In Sarah Bird’s New Novel, A Former Slave Shifts Her Identity To Keep Herself Strong, And Stay Safe

“Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen” is based on the true story of a woman with royal African roots, who disguised herself as a man and served as a buffalo soldier after the Civil War.

By Laura Rice & Joy DiazSeptember 5, 2018 11:50 am

Two people can be in the same situation, but their perceptions of that situation can be very different. And that can affect their experience. Such is the case in a new novel where a woman born into slavery on a tobacco farm is taught to see herself not as a slave who is there because she is less-than human, but as a captive who deserves better, because there is royal blood in her background.

The book is “Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen,” by Austinite Sarah Bird. The novel is based on the true story of Cathy Williams, a slave who was freed after the Civil War and served as a buffalo soldier.

“Her grandmother was one of the famous Amazon warrior [queens] of Dahomey, Africa and passed that along to her mother and along to her, making her the daughter of a daughter of a queen,” Bird says. “That was what she was raised with. You have been taken captive by an enemy and it is your job to escape.”

After being freed, Williams disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the Army under a pseudonym, William Cathy. She served for two years as a buffalo soldier until being found out and honorably discharged.

“Growing up in a military family, all the important people wore uniforms and they all were men,” she says. “I could always understand why Cathy saw [dressing as a man] as an escape. She just looked at what the world had to offer her and said ‘No, none of the above. I’m doing something completely different.’”

Bird first heard of Williams’ story in the 1970s, and it has fascinated her ever since. Bird, who is white, struggled with retelling Williams’ story, but it just kept coming back to her, she says.

“My experience with this book was like no other book,” Bird says. “I don’t want to sound like a lunatic, but in many ways Cathy took control. She was tired of her story not being known.”

Written by Brooke Vincent.