It will enhance your enjoyment of reading the novel if you know a few amazing facts about them.
The Characters | Three Winds Blowing
Historical, Fictional, Willis Family Characters, and the Principal Animals
William Prince Ford and Solomon Northup—Neighbor, mentor, and friend of Joseph Willis. Ford had bought the slave Solomon Northup on June 23, 1841, in New Orleans. He immediately brought him to his Wallfield Plantation. Just forty-six days later, Joseph Willis and William Prince Ford founded Spring Hill Baptist Church, on August 8, 1841. Ford’s slaves attended the church too, which was the custom in pre-Civil War Louisiana.
The plantation was located on Hurricane Creek, a 1/4 mile east of present-day Forest Hill, Louisiana. It was located on the crest of a hill, on the Texas Road that ran along side a ridge. Northup called this area, in his book Twelve Years a Slave, “The Great Piney Woods.” Ford was also the headmaster of Spring Creek Academy located near his plantation and Spring Hill Baptist Church. It was there, in 1841, that Joseph Willis would live and entrust his diary to his protégé William Prince Ford, according to historian W.E. Paxton.
Ford was not a Baptist preacher when he purchased Solomon Northup and the slave Eliza, a.k.a. Dradey, in 1841, as many books, articles, blogs, and the movie 12 Years a Slave have portrayed.
The first part of the Spring Hill Baptist Church minutes are written in Ford's own handwriting since he was the first church secretary and also the first church clerk. The minutes reveal that on July 7, 1842, Ford was elected deacon. On December 11, 1842, Ford became the church treasurer, too. It was during the winter of 1842 that Ford sold a 60% share of Northup to John M. Tibeats. Ford’s remaining 40% was later conveyed to Edwin Epps, on April 9, 1843.
It was not until February 10, 1844, that Ford was ordained as a Baptist preacher. A year later, on April 12, 1845, Ford was excommunicated for “communing with the Campbellite Church at Cheneyville.” But, Ford's later writings reveal that he remained close friends with his neighbor and mentor Joseph Willis.
As a child Randy Willis lived near Longleaf and Forest Hill, Louisiana. As a teenager, he would work cows with his family there on the open range, owned by lumber companies. Seven generations of his family have lived there, beginning with his 4th great-grandfather—Joseph Willis. He would often ride his horse through his family's neighboring property, which was once William Prince Ford's Wallfield Plantation, not realizing the significance of his ancestor's connection to Solomon Northup and William Prince Ford.
Jim Bowie—Neighbor of Joseph. Famous for his knife used at the Sandbar Fight (1827) as well as fighting to defend the Alamo (1836).
Jim Bowie was a neighbor of Joseph Willis when they both lived near Bayou Chicot. Jim’s brother, Rezin Bowie, was a neighbor to Joseph’s eldest son Agerton Willis and eldest grandson, Daniel Hubbard Willis Sr., for four years (1824-1827) in the village of Bayou Boeuf. The name changed to Holmesville in 1834, and is located near present-day Eola. It was at Holmesville, on Bayou Boeuf, that Edwin Epps enslaved (1845-1853) Solomon Northup for the last eight years of his twelve year indenture. It was here that Joseph’s eldest son and Randy Willis's 3rd great-grandfather Agerton Willis met and married Sophie Story.
Edwin Epps—Last owner of Solomon Northrup for ten of twelve years of his captivity. He was cruel and brutal plantation owner.
Jim Burns—Plantation owner and neighbor of Epps. He boasted of his cruelty to slaves. Solomon called him a barbarian.
Eliza aka Dradey and her children Randall and Emily—Friend of Solomon Northup. While in a slave pen, Solomon makes the acquaintance of several other slaves, including Eliza. After surviving a bout of smallpox, Northup and Eliza are purchased by William Prince Ford and taken to his Wallfield Plantation on Hurricane Creek near present-day Forest Hill, Louisiana. Her children Randall and Emily were sold to other owners.
Peter Tanner—Plantation owner, brother-in-law of William Prince Ford.
Ezra Bennett—Owner of Bennett’s Store on Bayou Boeuf. The store was a place where men bought cloth, socialized, got their mail, told stories and shared gossip reinforced by traditional antebellum roles. Because the land across from the store was owned by Randal Eldred, the curve in Bayou Boeuf became known as Eldred's Bend. It was later named Bennett’s Store. Ezra Bennett married the daughter of Randal Eldred and niece of William Prince Ford's first wife, Martha Tanner Ford. Eldred was a member of Spring Hill Baptist Church that Joseph founded, in 1841, along with William Prince Ford. Eldred moved to Bayou Boeuf from Woodville, Mississippi, the location of yet another church founded by Joseph Willis.
Captain Jack C. Hays—Legendary Texas Ranger. Hays built a reputation fighting marauding Indians and Mexican bandits. An Indian who switched sides and rode with Hays and his men called the young Ranger Captain "bravo too much." Rachel Jackson, wife of Andrew Jackson, was his great aunt. In 1836, at the age of 19, Hays migrated to the Republic of Texas. Sam Houston appointed him as a member of a company of Texas Rangers because he knew the Hays family from Tennessee. Jack met with Sam Houston and delivered a letter of recommendation from his uncle Andrew Jackson. After moving to California during the gold rush he was elected sheriff of San Francisco County in 1850 and later became one of the founders of the city of Oakland. Hays County, Texas, is named in his honor. Randy Willis lives in Hays County, Texas, named in Hays's honor.
Madam Mary McCoy-—The “beauty and glory of Bayou Boeuf” according to Solomon Northup. He also said she was beloved by all her slaves and remembered the Christmas parties she provided for her them.
Baroness Micela Almonester de Pontalba—Wealthy New Orleans born aristocrat. She was responsible for the design and construction of the famous Pontalba Buildings in Jackson Square.
On a trip to Washington DC President Andrew Jackson sent his own carriage and secretary of state Martin Van Buren to bring her to the White House as his guest. The celebrated Battle of New Orleans in which Jackson had defeated the invading British, in 1815, had been fought on the grounds of the Chalmette Plantation belonging to her uncle and aunt.
As their friendship grew Jackson scolded her many times for wearing pants, for being on the work site and for ordering the workmen about. He told her that she was not acting like a proper lady and that he would refuse to tip his hat to her (gesture of respect from men to women of those days) until she started behaving like a lady again.
She financed the bronze equestrian statue of Jackson which stands in the very center of the Jackson Square today — and had it built directly facing her apartment in the building — with Andrew Jackson tipping his hat directly at her balcony.
Her interlaced initials "AP" can be seen on the wrought iron balconies of the buildings around the Square today, too.
Marie Catherine Laveau—Louisiana Creole practitioner of Voodoo renowned in New Orleans.
Sam Houston—aka The Raven—Governor of Texas and U.S Senator from Texas. He ran away from home to live with the Cherokees on Hiwasee Island in the Tennessee River. Joseph’s mother was a Cherokee. One of the same rivers Joseph migrates to Louisiana on. Adopted by Cherokee Chief Oo-Loo-Te-Ka and is given the Indian name, "The Raven."
Listed ahead of Andrew Jackson on purpose because of Jackson’s treatment of Native Americans.
Andrew Jackson—President of the United States. Over 30-years after Joseph crossed the mighty Mississippi River into the Louisiana Territory his maternal cousins would be driven out of North Carolina on the "Trail of Tears." In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which directed the executive branch to negotiate for Indian lands. This act caused the Cherokee Nation to bring suit in the U.S. Supreme Court. In Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) Chief Justice John Marshall, writing for the majority, held that the Cherokee Nation was a "domestic dependent nation," and therefore Georgia state law applied to them. President Jackson refused to enforce the court's decision stating "John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it." The Cherokee nation was forced to give up its lands east of the Mississippi River and to migrate to an area in present-day Oklahoma. The Cherokee people called this journey the "Trail of Tears," because of its devastating effects. The migrants faced hunger, disease, and exhaustion on the forced march. Over 4,000 out of 15,000 of the Cherokees died.
John Murrell—The Reverend Devil. His father was a Methodist minister and his mother a prostitute. He despised his father and learned his thievery from his mother. He became one of the most notorious outlaws who roamed No Man’s Land a.k.a. The Neutral Zone.
Jean Lafitte—Well-known pirate of the Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico dealing primarily in illegal slave trade. Became a hero after joining General Andrew Jackson and the Americans at the Battle of New Orleans.
Maria Ursala de Veramendi—Wife of Jim Bowie. She and their children succumbed to cholera in 1833.
Brother Robert Sawyer (based on the real life Robert Snoddy)—Joseph convert. After twice before promising not to "partake of ardent spirits" any more, Robert Snoddy had the fellowship of the church withdrawn from him on May 31, 1851.
A month later Snoddy sent this letter to the church explaining his actions:
"Dear Brethren, Having been overtaken in an error I set down to confess it. I did use liquor to freely, but did not say anything or do anything out of the way. In as much as I do expect to be at the conference I send you my thoughts. I did promise you that I would refrain from using the poison, but I having broken my promise I have therefore rendered myself unworthy of your fellowship and cannot murmur if you exclude me. I suppose it is no use to tell you that I have been sincerely punished for my crime in as much as I have confessed the same to you before but I make this last request of you for forgiveness or is your forgiveness exhausted towards me. It is necessary that I say to you that I sorely repented for my guilt, but my brethren if you have in your wisdom supposed that my life brings to much reproach on that most respectful of all causes, exclude me, exclude me, Oh exclude me. But I do love the cause so well that I will try to be at the door of the temple of the Lord. Brethren whilst you are dealing with me do it mercifully prayerfully and candidly. I was presented by a beloved brother with a temperance pledge to which I replied I would think about it but if I could of obtained enough of my hearts blood to fill my pen to write my name I would have done it. It is my determination to join it yet – and never taste another drop of the deathly cup whilst I live at the peril of my life. Nothing more but I request your prayers dear brethren – Robert Snoddy"
Robert Snoddy was restored to membership. Four months later he was once again reported drinking and once again excluded.
Antonio López de Santa Anna—President of Mexico defeated by the Texian Army led by General Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto. Three weeks later, he signed the peace treaty that dictated that the Mexican army leave the region, paving the way for the Republic of Texas to become an independent country.
Fictional Characters based on real people
Malachi Perkin—Based upon the real man that Joseph tended to at an inn. He warned Joseph to flee for his life the next morning.
Theo Cormier—Based upon a friend of the Randy Willis who preached his grandmother’s funeral. He was a Louisiana Baptist missionary and host of the radio program the French Baptist Hour in South Louisiana. He was a student of the history of Joseph Willis.
George Smith aka George Adams—Based upon the famous Mississippi riverboat gambler, George Devol. He was born in 1829 and worked the river for more than forty years and made a fortune playing cards.
Willis Family Characters
Joseph Willis—He was born (1758-1854) a Cherokee slave in Bladen County, North Carolina.
He preached the first Gospel sermon by an Evangelical west of the Mississippi River. His life is a story of triumph over tragedy and victory over adversity!He was born into slavery. His mother was Cherokee and his father a wealthy English plantation owner. His family took him to court to deprive him of his inheritance (which would have made him the wealthiest plantation owner in all of Bladen County, North Carolina in 1776). He fought as a Patriot in the Revolutionary War under the most colorful of all the American generals, Francis Marion, The Swamp Fox. His first wife died in childbirth, and his second wife died only six years later, leaving him with five small children. He crossed the mighty Mississippi River at Natchez at the peril of his own life, riding a mule! He entered hostile Spanish-controlled Louisiana Territory, when the dreaded Code Noir (Black Code) was in effect. It forbade any Protestant ministers who came into the territory from preaching. His life was threatened because of the message he brought to Spanish-controlled Louisiana! His own denomination refused to ordain him because of his race. After overcoming insurmountable obstacles, he blazed a trail for others for another half-century that changed American history. His accomplishments are still felt today.
Daniel “Dan” Hubbard Willis Jr.—Thirteen-year-old great-grandson of Joseph. The eldest son of Daniel Hubbard Willis Sr. and Anna Slaughter Willis. He was raised on Barber Creek near Longleaf, Louisiana. He married Julia Ann Graham on January 5, 1867. Daniel Hubbard Willis Jr. was the first of four Willis’ brothers to marry four of Robert and Ruth Graham's daughters. He fought under General Randall Lee Gibson in the Civil War in many of the great battles including Shiloh, Bull Run, Perryville, Murfreesboro, Missionary Ridge and Chickamauga. He named his youngest son, Randall Lee Willis, after General Gibson. Randy Willis was named after his grandfather. Daniel Hubbard Willis Jr. is Randy Willis's great-grandfather.
Reverend Daniel Hubbard Willis Sr.—(1817-1887) He was the first of Joseph’s descendant to follow him into the ministry. The eldest son of Agerton Willis and the eldest grandson of Joseph Willis. He was born in the village of Bayou Boeuf and was a neighbor of Jim Bowie’s brother Rezin for four years. The name changed to Holmesville in 1834. It was here that Rezin lived between 1824-1827. It was also here later that the brutal plantation owner Edwin Epps enslaved (1845-1853) Solomon Northup for the last eight years of his twelve years as a slave before being freed. Daniel married Anna Slaughter in 1838. They settled on Spring Creek at Babb’s Bridge. Both are buried at the Amiable Baptist Church Cemetery near Babb’s Bridge (present-day Longleaf, Louisiana.) Randy Willis's great-great-grandfather.
Ahyoka Willis—The mother of Joseph Willis. Her name is unknown. Joseph told his children and grandchildren that his mother was a Cherokee slave. Randy Willis's 5th great-grandmother.
Ruth and Naomi Willis—Joseph’s twin children. Joseph had nineteen children. According to church historians, at least two died at early ages. For the sake of this book they are the twin daughters of Joseph and Hannah Willis who died of honey poisoning at age six but early historians wrote they were two sons that died "poisoned on honey and were buried a half mile from the present town of Oakdale, Louisiana.
Elvy Sweat Willis—Fourth wife of Pastor Joseph Willis. She was much younger than him.
Hannah Willis—Third wife of Joseph. Hannah was not her real name, although she was married to Joseph the longest of his four wives. She married Joseph after Sarah’s death. Her real name was probably Sarah Johnson. The author changed her name to Hannah in order for her not to be confused with Joseph’s second wife Sarah. Three of Joseph and Hannah aka Sarah Johnson’s sons, Joseph Jr., William and Lemuel all had daughters named Sarah.
Rachel Bradford Willis—First wife of Joseph Willis and daughter of William Bradford of Bladen County, North Carolina. Rachel was a descendant of William Bradford. He was an English Separatist leader and signatory to the Mayflower Compact who served as Plymouth Colony Governor five times. The combination of hard work and assistance from local Native Americans meant that the Pilgrims reaped an abundant harvest after the summer of 1621. The celebration that we now regard as the 'First Thanksgiving' was the Pilgrims' 3-day feast celebrated in November of 1621. Bradford helped organize the celebration. Randy Willis's 4th great-grandmother.
Agerton Willis—Eldest son of Joseph and father of Reverend Daniel Hubbard Willis Sr. Named after his grandfather. He was a neighbor to Jim Bowie’s brother, Rezin Bowie, for four years (1824-1827) in the village of Bayou Boeuf. The name changed to Holmesville in 1834 and is located today near present-day Eola. It was also at Holmesville, on Bayou Boeuf, that the brutal plantation owner Edwin Epps enslaved (1845-1853) Solomon Northup for the last eight years of his twelve years as a slave. Agerton married Sophie Story, an Irish orphan brought from Tennessee by a Mr. Park, who lived near Holmesville. Randy Willis's 3rd great-grandfather.
Agerton Willis—Father of Joseph. Husband of Ahyoka Willis. Wealthy Bladen County, North Carolina plantation owner. Randy Willis's 5th great-grandfather.
William Willis—Son of Joseph and eldest son of Sarah Johnson Willis (known as Hannah in the novel.)
Lemuel Willis—Son of Joseph Willis and Hannah Willis in the novel. Hannah’s real name was probably Sarah Johnson. Three of Joseph and Sarah’s sons, Joseph Jr., William and Lemuel all had daughters named Sarah. He married Emeline Perkins in 1833. They were living in Blanche, Louisiana in 1852.
Samuel Willis—Son of Joseph and Elvy Sweat Willis.
Aimuewell Willis—Youngest of 19 children of Joseph. His mother was Elvy Sweat Willis.
Johnson Sweat—Father of Elvy Sweat Willis.
Ephriam Sweat—Father of Johnson Sweat and grandfather of Levy Sweat. Sweat. He taught Joseph’s children at Bayou Chicot.
Julia Ann Graham Willis—Wife of Daniel "Dan" Hubbard Willis Jar. Daughter of Robert and Ruth Graham. Randy Willis's great-grandmother.
Robert and Ruth Graham—Father-in-law of Daniel Hubbard Willis Jr. Four of his daughters married four of Rev. Daniel Hubbard Willis’ sons including Daniel Jr. whom married Julia Ann Graham. Randy Willis's great-great-grandparents.
Joseph’s children—Joseph married four times, with three of his wives dying before he did. He had nineteen children. According to the 1850 Rapides parish census Joseph’s fourth wife Elvy Sweat was born in 1820. This is unlikely. Joseph had 19 children by four wives. They were in order of birth: (1) Agerton Willis (1785), (2) Mary Willis (1787), (3) Joseph Willis, Jr., (1792), (4) Rachel Willis (1794), (5) Jemima Willis (1796), (6) Sarah Willis (1798), (7) Sally Willis (1802), (Although she could be the same as Sarah Willis in 1798), (8) William Willis (1804), (9) Lemuel Willis (1812), (10) John Willis (1814), (11) Martha Willis (1825), (12-15) (four females listed in the 1830 census between the ages of 5-20), (16) Samuel Willis (1836), (17) Aimuewell Willis (1837-1937), and two sons (18-19) that died "poisoned on honey and were buried a half mile from the present town of Oakdale, Louisiana.
The Principal Animals
Josh—Joseph’s first mule that swam the Mississippi with him early in his ministry. His real name is unknown. Randy Willis named him after one of his three sons just for fun.
Ole Sally—(she refused at first to be listed with the animals)—Molly mule that Joseph bought in Vidalia to swim the Mississippi River and carry him on mission trips. Her real name is unknown.
Trixie and Dixie—Two mules named in honor of two of Randy Willis's father's mules.
Beau (the mule) and Dollar (the horse)—Named after two different horses, Dollor and Dollar, that John Wayne rode in his final westerns. The horses are often confused. It is Dollor aka Beau (the name the author chose to avoid the same confusion) that carries Wayne when he makes his famous charge, reins in his teeth, in his Oscar-winning portrayal of Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. And it's Dollar that Wayne rides in the sequel, Rooster Cogburn, as well as in his final film, The Shootist.