Among the list of landowners of my twenty-two acres more or less are three women, Elizabeth Burton, Nettie Adshead, and me. I wondered about Elizabeth in particular, because of her status as a free black woman in pre-Civil War times when a woman alone was probably easy prey for those who would take the land from her. She was the inspiration for my novel, Elizabeth’s Field. Nettie was fortunate in that her father, Shadrack Murphy gave her the land. It was her and her husband, George, who built the present house in 1909, making the house one hundred and four years old this year. Here Nettie raised five children and it wasn’t until 1949 that indoor plumbing, electricity and a bathroom were installed. There was a tiled porch kitchen, a parlor with sliding doors, a dining room, an arched room off that which was used as an office, and upstairs, three bedrooms. By 1966, kerosene stoves had been set in the fireplaces. When we moved in, I found an ancient variety of rose in the garden, and lilacs and hollyhocks as well as a huge bush of sage. In the shed stood an old pump organ and a Hoosier cabinet. I wondered how Nettie supported herself after the children left and her husband died. Cary Adshead told me she raised chickens and drove into Hurlock every Saturday, donning a hat and white gloves along with her next-to-best dress, to sell eggs. There was also the rent she collected for land tilled by her neighbor, Ortho McWilliams. She was in her eighties when she died in 1966. The house stood empty from then until 1971 when our family moved in.
My life here has been a paradise I never dreamed possible. After the major adjustment to single life, I began to seriously consider the land and the garden, loved the moonlit nights with views of house and tree shadows, the sound of spring peepers in February, the advance of red buds on the sugar maple trees, the hot summers and their abundance, the luxury of days on the porch, the harvesting of corn in September, the trees outlined with snow in winter, and the pond glimmering through the woods. Approaching the house at night, it stands as a beacon of light in a sea of darkness. And I am home.
After a dispute over land boundaries, I took the land out of agriculture and it is now part of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy. It is not farmed for the first time in one hundred and fifty years. I enjoy the trails we’ve established and the trees we’ve planted which put me in touch with the land in a way I never was before. I whisper thank you often, whether anyone is listening or not.
Barbara Lockhart, December 2013