The Purchase is the story of a Quaker family, disowned by the community of Brandywine, Pennsylvania and sent into exile. When they settle on the Virginia frontier, their pacifist and abolitionist convictions are challenged and eventually betrayed by one terrible decision. This is the story of a family unraveling bit by heartbreaking bit. It won Canada’s prestigious Governor General’s Fiction Prize. Linda Spalding is from Kansas and lives in Toronto with her husband, Michael Ondaatje. Thank you, Linda.
How to Write About Your Grandfather’s Grandfather….. And Why.
I was in the fourth grade when I learned that I am descended from slave owners. It came as part of a story about my family’s migration to Kansas. “First, we freed all our slaves,” the story began. It was the year my father was making enemies in Topeka, Kansas by desegregating the schools and I couldn’t understand his casual reference to “our” slaves. But there was an even earlier part of the story that no one had told me. That first slave owner – the man who had put his hand up at an auction down near the Cumberland Gap in Virginia – was a Quaker. He had been sent into exile by his Pennsylvania community for some infraction, some breaking of rules. He was a widower with a wagon full of children, a new wife and nowhere to go. When I eventually learned his history, I was determined to understand how he could have betrayed his own beliefs, since the Quakers were fervent abolitionists. I wondered what could cause such a betrayal and how it would effect you once the decision was made. I felt I could almost reach back in time since I remembered my paternal grandfather with his somber bearing and white beard and his grandfather was only that little bit more removed. Daniel. In his thirties when he left Pennsylvania to find a new home and probably ill prepared to live in the wild, on the frontier without the help of friends or neighbors.
In order to get to know Daniel, I made the long drive that he had made, right through the Shenandoah Valley on what used to be called The Wilderness Road. At the end of it, much to my astonishment, I found the big red brick mansion built by Daniel’s son, and behind that, a pile of logs and stones that had once been Daniel’s cabin. Every brick of the big house had been molded by a slave, but Daniel’s cabin was a humble place. Now I wanted to know the whole story and I went to the courthouse and looked at deeds and census records. I began doing research, trying to put myself in Daniel’s place. He had a new wife, married quickly after the death of his first wife in childbirth. It was all pretty clear. Wife number two was a Methodist and for the sin of marrying out of his faith, Daniel had been shunned and sent into exile. Needing a mother for his orphaned children he had driven them all to the edge of the world, for in 1798, when Daniel left Pennsylvania, the Cumberland Gap was the edge of the United States.
Of course I still can’t be sure why Daniel betrayed a conviction against slave owning that he must have held close to his heart. But I know the betrayal damaged him and his children and even his descendants. And understanding that was the great discovery of The Purchase.
Winner of Canada's 2012 Governor General's Award for Fiction
In this provocative and starkly beautiful historical novel, a Quaker family moves from Pennsylvania to the Virginia frontier, where slaves are the only available workers and where the family’s values and beliefs are sorely tested.
In 1798, Daniel Dickinson, recently widowed and shunned by his fellow Quakers when he marries his young servant girl to help with his five small children, moves his shaken family down the Wilderness Road to the Virginia/Kentucky border. Although determined to hold on to his Quaker ways, and despite his most dearly held belief that slavery is a sin, Daniel becomes the owner of a young boy named Onesimus, setting in motion a twisted chain of events that will lead to tragedy and murder, forever changing his children’s lives and driving the book to an unexpected conclusion.
A powerful novel of sacrifice and redemption set in a tiny community on the edge of the frontier, this spellbinding narrative unfolds around Daniel’s struggle to maintain his faith; his young wife, Ruth, who must find her own way; and Mary, the eldest child, who is bound to a runaway slave by a terrible secret. Darkly evocative, The Purchase is as hard-edged as the realities of pioneer life. Its memorable characters, drawn with compassion and depth, are compellingly human, with lives that bring light to matters of loyalty and conscience.
Linda Spalding was born in Kansas and lived in Mexico and Hawaii before immigrating to Canada in 1982. She is the author of three critically acclaimed novels, Daughters of Captain Cook, The Paper Wife, and (with her daughter Esta) Mere. Her nonfiction includes The Follow (Canadian title, short-listed for the Trillium Book Award and the Pearson Writers’ Trust Prize, and published in the US as A Dark Place in the Jungle), Riska: Memories of a Dayak Girlhood (shortlisted for the Kiriyama Prize), and Who Named the Knife. She has been awarded the Harbourfront Festival Prize for her contribution to the Canadian literary community. The Purchase received Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award and its Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Spalding lives in Toronto, where she is the editor of Brick magazine.
Visit Linda's website at www.lindaspalding.com.
Because of Thanksgiving, I'll run this contest until Sunday night, Dec. 1. If you'd like to enter to win a copy of The Purchase, email me at Lesa.Holstine@gmail.com. Your subject heading should read "Win The Purchase." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please.