Author, professor and award-winning journalist Jack Ford presented his groundbreaking novel “Chariot on the Mountain” Monday night at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Storrs Center.
The crowd greeted Ford with applause as he walked on stage. He spoke candidly with the audience and gave an in-depth analysis about the plot of his book, how it came to be and spoke about his experience as a trial lawyer.
He discussed, in length, his fascination with courthouses and described a visit to Washington, Virginia in which he happened upon a courthouse that was built in the 1830s. On one of the walls a plaque read “Here, Kitty, an African-American slave, fought for her freedom.” This plaque sparked an interest which led to the construction of “Chariot on the Mountain.”
Following his initial encounter with this courthouse, he spent the next couple of weeks traveling back and forth deciphering time-worn court documents that he found in his investigation of Kitty’s trial.
As Ford went through the information, he came to the conclusion that there wasn’t enough detail to suffice a complete, accurate story without adding additional features to the narrative, therefore making the story historical fiction. Although Ford has created personalities for the characters presented in the novel, the characters and the events remain how they occured in history.
The narrative follows Kitty, a slave, through her life being owned by her biological father, Samuel Maddox. Following the death of Maddox, Kitty and her three children become the property of his wife, and technically Kitty’s step-mother, Mary Maddox. During Kitty’s maturation, Mary struggles to accept her husband’s daughter, but after his death she chooses to grant Kitty and her children their freedom.
She travels with them to Pennsylvania by the Underground Railroad to file the proper papers permitting Kitty her freedom. After reaching Pennsylvania, Kitty is captured and brought back to Virginia by a gang of men associated with Samuel’s nephew, who claims that he was the rightful owner of Kitty and her children.
Kitty makes the brave move of taking him to court to pursue charges of kidnapping and assault. Though the results of this trial appear uncertain, Kitty aligns herself with her former mistress, Mary Maddox, and a wealthy aristocrat, Fanny Withers.
When describing the plot of the narrative, Ford shared his own confusions about the relationship between the characters of Mary and Kitty, and the inconceivable alliance between the three women.
“The compelling power of this, is the strength of this extraordinary alliance,” Ford said. “This unbelievably, unlikely alliance of three strong, very different women.”
He also shared that his publisher, an African-American woman, brought a different perspective to the story and often gave him the positive, necessary feedback needed in order to complete the narrative.
While writing the novel, Ford said that he intended to “describe the trial, and try to relay it in a way that people today would understand.” He went on the describe this trial as: “one of the most extraordinary trials that no one has ever heard of.”
“I haven’t read his work but I think I’m going to go back and read the other two books he’s written,” Audrey, of Mansfield, Connecticut said during the book signing. “It made me feel like I really wanted to read it. I love novels that include the historical aspect of trials and legal aspects of the cases. I’m really fascinated by the story.”
Towards the end of the discussion, an audience member asked what Ford thought the trial revealed about human nature.
“It showed me how complicated human nature can be. There’s levels of complexity in all of us. It showed me how difficult it is for us to come to grips with human nature,” Ford said.
Dahlia Delahaye is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.