Sapelo's People: A Long Walk Into Freedom

William S. McFeely, Author
William S. McFeely, Author W. W. Norton & Company $18.95 (199p) ISBN 978-0-393-03643-5
Paperback - 200 pages - 978-0-393-31377-2
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At the start of the Civil War, several thousand slaves worked the vast plantation on the barrier island of Sapelo, which lies off the southern coast of Georgia. When the island became part of the plan to blockade Savannah, some slaves escaped to join the Union army; hundreds more were moved inland by their owner. Freed in 1863, many returned to the only home they knew and, with government land grants, resettled Sapelo. By 1865 they had a school; in 1866, a church; in 1867 the men voted. Today, 67 of their remaining descendants still own the land. War historian McFeeley ( Grant and Frederick Douglass ) uses scraps of oral history from these offspring and his own research to trace their origin back to Africa. He reconstructs their forebears' capture, delivery to the Bahamas and sale to the Sapelo plantation owner, and re-creates the character of their male progenitor, a powerful, literate African Muslim who became virtual manager of the plantation. McFeely identifies some puzzling language patterns with Arabic and retells Sherman's March to the sea by tracing its impact on the lives of Sapelo's slaves and present-day descendants. An enthralling account. (June)
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