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“The Right-Hand Shore” by Christopher Tilghman, his third novel, is about the rise and fall of a family retreat on the Chesapeake Bay in Queen Anne’s County.
The story begins in the early 1920s when Miss Mary Bayley, the matriarch of Mason’s Retreat, has summoned a distant cousin, Edward Mason, to visit her. She wants to bequeath the estate to a family member – no matter how distant the connection, as she is dying of cancer.
The story is set over one very long day as Edward hears stories about the family and estate that forever change him and tie him to the land. He is shown around the property by Mr. French. During this tour he discovers more than he really wants to know about his ancestors and where they have lived since 1657.
Mary’s grandfather had sold off all his slaves in 1857, just before the Civil War started, to avoid consequences that he thought would come from the Emancipation.
He did not care that he ripped families apart, as the bottom line for him was to make a profit. Later, Mary’s father, Wyatt Bayley, decided to turn the Retreat into a huge peach orchard, but a blight killed thousands of trees all over the Shore. Mary has spent her life trying to restore the land through her dairy operations.
This novel covers rural 19th-century farm industry, a boyhood on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the shadow of disease, racial prejudice, greed and war and the class system of the time.