RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're now going to take you back to your high school American history class. Remember General William Sherman's famous March to the Sea? Well, 150 years ago today that march came to an end as General Sherman captured the city of Savannah. In the days leading up to Savannah's surrender, Sherman's troops burned the nearby Mulberry Grove Plantation. They also freed hundreds of slaves, including a baby boy, who would grow up on the land as a free man. From Georgia Public Broadcasting, Sarah McCammon has the story of two people who discovered an unexpected connection to that man.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: When Hugh Golson and Martha McCullough say they're bonded together, what they're really talking about are the bonds of slavery.
HUGH GOLSON: This is my ancestor that owned her grandfather. This is Zachariah Winkler, the master of Mulberry.
MCCAMMON: Golson, a retired history teacher, is a wiry, white man in his mid-60s with bright blue eyes. McCullough is a former grade school teacher. She's 87, African-American and dressed in a festive red sweater and hat. Golson holds up a small photo of a planter decked out in a gold watch. Taken, he says, in the studios of the famed photographer, Matthew Brady. Another larger snapshot depicts an African-American man with a line of trees behind him wearing a corduroy cap. That's McCullough's grandfather.
MARTHA MCCULLOUGH: Christmas Moultrie - Moultrie, uh huh.
GOLSON: And Christmas was born Christmas Day 1863. So he lived in slavery not quite a calendar year. But this is the man that owned him and owned his parents.
MCCAMMON: They sit together in Golson's Victorian home in downtown Savannah full of antiques and walls lined with books. Growing up in the 1930s and 1940s, McCullough remembers visiting her grandfather at the old Mulberry Plantation where he'd been born in slavery. Christmas Moultrie worked there much of his life.
MCCULLOUGH: And oftentimes he would go hunting and fishing. And he was the caretaker for them.
GOLSON: He was caretaker, and he also was what I would call a game hunter.
MCCAMMON: Moultrie was too young to remember it, but General Sherman's arrival at Mulberry Grove in December 1864 is described in a book published in the 1940s as part of the federal WPA employment project. Golson has a copy on his bookshelf.
GOLSON: With one of his own slaves set to guard him, Zachariah Winkler stood and watched his home go up in smoke.
MCCAMMON: Golson says this matches stories about the war passed down in his southern family.
GOLSON: But Martha can tell us what was really happening in Mulberry. Her grandfather told her that those war years were hard, that they were hungry.
MCCAMMON: McCullough says her grandfather also told her about moving on after hard times.
MCCULLOUGH: I'm very grateful to God that I let problems roll away like water off a duck back. I say trouble don't last always. That's my thing with my grandfather.
MCCAMMON: Though McCullough and Golson both grew up knowing Moultrie and knew each other through their work as teachers, they didn't always know of their connection.
GOLSON: We were sitting at the table together for probably a dozen years before we realized we had this old connection between us.
MCCAMMON: In the early 1990s, they ran into each other at a meeting of a group trying to preserve Mulberry Grove. That's where they connected the dots. McCullough's grandfather, Christmas Moultrie, had been born into slavery on the plantation once owned by Golson's family.
MCCULLOUGH: I say, you know my grandfather, Christmas Moultrie?
GOLSON: I knew him when I was a child. We'd go up there, and he was the amazing man that lived by the gate. That is the man that kind of bound us together.
MCCAMMON: A bond that began on a plantation near the end of the Civil War, a bond they say they'll share for the rest of their lives. For NPR News, I'm Sarah McCammon in Savannah, Georgia.
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