Jonathan Braithewaite settles in eastern North Carolina in 1727. He marries a sea captain's daughter and they found Jonathan's Landing, later renamed Wisharton. Half the town evolves into a harsh, Calvinist planter community represented by the Brandt family. The other half into a more liberal community scended from the Anglicans and represented by the Braithewaites. Tension grows between the two families who pass through a series of crises. The hero's wife dies of untreatable disease, followed by her husband who is killed in a duel. The slave community evolves from its Yoruban (African) roots tempered by an infusion of Christianity. The eldest Braithewaite daughter marries a school teacher and they open an academy. The Brandt son becomes a religious fanatic who slays his retarded mulatto daughter resisting his attempt at rape. His older slave mistress mediates between the planter family and the slaves. She, too, is carrying his child. Brandt's trial for murder in the death of the girl takes up the middle third of the story. He is sentenced to the pillory and dies there as he is being branded on the forehead with the mark of the serpent. The Brandt's slaves engage in a carefully-controlled rebellion, and the Braithewaite widow frees hers. The final third of the story is set in modern times. Graduate student Kareena discovers she is a direct descendant of a sister of the slave girl murdered 150 years earlier. Moreover, her graduate advisor is a direct descendant of the mad planter Brandt. Through this lineage she and her advisor both carry the Brandt genes. Strange events seem to happen that cannot be real. Flashbacks relating to their common heritage carry the story to a terrifying and surreal conclusion, bringing their mutual family curse to an end.