Thomas Davis’s new novel, In the Unsettled Homeland of Dreams, tells the story of seven families of slaves who escaped from their Missouri plantations and used the Underground Railroad to settle on Washington Island in the 1850s before the Civil War. At the time the community of fisherman and their families on the island was the second largest black community in Wisconsin.
Led by the fiery black preacher and War of 1812 veteran Tom Bennett, 14 year old Joshua Simpson escapes a life where he was regularly whipped and finds a wilderness paradise where he and his family can build New Jerusalem, a place of freedom and a new kind of civilization made glorious by black accomplishments.
Even though Wisconsin and the area from Green Bay through Door County was largely abolitionist, there were still local men that were excited about the Fugitive Slave Act that gave substantial bounties to any slave catcher who could return an escaped slave back to their masters. It is this tension that creates a drama that can engage the reader into a powerful, well-researched, historical story based upon people that actually existed that has resonance even in contemporary society.
“Davis has told a story of racism, survival, and self-determination in the mid-nineteenth century. . . The novel is a work of historical fiction and conveys a true history of the routes taken by slaves. Moreover, Davis’s novel illuminates how and why there continues to be mistrust among races today.” - Dana Grams
Thomas Davis lives in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin with his wife, poet and artist, Ethel Mortenson Davis. Davis has published Sustaining the Forest, the People, and the Spirit (State University of New York Press 2000); Salt Bear (2012); Inside the Blowholes (2013); The Alkali Cliffs (2014); The Weirding Storm, A Dragon Epic (2017); An American Spirit: An American Epic (2019).
In addition to his writing, Davis is also known for his work in tribal colleges, universities, and the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education movements in the United States and in other nations. He helped, with Dr. Verna Fowler, found College of the Menominee Nation, which has a Green Bay campus, and served as the President or Chief Academic Officer of Lac Courtes Oreilles Ojibwa Community College in Hayward, Wisconsin, Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet, Minnesota, Little Priest Tribal College in Winnebago, Nebraska, and Navajo Technical University on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico and Arizona.
The Tribal College Journal is currently featuring a series of podcasts that Davis did concerning his experiences in American Indian education and the history of the tribal college and universities movement. The podcasts can be found at www.tribalcollegejournal.org/our-history-memories-of-the-tribal-college-movement-podcast-1