When Baker was in the seventh grade, he saw a photograph of four former slaves in his social studies textbook. He learned that two of them were his grandmother’s grandparents and began the lifelong research project that would become The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation, the fruit of more than thirty years of archival and field research and DNA testing that spans 250 years.
Founded in 1796 by Joseph Washington, a distant cousin of America’s first president, Wessyngton Plantation covered 15,000 acres and held 274 captives whose labor made it one of the largest tobacco plantations in America. The Washington family owned the plantation until 1983; their family papers, housed at the Tennessee State Library and Archives, include birth registers from 1795–1860, letters, diaries, and more. Baker also conducted dozens of interviews of direct descendents—three of his subjects were more than one hundred years old—and discovered caches of historic photographs and paintings.
A groundbreaking work of history and a deeply personal journey of discovery, The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation is an uplifting story of survival and family that gives fresh insight into the institution of slavery and its ongoing legacy today.