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Hannah is banished from the colony because it is illegal for Indians to live in the community. Alone, she must search for her Nanticoke people and find a new life.
No sooner does Hannah's grandmother die than her uncle Percy tells her she is no longer welcome in their home. He tells her to leave the farm and will not relent. Hannah finds herself walking through the winter night with no idea of where she can go in the world.
She spends the winter with Sarah Hunt, a Quaker, who takes her in, but when Sarah's husband comes home, Hannah must take to the road once more until she finds the Nanticoke village where she is welcomed as a clan member and learns to live in the native way.
Life is uncertain for the natives as the white colony grows, leaving no home for the original inhabitants of the Eastern Shore. She lives in the home of Chief Turtle and his woman Calling Bird and earns the name of Heron because she has learned the secret of staying alive. She marries Otter, who dies in an accident while diving for oysters, leaving Heron with a son.
Pressured to find new homes, part of the band takes a journey north to the Susquehannah, where the party is ambushed. Heron hides during the massacre of her adopted father and the braves that were supposed to keep the party safe. She finds herself responsible for Calling Bird and her child. Keeping to the shadows, she leads them back home to the Nanticoke who did not take the northern journey. Once home, she is forced to become the wife of Grub, who has grabbed the title of chief in Turtle's place. She pines for Star Singer, who had looked at her with favor in his eyes, but disappeared during the massacre.
Again, the band is pressed to move, and this time they go through the marshes, and find a home on a remote island where they lead peaceful lives. Fish and game are plentiful for Heron and her people, but they feel threatened when a group of white settlers discover the island. Heron, who remembers the language of her youth, is befriended by John Elliott, who claims the island and builds a home there.
Heron and Star Singer marry and have children, and continue to live peacefully on the island until a hurricane threatens their very lives. Weathering the storm, Heron and her people continue to live on Elliott's Island to this day.
Based on the history of the Eastern Shore, Heron's people still live on the islands, hiding in plain sight as they carry their heritage into new centuries. The unusual cover art for this historical novel is by Snow Hill artist, Dawn M. Tarry
When I was young I thought I would never find my place in the world.
My name is Hannah Carter and my great-grandmother Mary Carter was one of the first white women to set foot on the shores of the New World. She was an old woman when I knew her, but she was still alert, and had a loving heart and sharp tongue during my middle years. I hoped we might have her with us for a long time, for I loved her as the mother I never had. I also loved to hear her stories about the old days in the new area called Dorchester County when the neighbors were miles away and the native people who called themselves Nanticoke would come and leave a haunch of venison on the stoop when the hunting was good.
I would set Mom Maryís stories down if I could, but I am a woman and a native and so have not been allowed to learn to read or write. I can only tell you my story as it unfolded.
Grandma Mary could read and write a little. Her people were gentry. But she fell on hard times, and worked as hard as any slave, coming here as a redemptioner like she did. She never did work off her indenture, though. Her mistress died, and the master married her. Just like that.
She never said so, but I have an idea she didnít like her first husband William Baron very much. It was just something that happened back then. Men married the first handy woman to take care of their homes and children. Women had no power, but much responsibility. It was the way of the world in which she lived.
Tom Carter was another indentured servant, and the love of Mom Maryís life. I donít remember him much. He died of a broken leg and the subsequent infection when I was little. He must have been a wonderful man, though. Hardly is his name spoken than someone has a tale about how Tom Carter helped them put up a barn or break a field. Mom Maryís eyes lit up like a girlís when his name was mentioned, even years after he was gone.
I hoped some day I have that same light of love in my eyes, and I hoped I could do as well in marriage, for it seemed to me that one should love oneís mate. When the young men saw me in town, however, they looked the other way. It was against the law for mixed bloods to marry the white settlers, even if they were the great-granddaughters of the original colonists of this difficult land, and so they looked elsewhere for a wife, despite the dowry Mom Maryís position implied.
My grandmother, Mom Maryís own daughter, married a native man you see. They had a baby boy. When she died, Mom Mary and Tom raised her boy like he was one of their own.
They gave that boy Tom Carterís surname, but my fatherís native people called him Roaring Water because he was born in the teeth of one of the autumn storm that scoured the bay and flattened the dead pines in the marshes. My father didnít take to civilization. As soon as he found his feet, he wandered to the marshes to find where his people hid. He loved hunting and trapping, and fishing, but put his hand to the plow and he would run away every time. Mom Mary said the lad never would stay close to the house, and when he married the woman named Osprey in the native way, she wasnít much surprised when he brought me home for her to raise as well. Osprey died in childbed fever, so I would never have known the love of a mother at all if not for Mom Mary.
I could never understand why the folks in town had no use for the Indians who were so kind to their parents while the soft-handed gentry from Mother England arrived and were forced to learn the ways of husbandry on the Eastern Shore. Without the Nanticoke, who gave them corn and taught them to fish, the first colonists might have starved. They say Captain Smithís party down in Virginia did just that, for no one ever learned to where they disappeared.
Today folks donít wear skins as much as they did in the early days, and there is a lot more beef than venison on their tables, so being a native is not a good thing. Times change, attitudes change. Perhaps in time it will be a good thing to be an Indian, but that I canít foresee. In my time, we might as well have been lepers for all the disdain the whites showed my people.
Mom Mary said people couldnít take a chance the Nanticoke might want to live on some good piece of land that the whites took to farm. She didnít like this segregation Ė more for my sake I think than for the wrongness of the situation. Like all mothers, she wanted me to marry well and to be safe in the world. It hurt her to see people being unkind to me.
Some of my fatherís people had traveled North during my childhood: the ones with the pure blood of the Nanticoke, joining others of the Lenape people who were migrating steadily toward the kingdom of the Iroquois. This choice is not without danger, for the Six Nations did not tolerate invasions by our people well. They were especially suspicious of the people from the marshes and wetlands of the middle colonies for we had different ways.
I will tell you it was no mean thing for my ancestors to live in the forests and marshes of tidewater Maryland. A marsh has its feet wet, but it nourishes all manner of small creatures that in turn nourish men. The Creator made the rabbits, turtles and muskrats that taste so good in our stew pots. The Creator made the fat turkeys and the succulent oysters. The Creator made the eagle that soars high above the marsh, king of all it surveys.
Of food my people had plenty, but as soon as the colonists began to arrive, the Nanticoke found themselves pushed unto the less desirable lands while the immigrant farmers raised the crops of tobacco that sucked all the good from the land and left it unfit for anything but pasture in a few yearís time. The king-across-the-water wanted the tobacco, and the people grew it to pay a tax to the king. Every autumn great ships came to carry the dried tobacco leaves back to England where it was consumed in drawing rooms and coffee shops across the land.
Mom Mary owned land in Virginia, where she had gone to live when she married Tom Carter; but the land at Somerset had been her charge for a lifetime, and when her boys Henry and William fell to the marsh fever, she had chosen to come home to manage the farm and leave her Virginia property in the hands of an overseer who mainly lived in the house and kept it from falling down against the day she might want to return. Mom Mary brought me with her from Virginia and we all lived together: Mom Mary, Jem her adopted son who was old and blind, and a grandson Percy Kinnon, who would inherit it all when she went to meet her Creator.
Of course, I could inherit nothing. Women could not own any property at all in those days. Given that, native women could surely never hope to own the land that had belonged to their people for time untold. The best I could hope is that Percy would not put me out or beat me when Mom Mary was gone. I often saw him look at me in a calculating way that told me he meant me no good.
Uncle Percy was a mean man, sour of face and crooked of limb from a wasting disease in his youth. He rode when he could walk, and kept a fine bay mare with a smooth gait to carry him from field to field. Percy was the child of Harriette, my great-uncle Henryís twin. She had married a man with some standing, for she had a good dowry from the land in Virginia and Mom Mary made sure she was well guarded until her wedding night.
The story goes that Albert Kinnon, Percyís father, had crossed eyes and a powerful yen to return to England. Once he had my aunt in foal, he sold her dowry lands and booked passage on the first ship for London. He was never seen again.
Mom Mary delivered her daughterís son Percy and nurtured him as she did every child that appeared in her life when his mother passed, sick to death of her betrayal. My great-grandmother tried to teach the boy right from wrong, but the lad had a crooked nature to match his deformed body. I hated to think what might come of the farm known as Baronís Hope when Mom Mary was gone. More than that, I hated to think what might happen to me.