White Man’s Graveyard

Written by Sarah Angleton
Review by Susan Higginbotham

In 1830s Pennsylvania, close-knit siblings Annie Goheen, a schoolteacher, and Sylvanus Goheen, a physician, both despise the institution of slavery, but Annie prefers to concentrate her efforts on abolition, whereas Sylvanus devotes himself to resettling former slaves in Liberia. As Sylvanus prepares to go abroad, Annie prepares to marry a daring man who shares her views—but neither sibling has chosen a smooth path.

Inspired by a diary kept by Annie, a relative of the author, White Man’s Graveyard is an impressive example of how family history can be turned into highly readable historical fiction. Annie’s diary, Angleton tells the reader, was sparse, so she was obliged to fill in the many gaps in Annie’s life story. It’s a task Angleton accomplishes convincingly and skillfully. Her characters, real and invented, are ones we care about, and the dialogue is crisp and believable. Humor blends smoothly with tragedy, and a tall lawyer from Illinois even makes an appearance. What’s not to like?