Somerset Homecoming

Like many who were moved by television’s dramatization of Alex Haley’s ROOTS, Dorothy Spruill Redford began to explore her own family’s history through interviews and local library archives, discovering that their resources were sadly lacking in information about the black population both before and after national emancipation. Redford persisted in her search, however, tracing her lineage to a group of men and women imported for slave labor at Josiah Collins’ Somerset Place plantation in 1786. With this knowledge she was able to identify descendants of the plantation’s population to the 1980’s.

Citizens of the United States of America have long upheld comforting but corrosive myths that obfuscate bitter truths of their national history. Redford’s narrative demonstrates how a sober recognition of facts can be an occasion for reconciliation and growth. In confronting the often-painful reality of the nation’s slave economy (to pursue her endeavor, she was obliged to shift from census data kept in libraries to property records kept in courthouses), she discovered many reasons to take pride in the accomplishments of her ancestors. Her positive attitude permeates her narrative and characterizes the 1986 reunion of plantation descendants that serves as its climax.

A tenacious and clear-sighted amateur historian, Redford used her journey into the past to gain a deeper understanding of her own nature and destiny. Appointed curator of Somerset Place in recognition of her work, she dedicated herself to introducing realism to this national historic site in North Carolina. Her attractively designed and easily understood book is recommended for all families.