Two decades before the Civil War, middle-class farmer Samuel Maddox lies on his deathbed. Elsewhere in his Virginia home, a young woman named Kitty knows her life is about to change. She is one of the Maddox family’s slaves—and Samuel’s biological daughter. When Samuel’s wife, Mary, inherits her husband’s property, she will own Kitty, too, along with Kitty’s three small children.
After Samuel’s death, Mary decides to grant Kitty—an educated woman who has been treated more like family than slave—and her children, their freedom. Helped by Quaker families along the Underground Railroad, Mary travels with them to Pennsylvania to file emancipation papers. But Kitty is not yet safe.
Dragged back to Virginia by a gang of slave catchers led by Samuel’s own nephew, Kitty takes a defiant step: charging the younger Maddox with kidnapping and assault. On the surface, the move is hopeless. But Kitty has allies—Mary, and Fanny Withers, a socialite who secures a lawyer. The sensational trial that follows will decide the fate of Kitty and her children—and bond three extraordinary yet very different women together in their quest for justice.
“Stunning . . . with a compelling clarity that only someone like Ford can provide.”
—Dan Abrams, ABC News Chief Legal Affairs Anchor
“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.”
“A tautly plotted, swiftly moving tale.” —Sabra Waldfogel, author of Sister of Mine
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)|
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Rappahannock County, Virginia One year earlier ...
As the first light of dawn etched a VELVETY PURPLE RIBBON along the edge of the dark sky, the farm began to awaken. Cook fires flared and frying bacon grease sizzled in the cluster of tar-paper and wood-slatted slave cabins, while the sounds of mules braying echoed from within the stable. Candles flickered to life inside the main house, a rambling collection of rooms that seemed to have been haphazardly grafted, at various times, onto the solid two-story log structure that sat at the center of the homestead. The timbers and walls stretched and sighed, and the floorboards creaked and groaned, as the old farmhouse arose from its slumber.
In the kitchen, a separate log building that was attached to the rear of the main house by a covered walkway, an old slave woman struggled to hang a heavy cast-iron pot on a hook inside the massive fireplace, which took up the entire back wall of the room. The smell of damp wood wafted up from the hissing chunks of firewood as small flames began to lick around the edges. The woman was dark skinned, with a lined, ancient face. A smoke-smudged apron and a threadbare calico housedress draped her short, rotund figure. Despite the chill of the early morning, sweat was trickling in rivulets through the creases in her forehead and dripping down her cheeks as she wrestled with the heavy pot.
A low, narrow door on the side wall of the kitchen creaked open, revealing a cramped, sloping-roofed bedroom, where three small children were still asleep, snuggled together on a single floor pallet. A woman stepped out of the room, wrapping a shawl around her shoulders.
"'Bout time you decided to jine us," the old woman muttered without turning around, still grappling with the pot as water sloshed over the edge. "Princess Kitty done arrived," she sniffed.
The other woman was much younger, in her twenties, and had a pretty oval face with high cheekbones; a delicately angled nose; almond eyes that were dark, with flecks of honey; and light skin the color of soft caramel. Her black, tightly curled hair, splashed with a few rays of red, was pulled back and tied up in a bunch behind her head. She was tall and slim, held herself almost regally erect, and towered over the stooped old woman.
"Don't you go callin' me that," the young woman said, glaring down at her. "I asked you before not to," she added firmly.
The old woman refused to make eye contact with Kitty, talking instead into the fireplace as she bent and poked at the flickering logs piled under the large pot, now swinging from its hook.
"Once old mastuh be dead, you be workin' in the fields, just like the rest of 'em. No more bein' uppity, with your readin' and writin', talkin' like white folk, an' all special treated," the old woman said, straightening up and turning to face Kitty. "That day comin' soon," she added with an evil chuckle.
Leaning down, Kitty pressed her face up close to the woman's. "Don't you go talkin' that way about the master," she snapped.
"You just wait," the old woman cackled, backing away from Kitty. "That ol' man not long for this earth, and then nobody be lookin' out for you, like he done all these years. Then you be just another nigger like the rest of us. Mistress prob'ly go an' sell you off," she said.
Kitty's eyes sparked. She was taking a step toward the woman when she heard her name being called from the front room.
"You best be answerin' when Mistress call," the woman jeered.
"You and me not done," Kitty whispered harshly before she turned and left the kitchen, heading into the main house.
The front room was the largest living space in the original log structure and was dominated by an immense fieldstone fireplace. Rough-hewn furniture was scattered across the bare polished oak-plank floor. Mary Maddox stood before a double-sash window, gazing out into the front yard. She was tall and angular, with thick gray-streaked brown hair tied back in a bun, high sculpted cheekbones, and striking crystalline blue eyes. Decades as a farmwife had taken a toll on her appearance, yet even in her late fifties, she still had a hint of the natural beauty that had made her one of the noted belles of Rappahannock County as a young woman.
"He wants to see you," the mistress said coldly, her back to Kitty. "Please do not agitate him. He's in a great deal of pain."
"No, ma'am. I understand. I'll certainly be very quiet and careful not to disturb him," Kitty answered.
As Kitty turned toward the small hallway leading to the main bedroom, Mary spoke again, this time her voice not as harsh. "He doesn't have much time left," she said softly.
Kitty was unsure if the mistress was speaking to her or to herself. "Yes'm," she mumbled.
Pausing in front of the bedroom, Kitty took a deep breath, then lifted the door latch and slipped into the room, her worn leather shoes sliding quietly along the floorboards. She had not seen the master in more than a week, and she was startled at the frightening decline in his appearance. Before the heart attack, Samuel Maddox had been tall and robust, farm strong after working the fields all his life. Now, four weeks later, she could barely discern the outline of his gaunt, fragile figure buried beneath the down quilts scattered across the bed. His head lay propped up on two pillows, twisted in a strange and awkward angle. The once leonine head of flowing Scottish red hair was now greasy and matted, plastered across his skull, shot through with streaks of pale, watery gray. The room smelled of liniment and whiskey, stale sweat and urine. And of death. She stepped closer.
Maddox struggled to turn his head in her direction. The left side of his face was frozen in a tortured scowl, but he somehow managed to contort the right corner of his mouth into something resembling a faint smile. The fingers on his right hand twitched, beckoning Kitty toward him. She settled herself on the hickory chair next to the bed, reached out and placed her hand in his. Maddox wrapped his long, bony fingers around her hand like a skeletal glove and then sighed deeply. They sat quietly for some time, neither saying a word, until she noticed a single tear escape the corner of his right eye and nestle in the sagging folds of his whiskery cheek. Kitty squeezed his hand gently.CHAPTER 2
"Lord, please accept the soul of samuel, your son. Let him sit by your side, basking in your grace, through all of eternity. May he come to know your kindness and your blessings. And may he rest in eternal peace."
The minister, a portly figure dressed in an ill-fitting black suit and waistcoat, raised his bowed head, closed his Bible slowly, looked around at the gathering surrounding the open grave in the fenced-in family cemetery, and solemnly intoned, "Amen."
A chorus of amens rippled in response through the ranks of mourners, the voices more pious and pronounced from the dark-clad neighbors surrounding the stoic Mary Maddox, quieter from the platoon of farm and house slaves assembled a few yards back.
Kitty stood off to the side, aligned with neither neighbors nor slaves, her three children fidgeting at her side, their hands entwined in the folds of her drab gray homespun dress. She lingered there, watching silently, as the mourners shuffled solemnly away from the grave site toward the yard between the front porch and the barn, where tables of food and drink awaited.
Mary Maddox remained standing, statue-like, at the edge of the gash in the ground, her gaze locked on the raw pine casket that had been lowered into the grave. After a long moment, she stooped, grabbed a handful of the loose earth piled around the hole, stood, and sprinkled it down onto the top of the casket. After blessing herself with the sign of the cross, she turned and walked toward the mourners, who were now encamped around the serving tables, sipping glasses of lemonade and talking quietly.
As Mary passed Kitty, she offered a slight, icy nod to the slave and then pointed her chin in the direction of the grave. Kitty nodded in return and shepherded her children toward the grave site. She bent and whispered to each of them in turn — five-year-old Eliza Jane, four-year-old Mary, and two-year-old Arthur — and then she and the children knelt in prayer for a moment. As they stood, Kitty dropped a small flower she had been clutching onto the top of the casket. She then ushered the children across the yard and into the main house, her head held high, looking neither right nor left, ignoring the sidelong glances flickering from many of the whispering mourners.
Taking up a position at the head of the main table, Mary accepted condolences and chatted briefly in subdued and somber tones with friends and neighbors. The farm slaves had melted away after the ceremony, absolved from their ordinary labor for the day, while the house slaves were busy tending to the needs of the assembled mourners.
Mary looked up and brightened noticeably as one of the guests approached. Fanny Withers stepped through the circle of neighbors and embraced Mary as the other mourners backed away deferentially, providing a halo of privacy for the two friends.
"Oh, Fanny," Mary whispered, locked in a long embrace. "I just don't know what I'm goin' to do without him."
Fanny pulled away slightly, keeping her hands clasped around Mary's arms, and smiled. She was strikingly attractive, with golden curls framing a long, angular face. Tall, though not as tall as Mary, she carried herself like the local royalty that she was. Although her dress was similar in funereal color to those of the other women gathered in the yard, it was markedly different in style. Silk ribbons and lace adorned the front of the dress, while rows of ruffles cascaded down the back, all in sharp contrast to the stark simplicity of the other mourners' attire.
The people of Rappahannock County were never quite sure what to make of Fanny Withers. She was, indeed, the belle of the county — beautiful, educated, and charming — yet she had also become one of the shrewdest property investors and toughest negotiators around. She and her sister, Katie, had inherited the largest plantation in the county when their father died, with hundreds of acres of fertile land and dozens of slaves, and under Fanny's direction, their holdings had expanded dramatically. And although she was in her early thirties, she remained steadfastly single, not, however, from a lack of attention showered upon her by nearly every bachelor of good social standing ranging from the farms of Rappahannock County to the salons and drawing rooms of Richmond. For her part, Fanny seemed to enjoy the puzzlement, reveling in her paradoxical roles as both a paragon of Southern culture and a perplexing social renegade.
"You'll manage," Fanny answered, brushing away a tear rolling down Mary's cheek. "You'll find a way."
"Thirty years together," Mary said, drying her face with a small lace handkerchief. "Sometimes hard years, but mostly good years. And now I'm left here all by myself." She forced a smile. "I'm going to miss that cranky old bastard."
"He was a cranky old bastard, wasn't he?" Fanny said, laughing gently.
"Yes, he was," Mary said. Then, after a pause, she added, "But he was my cranky old bastard."
Their private reverie was shattered when two new mourners approached, a man and a woman, walking arm in arm. Fanny released Mary and stepped back.
"I hope we're not intruding," the woman said sweetly. "But Sam and I wanted to offer our condolences before we left."
"Katie. Sam. It was very kind of you to come," Mary said a bit formally.
"Nonsense," Katie Withers said behind a wide smile. She was somewhat shorter than her older sister and very attractive, although with her darker hair and broader features, she was not quite as stunning as Fanny. And her dress, while certainly more fashionable than those of the other guests, did not match the flair and elegance of her sister's ensemble.
"Of course we'd be here," added Sam Maddox. "After all, he was my uncle and me bein' the only blood relative he had left. Certainly ain't gonna miss his funeral 'cause of some occasional disagreements with the ol' man." He was ruggedly handsome, with a thatch of thick brown hair, a sharp nose jutting out of a lean, hawk-like face, and deep-set dark eyes. Even in his late thirties he remained an imposing man, taller than most, with strong, square shoulders. He offered his aunt his most engaging smile, although his eyes remained vacant and cold. "And I surely want you to know, Aunt Mary," he said in his soft, comfortable drawl, "that y'all aren't alone. I'm here to help whenever you might need it."
"Thank you, Sam," Mary answered stiffly. "I'm sure your uncle would appreciate that. And thank you, too, Katie, for your kindness." She nodded to them both and then turned back toward Fanny, who had remained standing silently a few feet away.
Having been fairly unceremoniously dismissed, Katie Withers and Sam Maddox exchanged sullen glances, then turned on their heels and joined a group of younger mourners at the food tables.
"For the life of me," Fanny whispered, shaking her head, "I still can't believe that man was kin to your Samuel. Not just blood kin but carrying the same name, for goodness' sakes."
"I know," Mary answered. "Always felt the same way. Never could figure why my Samuel didn't just shut that boy off. Always trying to bail him out of trouble. And young Sam just never appreciated what all he did for him." She shook her head balefully. "Well, maybe now that Samuel's gone, I won't be bothered by him near as much."
"You can certainly hope," said Fanny. "But I'm afraid that as long as my sister stays sweet on him, and as long as he stays sweet on her money, I'll still be stuck with them both."
Mary smiled ruefully and then took Fanny's arm in hers. "Come. Let's go spend some time with these nice folks." She paused. "Even though when Samuel was alive, he had little time for most of 'em," she said, chuckling.CHAPTER 3
By sundown, the mourners had paid their last condolences, offered their last embraces, climbed onto sleek horses and swaybacked mules, rickety wooden-wheeled field wagons and elegant carriages with fine-tooled leather canopies, and left the Maddox farm. Mary and Fanny sat on the porch, in whitewashed wicker rocking chairs, a half-empty bottle of good Virginia bourbon on the table between them and full glasses in their hands.
"Thought they'd never leave," Mary sighed. "Nearly ate and drank me out of everything I got stored up for the winter." She reached out with her free hand and patted Fanny's arm. "Thank you for offerin' to stay with me tonight. Think it's going to be a bit lonely here for a while."
"Nonsense," said Fanny warmly. "No need to thank me. You were the first one to our house when my mother passed away — and the last one to leave. And you've been like a mother to me ever since."
The women rocked in companionable silence for a time.
Fanny nursed a sip of the bourbon and then looked caringly at her friend. "Y'all going to be okay here?" she asked. "By yourself?"
"No, no, I'll be just fine," Mary answered. "I think Samuel had a sense, even before his heart gave out, that the end of his time on earth was drawin' near. He left things in pretty good order. I'll be fine for a while."
"What about the farm?" Fanny asked. "Who all's going to run it?"
"Gonna have to pray on that a bit," said Mary, and then she took a long pull from her whiskey glass. "My guess is there'll be a line of folks knockin' on the door soon enough, lookin' to buy it. I can hear them right now," she said, snickering. She lowered her voice and mimicked the anticipated sales pitch. "'A poor, lonesome widow like you shouldn't have to be botherin' herself about runnin' no farm. I got a right nice price I'm willin' to offer you to take it off your hands.'" She laughed again, louder this time, the bourbon now a cohort in the conversation.
They sat silently for a while, rocking and sipping.
Then Fanny asked in a soft tone, "What about Kitty?"
Mary didn't answer right away. Finally, she said, "What about her?"
"We don't need to talk about this now if you don't think it's the right time," Fanny said, reaching over and grasping Mary's hand in her own. "Just thought you might be needin' to talk a bit, that's all."
Mary stopped rocking and gazed off into the distance. After a time, she looked at Fanny, her brows raised quizzically. "Do people know?"
Fanny nodded. "Some. At least they suspect," Fanny said.
"How?" Mary asked softly, anguish and embarrassment creeping into her voice at the realization that others knew her secret.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Chariot On The Mountain"
Copyright © 2018 Jack Ford.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Excellent! A very absorbing and moving story, based on real llives!!
I truly loved this book of history. Thank you for taking the time to tell Kitty’s story.
It is one of those books you don’t want to put down.
Every once in a while you encounter a book that grabs you by the heart, leads you an a spectacular journey that you wish would never end. In CHARIOT ON THE MOUNTAIN, Jack Ford crafts a historical fiction, based on true events, about the Maddox family and their quest of redemption. Samuel Maddox, a middle-class Virginia farmer strays from his wife and is soon the father to one of their slave’s daughter, Kitty. In an effort to make life bearable, Samuel and his wife, Mary, agree to sell Kitty’s mother and raise Kitty. Upon Samuel’s deathbed, he urges Mary to free Kitty and her three children. Upon his passing his will leaves all of his property to his wife. But his nephew and only living relative, Sam Maddox, a no-do-gooder whose shenanigans are commonly known in town, interprets verbiage in the late Samuel’s will that the property is also his and thus he should be entitled to a say in the runnings of the property. This could jeopardize Mary’s ability to fulfill Samuel’s last wish and her own sense of consolation for the wrong she feels for having Kitty grow up without her mother. Thus they embark on a journey along the Underground Railroad to Pennsylvania, where Kitty and her children can be emancipated. All the while, Sam and a gang of slave catchers on fresh on their trail. Mary emancipates Kitty and her children and they live with another recently emancipated family while they get on their feet. In a tragic turn of events, it’s this same family who turns Kitty and her children over to Sam and the slave catchers and return them back captive against their will in Virginia. What follows is a remarkable trial, Kitty sues Sam for her kidnapping and abuse. It’s outcome will leave the reader floored, as it did many people in that time. This book is very well written and I devoured it in two days, staying up late into the night unable to put the book down. It’s not common that I encounter such a marvelous story, but you will not regret picking this book up for a read. I rate it 5 very much deserved stars. I want to extend a special thank you to Kensington Publishing and NetGalley for granting me the Advance Reader’s Copy. I also want to thank Jack Ford for crafting a thrilling stories that will always have a special place on my bookshelf.
Not at all what I expected. Because the writer is a journalist I thought the book would be more based in fact with a bit of poetic license. Unfortunately there was not much historical record for the author to go on, and the actual court case did not have transcripts. So basically the entire book is made up with the plot following the basic facts known. Unfortunately this reads like some antebellum miniseries from the 80’s. Kitty’s voice did felt off to me the entire story. This book falls completely flat and there are much better books that cover this subject matter, like Roots and Cane River.