Illustrations of Kathryn Ault Noble
I promised to sit down and write out my experiences at the recent SCBWI-WWA conference in Redmond. I signed up for the Master Class and Round Table Critiques which were packed with excellent information and feedback. Plus meeting the dynamic Sophie Blackall and Patti Ann Harris were worth the price of admission.
So to get the ball rolling I’ll post this sketch. I am following up on a suggestion from Patti Ann Harris, Senior Art Director at Little Brown, who suggested my work would fit well with historical fiction picture books. I instantly thought of a story my grandmother had told me years ago about my ancestors participating in the underground railroad.
Last night I sat down and sketched out my first visual idea of a child sneaking into the cellar. She knows those sounds are too loud to be rats, so in spite of her parent’s warnings to the contrary, she just has to look.
I’m thinking the main character would be one of the children who is escaping with their family. I could make the child in the house be my great-grandfather Stephen, but it would definitely be historical non-fiction. At this point, I just wanted to start putting something on paper to get the visual wheels turning.
Perhaps my ancestor that participated was Jacob Rhymer in Grayson County Virginia. He was in residence in 1850 in District 19, and owned quite a few acres. I have been researching the area and there are documented “railroad stops” in that area.
I have several census images from 1850 and 1860 that document the family in that area. I had to paste Jacob’s name into this image because he was the last one on the previous page, separating him from his family. I put them together on the same page. Somewhere I have information on the acreage he owned, but the valuation of the property was 130 this year. This would indicate to me that he had enough property and buildings to have potentially hidden people.
One researcher explained that because so few people were willing to risk their lives, even for years after, nothing was mentioned. Her comment was that family history is the best evidence in most situations. Jacob’s son, Stephen (Steven), became a minister whose daughter, my grandmother Nellie, told me that we had family who participated in helping slaves to freedom. Of all the things I might remember from our talks, this stuck out in my head as something very important. I found myself feeling very proud to have come from people who would risk their own lives to help save others.
I grew up in Arkansas and although my parents were adamant that we were not prejudiced people, I assumed that my ancestors would have fought for the South. However, my grandmother said that the only ones to actually sign up to fight were from the part of Tennessee that fought for the Union. My uncle had once walked into her home wearing a Confederate cap and she commented that he was not qualified to wear it. That was the first time she began to tell us about our freedom fighting ancestors.