Happy Monday, Reader Friends!
I hope you had an awesome weekend. Today I’ve got the lovely Piper Huguley here with me. We’re discussing her latest release, Oney: My Escape From Slavery. Y’all, this looks like it’ll be a powerful read. Be sure to pick up a copy or ask your library to order it!
About the Book
Teenaged Oney Judge was Martha Washington’s ‘favorite servant.’ They both longed for freedom, but in very different ways. Martha hated being confined to the president’s house, forced to entertain politicians and foreign diplomats. Oney hated being someone else’s property, forced to do labor and wait on her owners day and night.
After President Washington served one term as president, he wrote his farewell speech. He and Martha started packing for their retirement at Mount Vernon, but it was not meant to be. He was elected again—unanimously. He did not want to serve another term, but gave in under pressure.
Martha had no say in it whatsoever. But as she hosted her tea parties and levees, she became close friends with several forward-thinking women, such as Abigail Adams and Judith Murray, feminists of the time. Their radical ideas rubbed off on Martha—education and job training for women to be self-supporting instead of depending on husbands. By the end of George’s term, she experienced a steep character arc. She even changed her attitude toward slavery. When Oney escaped at age 20, at the end of George’s final term, Martha was very resentful: “She was more like a child to me than a servant.” The Washingtons knew that she’d escaped to Portsmouth, New Hampshire and made several attempts to recapture her. But in a sudden act of lenience, Martha gave up on Oney and let her remain free. During her husband’s presidency, Martha complained, “I am more like a state prisoner”, so perhaps she put herself in Oney’s place and realized she deserved liberty, too.
As our first First Lady, Martha Washington evolved from a grandmotherly wife and homebody to an outspoken champion of women’s rights. She provided freedom for her slaves at her death.
While living in Portsmouth, Oney married a sailor, Jack Staines, and had three children. She outlived her husband and children, and lived her remaining free life in Greenland, New Hampshire. Somewhat of a local celebrity, she lived in poverty, but the locals supported her and she took in sewing to supplement her meager income. She declared in an 1847 interview, “I am free now and choose to remain so.”
Toni: Welcome, Piper! Thank you so much for joining me today to talk about Oney: My Escape From Slavery. How did you come to the decision to tell Oney’s story? I imagine the research is pretty in-depth for this book? What were some of the sources you use to provide authenticity?
Piper: As part of my doctoral study, I had read several slave narratives of the time period and also had read primary resources about enslavement at that time period. I’ve also visited Mount Vernon and the first Presidential residence in Philadelphia. I’m not an expert in this time period, but my knowledge of the enslaved and how Oney would speak, code switch and present herself were helpful to Diana after she wrote it.
Toni: This book is a work of fiction, although based on a real person. How do you determine which parts to fictionalize?
Piper: This was my first foray into biographical historical fiction, and I was fortunate to watch Diana make those choices. I came to understand that it’s like any other work of fiction—the character’s goals and motivations have to make sense. There isn’t much factual written about Oney, of course, so there was quite a bit to fictionalize so that the historical fact of her escape made sense to the reader.
Toni: You wrote this story with Diana Rubino. What was it like working with another person?
Piper: It was relatively seamless. I’m glad that she saw that any suggestions that I made would be of help to this story that, in my mind, should have been told for an adult audience long ago.
Toni: I know you’re really passionate about bringing history to our present. What sparked your love for history?
Piper: My mother. She always supported my desire to bring forward the stories of the ancestors that have been hidden from the publicly known historical narrative.
Toni: If you could write in any other genre, what would you choose?
Piper: Cozy mystery, but I don’t have the brains for it. I’m working on a contemporary women’s fiction right now and I’ve had to learn some new things to write that way.
Toni: What are three elements that are always included in your writing?
Piper: Historical facts
An author’s note to explain my choices
Brave, strong characters who are inspirational.
Toni: What is your favorite…
Piper: Caramel cake
Piper: You’re Gonna Hear from Me
Toni: Bible verse?
Piper: Psalms 27 verse 1
Toni: Great choice! Thank you so much for joining me! Readers, do you have any questions for Piper?
About Diana and Piper
Diana writes about folks who shook things up. Her passion for history and travel has taken her to every locale of her stories, set in Medieval and Renaissance England, Egypt, the Mediterranean, colonial Virginia, New England, and New York. Her urban fantasy romance FAKIN’ IT won a Top Pick award from Romantic Times. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, the Richard III Society and the Aaron Burr Association. When not writing, she runs CostPro, Inc., an engineering business, with her husband Chris. In her spare time, Diana bicycles, golfs, plays her piano and devours books of any genre. She spends as much time as possible just livin’ the dream on her beloved Cape Cod.
Piper Huguley is a two-time Golden Heart ®finalist and is the author of the “Home to Milford College” series. The series follows the building of a college from its founding in 1866. Book #1 in the series, The Preacher’s Promise was named a top ten Historical Romance in Publisher’s Weekly by the esteemed historical romance author, Beverly Jenkins and received Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest Contest of Self-Published e-books in 2015.
Her new series “Born to Win Men” starts with A Champion’s Heart as Book #1. A Champion’s Heart was named by Sarah MacLean of The Washington Post as a best romance novel selection for December 2016.
She blogs about the history behind her novels at http://piperhuguley.com. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and son.