Tuesday, October 9, 2012

G1 The Fiddler on Pantico Run: An African Warrior, His White Descendants, Our Search for Family

Name of Book: The Fiddler on Pantico Run: An African Warrior, His White Descendants, Our Search for Family

Author: Joe Mozingo

ISBN: 978-1-4516-2748-0

Publisher: Free Press

Year it was published: 2012


Growing up, Joe Mozingo heard many stories about where his father's family was from- Italy, Hungary, the Basque Country. Then one day, a colleague told him his name came from the African Congo, and that sent Joe, a blue-eyed, brown-haired white man, on a journey to find the truth of his family roots. He discovered that he was descended from a slave brought to the Jamestown colony in 1644, Edward Mozingo, likely an African prince, who was one of the only slaves to keep his African surname. Edward had sued for his freedom, becoming a tobacco farmer on Pantico Run in Northern Virginia and marrying a white woman from a landowning family, fathering one of the country's first mixed race family lines. Research also showed he was a fiddler.

Joe plunged deep into the scattered historical records, traveling all around the country meeting Mozingos black, white, and mixed race, and into the depths of the Congo and the slave ports of Angola, to uncover the full family saga. In a beautifully crafted narrative, he traces his ancetors from the burgeoning mixed-race society of colonial Virginia, through the brutal imposition of racial laws and the splitting of the lineage, as those who could pass for white distanced from their slave heritage. Joe's own ancestors fought on both sides of the Civil War, and some were abolitionists while others joined the KKK.

The Fiddler on Pantico Run is both the moving story of one man's search for connection to his lost past and the larger story of the torturous history of race in America; a lyrically written exploration of the many ironies and tragedies of race in American identity.

Author Information:

Joe Mozingo is a project writer for the Los Angeles Times. He was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2004 as a member of a team that covered the Columbia space shuttle disaster for the Miami Herald, and in 2010, he led the Los Angeles Times's coverage of the earthquake in Haiti, which won the Robert F Kennedy journalism award. He was also a finalist for the best feature writing award given by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, received two National Headliner awards, and was a finalist for the Investigative Reporters and Editors medal. He lives in Southern California with his wife and two children.

Other works:

None available. I believe its his first novel.


While its acceptable and almost expected for the African Americans to have mixed ancestry, for Caucasians or Americans, rather, it seems to be the opposite. This book discusses race as well as fate of mixed race people, in particular of African Americans/Caucasians. He also tries to figure out where the name came from and how people lived back then.

Quick Summary of novel:

At first the novel starts in Africa, the author giving only tantalizing glimpses of the information he has learned throughout his journey, then the book moves back to the author's past of feeling that he doesn't belong and of his life, then he begins his reason for starting out on the project: he wants for his son Blake as well as his descendants to be aware and know of the history of Mozingos. Along with creating a very fascinating picture of the past and being accurate to it, he offers different theories about his ancestors and tries to debunk the idea that the family name is Italian or comes from some other country. In order to try to understand Edward Mozingo, he even travels to Africa and visits possible spots where Edward might have lived before his captivity and becoming indentured.


The book interesting and informative because in it the history really does become alive and the author doesn't shy away from breaking misconceptions about John Smith for instance or about what life truly was like for the first European settlers. It is also obvious that he does a lot of research and its also written the way a novel will be written with varied descriptions. From fragments the author builds a fascinating and complex mosaic and presents many sides of the Mozingo families, although there is more focus on the redneck hillbilly side rather than the professional side. Maybe because its uncorrected book, but there aren't any charts or maps or illustrations in it, although maps would have really helped.


The book addresses people of mixed races as well as the hidden secrets that the relatives hide or choose not to reveal. It also addresses discovery of family skeletons and how they impact the descendants. I would imagine that should this book be used for classes, it would impact the way American early history was taught and perhaps it might inspire other people to discover their roots and where they come from.


I can imagine that for many Americans, especially those whose roots stretch back all the way to 1600s this might be a disconcerting novel to read: An African male marrying a European female and giving birth to children that in the future will become Caucasian? For some odd reason I didn't find it uncomfortable. Its acceptable to claim Native American ancestry or Jewish ancestry, yet why wouldn't it be comfortable in claiming African ancestry? What I found fascinating is the early American history presented in the book, in particular the account of John Smith and Powhatan, the killing ceremony towards end of Pocahontas cartoon: the author leaves out the fact that the killing ceremony meant John Smith was accepted by the tribe, while a reference US history book I have titled "Don't Know much about history," mentions that the ceremony meant he was accepted by the Native Americans.


The version I have an advance uncorrected proof, thus there isn't an index or map or complete sources, although the author does use sources throughout the text. Even if the source is old, he leaves the archaic spelling intact.


Whether or not your last name is Mozingo, this book is a worthy read for anyone who had ancestors living in America, or at least its a good way to learn the history you were never taught in schools. The book doesn't even read like a history book and its suffused in life and vivacity. The author's passion is evident in the pages and he presents the facts clearly, giving us a fascinating yet almost unknown piece of life from 1600s up until now. The book itself is also good because it presents an interracial relationship and what happened to the children of the interracial relationship. I think its towards the end that I felt the author started to flounder and there was more description than discovery.

Quick notes: I won this book on goodreads.com thus this review will appear in its entirety on goodreads as well as the blog.

4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

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