Inspired by the family of C.R. Patterson & Sons and their carriage company, Krystal Marquis brings her romance novel “The Davenports” (Dial Books 2023) to life in the world of the wealthy Black Chicago of 1910. Just as Charles Patterson was a formerly enslaved man who became immensely wealthy manufacturing carriages, so does the fictional patriarch of the Davenport family. The Davenport matriarch was born free.
The eldest, beautiful daughter, Olivia Davenport, is groomed to be a society lady and is quite capable of hosting a grand event. Marquis writes, “The only problem? It was difficult to find eligible gentlemen—born into the right family, educated, and set to inherit a large fortune—who were also Black.” But Olivia and her parents may have found the right man in the newly arrived dashing and kind British gentleman, Mr. Lawrence. Then she meets the annoying civil rights activist, Washington DeWight and her path doesn’t seem so certain.
Olivia’s younger sister, Helen, rather than pursuing love, would rather be working in the carriage factory which adjoins the house. Helen feels strongly that her father should move into manufacturing automobiles to keep with the times. Their brother, John Davenport, will one day take over the carriage business. He agrees with Helen, but he can’t bring himself to press his father, because there are other things on his mind. And the patriarch certainly won’t listen to his daughter, a mere woman.
Olivia’s best friend, Ruby Tremaine, doesn’t have the money to spend on hats, jewels, and beautiful dresses, as she once did, because her father is asking the family to tighten their financial belts so they might afford his campaign for mayor. The campaign for the first Black mayor of Chicago is an expensive venture. Lucky for the Tremaines, everyone has always assumed that wealthy John Davenport would marry Ruby. The Davenports throw the Tremaines lavish campaign banquets, organized by Olivia. But Ruby is having a hard time keeping John’s attention.
Amy-Rose, once the best friend of the Davenport girls, has become their maid. So we see the caste system within the Black community at work. Amy-Rose is a smart and ambitious young woman who plans to start a chain of Black beauty products, but where will she get the money? Being of the servant class she is more in need of improving her lot in life, and is therefore immediately drawn into Washington DeWight’s civil rights work. Olivia, uses her once-friend and present maid, Amy-Rose, to attend a rally, and what can Amy-Rose do about it?
Each young woman has her consciousness raised and has begun working for what she is passionate about. By the end of the book, each of them seems to be directed toward the man she loves, and each young man seems in love with the right girl—all very neat. There will be a sequel. Will this tidy pairing off see conflict? Or will the conflict exist solely in the women’s pursuit of their career goals?
Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of award-winning books: Lift As You Climb; Josephine; Loving vs Virginia; and Struttin’ With Some Barbecue all signed and for sale at Jane Addams Bookstore. Her forthcoming books are about women’s suffrage, Martha Graham, Ella Fitzgerald, as well as poems about waterfowl. talesforallages.com