Relates the story of three generations of slaves, from Susan and her daughter Clara, to Clara's daughter, whose father is never revealed, all of whom work on the plantation of President James Madison and his wife Dolley.
The violent struggle for freedom in Haiti, typified by the opening scene in which a woman is crucified for killing her baby so he will not grow up to be a slave, and the rise of a former slave, Toussaint L'Ouverture, to self-proclaimed governor general.
It is the story--set in post-Civil War Ohio--of Sethe, an escaped slave who has risked death in order to wrench herself from a living death; who has lost a husband and buried a child; who has borne the unthinkable and not gone mad: a woman of "iron eyes and backbone to match." Sethe lives in a small house on the edge of town with her daughter, Denver, her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, and a disturbing, mesmerizing intruder who calls herself Beloved.
In this epic, the Chesapeake Bay region gets Michener's novel treatment. From Indians to religious pilgrims, from pirates to slave holders, from Quakers to desperate Irish immigrants, the people come in and make their mark on the windy marshes and tidal basins of the Chesapeake Bay.
Several narratives of African American history, including that of a former slave repatriated to Africa in 1834, another of an elderly woman freed after the Civil War, and a third of a British slave trader.
Jacqueline Tobin tells the story African American quilter Ozella Williams handed down to her, describing how slaves made coded quilts and used them to navigate their escape on the Underground Railroad.
A multi-generational tale forms a portrait of a people's passage to a new world, following the voices, as one flows into the next, of six African Americans, beginning with Ampofo, who is brought as slave cargo to America.