Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Tales and Legends, History and Truth: Daisy Turner's Kin by Jane C. Beck

Jane C. Beck, founder of the Vermont Folklife Center, has preserved the remarkable journey of one African American family from the shores of West Africa to the hills of Vermont.

Daisy Turner's stories covered 178 years of her family history, her father's stories dating back to his father's life in Africa. Beck spent several years interviewing Daisy, resulting in the 1990 Peabody Award winning documentary film Journey's End: Memories and Traditions of Daisy Turner and Her Family.

After Daisy's death Beck continued her research, investigating the authenticity and recorded history behind the stories.

Daisy's father Alexander (Alec) Turner (1845-1923) told tales of the family history every night after dinner. His father Alessi was the grandson of a Yoruban chief. His mother was a European woman who survived a shipwreck off the coast of Nigeria. Alessi traded with Europeans; around 1830 traders kidnapped him. After a torturous and eventful passage he landed in America and was illegally sold into slavery to the wealthy and sporting Jack Gouldin of Port Royal, Virginia. Gouldin made Alessi his champion in boxing and cockfighting. Alessi married Rose, who was Cherokee and was knowledgeable in herbal remedies.

Alec felt a strong connection to the Gouldin family; he later named his daughter for the kind granddaughter of his master. But he longed for liberty. During the Civil War he ran away when he was fourteen, and took the name Turner. He was mentored by surgeon and Northern Abolitionist Ferdinand Dayton. As contraband Alec could not join the army but worked as Dayton's personal servant and orderly, carrying wounded men from the field of battle to the hospital. After the war Dayton helped Alec get an education and found him employment. Alec fell in love with a frightened, newly free fourteen-year-old refugee, Sally Early, and she became his wife.

Alec's work took him to a slate mine in Maine and to the lumber mills of Grafton, Vermont, where he established bought land and built his house.  He employed the knowledge gained from his plantation life, patterning his home on the Gouldin manor.

The Turners were extraordinary people. Alec had pride and charisma and ingenuity. He was resourceful, and his strength was legendary. His work ethic and honesty garnered respect from white society. He held a deep Christian faith and taught his children to face trials with "contentment and understanding".

The Turner women were also hard working, proud, and upright. Alec's wife Sally has a strength beyond imagining. And she could write poetry. Daisy learned her facility with words from her parents; she could recite from memory improvisational poems she had created years before.

Turner heirs include Rev. Veronica Lanier, the first African American Baptist minister in New England. During the 20th c the family demanded equality under the law and continued to break down racial barriers.

The Turner family will amaze readers.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Daisy Turner's Kin: An African American Family Saga
by Jane C. Beck
University of Illinois Press
Publication date July 15, 2015
ISBN: 9780252080791
$24.95 paperback