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The Story of Joseph Willis: his Biography Paperback – May 20, 2015
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From the Author
THE BIRTH OF THE BOOKS AND THE PLAY
And, the real-life connections between William Prince Ford, Solomon Northup, Jim Bowie, and 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.
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After writing the biography The Apostle to the Opelousas, Randy Willis got the idea for his novels Twice a Slave and Three Winds Blowing and the play Twice a Slave from his friend and fellow historian Dr. Sue Eakin. She contacted him after reading an article that mentioned he had obtained the Spring Hill Baptist Church minutes. The minutes had much information on two of its founders: Joseph Willis and William Prince Ford.
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.
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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.
Dr. Eakin asked Randy if he would help her with her research on William Prince Ford. He also lectured in her history classes, at Louisiana State University at Alexandria, on the subject.
Dr. Eakin wrote Randy Willis on March 7, 1984, "We had a wonderful experience dramatizing Northup and I think there could be a musical play on Joseph Willis. It seems to me it gets the message across far more quickly than routine written material." She added, "a fictional novel based upon Joseph Willis' life would be more interesting to the general public than a biography and would reach a greater audience."
Dr. Eakin is best known for documenting, annotating, and reviving interest in Solomon Northup's 1853 book Twelve Years a Slave. She, at the age of eighteen, rediscovered a long-forgotten copy of Solomon Northup's book, on the shelves of a bookstore, near the LSU campus, in Baton Rouge. The bookstore owner sold it to her for only 25 cents. In 2013, 12 Years a Slave won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
In his acceptance speech for the honor, director Steve McQueen thanked Dr. Eakin: "I'd like to thank this amazing historian, Sue Eakin, whose life, she gave her life's work to preserving Solomon's book."
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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.
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About the Author
He is the author of Twice a Slave, Three Winds Blowing, Louisiana Wind, Beckoning Candle, The Apostle to the Opelousas, The Story of Joseph Willis, and many magazine and newspaper articles.
Twice a Slave has been chosen as a Jerry B. Jenkins Select Book, along with four bestselling authors. Jerry Jenkins is author of more than 180 books with sales of more than 70 million copies, including the best-selling Left Behind series.
Twice a Slave has also been adapted into a dramatic play (vimeo.com/99360694) and (youtu.be/8hMLYDQglkc).
Coming soon: A series of Children's Storybooks beginning with Ole Sally Swims the Mighty Mississippi.
Randy Willis owns Randy Willis Music Publishing (an ASCAP-affiliated music publishing company), and Town Lake Music Publishing, LLC (a BMI-affiliated music publishing company). He is an ASCAP-affiliated songwriter.
He is the founder of Operation Warm Heart (vimeo.com/41195752) and (youtu.be/o-zCvzH2kdU) which feeds and clothes the homeless, and is a member of the Board of Directors of Our Mission Possible (ourmp.org) in Austin, with the goal of empowering at-risk teens to discover their greatness.
He was born in Oakdale, Louisiana and lived on Barber Creek, between Forest Hill and Longleaf, Louisiana, as a boy. He currently resides in the Texas Hill Country --near Sisterdale.
He graduated from Angleton High School in Angleton, Texas, and Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, with a BBA. He was a graduate student at Texas State University for six years.
He is single and the father of three sons and has four grandchildren. All of his books are dedicated to them by name.
Randy Willis...novels about adventure, family, faith, and the character of a man that touched generations....
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