A deeply, patiently researched journey into the unusual English-African roots of a long-lived Grafton, Vermont, storyteller.
Emeritus director of the Vermont Folklife Center, Beck was a folklorist employed by the state arts council in 1983 when she first met the extraordinary Daisy Turner, then 100 years old and a well-known modern-day Homer situated on her family homestead of Journey’s End in Grafton. In the tradition of the West African griot, a kind of genealogist, historian and singer, Turner was the keeper of her large family’s narrative, as had been her father and grandfather. Beck believed her stories should be recorded and preserved. Over two years, they worked together, culminating in the 1990 documentary Journey’s End: Memories and Traditions of Daisy Turner and Her Family, which won a Peabody Award. Although Daisy died in 1988, Beck felt compelled to complete the project in book form, allowing the stories of Daisy’s grandfather Alessi and father, Alec, to unfold more elaborately while detailing how the factual record dovetailed nicely with the kept memories. The tale starts with a young English wife shipwrecked off the West African coast and rescued by a Yoruban chief’s son; she was sheltered by the tribe and, by all accounts, resolved to stay. Her baby, by the chief’s son, was called Alessi. He spoke English and was rather arrogant, trading in the sale of his own people, until he, too, found himself on a slave ship destined for New Orleans. His extraordinary strength and fighting prowess kept him in good stead with his wealthy Virginia master. His son Alec, born in 1845, escaped during the Civil War and became an orderly for a Union officer before venturing to work in Vermont and buy land in Grafton. Daisy tried for years to procure his soldier’s pension, remaining litigious and single all her life. Throughout the book, her quotes appear in italics, preserving the folksy, feisty temperament of the vernacular.
A well-excavated biography of a “custodian of a multigenerational American family saga.”