Power in the Blood: Land, Memory, and a Southern Family


286 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 0-670-87081-1
DDC 975'.009'9




Photos by Richard Rhodes
Reviewed by Graham Adams, Jr.

Graham Adams, Jr., is a professor of American history at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick.


John Bentley Mays, art critic for The Globe and Mail since 1980, comes
from one of the oldest families in the American South. In this book, he
searches through four centuries of his family’s past in order to gain
a better understanding of his heritage in comparison with the life he
has led outside the South. In doing so, he also sheds light on the
evolution of Southern culture.

“Our history,” declares Mays in reference to his family, “has
been one of uprootings and rerootings ... leaving rootlessness as our
most durable heritage.” William Mays, an Anglican minister who landed
in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1610, served as progenitor of the family.
Through the next several generations, branches of the Mays clan spread
out to Mississippi, South Carolina, New England, Louisiana, and Nova
Scotia. One of Mays’s ancestors signed the South Carolina Ordinance of
Secession, which inaugurated the march toward civil war and the eventual
devastation of the South. Another Mays wrote a biography of his
patrician father-in-law, L.Q.C. Lamar, a U.S. Senator from Mississippi
and a Supreme Court Justice, who tried to build a postwar New South
based on national reconciliation, railroads, and industries. Other
Southerners, however, fashioned imaginative myths about the “Old
South” and the “Lost Cause,” which had no basis in reality and
which Mays finds distorted the image of his heritage.

In this sensitively and beautifully written work, Mays combines a deep
love for the South with illuminating critical judgments. “In the
end,” he concludes, “I found the Southerner I was and always will
be: destined to live as a sojourner among nations far from my native
land, yet sheltering in my heart the South’s ancient light.”


Mays, John Bentley., “Power in the Blood: Land, Memory, and a Southern Family,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 20, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/3737.