The novel includes several characters from the Montfort family, white slaveholders from Bermuda who move to the United States after slavery is made illegal on the island.
In the Montforts' new home in North Carolina, Charles Montfort, the patriarch of the family, assumes they will be welcome, but he underestimates the ruthlessness of his neighbors. As rumors circulate that he plans to free his slaves, other owners decide to take steps against him. One man, Anson Pollock, gets close to him by pretending to be his friend. He undermines the family’s position by circulating rumors that Mrs. Montfort has African ancestry, which would effectively render her an outcast in Southern society. Tensions culminate in Hank Davis, who is hired by Pollock, shooting and killing Charles Montfort in his home. Montfort's terrified wife fears she will be raped, but instead she is whipped as if she were a slave.
Mrs. Montfort’s arms were grasped by rude hands, and she was forcibly drawn out upon the veranda, where in the sunlight o the beautiful morning she saw the body of her husband lying downward. She was dimly conscious of hearing the cries of the frightened slaves mingled with the screams of her children. Through it all she realized but two things—that the lifeless object lying there so still was the body of her husband, and that the sensual face of Anson Pollock, whom she had grown to loathe and fear, was gloating over her agony, devilish in its triumph.
The novel shifts in time and space, and another section takes place in Boston almost a century later. An African American girl from the south, Sappho, is living in New England for the first time. Even though slavery has been abolished, she is keenly aware of the many repressive practices that held her back in the South, and she is getting used to the different social climate in which she now finds herself—an environment characterized by superior, “vigorous activity.”
The Negro, while held in contempt by many, yet reflected the spirit of his surroundings in his upright carriage, his fearlessness in advancing his opinions, his self-reliance, his anxiety to obtain paying employment that would give to his family some few of the advantages enjoyed by the more favored classes of citizens, his love of...
(The entire section is 588 words.)