“White Man’s Graveyard is an impressive example of how family history can be turned into highly readable historical fiction.” – review from the Historical Novel Society.
Annie is a no-nonsense Pennsylvania teacher whose hunt for a home and family of her own inspires a commitment to the abolition movement. Sylvanus, the baby brother she helped raise, is an adventure-seeking physician who finds purpose on his way to Western Africa in support of the controversial colonization effort which seeks to establish a safe-haven for former US slaves in the colony of Liberia.
In the decades leading up to the American Civil War, the siblings find themselves on opposite sides of a monumental political argument as wide and complex as the ocean that separates them. Each must question what it means to fight for freedom and determine whether political and moral convictions are enough to sever the strongest of family bonds.
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Discussion Questions for Book Clubs
August 13, 1837
Even the buzz of the insects hushed as the final preacher of the Sabbath day stepped onto the stage to claim the pulpit. It was this man they’d come to see—the farmers and the merchants, the ladies in their finest silks, the young lawyer who, at the request of his friends, had left piles of work in his office six miles away in Springfield only to hear the renowned speaker.
Peter Akers didn’t disappoint. He was a giant of a man. More than six feet tall and broad with long limbs and large hands that animated his speech, he loomed above the crowd. They leaned into his words in the slick heat of the Illinois summer.
He began his sermon with a text from Zechariah 9:9: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold thy King cometh unto thee. Akers favored the Old Testament prophets, often preaching from these strange and ancient texts sometimes for hours, diving without hesitation into high-minded allegory and apocalyptic language, inviting his congregation to ascend with him to new intellectual heights.
His were not the emotionally exhilarating sermons of his colleagues. He neither condemned nor flattered. His words did not inspire the quaking and contorting otherwise common at camp meeting revivals, yet he held his audience rapt and eager.
Like Jacob of old, Akers wrestled with God, and all who listened came away changed. His sermon danced among the words of God’s prophets, from Zechariah to Isaiah, from Ezekiel’s proclamations of the unrighteous overturned, to the book of Revelation and Babylon’s inevitable fall.
And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise anymore: the merchandise of silver and gold and precious stone, of wine and oil and fine flour, of sheep and horses and chariots and slaves and the souls of men.
Akers paused here, his eyes raised to heaven and at the same time locked into the hearts of each silent person awaiting the forthcoming conclusion, breaths held in anticipation.
“If we interpret the prophecies of this Book correctly. . .” Though the preacher’s commanding voice lowered to nearly a whisper, not a word could be missed. “There will soon come a time when the head and front of this offending shall be broken; a time when slave-ships, like beasts of prey, will no longer steal along the coast of defenseless Africa. When we shall cease to trade in the flesh and souls of men but will instead expel forever from this land the manacle and the whip.
“I am not a prophet,” Akers explained to a congregation that did not believe him. “But a student of the Prophets. American slavery will come to an end in some near decade.”
At these words, shifting and murmuring rose in the crowd, some perhaps angry but most filled with hope and awe at the sheer audacity of the assertion. Undaunted by the excitement, Akers carried on, saying, “Who can tell but that the man who shall lead us through this strife might be standing in this presence.”
This was a pronouncement rather than a question. The preacher paused, giving space for the seed of prophetic vision to find fertile soil.
At the edge of the crowd, the young lawyer drew a long breath, rubbed his weary eyes, and reflected on the preacher’s powerful words.
One of his friends clapped him on the back. “What do you think, Mr. Lincoln? Are you glad you came with us?”
“As odd as it seems,” he answered with only slight hesitation, “When the preacher described those changes and revolutions, I was deeply impressed that I should somehow strangely mix up with them.”
He did not wait for a response from his dumbfounded friend, but stood tall and stretched the stiffness from his shoulders and limbs as he thought of the many tasks awaiting him on his desk, and of the much greater work he’d yet to begin.
Interview with the Historical Novel Society
Praise for White Man’s Graveyard
“A fascinating picture of early 1800s America through the story of one family tossed and turned by the waves of change in their world and within themselves. Slavery, abolitionism, emerging feminism, the founding of the colony of freed slaves in Liberia – this very human story shows us all the different movements and attitudes roiling together at this time in history through its characters’ struggles, losses, and loves.”
—Nancy Kilgore, author of Bitter Magic
“Drawing on her own family’s history, Sarah Angleton has crafted a compelling, well-written novel that encompasses two key anti-slavery forces of the mid-19th century . . . It is eloquent not only of the period in which the story is set but also resonates as we grapple today with the history of slavery in America.”
—Ann Marti Friedman, author of A Fine Tapestry of Murder
“In S. Angleton’s White Man’s Graveyard, the question of abolition and emancipation as a solution for slavery versus the “back to Africa” movement is explored . . . The white man’s graveyard, Liberia, puts ideals and family relationships to the test. This largely true story from the author’s family will keep you reading, and pondering the issues.”
—Michael L. Ross, Amazon bestselling author of the Across the Divide series