Daisy Turner (storyteller)

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Daisy Turner (June 21, 1883 – February 8, 1988) was an American storyteller and poet. Born in Grafton, Vermont to freed slaves, she became famous late in life for her oral recordings of her family's history, which can be traced back to Africa and England.

Biography[edit]

Daisy Turner's father, Alexander Turner was a slave who escaped from his plantation at the start of the Civil War, and joined the 1st New Jersey Cavalry of the Union Army. In the spring of 1863, Turner guided his regiment to his old plantation in Port Royal, Virginia, where he killed his former overseer.

After military service, he returned to New England where he worked as a logger. He and his wife Sally had a homestead in Grafton, Vermont where they raised 16 children. His strength was prodigious, and the Grafton Storekeeper once bet that if Alex carried a one hundred fifty pound barrel of flour home (uphill and over three miles) without setting it down he could have it for free. Alex went ahead and did so to feed his family but at the same time he was followed by forty or so men who carried their own "little jugs of jimmyjohn and hard cider... and after they all got up, they all got drunk." (Beck)

A powerful presence, Daisy Turner was proud of her heritage, and was a strong, outspoken woman from childhood to her death at the age of 104. She is remembered as a gifted storyteller and family historian. The Turner family homestead (they had 13 children in all) is located on the "Daisy Turner Loop", a biking trail near Grafton Pond.

She had been a "striking beauty in her youth, with high cheekbones and deep-set eyes" (Beck) and led an exciting life, many of the details of which have been recorded carefully. Daisy can be seen reciting Civil War poetry, at the remarkable age of 104, in Ken Burns' critically acclaimed PBS documentary, The Civil War. One of Turner's favorite personal stories, which she recounted often, involved a school pageant when Turner was about eight years old. In the pageant, Turner's teacher had instructed Turner to recite a poem with a black doll, but at the last minute, Turner resisted and spontaneously made up her own poem. This story became the subject of a children's book by Michael Medearis and Angela Shelf Medearis, and receives scholarly attention in Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights, by Robin Bernstein. Daisy Turner's story continues to attract wide attention as part of an effort to preserve the folk history of Vermont and the United States.

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