Cover image for Chesapeake : a novel
Chesapeake : a novel
Michener, James A. (James Albert), 1907-1997.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2003.

Physical Description:
865 pages ; 21 cm
The four-hundred-year saga of America's Eastern Shore, from its Native American roots to the present.
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In this classic novel, James A. Michener brings his grand epic tradition to bear on the four-hundred-year saga of America's Eastern Shore, from its Native American roots to the modern age. In the early 1600s, young Edmund Steed is desperate to escape religious persecution in England. After joining Captain John Smith on a harrowing journey across the Atlantic, Steed makes a life for himself in the New World, establishing a remarkable dynasty that parallels the emergence of America. Through the extraordinary tale of one man's dream, Michener tells intertwining stories of family and national heritage, introducing us along the way to Quakers, pirates, planters, slaves, abolitionists, and notorious politicians, all making their way through American history in the common pursuit of freedom.

Praise for Chesapeake

"Another of James Michener's great mines of narrative, character and lore." -- The Wall Street Journal

"[A] marvelous panorama of history seen in the lives of symbolic people of the ages . . . an emotionally and intellectually appealing book." -- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Michener's most ambitious work of fiction in theme and scope." -- The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Magnificently written . . . one of those rare novels that are enthusiastically passed from friend to friend." --Associated Press

From the Paperback edition.

Author Notes

James A. Michener, 1907 - 1997 James Albert Michener was born on February 3, 1907 in Doylestown, Pa. He earned an A.B. from Swarthmore College, an A.M. from Colorado State College of Education, and an M.A. from Harvard University. He taught for many years and was an editor for Macmillan Publishing Company. His first book, "Tales of the South Pacific," derived from Michener's service in the Pacific in World War II, won the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was the basis for the Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical South Pacific, which won the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Michener completed close to 40 novels. Some other epic works include "Hawaii," "Centennial," "Space," and "Caribbean." He also wrote a significant amount of nonfiction including his autobiography "The World Is My Home."

Among his many other honors, James Michener received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977. He was married to Patti Koon in 1935; they divorced in 1948. He married Vange Nord in 1948 (divorced 1955) and Mari Yoriko Sabusawa in 1955 (deceased 1994). He died in 1997 in Austin, Texas.

(Bowker Author Biography)



VOYAGE ONE: 1583   FOR SOME TIME NOW THEY HAD BEEN SUSPICIOUS of him. Spies had monitored his movements, reporting to the priests, and in the tribal councils his advice against going to war with those beyond the bend had been ignored. Even more predictive, the family of the girl he had chosen to replace his dead wife had refused to accept the three lengths of roanoke he had offered as her purchase price.   Reluctantly he was coming to the conclusion that he must leave this tribe which had done everything but outlaw him publicly. As a child he had watched what happened to men declared outcasts, and he had no desire to experience what they had suffered: the isolation, the scorn, the bitter loneliness.   So now, as he fished along the great river or hunted in the meadows or merely sat in contemplation, always alone, he felt he must go. But how? And where?   The trouble had started that day when he voiced his apprehension over a raid proposed by the high chief. For more than a year now relations with tribes beyond the northern bend had been amicable, and during this interval the river had known prosperity, with more than normal trade passing north and south. But the Susquehannocks of the middle section had never in Pentaquod's life been easy in times of peace; they felt intuitively that they should be on the warpath, proving their manhood. So it was within tradition for the high chief to devise justifications for sending his warriors forth: if they triumphed, their victory would redound on him; and if they lost, he would claim that he was merely protecting the boundaries of the tribe.   Pentaquod had argued, "Those of the northern bend have respected their promises. They have not stolen our beaver nor trespassed on our gardens. To fight them now, with no reason, would be infamous, and our warriors would go into battle knowing that the gods could not be with them."   His logic was rejected not only by the council of chiefs but also by the common warriors, who felt that for a Susquehannock to pass more than a year in peace would be disgraceful. If their great river had proved an excellent place to live, it must be because their tribe had always fought to protect it, and an old warrior predicted, "Pentaquod, when the day comes that we are afraid to fight, we lose the river."   He persisted in talking against a meaningless war, and since any who spoke for peace in the lands along this river would always be charged with treason, his opponents started the rumor that he had been contaminated by the enemy and served as their spokesman. It was recalled that his wife had died young, which increased the likelihood that the gods rejected his arguments.   To charge him with cowardice was confusing, for he was one of the tallest Susquehannocks in a generation, and they were a tribe of giants. Towering above young men his age, he looked with steady gaze from his great, broad face, darker in color than normal, sure sign of a warrior. This contradiction perplexed children who listened to the accusations against him, and they began to mimic his diffident walk as he moved alone about the edges of the village; soon they would be taunting him openly.   It was one of these children who drove him to his decision. The little boy had been aping him behind his back, causing much merriment among onlookers, when Pentaquod suddenly turned and seized him, demanding to know why he was behaving so, and the child blurted out, "My father says the council is meeting to punish you." And when Pentaquod looked about the village he realized that the elders were missing, and he knew that the boy was speaking truth.   It took him only a few moments to reach that decision. The council would not act hastily; it never did. There would have to be long speeches, condemning him, but if this child's father had actually used the word punish, a much more serious penalty than outlawing might be in store. His enemies had grown so outspoken that some might even demand death; if they convinced themselves that he was indeed a spy for the northern tribes, this would be logical.   So without returning to his wigwam, where his mother and father would be sitting in the sun, and without any attempt to recover his weapons, for this would excite those designated to watch him, he moved quietly away from the long building in which the council was meeting and toward the bank of the river. He did not, however, approach the canoes, for he knew that this would evoke alarm. Instead he kept his back to them as if watching the village, but from time to time he turned his head to follow the flight of some bird and in this manner was able to estimate the situation on the river.   The war canoe had everything in readiness for instant departure, but it was built of oak and was far too cumbersome for one man to handle. The plan he had in mind could succeed only if he could utilize a canoe light enough for him to portage, and one such stood close at hand; it looked trim and handsome, but he had helped build it and knew its limitations: it had never won a race. Others were tempting, but he rejected them as either too slow or too heavy.   There was, however, one small, swift canoe which he had helped build for one of the hunting chiefs; it had been made of rare white pine from the north, and once during construction, when the fires burning away the insides grew too strong, he had lifted the canoe by himself and plunged it into the river, where the fires were quenched. The chief to whom it belonged had painted it yellow; its sides were stout and it had been fitted with oaken struts. It had been well pointed at the bow and had done well in races. Best of all, it was always armed for hunting and fishing, and so perched beside the river that one man, with a sturdy shove, could launch it.   "The yellow," he muttered to himself, and left the river area and returned to the heart of the village, walking casually toward the council hall, where he observed with satisfaction that the spies assigned to guard him were withdrawing so as to watch him more stealthily. This was essential to his plan, for he could not outfight them; they were four and valiant, but he could outrun them, for he was swift.   So when he had teased them into moving as far from the river as practical, he turned suddenly and leaped with deerlike speed back toward the river. When he reached the bank he did not rush immediately to the canoe of his choice; instead he dashed along to the war canoe, taking all the paddles. Next he jumped to any lesser canoe showing paddles, and collected them too. Only then did he turn to his target.   With a cry that echoed through the village, he tossed the armful of paddles into the yellow canoe, gave its stern a mighty shove, then chased it into the muddy waters of the river, climbed aboard and started paddling vigorously downriver.   In spite of the fact that his life depended upon the alacrity of his escape, he could not refrain from looking back at his village. There were the wigwams built low to the ground; there was the home in which his parents would just now be hearing the news of his wild action; and there was the long wigwam from which the high chiefs were already running to man the war canoe in which they must overtake the criminal. He could not take his eyes off the old men as they came to the river and saw that they were powerless to pursue him. His last view of his community showed a village in uproar, with stately chiefs running back and forth waving their arms and, he suspected, shouting at their underlings. He burst into laughter.   But now he was alone on the river, and to survive he must exercise every skill he had mastered in his twenty-five years. He would have to pass two Susquehannock villages to the south, and since they were subservient to his, he had to suppose that they would intercept him and hold him for questioning. Furthermore, the men from his tribe would shortly find other paddles with which to activate their canoes, and pursuit would be inevitable. Indeed, he suspected that already runners had been sent overland to alert the southern allies, so that his chances of final escape were not great.   But he was not without tactics of his own, and as soon as his stout strokes brought him near the first village, he chose a daring gambit. The runners can't have reached here yet, he reasoned, so I have one chance. He paddled boldly up to the shore, bellowing in a loud and agitated voice, "Friends! Have you seen a man and a woman go by in a canoe?"   They came to the foreshore of the western bank to call back, "We saw no one."   "My wife!" Pentaquod shouted, and the people began to laugh, because around the world there is nothing funnier than a wronged husband trying to recapture his runaway wife.   "Which way did they go?" he bawled.   "Into the cornfield!" they taunted, and for as long as he remained in sight, paddling desperately downriver, they stood on the shore, laughing at the grotesque figure he made, a husband paddling to overtake his wife and her lover.   It was dusk when he approached the second village, on the eastern bank this time, and he doubted that he could work the same stratagem again, for the runners would have offered rewards for his capture. This time he slipped among the trees on the western shore and waited till deep night had fallen. He knew that on this day the half-moon would not illuminate the river till near midnight, but he also knew that after the moon did rise well in the heavens, no passage of the river would be possible.   Excerpted from Chesapeake by James A. Michener All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.