Also, I blogged about the Clotida about a year and a half ago. You can read that story and see photos of Africatown Graveyard, where Lewis is buried, here.

A local look at lynching

The other day, I ran across a video on Facebook about a monument that was erected in Abbeville, S.C., in memory of a man named Anthony Crawford. Crawford, an African-American farmer, was lynched by a mob in 1916.

According to an article that ran with the video, Crawford’s “crime” was arguing with a local white storekeeper about the price of cottonseed. The article also states that Crawford’s murder was one of 4,084 “racial terror lynchings” that occurred in the South between 1877 and 1950.

That got me thinking about lynchings in Central Virginia. After doing some online research, I found the names of four black men who were lynched within a few miles of where I live in Lynchburg, Va.

Their names were James Carter, Andrew Dudley, Pinckney Murphy and Henry Mason.

On, I found articles about each of the lynchings. In all four cases, the men were accused of some sort of crime. As for these crimes, it’s difficult — perhaps impossible — to know more than 100 years later how true the allegations were. None of the men had their day in court and everyone involved is dead.

After each man was arrested, they were abducted by a white mob and hung from a nearby tree. In all four cases, the bodies also were shot multiple times. In none of the articles was there any mention of anyone being arrested for the lynchings.

My plan is to tell the story of all four lynchings, but first here’s the story of James Carter:

James Carter was lynched on April 3, 1902. It happened in Amherst County, near New Glasgow, which is now called Clifford. None of the articles I read said how old Carter was, but most described him as a “young negro.”

I found a 1900 census record from Amherst County that places a 17-year-old, black farm laborer named James Carter in the household of George and Susan Carter. Without further information, though, I can’t be 100-percent sure it’s him. (The name James Carter was not uncommon in Amherst County during that time period.)

The story of Carter’s lynching made newspapers all over the country. Sometimes, it was only a single sentence, like this one from the Maysville, Ky., Evening Bulletin: “James Carter was taken from jail at Amherst, Va., and lynched for seriously wounding a white man.”

Other newspapers, such as the San Francisco Call, gave a more detailed account:

Young Negro is Lynched 

Lynchburg, Va., April 6. — James Carter, a young negro, who shot and seriously wounded Don Thomas near New Glasgow, in Amherst County, Thursday night, was taken from jail at Amherst Courthouse last night just before midnight and lynched.

A party of men estimated at 200 and supposed to have come from the neighborhood of Cliffords [sic], seven miles away, where Thomas lives, rode into Amherst late last night. All were masked or had their faces blackened. When Jailer John Jones left the jail for his home several members of the lynching party made him surrender the keys.

The men secured Carter, took him a half-mile north of the village, hanged him to a tree and fired thirty-five bullets into his body. The shooting of Thomas by Carter was the result of an accusation said to have been made by the former that Carter had set an outhouse on fire. He had been sent to jail to await the action of the Grand Jury.

The black-owned Richmond Planet had a decidedly different take on the jailer’s behavior. The article in the Planet reads, in part, as follows:

The most remarkable thing about it is that the jailer, John Jones, not only gave up the keys, but waited until they were returned to him. In this, he not only violated his oath of office but proclaimed himself grossly incompetent and a party to the murder. 

When an officer arrests a prisoner he is responsible for that prisoner’s safety. 

If he cannot protect him, he has no right to disarm the prisoner and thus deny to him the right and opportunity to protect himself. 

This is common sense as much as it is law. It is all very well for a man to argue that we must submit to the law, but he must be equally as empathetic in proclaiming that the law must protect the man who submits to it. 

Far better would it have been for Jas. Carter to have sacrificed his life in an effort to save it than to be taken out during the stilly hours of the night, with his hands behind him and launched into eternity by a lot of cowards who are unfit to be executed on a scaffold.

It’s hard to imagine the jailer didn’t know any of the 200 men who came for Carter that night, but in the dozen or so articles I found about this lynching, there’s no mention of their names or that any charges were filed in Carter’s murder.

You might also want to check out this article about a project in which dirt is being collected from known lynching sites and this article about a monument to lynching victims being built in Montgomery, Ala.

Sausage and Hominy Stew

So, I haven’t cooked much lately. I started a new, part-time job in the marketing department at Lynchburg College, and I’ve been busier than usual. I also started playing tennis recently, which I love, so that’s kept me busy a couple of nights a week, too.

And I run, and I’m writing a book, and I’m still doing some freelance writing for some local magazines. And sometimes, I like to take naps. So, we’ve been eating out a lot more than usual, but this past Sunday I felt compelled to cook.

Even though it’s not officially fall yet and is expected to be in the 80s this week, likely with high humidity, I really wanted to make stew. I thought maybe we’d just turn the AC up while eating it or chase the stew with lots of Dos Equis (best idea).

For a good recipe, I turned to one of my favorite cookbooks, Tammy Algood’s “Southern Slow Cooker Bible.” I chose the sausage and hominy stew. I’ve made it before, but as usual I changed a couple of small things in the ingredients and the process.

For example, the recipe calls for two pounds of smoked sausage. Because smoked sausage came only in 13- or 14-oz. packages at my grocery store, I ended up with slightly less than two pounds. I also bought one chicken sausage and one pork sausage. At first, I thought that might be weird, but then I thought of Kentucky burgoo, which uses beef, pork and chicken.

I’m determined to make burgoo sometime this year, maybe for Christmas dinner. Every recipe I’ve seen makes a vat of it, so you can’t just make it for two people. That’s way too much burgoo, unless it freezes well, of course.

Another change I made to the sausage and hominy stew recipe was using chicken broth instead of vegetable broth. As a side note, I almost always type “brother” when typing “broth” and have to backspace twice. I have no idea why I do that. Maybe it’s the Universe saying I should call one of my brothers.

Anyway, I also used two cans of yellow hominy instead of one white and one yellow, like the recipe calls for. And I didn’t use the fresh cilantro, or any cilantro for that matter. Husband John isn’t crazy about cilantro — which I seem to want to spell “cilantry” today — so I almost never put it in recipes. It’s not a great sacrifice. I’m not nuts about it either.

I also boiled the potatoes in advance because last time I made this stew I had to cook it extra long to make the potatoes soften. Sometimes, potatoes act weird in the slow cooker.

sausage stew pic
Sausage and hominy stew 

So, here’s what I made, with the changes:

Sausage and Hominy Stew
(8 servings)

2 pounds smoked sausage, thickly sliced (whatever kind interests you or is on sale)
6 small, red potatoes, cubed and boiled (don’t peel)
About a cup of frozen, sliced carrots
3 ½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 (15-oz.) cans of yellow hominy (drained and rinsed)
1 (4.5-oz) can of chopped green chiles (whatever heat you like)
½ tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. dried oregano

Boil potatoes and then throw them and everything else on the list into the slow cooker. Mix ingredients together. Cover and cook for 6 hours on high.

Note: The original recipe said 8 hours on low and it also said to lightly grease the slow cooker, which I forgot to do. I’ve found that greasing the slow cooker is mostly about cleanup afterwards. I also decided to go with high heat this time because I wanted to eat this for dinner and didn’t get started until about 12:30 p.m.

Finding Foster

As many of you know, I’m currently researching a book about a man, William Macon Waller, who took about 20 of his slaves to Mississippi in 1847-48. His plan was to sell the slaves in Mississippi to cover debts he had at home in Amherst County, Va.

Part of my research has involved finding out what happened to the individual slaves. I haven’t had much luck yet. After all, the men Waller sold the people to were mostly large landholders with hundreds of slaves. Finding evidence of one, among all the others (some of which had the same names) is, not surprisingly, difficult.

So, I decided to focus on one for now: Foster.

On the off chance that someone else out there, possibly a descendant, also is looking for Foster, here’s what I know about him:

Foster was probably not an old man in 1847, when Waller and his slaves left Amherst, Va., bound for Mississippi, via the overland route through Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi. He had to be able to walk 25 miles a day.

So, I’m guessing he was born sometime between 1810 and 1830.

Also, when Foster was eventually sold, he sold for $1,200, two or three times more than anyone else sold by Waller on that trip. In fact, Waller took Foster to New Orleans, where he would bring a better price. So, it’s my assumption that Foster was a skilled worker of some kind, maybe a carpenter or something like that.

Waller and Foster left Vicksburg, Miss., on a steamship called the Mount Vernon sometime in the first week of January 1848. The ship took them down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. Waller left Foster in New Orleans, where he was sold, sometime around the first week of February.

And that’s all I know, except that it’s likely Foster was born in Virginia.

Maybe you’re looking for an ancestor, named Foster, who was black or mulatto, and a slave born in Virginia. While he was sold in New Orleans, based on shipping manifests that I’ve seen online, he could have ended up in Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, or some other slave state. And if he survived to Emancipation, he could have returned to Virginia or ended up someplace else.

If this rings a bell with anyone out there in Cyberspace, please let me know. I’d like to know more about your ancestor and talk to you, too.


Sergei Troubetzkoy talks symbolism at Presbyterian Cemetery Sunday, Aug. 6

On Sunday, Aug. 6, Lynchburg’s historic Presbyterian Cemetery will host its final “Sunday Stroll” of the year. The hour-long, guided tour will begin at 2 p.m. at the cemetery office. The cost is $5.

The tour will be led by Sergei Troubetzkoy, who will talk about the symbolism used on tombstones and cemetery statuary.

Troubetzkoy has many years of experience in the tourism industry in Lynchburg, Richmond, Staunton and other places around Virginia. He also wrote a book about Staunton, Va., for Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series.

Presbyterian Cemetery was founded in 1823 on land purchased from Edward Lynch, son of the city’s founder, John Lynch. Notable people buried there include Max Guggenheimer Jr. (local “merchant prince”), Otway Anna Carter Owen (great-niece of George Washington), Emma Serena Dillard Stovall (the folk artist commonly known as “Queena” Stovall) and others.

There also are more than 200 Civil War soldiers buried at Presbyterian Cemetery.