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Serendipity




The origin of this book came in the early 1990s in my family history research. I stumbled across a query in an old journal mentioning my ancestors and asking for information about their murders in 1813. Their murders?!


The query was then about ten years old. I wrote a letter to the address provided on the hopes that the person had not moved or died. The bad news is that she had moved. The good news is that she had moved next door and got my letter. Martha Heineman was a retired nurse and a meticulous researcher. She had details of the murders of David and William Morgan by fellow slave holder Edward Osborn. She referred me to primary documents from Floyd County, Kentucky and another researcher who had written a monograph on Osborn and the killings.


I wanted to know more. Court records from the early 1800s had been lost over the decades—and they were very brief. The first histories of the county were written fifty or sixty years later from oral tradition and these had errors. Even the headstone for David and William was erected more than 100 years after the fact and the wrong date is carved in stone. One element that the accounts seemed to agree on was that the slave Phyllis, sometimes spelled Fillis, was the only eyewitness.


Instead of trying to do a history and a historiography of this minor event I thought it would be more fun to fictionalize it. I could keep what was known and which of the disputed facts I liked, and invent the rest. I tried to be as faithful as I could to what transpired as well as to the setting, the social, economic and political situation that gave rise to the conflict. I found I could tell the story from the point of view of Phyllis. For that I had to get into the head of someone born in the 1790s, who was a different race, and a different sex. Other authors had done this; Robert Golden for Memoirs of a Geisha and Ernest J. Gaines for The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.

I thought I would give it a try. 

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