This non-fiction account of the white author’s search for the African roots of his family name is partly a piece of journalistic research and partly a personal memoir. It never fully succeeds at being either, but it does contain a number of interesting historical and personal insights. He traces his genealogical roots to the area around colonial Jamestown, Virginia. There all the Mozingos appear to have originated from Edward Mozingo, an African slave brought there in 1644 and who won his freedom in a court case in 1672. Edward married a white woman and his children and their issue eventually spawned both black and white family trees.
Now, over three hundred years later, most white Mozingos think their name derived from Italian or Basque forbears. Some joined the KKK while others learned of their African roots and embraced them. The author interviewed dozens of Mozingos or relatives of the original white owner of Edward as well as academics and historians. The Mozingos he interviewed ranged from middle class whites and blacks to what some uncharitable folks might term white trash – poor, relatively uneducated, and bigoted, although also often welcoming and open, at least until the topic of their name possibly being African arose. After traveling the U.S. researching his name, the author flew to Africa to try to trace Edward’s origins further. He found Mozingo to be a common name in Cameroon and Angola. He was welcomed in both countries.
The book was fascinating for me because I recently learned that despite being very white (blond, blue eyes) I, too, have an African ancestor. Reliable family and census records establish that my paternal great great grandfather married a woman who was the granddaughter of an Alexander Fuller in North Carolina who was described in a store account of 1763-1765 as a mulatto carpenter. Like Edward, my ancestor was free, practicing a trade, running store credit and owning land. He, too, married a white woman and all his grandchildren were listed in later census records as white. Unlike Mozingo, I was never able to identify the likely black African man who first reached American soil. I know it was a man, though, because various DNA relatives of mine named Fuller carry an African haplotype (a genetic marker than can come from only one parent) on their Y chromosome. In researching my own history I learned that intermarriage was quite common back then and not frowned on or made illegal as later when racism set in hard. Many African slaves were freed after a period of indentured servitude, just as the poor Irish and English were. The author gives an eye-opening account of life in those times.
One area where he falls short, though, is that he never really establishes his direct connection to Edward. He had his DNA tested and he did not have the African haplotype on his Y chromosome that would mark him as a direct descendant along the male line. He speculates that he descended from one of Edward’s unmarried daughters who kept the Mozingo name. In fact, he speculates about a lot of things. The book is filled with his many accounts of things based on little more than his imagination “I could envision so-and-so sitting here…” “Perhaps this is where such and such might have happened” “I felt like ….” The author’s travels in Africa bear the same problems. He goes to various villages and talks to many experts, but never really establishes where Edward came from. He does paint an extraordinary picture of slavery in Africa that preceded the European and American slave trade and continued long afterward. I certainly cannot defend the horrific slavery era in the U.S., but compared to what those same slaves might have experienced in Africa, they might actually have been better off. Slave trade in Africa continued into the 1950s and might even still be occurring there today.
Another failing is in the DNA arena. He does not have the African haplotype, but there are plenty of other African genes. He never reveals whether his DNA test showed him to have any African ancestry at all. Mine did, which helped me to trace where it came from despite it being less than 1% of my DNA. Because there was one female in my line, I do not have that haplotype either, but do have a third or fourth cousin who is 70% sub-Saharan African and at least two white DNA relatives who carry that haplotype. I get the feeling the author was padding his book with speculation in part as filler and in part as wishful thinking of himself as a sort of white Roots story. He spends a lot of verbiage describing local countryside, his hotel accommodations, and the booze he is obviously quite fond of. It would be a better book without this. Even so, you can gain a very good insight into the colonial era African-American experience on both sides of the Atlantic from this book.