Every time I read a book by Ms. Kirkpatrick, I always say the same thing, “I love it!” Her books are so amazing, and if it is even possible it seems she continues to outdo herself with each new one! I had a couple sleepless nights because of this book; I couldn’t put it down!
The author is a master at writing historical fiction. Letitia and many other characters are real people that Ms. Kirkpatrick intensely researched. It makes the book even more enjoyable knowing these people really existed. As with her other books, the story seems as if it was written by the characters. I found myself forgetting many of the details are fiction.
Letitia is a black woman that has been freed by her master. She treasured and guarded the parchment paper that declared her legally a free woman. The word freedom she knew was used loosely as there were still many dangers, prejudices, and restrictions imposed by society. Not everyone acknowledged her as free, and certainly not an equal with a white person.
Her family was gone and her cow Charity was her prized possession. She took great pride in the fact she had paid for her, but also Charity was more than that. She was the only living breathing thing that Letitia could love and draw comfort from.
In 1842 she leaves front Kentucky, heading to Missouri with the Bowman family as a paid employee. Mrs. Bowman still treated her like a slave in most ways. They were heading to Oregon and Letitia had heard it was a state that wanted to join the Free states. She hoped to start a life of her own there. A large group of people are gathering in Missouri to go in groups with special guides to help them make the difficult journey.
There an Irish immigrant named Davey Carson took her in to work for him after she lost her job at the hotel. He was a man of compassion and loved Letitia. He asked her to be his wife and she accepted. Whites could not legally marry blacks then, so both being Christians they had their own ceremony before the Lord. Their relationship is definitely rocky at times.
I saw through her eyes the life of a freed black woman of that time. It wasn’t a pretty picture. People were so cruel and condescending; it is hard to imagine anyone treating another person that way. She found a true friend in Nancy Hawkins who was also heading to Oregon with her large family. Nancy and her husband Zach, a doctor, accepted Letitia as a person and saw her value.
As if being black was not enough of a challenge, the trip to Oregon was arduous, exhausting and grueling. Just surviving was extremely difficult without adding the unexpected problems that arose. It took a huge amount of faith, courage, and perseverance to make the journey. Many died but there was no time to grieve for their loved one as they had to bury them and move on. I was shocked at how hard daily existence was on the trail. All she had to do to simply cook, bath, wash clothes, try to sleep, take care of her family when they were sick, exhausted me just reading it. All this done in the wilderness in or around a wagon!
The spitefulness and rejection of the other women was unreal. There wasn’t even simple kindness. I remember one part where they ladies spread their skirts and turned their backs so they could take turns getting in the middle of the circle and use the bathroom unexposed. Poor Letitia had to go out away into bushes alone, risking being attacked by a wild animal or Indians!! It really made me think about the conditions the settlers endured. I can’t imagine having to use the bathroom like that and many women gave birth while on the trail!
More adversities and suffering met them in Oregon. There a Kalapuya Indian grandmother, named Betsy, and her grandson befriended Letitia. Giving her not only friendship but helping her when she had no one. Betsy understood the condemning attitude from society because the Indians were look down upon as were the blacks.
Letitia’s remarkable strength in facing anything life dealt her really made an impression on me. She never gave up or backed down in spite of disappointment, pain, or setbacks. Knowing she really lived such a life was inspiring. I thought of how easily we give up now. This is an amazing, amazing story! It is constantly moving and developing with such intensity and many surprises. You WILL want to read it! Thank you Jane Kirkpatrick for another incredible book!
I received this book free from Revell Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.