What do you think? The Last Laird of Sapelo: The Randolph Spalding Story has served as my working title for my new historical novel, but it also sounds far too academic. After spending a weekend with author-peers at a writing conference on St. Simon’s Island and taking a three-hour boat tour of the tidewater around Darien/Sapelo Island, a new more meaningful title struck me — “Days of Cotton and Cannons”
For those who followed my journey in writing this story, now smack in the middle of the submission/query stage seeking the right publisher/agent, what do you think?
Why is Sapelo Island the setting for my historical novel, “The Last Laird of Sapelo: The Randolph Spalding Story”?
This 16,000 acre feral, time-lost barrier island remains pretty much cut off from the mad-rush of progress. It remains as it was for centuries long ago except for a few relics of man’s cultural attempts to tame the island.
By 1861, the Spalding family owned most all of Sapelo. Though Randolph and his famous father before him argued against Secession during the decade before the South voted to leave the Union, by spring of 1861, the Spaldings found themselves in the crosshairs of Federal warships sailing south to throttle the South’s merchant ships. Savannah, less than 50 miles up the coast, became a prime target of the blockade while gunships threatened all of Georgia’s barrier islands. Facing the final cotton harvest in the fall of 1861, Colonel Randolph Spalding answered the call to defend Georgia. Robert E. Lee ordered militia to man the barrier islands and built earthen fortifications (redoubts) with gunnery crews ready to discourage federal ships from reaching the mainland. Colonel Spalding became the regimental commander of the militia sent to Sapelo and found himself caught between protecting his plantation interests, his family, and nearly 400 slaves, along with commanding four companies of raw militia troops bivouacking around his family’s famous South End mansion. Sapelo’s miasma and untamed environs took far more lives than enemy fire.
Spalding moved his family to Baldwin County, along with nearly all his slaves and their families, by January 1862. In the meantime, Robert E. Lee ordered the withdrawal of all militia from the barrier islands after the fall of Port Royal in late 1861. Randolph left Sapelo Island and served as an aide-de-camp staff officer in Savannah by early 1862 and never saw Sapelo again. March 1862, he received a hero’s funeral and his body placed beside Colonel Francis Barlow, the first celebrated Georgia casualty of the war, killed at Manassas, July 1861.
What makes this a story of significance?
What makes this a story of significance? It neither condones nor justifies the institution of slavery. History records virtually all the Spalding family’s freed slaves found their way back to deserted Sapelo by the end of the war. The Spalding family had promised them the right to live on the land, so they returned and settled the only land and homes they knew. By 1868, Randolph’s widow and family returned to Sapelo—not as masters but co-inhabitants alongside the Geechee descendants. Randolph’s daughter and her husband were the last of the Spalding family on the island when a wealthy automobile magnate purchased Sapelo in the early 1900s when the census recorded 450 Geechee ancestors lived on Sapelo.
Sadly, 100 years later, less than fifty Geechee ancestors remain on Sapelo, and the State of Georgia has owned and managed most of the island for the last fifty years. Access remains by boat.
Historical records reveal enough to show that although the Spaldings brought the original slaves to Sapelo between 1800 to 1865, Sapelo’s Geechee community suffered far greater harm over the course of the last century. Yes, the institution of slavery left an indelible dark stain on America’s legacy, but racism continues to stain Sapelo’s legacy. Though we all regret the institution of slavery ever existed, history reveals not all plantation owners treated their slaves cruelly and inhumanely. The Spalding story is one that has been worth over two years of research and writing. Watch for news when the book comes out.
In the meantime, this video offers a timeless taste of Sapelo Island and its story.
Enjoy and please subscribe to get the latest news about when The Last Laird of Sapelo will be launched in 2023.
I am headed to St Simon Island to attend the Southeastern Writers Conference this weekend, and to enjoy some well-deserved, overdue family time, before we cruise Sapelo Island once again. I want to give my grandkids a firsthand telling of the history that surrounds Sapelo Island before we soak up the sun on the beaches during our weeklong vacation.
Thank you for joining me on this journey through history… For you Shiloh Mystery lovers: Who knows what new escapades Theo, Liddy and their Shiloh friends may find themselves enthralled? News coming for book four in the coming months.
In the meantime, please visit the bookstore page to order, read and review any of the three current Shiloh novels still outstanding on your to-be-read list. Thank you.
Not familiar with Newnan, Georgia–take a brief video tour. Click the image below to learn more about historic Newnan, the City of Homes.
Southern Lit Fest, June 3-5 features local published authors and a host of celebrities, including Karen White, Sean Dietrich, and Bill Oberst, Jr. as Lewis Grizzard.
Kickoff the weekend at Newnan’s Historic Train Depot where Michael Scott, Newnan Carnegie Library Foundation and T. M. Brown, Hometown Novel Writers Association and local Southern author, host the Hometown Author Celebration with several featured hometown authors roasting and toasting the literary legacy of Coweta County. It is free to the public. Please register for the free tickets.
Fictional Towns and Settings are inspired by REAL PLACES.
Saturday, June 4th, 10-2 PM local authors will be on hand at Corner Arts Gallery to sign and talk about their books during Market Day activities on Court Square!
Downtown Newnan also welcomes Candle Wick Books at the corner of Washington and Brown Street, directly across the street from First Baptist Church. This new cozy bookstore provides access to new releases and select titles to suit all tastes. Follow the link to learn more.
After two past postponements, the highly anticipated Southern LitFest 2022 kicks off, Friday evening June 3rd at Newnan, GA’s historic train depot with its Hometown Author program, and then Saturday begins an all-day schedule of events in and around downtown Newnan, and ends with the celebrated Bourbon On the Porch entertaining schedule of stops at historic locales in Newnan, Saturday evening.
I will serve as a judge for the Friday evening Hometown Author program. At least eight best-selling, award-winning local authors will each present a toast and roast of the Newnan’s famous literary heritage. Come and enjoy a weekend of top-notch programs with national celebrity authors and programs.
Visit Southern Lit Fest website for more information, schedule of programs and events, and details on the celebrity authors participating.
How is it Margaret Mitchell, Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, Erskine Caldwell, James Dickey, Pat Conroy and the legacy of so many other great Southern authors have endured long after they left us? And, today Southern authors like Fannie Flagg, Alice Walker, Kathryn Stockett, Jeswyn Ward, Charles Frazier, Greg Iles, Charles Martin, Rick Bragg, and even John Grisham are still securing their legacy for future generations.
Let’s not forget the endless stream of fresh literary voices beckoning us with new Southern-laced literary works that supply the timeless and borderless demand for memorable flawed heroes, victims, and villains depicted in colorful Southern settings dealing with 21st-Century challenges and changes.
What constitutes a great Southern story?
First of all, truth be told, I don’t know how to write the next best-selling Southern Novel. Of course, if I did happen to know how, I’d be too busy writing it and more than likely have my eyes cast on writing at least three. Three best-selling Southern novels would leave the kind of legacy that any writer would only dream about. But at least I know one when I see one. That’s because really great best-selling Southern novels are discovered, not written. In fact, none of the aforementioned authors began writing the next great Southern novel. They merely wrote what resided within them to write.
The indelible mark of a Southern Author
Being reared in the South leaves an indelible mark on one’s soul where inspiration and motivation sprouts from fertile memories, the good and the bad, to write compelling stories. Aspiring writers with souls stained and strained growing up in the South cannot write anything else worthwhile. Southern stories come to life experientially. An author might learn the mechanics of creative writing, but no classroom can replicate growing up and experiencing life in the South. There’s no better fodder for storytelling than lending an ear to the tall-tales of folks spinning yarns in the South. We may hear such tales while eating dinner, attending church, getting a haircut at a local barbershop, or at a beauty parlor for the women-folk, and let’s not neglect sitting on a neighbor’s porch.
The Southern Author Is Too Polite to Name Names
I have learned one thing in my sixty-eight years, fiction is just the truth and reality wearing a mask and being stretched a might to be more palatable, and often more plausible. You see, more than not, the truth just ain’t as believable as the tall-tales that follow.
Now there are certain trademarks of any Southern story, they revolve around food, family, friendships, faith, and football. Right off, if any story fails to mention the sipping, swallowing, or gulping of sweet tea, consider it suspect right away. Also, in the South, a coke may not mean a Coca-Cola, and whiskey didn’t originate here, but it was perfected here. In fact, the tales of Cooter Brown’s perpetual drunkenness is a Southern-rooted legend.
Grits, gravy, and greens are menu staples, morning, noon and night. Anything else worth eating is also usually fried. Peaches, pecans, and peanuts are the foundation of many epic desserts too.
In the South, Change Arrives Reluctantly
It may be the 21st-Century, however, “Yes, ma’am” and “No, sir” are not derisive retorts but words of respect to our elders. Boys and grown men instinctively grab the door for a woman or young lady. Now, that’s not saying Southern gals don’t have spunk. Lord, just rile a Southern girl and you’ll learn right quick they invented sass. They also know, you know, you likely deserved it.
The 21st-Century Southern woman exited the confines of the kitchen and no longer remains in the shadows cast by men. She forges her own identity in society and dares men to catch up to her.
Some Traditions Linger
Of course, when someone approaches on a back road, there will be a casual exchange of raised fingers atop their respective steering wheels. It’s an evolution of the tradition that declares in the South no one stays a stranger for long. Handshakes and friendly howdies transform strangers into friends whether visiting or just passing through. What has changed is the inclusion of women in those customary exchanges.
But Some Traditions Remain Steadfast in the South
Last but not least, it’s downright hard to distinguish faith from football conversations. They both can offer the same fervor. In the South, the Lord’s Day is Sunday and everyone agrees that God graces every church, small or large, but Saturday, God sports our team colors, sits on our side of the field and favors our victories.
Now there’s a heap more we could wrangle back and forth about on this subject, but I reckon you’ve got the gist. We may not always plainly define it, but we sure know when we have read a great Southern novel. When we come to the last page and close a good southern novel, we feel sad because it ended.
T. M. Brown
First published May 2020, Purgatory, A Progeny’s Quest, is the third book in the Shiloh Mystery Series. Re-released March 2022. Theo just can’t seem to avoid landing smack dab in the middle of life-altering threats and conflicts that shatter the peace and tranquility of lil’ ol’ Shiloh. Some family trees get shaken and familiar characters face life and death decisions to protect others in the next story.
Watch for Fifth Anniversary Editions coming soon of Sanctuary & Testament!
What began as an experiment, over four years ago, has grown in the number of local Georgia authors impacted and introduced, as well as in the number of programs and places growing our fledgling organization. Hometown Novel Writers also has added regular meetings and workshops for aspiring writers of all levels.
Way back in the Summer of 2016 I attended my first SWA Writers Conference at St. Simon Island’s Epworth Retreat Center. There I discovered author-friends who have continued to this day as mentors, encouragers, and close friends.
Here is the link to the Southeastern Writers webpage where you sign up to attend this summer’s conference. You’ll automatically have the opportunity to join the association and receive future newsletters as well. In the meantime, enjoy the April issue of the SWA Newsletter… It refers to the new edition of Purgatory, A Progeny’s Quest.
In my upcoming historical novel, Sapelo Island is the home of South End, Chocolate, Bourbon, Kenan Fields, High Point, Marsh Landing, and Blackbeard’s Island–all names associated with the fifteen by three-mile barrier island off the Georgia coast as the War Between the States breaks out. The Spalding family’s legacy now rests in what was called the Spalding City of the Dead, a family burial plot near that family’s mainland home, Ashantilly, a short drive above the once thriving port of Darien, Georgia.
Today, much has changed. Darien is no longer the bustling seaport rivaling even Savannah at one time, and Sapelo Island no longer produces cotton, sugarcane, indigo, and rice as it once did. In fact, none of the coastal plantations exist any longer except for historical markers and community namesakes. Yet, Sapelo Island’s and Darien’s history goes back hundreds of long forgotten years.
My wife and I stopped in Darien in the summer of 2019 after a writers’ conference on Saint Simon Island for a bite of lunch. Immediately, I pondered using the quaint time-lost feel of this shrimp boat hub on the Georgia coast as the setting for one of my southern fiction stories. We returned for a week-long stay the following summer to research the town with the notion I could bring my Shiloh Mystery characters to town, but soon found myself entranced by the history of Sapelo Island after we spent a long day traipsing the island from one end to the other (at least as far as we could safely go without getting stuck in the soft sand and mud that made up most of the roads or should I say trails on the island).
I then stumbled upon Buddy Sullivan’s Early Days of the Georgia Tidewater, The Story of McIntosh County& Sapelo. I discovered the rich history of Sapelo and Darien, dating back to Oglethorpe’s founding of New Inverness, later known as Darien–the second oldest town in Georgia. Then I read about the McIntosh clan who settled in the area.
And yes, for my Coweta County friends, the same family whence William McIntosh haled and married Senoia, altering the fate and future generations of Creek Nation lands in Georgia. But that’s another story to be told.
From the McIntosh clan, the Leake clan and Spalding clans emerged up and down the coast in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
By 1800, Thomas Spalding arrived on Sapelo Island with his wife, Sarah Leake Spalding and South End came into being. Of their fifteen children born between 1800 and 1822, only five outlived Thomas (1851) and Sarah (1843). Three daughters married and bore children with the names of Brailsford, Wylly, and Kenan. Of the two sons, Charles, the eldest surviving son, had two wives but no children; only the youngest, Randolph bore three Spalding children. His family’s story is the basis behind my upcoming story…
Why this story? As my editor shared after reading my manuscript: History is not as black and white as we might believe, much grayness exists that we should learn about. The Randolph Spalding Story offers shades of gray that will enhance our understanding of history. His is a tragic story, as is his family’s story, and important to retell.
In the meantime, follow the below link to read another modern account about Sapelo Island today. I will provide periodic insights into Sapelo Island, Darien, and other parts of the Georgia coast, including Savannah, in the coming weeks and months as we all wait for the release of my latest historical novel.
Beginning Saturday, April 2nd until April 9th, the KINDLE edition of Purgatory will be available at $.99 each and slowly rise to $1.99 and then $2.99 over the course of the promo period. So, don’t hesitate! Read and the leave a review of this award-winning thriller… recognized as a finalist in the 2021 Silver Falchion Award for Best Suspense Novel at the Killer Nashville Annual Conference last summer. It placed third for the Southeastern Writers Annual Conference’ s Hal Barnard Fiction Award in 2019. Go to AMAZON and order today..
KINDLE UNLIMTED members. Order your copy today and please leave a review as well. Every click helps, as does every review. Thanks, Mike
In Purgatory, A Progeny’s Quest: Theo is knee deep in mystery—again. And it all began with a trip to an auction to help Zeb purchase a classic limo to use in the Miss Shiloh parade. Faster than you can say “come and get it”, an orphaned teenager is dropped at his door, a mobster hits town intent on making that limo his own, and a dead body is found floating in Shiloh Creek. But when Pepper and Woogie are kidnapped, Theo, Mitch, John, Hank, Camille, and more show the bad guy a thing or two about messing with folks in a small town.
“T. M. Brown’s characters are rich, the story is compelling . . . the language is clever and poetic. . . It is an extraordinary tale written by an exceptional author. I will read this book again.” —RAYMOND L. ATKINS author of Set List, Sweetwater Blues, and Camp Redemption
This 10-year-old video by Mattie Gladstone spurred my interests in learning more about Randolph Spalding, which led to my current story, The Last Laird of Sapelo.
My wife and I toured the property with permission from Mattie Gladstone’s surviving son and daughter who still live there. With a little imagination, one can visualize the original grand farmstead house and outbuildings built by Randolph Spalding when he moved his family off Sapelo Island in 1857. This video is amazing and has over 58,000 views with nearly 900 likes.
We have loads of pictures allowing me to write details of this antebellum home north of Darien, located in the area called The Ridge. Enjoy… History is not all black and white, they are many shades of gray we should all take time to understand.
Follow the link (it could not be embedded) for this heart-warming description of Randolph Spalding’s circa 1857 farmstead home along the tidal marshes above Darien, GA. Why did he give up living in the grand tabby constructed South End Mansion, aptly named “Big House” by his famous father, Thomas Spalding. Both historic homes play integral parts in The Last Laird of Sapelo: The Randolph Spalding Story.
Watch for more historical tidbits that make up my new novel currently being submitted to agents and publishers.