This novel is based on a set of historical facts and does it’s best to follow the true story line. Jane Kirkpatrick does state that there are some composite character’s created (an Indian woman and her grandson) for sake of the flow of the story, but they represent a true presentation of the local Indian tribe in Oregon when settler’s arrived.
Our story is about Letitia, a black woman, who started out as a slave in Kentucky, but was given her freedom by her original owner. She then moved with that family to Missouri where she parted company with them and joined up with one Davey Carson, whom she could not legally marry because he was white and she was black.
Letitia is a true historical figure, she was born in 1818 and died in 1888. The story follows the true line of her life as it transpired and is retold by witnesses who spent time with her.
Letitia and Davey Carson had a marriage that was not legal but was consummated in vows taken before the Lord God Almighty. To them it was a true marriage. Not necessarily one born of love, but one that was born of convenience and out of a caring for each other.
Davey and Letitia leave Missouri with a wagon train headed for Oregon. The book details the life on the trail and the hardships that those travelers had to face and overcome to get through to Oregon. Not all who set out would make it.
Letitia is one of the first Free Black People to travel to Oregon and while on the trail gave birth to her and Davey’s first child, a daughter.
The story is hard to read knowing that it is true because Letitia will continually face hardship for the fact that she is black. She is never assured of having a protected life. There are two people in particular who seem to want to force her to loose everything and leave Oregon. One is Greenberry Smith who is a man who tracked down runaway slaves and sent them back to their owners. He tried to force Letitia to leave Missouri but was forced to leave her be when she produced the proper documents showing that she was a Free Woman.
But that won’t stop him when he gets to Oregon. Letitia has lost her papers on the trail and Greenberry Smith will go all out to see her stripped of all her belongings and those of the life she has made with Davey Carson.
The other person trying to send Letitia and her children out of Oregon is the son of Davey Carson. He is prejudiced against colored people and feels that Letitia took advantage of his father. How wrong he is, but others don’t seem to care.
This story is so full of injustices that you will just want to scream at the top of your lungs about how poorly people could be treated. It will cause you anger to the point of wanting to take vengeance on people like Greenberry Smith, who by the way, joined a group that was basically the Northern Oregon association of the KKK.
But what is fascinating is that Letitia Carson will be the first Free Black Woman to bring a lawsuit against a “White” man. That supposedly is against the law. But a new lawyer, Mr. Thayer, from New York has come to Oregon and he agrees to take on Letitia’s case.
The outcome is one that is not certain. The laws are all against Letitia. Will justice actually be served? If it is it will be against the laws of the land and start new laws to have to be put into place.
This story will take you on a roller coaster of emotions from joy and excitement to pain, agony, grief over the loss of loved ones and pure anguish over how poorly white people could and did treat people of color back in the 1800’s.
There are so many lessons to learn from this story. I for one never knew about Letitia Carson until I read this book. I now realize that some of our history books of American History need to be re-written to include stories of brave people like Letitia Carson.