By: Vanessa Miller, Author of The American Queen
If I told you that a kingdom had been set up in America and ruled by Black people right after emancipation, would you believe me?
Yes, there once was a kingdom in America and the king and queen were newly emancipated black people. I love saying those words and then watching amazed eyes light up, as mine did while doing the research on these unsung heroes in black history.
Wiliam and Louella Montgomery were former slaves who dreamed of a better way of life, where black people could hold their heads up with dignity and respect. They journeyed from Mississippi, through Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas until they reached a plot of land in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina where they could build… a kingdom.
Based on accounts from historian Sadie Smathers Patton’s booklet, The Kingdom of the Happy Land, Louella Montgomery was said to be a dominant force in the building of the kingdom. Her unhappiness with the horror of slavery must have played a part in naming their new home, The Happy Land.
Imagine the symbolism in that, newly freed people wanting to be happy. Seems to me, after all those years of having shackles on their feet and being ruled by those who desired free labor and total control over them, was so disheartening that it took all the joy out of them.
So, how did this kingdom come to be: William and his brother Robert were the sons of the former plantation owner. William served his father/slave owner as the house manager during slavery. While Robert, who was born free and passed as white, traveled as he pleased and owned slaves. But both brothers remembered the stories told to them by their mother about the way things were before she had been stolen from her homeland.
She told her sons that she came from an all-for-one-and-one-for-all society where people were treated with respect. Nothing like the horrid place she’d landed in once the ship docked and she’d been sold to a master who possessed all of her and left none of the dignity her father and the place she came from instilled.
It is said that around 1866, 50 former slaves left their plantation in Mississippi with William and Louella Montgomery as their leaders. They travelled with the few items they possessed, like the biblical Moses, they were in search of their promised Land. For they believed that God would lead and guide them to the place they could call home, far from slave owners and everything they once knew.
The journey was hard and long, but they kept going, believing that God had prepared a land for them. Along the way, as they slept outside, unless they happened upon an empty barn, many others joined with them. During Reconstruction, many of the formerly enslaved were left to roam the streets, with no place to sleep and barely any food to eat.
It took a year, but they finally arrived at the place William believed God had for them. However, there was nothing but trees as far as the eyes could see and slave quarters. There new land was also in the Carolina mountains, a far cry from the heat and flat land in Mississippi.
Who could have predicted that a widow by the name of Serepta Davis would eventually sell these road-weary travelers about 200 acres of land. And that a king and queen would rise up from the ashes of slavery to claim the kingdom that would serve the people that resided with them.
Americans may not understand the Happy Landers way of life, because their kingdom was built on a socialistic type of society, where everyone in the kingdom went out to work, and then brought back all the earnings to the king. King William and Queen Louella used the money to purchase land and knock down thousands of trees in order to build homes for the hundreds of people who lived in the Happy Land. They then dispersed the remaining funds to the people equally.
Their kingdom was sustained for several decade by farming, teamsters who traveled through North Carolina and South Carolina selling the produce from their farm. Several of their residents did day labor for nearby homes and businesses and sold the Happy Land Liniment. It was a simply life, but one that was enjoyed because their labor was not in vain.
Until now, The Happy Landers story has only been told locally. In 1957 The Asheville Citizen Times wrote about the Kingdom in their newspaper. In 2007, Asheville, North Carolina’s weekly newspaper, Mountain Xpress and in 2009, Smoky Mountain Living Magazine, published in Waynesville, NC both included articles about the Happy Land.
In 2019, Rose Jenkins Lane, the Communications Director of Conserving Carolina wrote an article about the Happy Land for the Hendersonville Times News. The article featured local storyteller, Ronnie Pepper, who grew up in Hendersonville and spreads news of the kingdom that once was in his local community.
However, The American Queen is the first novel to explore the emotional toll of slavery and the triumph of building a kingdom that former slaves could be proud to call home. This book was written to pay tribute to people who had the tenacity to create a society they could be proud of. May the Kingdom of the Happy Land forever reign in your heart because they were truly special people.
Vanessa Miller is the bestselling author of over 50 novels. The American Queen is her first historical based on the unsung history of real people. Winner of the Best Christian Fiction Award from the African American Literary Award Show. She is currently published by Thomas Nelson (HarperCollins). You can find out more about Vanessa on her website: www.vanessamiller.com.