The older I’ve gotten, the more diverse my friendships have become. When I was a child my friends mainly came from my neighborhood, school or church and we all shared the same basic background. I’m grateful to have friends that enrich my life now that come from all “walks of life”. Living in a military community in Europe added new threads and textures to the tapestry of my life in ways that I’m eternally grateful for. There is one friendship in particular that seems on the surface to be unlikely, but in reality makes complete sense.
This new friendship has me smiling broadly for a multitude of reasons today and I wanted to share the reasons with you. Mr. James Belton and I are connected through circumstances that occurred in the 1800s. He and I both grew up hearing a story told of a wealthy man who freed his slaves in his will. The story went on to tell of the wealthy man’s grandson fighting the will in the courts for a decade; leaving the slaves in limbo toiling in the cotton fields waiting for other people to decide their future. In both the version James grew up hearing as well as the one that I heard as a child, the slaves finally decided that the time had come to take matters into their own hands– the only way to ever get their freedom was to get rid of the grandson. After all, he was the executor of the estate and if he stopped holding up the process, the slaves would have their freedom. So in 1845 a plot was conceived to drug the after dinner coffee served at the house and then burn it to the ground during the night. In case the grandson woke up and tried to get out of the house, a slave was stationed outside the door with an ax. Quite a story, huh?
Fast forward to 2014. I publish a book called Burning Prospects based on the story that I’d grown up hearing about. Through one of my cousins in California (whom I’d never met before this book came out) I found Mr. James Belton. I sent him a copy of the book. Needless to say, I was thrilled when he contacted me to let me know that he loved the book. We talked on the phone for over an hour like we had known each other for years. I was fortunate enough to meet James in person this month at a large gathering of Belton family members in Myrtle Beach, SC. Through James, I was put in contact with the organizers of the event and invited to speak to the group about the story of Prospect Hill Plantation.
What makes my friendship with James rather unlikely? Well, the answer to that is how we both came to hear the story of the fire at Prospect Hill Plantation in 1845- James from his grandparents and me from mine. You see, Captain Isaac Ross was the man who owned the slaves and made provisions to free them in his will. He was my great (x4) grandfather. Mr. Belton’s great (x2) grandmother Mariah Belton was a house worker at Prospect Hill. So the common link shared by myself and James goes back to the time when my ancestors enslaved his. But it is the modern day friendship that I cherish. We both value the history and what can be learned today from the story of Prospect Hill. We share a mutual respect for each other which is the basis for every friendship.
Writing a novel opens up possibilities that I never knew existed. Particularly when the novel is based on a true story. I have met some fascinating people and I’ve had the chance to speak to different groups about the book. It’s not every day that you get to meet someone who shares family connections going back generations. But I’m very glad that this adventure in novel writing has brought me new friends…including James.