Roots: The Saga of an American Family Chapter 111 Summary

Alex Haley

Chapter 111 Summary

Tom and Irene have another girl, Ellen. The day after Ellen is born, Matilda reminds Tom of the importance of telling the family story from Kunta Kinte on down. Tom admits that if someone ever forgot to tell the story to any newborn infant, surrounded by kin, the ghost of “Gran’mammy Kizzy” would terrorize them all. 

The Civil War rages and news of battles reaches the Murray plantation almost daily. The air is hot with numerous Confederate battles fought and won. White plantation owners laugh at Lincoln losing personal friends on the battlefield.

The Murray slaves begin to lose hope of freedom. In 1862, things get worse when Mr. Cates (now Confederate “Major” Cates) informs Tom that, at Mr. Murray’s request, he will be shoeing horses for the cavalry every other week.

Stationed by tents of trash, Tom works as the cavalry blacksmith. With so many men fighting, the line of horses needing new shoes seems endless. One night, Tom finds a ragged white teenager trying to steal half-eaten food. He drops the trash and runs away. Soldiers ask Tom what happened but don’t believe him. They accuse Tom of stealing, tell Major Cates, and have Tom whipped severely.

Wounded and beaten, Tom staggers back onto the Murray plantation. The Murrays are disgusted. Tom vows never to return, and Mr. Murray is happy to oblige. Tom is allowed to go back to the Murray blacksmith shop to do his work.

Tom hears more news. Even though there are still some Confederate victories, there are more draws now. With Irene pregnant again, the slaves wish they could stop hearing endless stories of fighting and killing.

Amazingly, the same teen who stole trash from the cavalry knocks on Tom’s door begging for food. Tom tells him he knows he's doing more than begging; the boy runs away. He appears the next morning at the big house. Mr. Murray learns he is George Johnson, a poor white boy who grew up working the fields. He left his home in South Carolina when battles destroyed the crops. He agrees to stay on as overseer (although he has no idea what this involves).

Angry at first, the Murray slaves realize he is the first quality white person they have ever met. He works the fields with great sincerity, only stopping to pretend to yell at them when Mr. Murray approaches. Slave row is thrilled, expressing approval with the nickname “Ol’ George.”