I’ve begun a new project, tentatively titled “On the River’s Back,” which begins where the last chapter of Trace leaves off. The Chesapeake tidewater was the site of the first permanent English settlement in what would become the United States. Powhatan, Nanticoke, Piscataway, and other Native peoples had long claimed the area as tribal homeland. Yet colonists soon established a tobacco export economy, powered primarily by enslaved Africans. I’ve begun exploring the history of one African-American family of mixed European and indigenous heritage and its ties to the tidewater and Piedmont from the colonial era to the Civil War. The story of these people—my father’s people—is entangled with the origin and growth of the nation’s capital along the Potomac River. Family members’ relationships to the land were circumscribed by their status as indentured, enslaved, or free.
Narratives told of the colonial and early national history of this region still rarely integrate the landscape with the confluences of peoples and cultures. To piece together the history of a family whose bloodlines originated on three continents, and to place it within the context of an environmental history of the Chesapeake tidewater and Piedmont where they converged, would site memory and blood in the land and in time. I don’t yet know what I will find, but I must continue the search. Join me.