flight to Ohio
“Flight to Ohio” begins in 1836, as 21-year-old Tom and his mother Nellie escape slavery on a Virginia plantation. They soon discover that Tom, the bastard son of the white master, passes as white when he is not seen with his mother. Tom must make a choice as to how to live. The stakes are raised when he courts and marries 18-year-old Sarah Long, a young white woman from a respected local farm family.
What is lost when identity is concealed? What price is paid? Tom’s emotional story unfolds against the backdrop of the Cincinnati race riots of 1836 and 1841 and the oncoming Civil War. In a place and time beset with racism, hate, jealousy and violence, the novel’s characters forge deep evolving loves, friendships, and loyalties as they move towards freedom, their ultimate goal.
This is the author’s imagined story of her own maternal ancestry.
1836 is the year my maternal great-great grandfather arrived in southern Ohio. The 1903 Atlas of Warren County reads at page 91: “Thomas Jones was born in Campbell County, Virginia, September 4, 1815 and died October 9, 1900, aged 85 years. When he was twenty-one years old he came to Ohio, a poor boy, with nothing but his hands and an honest purpose.”
My mother began telling me the rumors when I was eight, rumors she mostly denied. She did admit it was true her great-grandfather Thomas Jones walked up to Ohio from Virginia with a colored woman and “she didn’t understand what that was all about.” As a young schoolteacher in rural southern Ohio she received anonymous notes she called hate letters: “We know you have colored blood.” My sister, ten years older than I, later told me how distraught Mother was when she received the notes.
Several years ago, with both parents dead, I took a DNA test. I show two percent Subsaharan African and five percent East Asian blood. A slave ancestor from the West or East Indies? Am I the last of my family in whom the heritage with which I inwardly identified all my life is measurable?
Haunted by the fact I can find no history of Thomas Jones’ ancestors, by the rumors, by stories from my Jones cousins, but mostly by the pain I saw behind my mother’s eyes, I imagined a story that became this book.