Now that we are all surviving 12-12-12, I'd better explain a little more about the subject of my next book. "The Melodeon" will be a biographical novel, based on the lives of a real South Carolina family who struggled to hold heir family together during the Civil War. He was a teacher and an Episcopal priest, sent to minister to a small community just inland from the Sea Islands of coastal South Carolina. He came from Boston and a family closely associated with Harvard, so he was sometimes regarded with suspicion by his Confederate neighbors. She was the daughter of a fine old southern family. Her mother's people had helped settle and open South Carolina to the cultivation of cotton. Her father was also an educator, so she brought to her marriage an abiding determination to raise educated and cultured children -- and "southern" children at that.
And what about the children of this "mixed marriage" of North and South? The wife gave birth to 13 babies, 4 of whom died in infancy. In addition, the couple adopted 2 nephews whose parents had died when the boys were both under the age of four. So going into the Civil War, the family was raising 11 children -- the older boys finishing college and professional training, the youngest, all girls, still attached to mother's apron strings.
I was attracted to their story, first of all, because they were the owners of the house in Beaufort known as "The Leverett House." Those of you familiar with my earlier books may recognize it as the house on Bay Street where the Pennsylvania Roundheads established their regimental headquarters in December 1861.
You've read about it in A Scratch with the Rebels, in Beyond All Price, and even in a couple of the short stories included in Left by the Side of the Road.
Have you ever wondered what happened to the people who owned the house? Where they went when they were forced to flee from Beaufort? Why their house full of slaves was so loyal to the house and the missing family? Whether they ever got their house back?
I wondered, too, and that curiosity suggested the new book. The Leverett family were--as might be expected from a family of educators -- inveterate letter-writers, and much of their wartime correspondence has survived. I'll be using those letters to follow their experiences.
And what about the melodeon? Well, in Mrs. Leverett's correspondence, music plays a symbolic role. It is one way she encourages the cultural development of her large family. She also uses music as a way to give "voice" to her feelings about what is happening. She owned a melodeon because it could be easily transported from the Beaufort house to their inland parsonage, to their plantation at Canaan, and eventually to their farm outside of Columbia. It travels with her as a constant presence. When it is temporarily lost in transit, it engenders a family crisis. Its sale literally saves the family from starvation at one point, and its recovery signals the resolution of the trauma of their wartime experiences.