Author Sarah Angleton’s Latest Book Rooted in Family with a Jacksonville Side

Family history intertwines with Jacksonville history, MacMurray College history, and Liberian history to form the basis of Jacksonville native Sarah McClintock Angleton’s third historical fiction novel, “White Man’s Graveyard “.

“This book is a little different from the ones I’ve written before,” Angleton said from his home near St. Louis. “It’s a bit more biographical. These are people from my own family history, and it’s something I’ve never done before.

“White Man’s Graveyard” follows siblings Annie and Sylvanus Goheen, who were born in Pennsylvania in the early 1800s and both grew up seeking to end slavery, albeit using different approaches.

At the time, some simply supported freeing slaves and allowing them their freedom in the United States. Others believed that former slaves would only prosper if they were returned to Africa, as they were not allowed to fully participate in American society.

Sylvanus fell into the latter group, and in 1837, while leaving for Liberia to serve as a missionary doctor, he gave Annie a journal. Some 160 years later, this journal ended up in the hands of Angleton.

“My grandma passed away, my God, about 20 years ago now,” Angleton said. “In his possession was a law office.”

Angleton’s aunt found the diary in this cupboard and gave it to Angleton, the family writer.

“He was introduced to (Annie) by his brother while he was traveling to Liberia with the Methodist Episcopal Church as a missionary…to develop a colony of African-American slaves,” Angleton said.

The diary was a momentous discovery, one for which Angleton was not quite prepared at the time.

“There’s this huge piece of American history that I didn’t know about, probably a lot of people didn’t know about,” she said. “I tried to figure out who these people really were.”

Annie eventually married Reverend Dr. Peter Akers and the couple – along with Peter’s extended family – landed in Jacksonville, where Peter Akers founded the Ebenezer Church and became a founding member of the former board of trustees. MacMurray College.

Angleton kept Annie’s diary for years before she felt ready to tackle the story. When she finally did, she turned to the MacMurray College archives to research what she could of Peter and Annie.

Those archives are now housed at the Jacksonville Area Museum, where Angleton will speak Saturday and sign copies of his book.

“We all have a family that wasn’t on the side of these racist issues that we would be with our modern perspective,” she said, noting that she felt pressure “to honor my family with the way we are now. Colonization was a controversial thing and does not look particularly good in the (light) of modern times.

While Angleton felt she understood the character of Annie, she had a little trouble understanding Sylvanus, she said.

“With Sylvanus, I was missing a crucial (research) source for him for a long time,” Angleton said. “I had written a whole draft and then I managed to get my hands on (Sylvanus’ diary of his time in Africa). When I met him on the pages of his own writings, it changed him a little. I was surprised at how close I had come, but it changed him a bit.

The book, although based on the story, is a work of fiction.

“One thing I realized early on when writing about real people is that real life doesn’t tend to happen in a great story,” she said, noting that she had created conflict between siblings. “… This may not be entirely accurate, but there was a conflict between the (colonization movement) and the abolitionist movement. … Their ideals weren’t necessarily in conflict, but the way they wanted to go about it was.

Angleton admits the allure of writing the story was rooted not just in his family ties, but in the fact that it was a lesser-known piece of history. She also sees parallels today.

“The most important thing I wanted to talk about in our modern day…was how to continue a loving family relationship in the midst of intense conflict, because you love them, but (disagree). Part of my argument in writing this book was that there can still be love and respect. We don’t really want different results, just different ways to get there.

Sarah McClintock Angleton will speak and sign copies of her book “White Man’s Graveyard” beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Jacksonville Area Museum, 301 E. State St. Admission is free.

Lola R. McClure