Posthumously published novel by Gilbert Byron tells story of early Spanish exploration

A 49-year-old novel stored in the archives of Chesapeake College will be published on December 1, marking yet the latest book to issue from the fertile imagination of Eastern Shore author Gilbert Byron. Byron, who died in 1991 at the age of 87, was sometimes called the “Voice of the Chesapeake” because of his lifelong commitment to writing about the history and heritage of the Bay and those who worked its waters.

Byron’s previously unpublished book, Mission Boy, tells the story of a Spanish Jesuit missionary expedition to the Chesapeake Bay (called by the Spanish, the Bay of Santa Maria) in 1570. The doomed mission was guided by a Native American convert to Christianity whom the Spanish knew as Don Luis.

Soon after the missionaries’ landing, believed to be on the same Virginia Peninsula where Jamestown was to be founded 37 years later by the English, Don Luis slipped away into the forest, leaving the small band of Jesuits isolated and increasingly dependent for their sustenance on the charity and trade of the Algonquin Indians whom they had come to convert. The title character, the “mission boy,” is a young Spaniard who must survive the collapse of the expedition until a rescue mission can be sent from Havana.

The typescript of Mission Boy is one of many Byron papers that were given to Chesapeake College by his estate. The existence of the book was noted by Byron’s former high school English student and personal representative, Jacques T. Baker, Jr., in his comprehensive biography, Gilbert Byron: A Life Worth Examining (The Talbot County Free Library Foundation: 2013).

“When I learned from Jack Baker’s biography that Gilbert Byron had left behind some unpublished manuscripts, that made me curious,” said Ron Sauder, owner of Secant Publishing in Salisbury, Maryland. “Fortunately, both Mr. Baker and Douglass Gray, vice president for technology and academic support at Chesapeake College, fully shared my interest in Mission Boy and were supportive of Secant’s bringing the old story to life. It has been a privilege to work with this material.”

A percentage of the royalties from any sales of Mission Boy will be donated to Chesapeake College to help support care and upkeep of the special collections. Although there is not a record of where and whether Byron tried to submit the book during his lifetime, it seems clear from the perspective of the 12-year-old protagonist, Alonso, and the simple language of the book that the author envisioned it as a work of juvenile fiction, perhaps along the lines of seagoing adventure tales like “Treasure Island” or “Kidnapped.”

Mission Boy is available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats at http://amzn.to/1S1wEuq . The book’s distributor to the trade is Seattle Book Company, which can be contacted at http://bit.ly/1PxXufW or (734)-426-6248. It will also be carried locally in The Unicorn Bookshop, Trappe.

About Gilbert Byron

Gilbert Byron’s best-known works were the semi-autobiographical story collections The Lord’s Oysters, Done Crabbin’, and College Days, chronicling the life of young Noah Marlin as he grew up in Chestertown, a waterman’s son; followed his father to work in the shipyards at Baltimore during World War I; and then became a student at Washington College. Byron taught school in Delaware and Maryland for 28 years before becoming a full-time writer when The Lord’s Oysters was published by Atlantic/Little, Brown in 1957. He was also the author of many beloved collections of poems, essays, and newspaper columns.

About Secant Publishing

Regional books and authors are the primary focus of Secant Publishing, which was founded in 2014 to honor and extend the rich history and literature of the Eastern Shore and Chesapeake Bay. See www.secantpublishing.com.

 

 

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