Chesapeake by James A Michener is an epic historical fiction that explores 400 years of American history all about the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. The novel starts out in 1583 and ends in 1978. The stories are so real, vivid, and intertwined in history that you can almost swear Michener is telling family dynasty’s through the years. This novel is deep in historical fiction and has a 13 page appendix of historical help. We get 14 vignettes or slices of life from about 5 main families and how they changed through out the years. I like that the story does not just stick to humans and tells stories of a Canadian geese migrating for the winter and a Maryland crab surviving the fresh water of the Bay. The novel starts with the American Indian, before the white man has touched the land. Events, people and pieces of history that characters have a direct interaction with in Chesapeake: John Smith, Henry The Eighth, George Washington, Ben Franklin, American Revolution, War of 1812, Dread Scott, Franklin Douglass, Civil War, Spanish Armada, Blackbeard the Pirate, King George, Abraham Lincoln, Boston Tea Party, Irish Potato Famine, World War I, Adolf Hitler, World War II, Watergate Scandal, and Richard Nixon. This epic 1,000 page book offers topics on religion, slavery, racism, poverty, farming, ship building, life, and freedom. This book taught me a lot on history and explained things history books can’t or will not. The text broke down arguments showing 2 and sometime 3 sides of an argument. The flow of the book is steady I loved some chapters over overs but only one chapter out of 14 was a letdown. This book would probably be banned in schools since it is so race heavy which is sad because it shows all sides to the issue, it made me cry showing mistreatment of people over race and religion that are still going on today. Trigger warning the book does use the “N” not an excessive amount, the book feature some times graphic whippings, enslavement, and incest. Chesapeake was published on January 1 1978.

Plot Summary: It starts with an American Indian running from his warring tribe where he finds an island all to himself. He settles the Island where he lives until he see’s a white man with a glowing hat (conquistador) in a ship. He knows more will come and decides to settle with a peaceful tribe he has been watching for some time. He becomes the chief of the tribe and when the White man does come in the form of explorer John Smith he is the one to meet him, and his squire Steed. Steed falls in love with the island that the chief once settled. When Steed is done exploring with John Smith he decides to settle on the island he names Devon Island, after paying the chief for it. Steed is a man persecuted for his Catholic religion back in England and sees the island as a fresh start. The Chief begs Steed to marry but he has already purchased a wife from a ship, she a rude strong woman that is not Catholic, his family in England was looking for him a wife when he married this woman more for help than love. When a Catholic woman his family sent him in England arrives the current wife hands the woman her infant and leaves. Turlock is a thief and banned from England and and sold into indentured servitude, he works for the Janney’s on their new tobacco farm. Janney talks Steed into the tobacco industry and gets an unexpected guest Turlock a runaway. He ran away in the winter and can’t be returned he helps Steed since he knows how tobacco is made, he also steals axes and tools for his eventual escape. Turlock has fallen in love with the Marsh lands just off the island. When Janney returns Turlock escapes with the Indians ends up with the chief’s daughter. He makes a deal to for the marsh land selling the stolen tools for the land. Paxmore a Quaker persecuted for his religion escapes to the area with the other judged people of Maryland the Turlocks in the Marsh and the Catholic Steed’s on Devon Island. The Paxmores settle on a cliff overlooking the Turlocks and the Steeds. When slaves start coming in the the family’s were united but the Quaker religions interpretation of the Bible does not allow another man to be owned, and the Paxmores become a haven for runaway slaves, and part of the underground railroad in getting the slaves to freedom. The Carter Family has the most interesting background forced in to slavery from their African tribe, start riot on the ship and take it, killing one of the three Maryland farmers. They sail to the French who turn them into the British where some are hung break shipping laws. But Carter who started but drove the ship and did not partake in the killing was sold to American as a slave. He is seen as trouble and sent to a slave breaker, but soon finds what he must say and do to avoid the punishment, he ends up working on the Steed farm and is good with machinery and develops a lot of inventions that assist the steeds, his future wife works for the Steed s and is set free where she works and buys his freedom, when they marry he needs a name and wants to turn the name of the slave breaker Carter and takes the last name to change it. One of the Families eventually find out he was on the slave ship where his family member died and a lot of drama starts. This summary covers one third of the book we get to see the families grow, marry, intertwine, and unite through out history.

What I Liked: All the history was really cool and was explained in a way that made since, I had a lot of flashbacks to my college and high school American history class and this book did better than they did at putting it all together. The characters are so good and so real the Paxmore’s were my favorite the stood up for an injustice 300 years before it was undone. I loved the debates on religion, slavery, and race all which are still relevant, where some of the arguments still take place. I like the way the land is described, I could capture it pretty easily in my mind. I thought the ending of the book really worked as all the families are united and watch something that effected them all. I liked the detail that went into everything ship building, sailing, fishing, and farming are explained in detail.

What I Disliked: The Watergate Scandal was not explained very well. You would think this would get the most details as it happened 5 years before, but maybe it was still new, I did not like the family member picked to participate in this and wanted more explanation how they went with this decision. The novel attempts to explain but does not do a great job. I liked the geese chapter as the narrator but not the crab storyline.

Recommendation: This is one heck of an epic 1,000 page book. The history is so good and the individual stories surrounding the big events of American History, fill in so many questions I had has a kid learning about it. Chesapeake is really good and will lead to discussion with others as so many topics are covered. This book covers every side and tries to issues and gets to the root cause of anger and fear of many topics. I rated Chesapeake by James A. Michener 5 out of 5 stars. This is my first James A Michener book and will not be my last. I picked up this book for my Father-in-law., who just read and Texas by Michener and loved it, I can’t wait to talk about this one with him.


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