New Haven, CT 06511
The stunning travails of Kitty Payne, an actual Virginia slave who was freed and then kidnapped by her master’s nefarious nephew, come to life in this suspenseful and affecting novel from Ford (The Walls of Jericho). Following the death of her master (who fathered her with another slave), Kitty believes her life and the lives of her three children are in jeopardy, because she thinks that without the master’s protection, his wife might sell her and her children and break up her family. After a botched escape attempt, rather than punish her, Mary Maddox, wife of the deceased master, confesses her husband’s deathbed wish to set Kitty and her children free and helps to make that happen: she hides Kitty and her family in a carriage and takes them to the free state of Pennsylvania through the Underground Railroad. Despite the unfortunate use of stereotypical dialect and an unnecessary preface that reveals much of the plot, the climax of the book is a riveting 1846 court case—the first in history in which a slave brings a lawsuit against a white man. Using actual transcripts, Ford does an excellent job portraying the warring factions of the time: those in the South who wanted to preserve their way of life, and those who felt slavery was unjust. The author adeptly depicts a little-known slice of American legal history.