Novelist Barbara Lockhart has created a rare fictional opportunity to learn about life on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Two books, one a historical novel, Elizabeth’s Field, and the second, Collected Stories, are just in time for a great read and welcome insight into some of our Nation’s struggles today.
Lockhart moved to the Eastern Shore 50 years ago. A native of New York, she acknowledges the culture shock of her arrival having lived in the confined world of the city. Her life as a kindergarten teacher permitted her a view into the Eastern Shore way of life. Always a writer, by the time she retired, she had some novels stored up.
In an interview with Lockhart, she explained her path. While researching title to her farm in Dorchester County, Lockhart discovered a deed that indicated that from 1852-57 her land had been owned by Elizabeth Burton, described as “a freed negress.” For the next nine years, Lockhart spent time researching Burton’s life and her ceaseless grappling to hold fast to her land.
Elizabeth’s Field and the strong fictional character Elizabeth grew out of that research, revealing a view into the everyday lives of slaves and freed blacks before the Civil War.
A character of interest is Mattie. She is based on the real-life Mary who lived in a lean-to hovel on the farm next to Lockhart’s. The author has wisely and gratefully captured the vivid memories of Mary’s servitude as a field hand that had been spelled out in an oral history.
“I could not have written the book without her,” Lockhart said.
The reader is also introduced to Reverend Samuel Green, whose church still stands about three miles from Lockhart’s farm. A “freed” man, he was jailed for ten years just for possessing a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This popular novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, published in 1852, was an abolitionist’s outcry that was read widely and also performed on stage, melodramatically denouncing the injustice of slavery. It was denounced in states like Maryland where slavery was authorized by law.
Harriet Tubman and her heroic work creating “The Railway” are woven into the fabric of Elizabeth’s Field. Tubman never followed the same route twice on the many valiant trips guiding those fleeing from enslavement, nor did she alert the trusted few who secretly provided the safe stops, which included Elizabeth Burton and Sam Green.
Lockhart provides a stark, but resilient presentation of her characters’ lives – sustaining themselves on little, often illiterate, caring for each other, never sure that any rare good fortune would not be stolen from them. Yet they loved and were loved, and made fun where and when they could. Most were determined not to give up when they had to give in.
Lockhart’s Collected Stories is a refreshing glimpse into segments of life on the rural Eastern Shore of Maryland. The first story sets the scene by taking the reader on a flight over the small town of Pickum. “In and out of windows…..through pet doors and attic vents,” gathering impressions throughout the town and into the farmyards of those characters the reader is about to meet.
We can all reflect on periods in our own lives that we have carefully planned to unfold one way, and an unexpected twist rearranges the events. The characters introduced in each story find themselves in situations that call for adjustments in their plan. It is a rare experience to reach into another’s mind and share their experiences.
Lockhart taught school during some of the 40 years she has lived within an Eastern Shore nature conservancy.
We discussed her books and my impression that her characters and stories were enlightening and would enrich readers.
She reflected, ”When it is inside you, you just can’t help it.”
Sometimes we are so busy accelerating our own lives that we don’t question if we have left anyone behind, or if we have neglected to acknowledge those that have contributed to our lives. Barbara Lockhart has raised shades that have here-to-fore been drawn or maybe we have just had our eyes closed.
Elizabeth’s Field closes with these wise words from Mary (Mattie): “Now, that I am done looking back, I can look ahead.” She muses about how life and plants come and go over time, but “Everthin’ what went away comin’ back, coverin’ everythin’ over with life. What’s left is the story. Pass it along with yours. The tellin’ keeps us understandin’ things.”
To learn more about Barbara Lockhart and her earlier writing online visit her site. Her books are available both in bookstores and online.