Across the Great Divide: The Founding
Across the Great Divide Book #3
by Michael L. Ross
Publication Date: December, 2022
Pages: 455 (PDF)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Two men, two dreams, two new towns on the plains, and a railroad that will determine whether the towns—one black, one white—live or die.
Will Crump has survived the Civil War, Red Cloud’s War, and the loss of his love, but the search for peace and belonging still eludes him. From Colorado, famed Texas Ranger Charlie Goodnight lures Will to Texas, where he finds new love, but can a Civil War sharpshooter and a Quaker find a compromise to let their love survive? When Will has a chance to join in the founding of a new town, he risks everything—his savings, his family, and his life—but it will all be for nothing if the new railroad passes them by.
Luther has escaped slavery in Kentucky through Albinia, Will’s sister, only to find prejudice rearing its ugly head in Indiana. When the Black Codes are passed, he’s forced to leave and begin a new odyssey. Where can he and his family go to be truly free? Can they start a town owned by blacks, run by blacks, with no one to answer to? But their success will be dependent on the almighty railroad and overcoming bigotry to prove their town deserves the chance to thrive.
Will’s eldest sister, Julia, and her husband, Hiram, are watching the demise of their steamboat business and jump into railroads, but there’s a long black shadow in the form of Jay Gould, the robber baron who ruthlessly swallows any business he considers competition. Can Julia fight the rules against women in business, dodge Gould, and hold her marriage together?
The Founding tells the little-known story of the Exodusters and Nicodemus, the black town on the plains of Kansas, and the parallel story of Will’s founding of Lubbock, Texas, against the background of railroad expansion in America. A family reunited, new love discovered, the quest for freedom, the rise of two towns. In the end, can they reach Across the Great Divide? The Founding is the exciting conclusion to the series.
Praise for The Founding:
“Michael is an excellent storyteller and has done a wonderful job depicting Luther, and the other black characters in this book. He has done his homework and depicts many historical facts about Nicodemus in a most enlightening and creative way. It has been a pleasure working with someone who has made a concerted effort to get things right.
~ Angela Bates
The Nicodemus Historical Society and Museum
The writing of Across the Great Divide required extensive research, especially into black and Indian culture.
For this post, I would like to focus on the character of Luther in Book 3, The Founding. Luther appeared in the first book, “The Clouds of War”. When I began writing the series, I wanted to show as many parallels as possible between issues of today, and issues around the time of the American Civil War – prejudice, racism, sectional differences, tariffs and trade, and sanctuary cities to name a few. You can’t write a book encompassing the Civil War and not deal with the issue of slavery. I talked to a lot of black people, and got feedback through my HistoricalNovelsRUS Facebook page – the most common theme in the feedback was – “Don’t sugar coat it.” I wanted to show all levels of 1850s Kentucky society. There were several plantations in the Lexington area, but the most famous was Ashland, home to the politician Henry Clay.
My fictional character Albinia, developed a friendship with Lucy Clay, Henry’s granddaughter. Lucy was crippled – she could walk after a fashion, but not negotiate stairs – this is historical. Albinia is a talented seamstress and got to know Lucy by making dresses for her, and they became friends. This association with the upper class provided a window into the slave owners, and the character of Luther was born.
As Across the Great Divide opens, Luther is about fifteen years old, the eldest of three children. He was given as a birthday present to Lucy, separating him from his mother and sisters, who live at the fictional Jameson plantation. There are few records of the slaves at the actual Clay plantation since later owners of the plantation burned them after the Civil War and left little record of how slaves were treated there. To stick to the historical record, fairly benign treatment was assumed. The Jameson plantation was another story – and there were real plantations in the area with brutal records.
What was the life of a slave like? How can we imagine it? I started by reading “Slave Patrols” by Sally Haddon, Harvard historian. Though the book focuses on Virginia and the Carolinas, it does paint a realistic picture of life as a slave. Needing a pass to be off your plantation – thus the suppression of literacy for black people. Having no privacy, no control over your life, your children, no recognition of marriage. Subject to mild to severe punishment or murder for arbitrary reasons, or no reason at all.
Yet contrary to tradition, many black people in slave states did learn to read and write. One famous example is Frederick Douglass – but there are many others. Luther didn’t know how in book 1.
I read many diaries and journals of formerly enslaved people – the University of North Carolina has a treasure trove of them. I also read books like William Still’s Underground Railroad, with its hundreds of anecdotes about escaping to the North. Accounts like “Twelve Years a Slave”, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” by Harriet Jacobs, William Wells Brown’s “A Slave No More”, and a long list of others.
Luther gets a whipping from his old master Jameson, interrupted by Clay’s overseer. Jameson, who still owns Luther’s mother and sisters, takes revenge for the interruption on Luther’s family, raping his oldest sister, and provoking his mother to run for freedom. This begins Luther’s journey to freedom. He’s afraid, but his family is determined to escape or die. He learns later that Jameson is his biological father, and coupled with the death of his youngest sister and the torture of his mother at the hands of slave catchers, his rage and determination for revenge knows no bounds. He and his family make it to Canada, and Luther receives schooling. Rather than stay safe, he returns south determined to deal with his father and the black that betrayed them to the slave catcher.
Most of the incidents in Luther’s journey are based on actual events that happened to real people. Rape was a common experience for female slaves. The punishments and torture that Luther’s mother Jemima experienced were taken from actual accounts of black people. The slave catcher Alberti was a real person, who lived in Maryland and was unrepentant. The Parker sisters is a famous case where two young free black women were kidnapped by slave catchers and sold into slavery, as Alberti attempts with Luther and his family after their escape to the North.
Luther’s character grows, motivated by rage and revenge, until his father is killed in the battle that took place in real life on the Clay plantation, Ashland. He begins to establish a life in Indiana, thinking he will finally be free.
In the prolog to The Founding, Luther’s life is uprooted by the Black Codes passed in Indiana and other northern states, and he is forced to search again for freedom. There is a misconception that prejudice against black people was (and is) only in the South. Nothing could be further from the truth. Two prominent instances illustrate this, aside from the Black Codes themselves – the mayor of New York City attempting to secede at the beginning of the Civil War, and the trial of Anthony Burns in Boston. Burns had escaped slavery but was captured in Boston, and after a controversial trial, returned to slavery.
Luther wants a peaceful life, a family, the freedom to do as he pleases and to earn a living through hard work. The lynchings in Evansville at the beginning of The Founding were historical events. Every formerly enslaved person lived in fear, looking over their shoulder, anticipating the worst, even though there were many kind and sympathetic white people. The idea of equality between black and white took a long time to take root, and indeed, has still not been fully realized in our nation. Did you know that when Abraham Lincoln was backed into a corner during the Lincoln/Douglas debates before the war, even Lincoln admitted he didn’t consider black people equal? His views evolved over the course of the war, but he was in agreement with Henry Clay and the “back to Africa” movement. By 1868, when the 14th Amendment was ratified, it had been sixty years since any black people were legally brought as slaves to America. Millions of black people had never seen Africa – it was as foreign to them as any other country. When Luther is ejected from Indiana, going to Africa is not even considered. He learned a valuable trade, blacksmithing, and traveled west, seeking a place where being black wasn’t a reason for hate and violence. And thus his journey with the Exodusters, which is covered in another blog post of this tour.
Like many movie epics, some things end up on the cutting room floor, and that is true of Luther’s story as well. Originally The Founding incorporated Luther’s time in Leavenworth, Kansas, with the real-life Hiram Young, who made over forty thousand wagons used on the Oregon Trail. Hiram was a free black who bought other blacks to help them to freedom, working for wages to reimburse him until they were free, including Hiram’s own wife and brother.
Topeka was where the real Reverend Simon Roundtree came to recruit people to move to the new town of Nicodemus. Ironically, it was also the real site of the famous Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that ended segregated schools.
To understand the psychology of black people in today’s America, you have to know and understand the long history of racial hatred, prejudice, and the source of anger. Let’s hope that the Luthers of the future can live in peace.
Thanks to Cathie, Mary Anne, and all the others that have helped to make people aware of this last book in the Across the Great Divide Series.
Writing Across the Great Divide has been a long ten-year journey – meaning I started with three pages ten years ago, and it sat for a while as I was still working full time for Intel and juggling teenagers. When I went to the Historical Novel Society Conference in 2017 in Portland, Oregon, I got an intensive education about what it meant to be a writer and met my editor, Jenny Quinlan. Jenny deserves a lot of credit for the books in the series, especially the last two. She was the developmental editor for all of the books. She designed the covers and did developmental and copyediting for the last two books.
At that conference, I got encouragement from other authors, and with no idea what I was doing, delivered my first pitch to an agent – Irene Goodman. I’d just taken a class on pitching the night before with HNS, and to my great surprise, I got a request. I didn’t know enough to research agents in advance, so when people said that she was a big deal, and to wait until my manuscript was finished and perfect, I followed their advice. Only later, reading Writer’s Digest, did I realize that for Irene if she doesn’t get her request within thirty days, it’s an automatic no. The book was eventually picked up by Harper Collins, but COVID forced the last two books into independent publication.
I hope you enjoy The Founding and go back for the first two books in the series. Each is written to be standalone, though the Founding necessarily includes minor back-references to the first two books.
The first two books also have audio versions on both Audible and Chirpbooks. If you’d like to see an audio version of The Founding, please feel free to email HistoricalNovelsRUs@gmail.com and express your interest.
You can follow my further writing by signing up for my newsletter at HistoricalNovelsRUs.com/contact.
Michael L. Ross
Michael Ross is a lover of history and great stories.
He’s a retired software engineer turned author, with three children, and five grandchildren, living in Newton, Kansas with his wife of 39 years. Michael graduated from Rice University and Portland State University with degrees in German and software engineering. He was part of an MBA program at Boston University.
Michael was born in Lubbock, Texas, and still loves Texas. He’s written short stories and technical articles in the past, as well as articles for the Texas Historical Society.
Across the Great Divide now has three novels in the series, "The Clouds of War", and "The Search", and the conclusion, "The Founding". "The Clouds of War" was an honorable mention for Coffee Pot Book of the Year in 2019, and an Amazon #1 best seller in three categories, along with making the Amazon top 100 paid, reviewed in Publisher's Weekly. "The Search" won Coffee Pot Cover of the Year in 2020, and Coffee Pot Silver Medal for Book of the Year in 2020, as well as short listed for the Chanticleer International Book Laramie Award.
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