We’re excited to present a series of blog posts that will introduce readers to our talented authors and the books they’ve written, as well as learn about their motivations to write them and their creative and research processes.
This month, we have Terry Barkley, author of BrayBree's latest title, Eve’s Wail - An Enslaved Woman Burned at the Stake in Colonial Virginia.
Q. Why did you choose to write about Eve's Wail?
I first ran across the story of Eve’s burning while working as the archivist and museum curator at Bridgewater College in Bridgewater, Virginia, back in the early 2000s. While searching for some Orange County, Virginia, history on a totally unrelated subject, I spotted references to Eve and another slave, Peter, in Patricia J. Hurst’s book on Clark Mountain and its people. Looking at other Orange County histories, there were other short references to the burning of Eve. Intrigued that a female slave was actually burned at the stake by court order (like Joan of Arc in France), I made an exploratory trip over to Orange County to see if I could find the site of Eve’s burning. I fully expected to find a known site and a historical marker of some kind but that was certainly not the case. Armed with what I knew to date, I found Mount Airy (now Greenstone Farm) where Eve was burned and actually met the owner of the property, Jim Miller, who has been very helpful indeed throughout the process of researching and writing this little book. My quest to document the story of Eve’s burning began there, some dozen or so years ago.
Q. How long did it take for you to research and write it?
After my mother died in Huntsville, Alabama in 2005, I had to resign from Bridgewater College and return home to Alabama to help care for my father who has serious medical problems. I filed Eve’s story away for future reference. Some ten years later, October 2015, I finally got the opportunity to move back to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, to Lexington, this time retired and on Medicare! I decided to make “Eve’s Wail” my first research and writing project and here are the published results of my work written from bits and pieces of the known data re: Eve.
Q. Can you tell us a few interesting discoveries you made in your research?
I learned a lot about English Common Law, the laws of the English colonies in America, and of the rather harsh punishments administered to anyone who broke the laws of the British government in the colonies and of the Crown itself. Eve was convicted of “petit” or petty treason and was burned at the stake, but high treason brought an even more gruesome penalty (included in the book). I also learned about life on the Virginia frontier in the era before the American Revolution, of the necessity of slavery to help run the local economy (tobacco at that time), and of the constant fear of white masters and their plantation overseers of slave uprisings and revolts, “conjuring” (poisonings), and outright murder. White retaliation in all cases was swift and brutal.
Q. What does your book offer that no other book or publication has before?
Everything that is known about Eve and her burning is in the book, again a composite of bits and pieces from a number of sources (see the Bibliography). I believe that my book will serve as an eye-opener to most people that folks were actually burned at the stake or otherwise mutilated by court order under English law, and that these prescribed punishments (with some variations in America) were carried out throughout the English colonies in America. The story of “Eve’s Wail” serves as a case study of these punishments.
Q. What do you hope your book will accomplish regarding the memory of Eve and her execution?
I hope that Eve’s story will be brought to light and life and that she will be remembered in some meaningful way. Eve pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against her, but whether she was actually guilty or not remains an open question. I would like to see “Eve’s Wail” turned into a screen play and a timely movie, and I am currently trying to bring that to fruition. We’ll just have to see if anyone responds.