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From the Colonial Era through the Civil Rights Era


LESSONS FROM THE BIG HOUSE: ONE FAMILY’S PASSAGE THROUGH THE HISTORY OF THE SOUTH by Frye Gaillard and Nancy Gaillard. Published December 7 2021 by New South Books. 160 pages.

–Review by Michael Pierce

I’ve been a genealogist and historian for about 45 years. American history, because it’s so complicated, has always intrigued me. And my family’s place in the American story has always interested me, and it’s sometimes quite as complicated.

So it was that this book piqued my curiosity and, to put it simply, if I ever put my own family history to paper, this is how I’d do I’d do it.

Originally published in 1994 by Frye Gaillard and his late wife, Nancy, it was updated in 2021 with a new Introduction and Epilogue.

LESSONS FROM THE BIG HOUSE is a combination of family history and memoir, with Frye tracing his family from its Huguenot origins, through Colonial America, to the Civil Rights era. The story begins with the discovery of a box full of documents, letters, and clothing in his grandfather’s attic and carries on through his coming of age in the 1960s.

Gaillard learns that his family seems to never want to the buck the status quo. Loyalists during the American Revolution, fighters for the slavocracy they were a part of afterward, to the point where a young Frye Gaillard is castigated for inviting Robert, the family’s black gardener, to join him at the supper table by being told he had hurt Robert’s feelings by extending the invitation. It was a subtle way of saying that Robert may be a nice man, and practically a member of the family, but he had his place.

The year 1968 is highlighted. A year that began with so much hope was shattered in an instant by two heinous assassinations. We then find Frye, moving deeper into his realization that he was going to be an agent of change in his family, the one who would no longer accept the status quo.

There are no apologies nor wagging fingers of shame in this book, and there shouldn’t be. Recognize what your family may have done in the past, and do your bit to try to make the world a better place.



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