Barbara Lockhart

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Dorchester County writer Barbara Lockhart tells us about her latest novel of historical fiction: Elizabeth's Field.

Barbara Lockhart has been writing all her life, though her profession for twenty five years was teaching kindergarten. After that she went back to school for an MFA in writing. She has written three children's books and two novels. In her latest book Elizabeth's Field Barbara tells the history of the place where she lives through the people who lived there before her.

Barbara Lockhart:
An elderly African American neighbor named Mary Taylor shared her life story with Barbara and this was the core of the novel's plot. The character that represents her is named Mattie, who speaks from the afterlife as the story of her family unfolds. Barbara recorded her neighbor's story and has donated that recording to the Maryland State Archives. Before passing in the year 2000, Mary expressed being very proud of this. Barbara said "She gave me the voice that I needed."

The real Mary was always curious about her background, since her grandmother had been a slave and was not comfortable talking about those years. Barbara says she "sort of composed a family for Mary. God forgive me, maybe she will too." Barbara says it was very interesting to discover the history because it is not often spoken of in Dorchester County where she lives and her book takes place. Barbara says that it is very much the old South and a farming community there. The novel takes place in the 1850's before the Civil War. Barbara says the black churches kept the stories alive of Harriet Tubman and Sam Green. But otherwise these matters were kept silent especially in the white community.

Sam Green was a minister who lived just down the road from where Barbara now lives. She says she passed his little white church every day on her way to school to teach. Green was arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison for reading a book. That book was Uncle Tom's Cabin. He was an agent for the Underground Railroad and he was connected to Harriet Tubman. But, "they couldn't get him for that."

Slaves could buy themselves and Sam Green did that and proceeded to help his race. The authorities wanted to arrest him for his activities helping runaway slaves. But when they searched his house the only evidence they found that they could use against him was the book. He did not have to serve his complete sentence. Barbara found his story very compelling and wanted his story which is not widely known to be told.

Another inspiration for the story came when Barbara found out while researching her deed, that the farm on which she lives, in the 1850's belonged to a "free Negress." The woman owned the property for five years. Details were not clear. But there was enough to form the beginnings of the book. Barbara then spent nine years researching what was happening in Dorchester County in the 1850's.

All of her writing has centered on the Eastern Shore. Though she grew up in the Bronx, New York, she has been here for over forty years. "The landscape is interwoven in my work." Barbara says the land itself has always been another character in the book that people struggle against or work with. So there are many passages in her work where the mood is reflected in nature or the reverse of that. She says that she lives very close to nature and that is one of the ways she really likes to write.

Barbara has created a conservation easement on her farm to preserve it from development. Her own story is now interwoven with the actual past and the imaginary one of her books character Mattie. This connection is evident when Barbara reads a passage from the novel in which Mattie says she has finished her quest to understand the past.

Barbara Lockhart:
"Now I'm done lookin' back. I can look ahead. I see trees growin' on Elizabeth's field. Their roots are holding Perry and Elizabeth's bones. Deer come, and fox, and hundreds of birds. And everything what gone away comin' back coverin' ever-thin over with life. What's left is the story. Pass it along with yours cuz the tellin' keeps us understanding things."

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