While researching for my third historical novel, Under Moonlit Skies, I began to wonder how high tensions were just prior to the onset of the Civil War (1859)? What I found may surprise you.

The story is set, in part, in Cincinnati, Ohio, a free state. Just across the Ohio River, was the slave state of Kentucky. I started wondering how free blacks were treated so near a state that embraced slavery. So, I delved a little deeper.

Uncertain Freedom

I soon discovered that at that pivotal time and place, free blacks living along the Ohio weren’t a lot better off than slaves. Yes, they had their freedom, but even that was shaky. The only proof they had of their freedom were free papers declaring them free. If the papers became lost or stolen, there was a stiff fee to purchase more which most blacks hadn’t money to pay.

Most free blacks lived in drafty shanties in a section of the city commonly referred to the Fourth Ward or “Little Africa”. A stone’s throw away from the Ohio River, many lived in fear of having their freedom snatched away. Many were employed on the numerous river boats as cooks, barbers or laborers. Few enjoyed the benefits of a good education and segregation was the norm.

The Fight to Remain Free

The hero of Under Moonlit Skies, Stewart Brant, learns first hand the dangers free blacks endured when his friends, Isaac and Abigail Simmons, face the threat of entrapment and having their freedom taken from them. Their fight to remain free embarks him on a journey he’s unprepared to take, but one the Lord uses to deepen his faith.

I can’t imagine the fear and anxiety free blacks along the Ohio must have endured during those unsettled times both prior to and during the Civil War. Many turned to God for strength and reassurance, knowing true freedom comes from faith in Christ. That’s one freedom no one could take away.

Cynthia Roemer’s PRAIRIE SKY SERIES: Stories of faith and resilience on the Midwest prairie Inspirational Historical Romance


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