"The Roan"

In May of 1829 a little red-haired girl was born to a young slave living on the Fleming estate in Virginia. She was named “Mary Jane” after members of the Fleming family and “Lee” for Robert E. Lee, owner of the adjacent plantation and the man reported to be the father of the new-born baby. 

Thus begins the story of the Lee/Washington family from slavery in Virginia to freedom in Massachusetts where Mary Jane’s great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren now reside. In “The Roan” Shirley F.B. Carter recounts her family’s history using documents carefully preserved throughout the generations while also creating some fictional details in the initial chapters weaving the story of Mary Jane in her childhood. 

Before the Civil War began, Mary Jane Lee married George Washington, a former slave who managed to escape from his master and survived by living in the swamp. George made his way North, and Mary Jane followed after receiving her papers of manumission from the Fleming family. Shirley F. B. Carter carefully details the struggles of the young family and their children to secure their independence. Her narrative demonstrates clearly the family’s ideals that persist throughout of years: devotion to liberty, dedication to hard work, and— especially—the enduring love uniting fam-ily members. 

In 1912 Mary Jane Lee Washington’s youngest daughter, Laura, moved to Worcester with her husband and children. Here they established a home of their own, and many of their descendants still reside here. Their struggles did not end, however. Dr. Carter addresses directly the problems of racism, once found in the segregation of schools and still obvious, though often subtly, in social and business interactions. 

“The Roan,” published in 2012 by Goose River Press, was prompted by Alec Haley’s “Roots.” Dr. Carter states that all families have their own unique history, but many family members are not aware of it or do not recall it. She states, “We all have rich lives and need to take time to record the events that happen to us. This helps the family members to make connections and create a community to which they all belong.” Dr. Carter’s book was inspired following the death of her mother in 1977. 

“The Roan” is carefully documented and sources are all verified. The title, she states, was chosen to remind us of the horse—born of mixed parentage—who labored on the plantations, endured much, but pos-sessed the strength to survive. 

“The Roan” is a model for families as we together address current problems in our political and social milieu and search with greater determination for resolutions and peaceful existence. This unique history is also a significant addition to the works of our local Worcester authors.

Published Date: 
September 16, 2017