The Right-hand Shore

Written by Christopher Tilghman
Review by Jeff Westerhoff

The novel begins in 1920 as Mary Bayly, the owner of Mason’s Retreat, a large farm on Maryland’s eastern shore along Chesapeake Bay, meets with Edward Mason, a distant relative of its founder. Mary is dying and wants to pass the legacy of Mason’s Retreat to a direct descendant of the original owner.

During the course of his visit, Mason learns of the history of the farm from its early days as a slave-owning plantation through after the Civil War. Its new owner, Wyatt Bayly, takes over the farm upon marrying the previous owner’s daughter. He plants thousands of peach trees on the land while his wife and his daughter, Mary, move to France to begin Mary’s education and later decide to remain in Baltimore while Wyatt’s son Thomas grows up on the farm.

Thomas befriends a black boy, Randall. Wyatt treats both boys equally as his sons and educates them at the farm using tutors. Eventually Thomas falls in love with Randall’s younger sister, Beal. The forbidden relationship between Thomas and Beal, along with the eventual college education of Randall, sets off a spark of discontent not only with the white population in and around Mason’s Retreat, but also with members of the black community who have worked harvesting peaches for Wyatt for many years.

The novel could be a literary classic; the character development is flawless and the writing exceptional. I felt drawn into this period of American history: the bigotry towards Negroes in general and the dilemma faced by certain whites who wished to live in harmony with the blacks, even though the rules of cohabitation were strict and both races lived as separate and unequal. I highly recommend this book, a sequel to Mason’s Retreat.