3.5 minute read
Eric Anthony “Mubita” Sheppard is a heritage curator and Moses Grandy direct descendant living in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. Sheppard has worked tirelessly for over twenty years to bring Moses Grandy’s story to public audiences worldwide.
HOW I MET ERIC SHEPPARD
In 2016, I came across an article that referenced a local Suffolk, Virginia heritage curator who gave tours of the underground railroad presence near the Great Dismal Swamp. Eric Anthony Sheppard came up in the google search results and within the content associated with his efforts was his self-published book Ancestors Call, which traces his lineage to Grandy and contains a reprint of Moses Grandy’s narrative.
As I read about Sheppard, I began to think of ways that I could collaborate with him on efforts to commemorate Grandy’s life. I decided to email him and introduce myself.
I made these promises to Sheppard because my interdisciplinary forays into anthropology had provided me with an awareness of how scholars historically have been known to “parachute” into communities as participant-observers, only to leave and never look back after research documentation is complete.
In contacting Sheppard I wanted to make two things clear from the beginning- my appreciation for his efforts in commemorating slavery’s history in the Great Dismal Swamp Region without any institutional resources and my assurance to him that I could be trusted as an historical geographer invested in both Grandy’s memory and the legacy of descendant communities related to slavery.
Today’s more ethically concerned scholars explore “questions of authority, control, and ownership of heritage narratives, plus the material remains that result from research based work” involving community stewards of the past. Sheppard is a community steward who has opened up the history of Grandy’s life for hundreds of visitors a year and I was determined to let him know how much I valued his efforts.
Narrative of the Life of Moses Grandy, Late a Slave in the United State of America
Moses Grandy’s narrative of enslavement is immensely important to me and to my research. For Moses Grandy, his end in telling his story of enslavement was to reveal the horrors of slavery as he experienced it as well as use the proceeds of the sale of his book to purchase his enslaved children’s freedom who had been sold further south into Louisiana from the Virginia/North Carolina border.
The perilous journey Moses Grandy embarked on as he asserted his free status included wilderness spaces and the built environment where many locales were rife with trauma and the threat of re-enslavement. In spite of the peril that came with moving in antebellum southern spaces as a freed slave, Grandy was a great traveler, entering regions within the Great Dismal swamp inaccessible to most journeying then on to the urban cobblestone streets of Boston and beyond.
As a newly freed Black sailor returning to Virginia after self-purchase, Grandy risked re-enslavement; yet this was no routine stop along commercial route that Grandy was on; he came back to Virginia to purchase the freedom of his enslaved child. Grandy moved in a world where blackness itself was used as an economic and political object in arguments used to justify slavery and further exploitative interests involving black bodies. Moses Grandy’s political imagination as demonstrated in his assertion as a free person to liberate his family mark the sites of struggle in his pursuit of freedom and belonging in antebellum southern spaces.
HOW TO PURCHASE THE AUDIO BOOK
The audiobook can be purchased here
Proceeds from the book go toward supporting educational initiatives related to restoring ancestral linkages between descendant communities worldwide.
For more information
 Eric Feber, “Suffolk Firm Offers More Underground Railroad Tours,” The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA), December 27, 2013. accessed December 31, 2015, https://pilotonline.com/news/local/article_6a7e98c2-b2bf-5aa6-a7ca-3fff313246e5.html.
 David Gasby and Teresa Moyer,”Pulling Back the Layers: Participatory and Community-based Archeology,” National Council on Public History, August 4, 2014, accessed June 22, 2018, http://ncph.org/history-at-work/participatory-and-community-based-archaeology/.