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What’s the Story Behind The Last Laird of Sapelo?

“My fourth novel, The Last Laird of Sapelo, is a historical fiction story revealing how our past legacy inescapably shapes who we are today. The characters in the story, both fictional and actual, play out their drama in this novel about McIntosh County’s storied Georgia coastal region which to this day remains cursed by its past, according to many of their residents.” T. M. Brown

Open Gates Bed & Breakfast is where my wife and I stayed to research Darien’s and Sapelo’s storied past. It was built right after the Civil War on historic Vernon Square.
Darien’s once thriving waterfront was razed in 1863 and the proud port town never recovered to its former greatness. The incident was made famous in the movie, Glory.
Behavior Cemetery is where hundreds of Geechee ancestors are buried on Sapelo. It dates back to the early 19th Century.
Sapelo Island’s moss-laden woodlands shelter far more rugged dirt roads than paved ones on the island.
South End mansion did not survive the Civil War, and today R. J. Reynolds Mansion stands on the same grounds in tribute to Sapelo’s celebrated past.
What did Georgia look like 160 years ago?

The Last Laird of Sapelo is grounded in the Spalding family’s storied, but severed, past. At one time the Spalding family made McIntosh County, Georgia one of the wealthiest coastal settlements in the antebellum South. McIntosh’s port city of Darien is only second to Savannah as the oldest in the Georgia’s long history. And, even today, Darien’s link with Sapelo Island, the largest lost in time antediluvian barrier island on the Georgia coast, remains intact. However, Sapelo’s dwindling Geechee population–descendants of the former slaves who once worked the plantation fields on the island–offers a stark reminder of McIntosh’s conflicted past and the role the Spalding legacy played. In The Last Laird of Sapelo, Randolph Spalding, the youngest of fifteen children brought into this world by Thomas Spalding and his wife, Sarah Leake Spalding. Sadly, only four of his siblings lived long enough to marry and only his three older surviving sisters bore any children. Some of the Spalding children died at or shortly after childbirth, while others died of other causes as they reached adulthood. Some declared a curse followed the Spalding family, and, in fact, what happened to Randolph Spalding and his family bare some semblance to that real possibility. Success, fame, and wealth do not guarantee a long life, one free of misery and suffering.

The Last Laird of Sapelo follows actual historical events leading up to and what followed Georgia’s decision to secede from the Union. It also includes many of the historical figures Randolph Spalding associated with during that time.

The Last Laird of Sapelo presents a blend of fiction and facts to provide a forthright portrayal of a time in our history we should try to better understand. The War Between the States, The War of Secession, War of Southern Rebellion, or as we have been taught in recent decades, the Civil War, according to its well-documented history, begs not to be portrayed simply as a black and white tragic story, but in its far broader shades of grayness. This dramatic story of Randolph Spalding and Sapelo Island attempts to address the blurred grayness behind the causes, challenges, and consequences faced by all families, black or white, wealthy or slave, farmer or plantation owner, politician or merchant.

Watch for The Last Laird of Sapelo, Koehler Books, July 2023.

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