It started with a property line dispute and turned into a novel nine years later. When a neighboring farmer challenged the property lines of her farm, Barbara Lockhart went to the records, and discovered an amazing fact. Before the Civil War, her family farm had been owned by a free black woman named Elizabeth Burton.
That discovery commenced a voyage into the history of her farm and unearthed a buried history of African Americans on the Eastern Shore. Elizabeth Burton, aka Elizabeth Boston, owned Lockhart’s farm from 1852 to 1857. Her farm was in the middle of a significant settlement of Native Americans from the Choptank tribe. On the Eastern Shore at that time, all nonwhites were classified as “Negro” (or Negress” in Burton’s case). Lockhart was never able to determine if Elizabeth Burton was black or native American or a mixture.
Lockhart’s journey of discovery took her to an uncomfortable time that has been forgotten, neglected, and buried. She poured through auction records, deeds, and other original documents in the local libraries, trying to unearth this hidden past.
She was moved by what she had learned. How dangerous life was for free people of color during slavery. How people of color were shamefully treated during and after the civil war. How Jim Crow laws and racist attitudes on the Eastern Shore conspired to keep the non white population in a state of poverty and struggle. Lockhart’s journey of discovery inspired her book Elizabeth’s Field.
Originally from Queens and NYC, Barbara Lockhart has made her home in Dorchester County for 50 years.
Her book, Elizabeth’s Field, is an award winning work of historical fiction about free and enslaved black Americans in Dorchester and Caroline Counties. Elizabeth’s story is honed from her research into the former free black landowner of her farm. A main character in her book, Elizabeth, is a free woman of Native-American and African American descent, who owned land in 1852 and lost it in 1857.
Her book interweaves stories of the past and present. The present-day “storyteller,” Mattie, chronicles modern-day challenges for African American women. Her character is based on Lockhart’s friend and neighbor, Mary Taylor, a woman of color who died in the late 1970’s. Taylor lived a transient life under the weight of Jim Crow laws, racism, and domestic violence. And through Taylor’s oral history, Lockhart was able to learn about life on the Eastern Shore from the perspective of someone of color. Her book makes us confront how slavery and racism has left a permanent stain on the peaceful waters and graceful farmland of the Eastern Shore.
But there is much more to Barbara Lockhart than this novel. After having the pleasure of interviewing Lockhart, I realized that Lockhart has spent her life searching for knowledge. She has published both children’s and adult books.
A list of her available books are:
Young Children’s Books: Once a Pony Time at Chincoteague, Will’s Tractor, Mosey’s Field
Adult Novels: Elizabeth’s Field, Requiem for a Summer Cottage, The Night is Young, Collected Stories
She taught Kindergarten for 30 years in Secretary, MD. While teaching, she realized that her students’ parents weren’t reading to their children. She created a program where children would perform a fun activity related to the book after their parents read them the story.
But being a lifelong learner means that you listen for challenges…and she discovered that some of the children’s parents didn’t read to their children because they simply couldn’t read. She created a national program that is used today, creating fun activities associated with parents reading books to their children and helping parents learn how to read.
To celebrate Juneteenth, the St Michaels Community Conversation on Race, and the Easton Branch of the AAUW are hosting a Conversation with Barbara Lockhart on Monday, June 19th, from 5:30- 7:00 PM at Union United Methodist Church (201 Railroad Avenue, St Michaels, MD)
In my brief conversation, I merely scratched the surface of her remarkable life and accomplishments. I hope that you get a chance to meet her as well.
She has modeled the values of being a lifelong learner…to never stop asking and never stop wondering.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.