Randy Willis is the author of Three Winds Blowing, The Apostle to the Opelousas, The Story of Joseph Willis and many newspaper and magazine articles. He is co-author of Twice a Slave.
Twice a Slave has been adapted into a dramatic play at Louisiana College (https://vimeo.com/99360694.)
He 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 and President of Quadra Record Company. He is owner of the book publishing company American Writers Publishers, LLC.
He is the founder of Operation Warm Heart (https://vimeo.com/41195752) which feeds and clothes the homeless and is a member of the Board of Directors of Our Mission Possible (http://ourmp.org: empowering at-risk teens to discover their greatness) in Austin, Texas. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Joseph Willis Institute at Louisiana College.
He was born in Oakdale, Louisiana and lived in Longleaf, Louisiana as a child.
His family moved to Clute, Texas when he was four-years-old and then moved to Angleton, Texas when he was ten-years-old.
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 currently resides in the Texas Hill Country.
He is single and the father of three sons and four grandchildren. Twice a Slave and Three Winds Blowing was dedicated to each of them by name.
Randy Willis is a fourth great-grandson of Joseph Willis and his foremost historian.
About Three Winds Blowing
Set in Antebellum Louisiana
The son of a white man and Cherokee slave, Joseph Willis, gains his freedom and swims the mighty Mississippi on a mule.
Driven by three winds…
· a wind of freedom driving him from North Carolina
· a mighty rushing wind compelling him across the Mississippi River into the Louisiana Territory
· a wind of war fueled by slavery
Rooted in a time of tradition and chivalry, Joseph discovers a land of innocence lost.
His life converges with Louisiana contemporaries, including Solomon Northup, James Bowie, William Prince Ford, Edwin Epps, John Murrell, John Audubon, Baroness Micaela Almonester de Pontalba, Marie Therese Coincoin, Jean Lafitte and voodoo queen Marie Laveau.
He also encounters a young flatboatman in New Orleans named Abraham Lincoln, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans General Andrew Jackson as well as Texas Ranger Jack C. Hays.
From master storyteller, Randy Willis…a novel about adventure, family, faith and the character of a man that touched generations.
Inspired by a true story.
About Twice a Slave
Randy Willis and Sammy Tippit tell the raw-boned epic, based on their own ancestors, that gives American history a new face and a fresh voice.
The son of a white man and a Cherokee, Joseph Willis must live as a slave on his own property. After his father gives him his freedom on his deathbed, an angry uncle prevents his emancipation and confiscates his property.
His struggle for freedom is complicated by a love forbidden by society and his new found spiritual faith. Declaring himself a slave to Jesus Christ, he experiences an eternal freedom no man or government can suppress - and challenges most men would flee.
With a faith molded by tragedy, Joseph finds the courage to forgive - and to change the course of a new nation.
The journey of Joseph Willis from North Carolina to Louisiana is filled with intrigue and inspiration. It describes the struggles of Native American slavery and the profound impact that Joseph Willis made on the newly acquired Louisiana Territory.
The story of Joseph Willis begins at the close of the First Great Awakening in America and ends at the height of the country's Second Great Awakening.
It illustrates the faith of a person of low social stature and how his simple faith changed the course of Louisiana history. The story captures the hardships of early Evangelical leaders and the inspiration of the manner in which they overcame great obstacles.
Joseph Willis lived as a slave two times - the first time because of injustice thrust upon him, and the second time because of the love of God that captured his heart and soul. It's an untold, yet unforgettable story.
Twice a Slave has been chosen as a part of the Jerry B. Jenkins Select Line 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.
About Joseph Willis
Joseph Willis' life is a story of triumph over tragedy and victory over adversity!
. He was born into slavery. His mother was Cherokee and his father a wealthy English plantation owner.
. His family took him to court to deprive him of his inheritance (which would have made him the wealthiest plantation owner in all of Bladen County, North Carolina in 1776).
. He fought as a Patriot in the Revolutionary War under the most colorful of all the American generals, Francis Marion, The Swamp Fox.
. His first wife died in childbirth, and his second wife died only six years later, leaving him with five small children.
. He crossed the mighty Mississippi River at Natchez at the peril of his own life, riding a mule!
. He entered hostile Spanish-controlled Louisiana Territory, when the dreaded Code Noir (Black Code) was in effect. It forbade any Protestant ministers who came into the territory from preaching.
. His life was threatened because of the message he brought to Spanish-controlled Louisiana!
. His own denomination refused to ordain him because of his race.
. Joseph Willis preached the first Gospel sermon by an Evangelical west of the Mississippi River.
. After overcoming insurmountable obstacles, he blazed a trail for others for another half-century that changed American history.
. His accomplishments are still felt today.
Randy Willis is a fourth great-grandson of Joseph Willis and his foremost historian.
The birth of Twice a Slave, Three Winds Blowing, The Apostle to the Opelousas, The Story of Joseph Willis and the play Twice a Slave...
Inspired by his grandmother, Lillie Hanks Willis, and his cousin's Donnie Willis and Dr. Greene Wallace Strother, Randy Willis began researching and writing about Joseph Willis in 1980.
After writing Joseph Willis' biography and many articles on him, Randy got the idea for a novel based upon Joseph's life from his friend and fellow historian Dr. Sue Eakin.
Dr. Eakin had first contacted Randy in 1981 after reading an article he had written about Joseph which mentioned that he had obtained the only copy of the Spring Hill Baptist Church minutes in existence. The minutes had much information on William Prince Ford. Dr. Eakin asked Randy if he would help her with her research on William Prince Ford. Ford had bought the slave Solomon Northup, in 1841, and was an associate and friend of Joseph Willis.
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."
This is how Randy Willis got the idea for the novels and the dramatic play that later became Twice a Slave, the play.
Randy was often a guest lecturer, on the life of his 4th great-grandfather Joseph Willis, in Dr. Eakin's history classes at Louisiana State University at Alexandria. She specialized in Louisiana history, particularly the Old South plantation system.
Dr. Eakin is best known for documenting, annotating, and reviving interest in the 1853 Twelve Years a Slave, a slave narrative by Solomon Northup, a free man from New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. Dr. Eakin, at the age of eighteen, rediscovered a well-worn, long-forgotten copy of Solomon Northup's book Twelve Years a Slave on the shelves of a popular bookstore near the LSU campus in Baton Rouge, the bookstore owner sold it to her for only 25 cents.
12 Years a Slave won the 2013 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.
Solomon Northup had little but praise for William Prince Ford who bought him for $1,000 at a New Orleans slave market in 1841. Northup gave an account of Ford reading scripture to his slaves every Sunday. He also allowed his slaves to own Bibles. Northrup wrote of Ford, in Twelve Years a Slave, "There never was a more kind, noble, candid, Christian man than William Ford." Northup refers to Ford as a "model master" saying "fortunate was the slave who came to his possession. Were all men such as he, slavery would be deprived of more than half its bitterness." The 1840 census recorded Ford owning thirty-one slaves.
Joseph Willis kept a diary. He entrusted William Prince Ford with his diary. Notes from the diary were arranged into a manuscript and later copied by early Louisiana Baptist author, W. E. Paxton, in 1858, for his book A History of the Baptist of Louisiana, from the Earliest Times to the Present (1888). Paxton admited that most of his facts concerning Louisiana Baptists are from Joseph Willis' diary and Louisiana Association Minutes.
Ford also made remarks in his manuscript based upon the diary. One of Ford's observations is recorded by Paxton and is very revealing concerning Ford's admiration of Joseph Willis. "Nearly all the churches now left in the association were gathered either directly or indirectly by the labors of Mr. Willis." Ford added, "It was truly affecting to hear him [Joseph Willis] speak of them as his children; and with all the affection of a father allude to some schisms and divisions that had arisen in the past and to warn them against the occurrence of anything of the kind in the future. But when he spoke of the fact that two or three of them had already become extinct, his voice failed and he was compelled to give utterance to his feelings by his tears; and surely the heart must have been hard that could not be melted by the manifestation of so much affection, for he wept not alone."
Ford was later excommunicated from Spring Hill Baptist Church that Joseph Willis founded. But, Ford remained a lifelong friend with his mentor Joseph Willis. After selling Northup to another slaveholder, Ford in 1843 converted, with most of his Baptist congregation, to the Churches of Christ, to which Ford had become influenced by the writings of Alexander Campbell.
Campbell visited the congregation in 1857, at which time Campbell was favorably impressed by the fellowship practiced between blacks and whites in the congregation.
The connection between Solomon Northup, William Prince Ford, James Bowie and Edwin Epps to Joseph Willis.
Randy Willis lived in Longleaf, Louisiana as a child. Longleaf is near Forest Hill. As a boy and teenager, he would work cows with his father, brothers, uncles and cousins on the open range, owned by lumber companies, near Forest Hill, on both sides of Hurricane Creek. This was near his 4th great-grandfather Joseph Willis' old home on Spring Creek.
The next four generations lived on Barber Creek, a tributary of Spring Creek, walking distance to Joseph's old home.
Randy would ride his horse, while working cows, through his Uncle Howard Willis' property and the 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.
Three Winds Blowing (http://threewindsblowing.com and http://youtu.be/qbQXzF35aWE) tells the story of that significance and much more.
Solomon Northrup was conveyed to William Prince Ford on June 23, 1841, in New Orleans.
Less than seven weeks later, on August 8, 1841, William Prince Ford helped Joseph Willis establish Spring Hill Baptist Church very near Ford's Wallfield Plantation.
The plantation was on Hurricane Creek, a 1/4 mile east of present-day Forest Hill. 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 here, on the banks of Spring Creek, in 1841, that Joseph Willis would live and entrust his diary to his protégé William Prince Ford according to historian W.E. Paxton. And it was here that Joseph Willis, William Prince Ford and Solomon Northup would live as neighbors and attend Spring Hill Baptist Church together, along with Ford's other slaves, which was the custom of pre-Civil War Louisiana.
Ford's children and Joseph's grandchildren would also attend school together at Spring Creek Academy. All of this occurred at the same location, near present-day Forest Hill, Louisiana and in the same year—1841.
Ford was not a Baptist preacher when he purchased Solomon Northup and the slave Eliza, aka Dradey, in 1841, as many books, articles, blogs and movies like 12 Years a Slave have portrayed.
The first part of the Spring Hill Baptist Church minutes are written in Ford's own handwriting, in 1841, since he was the first church secretary and also the first church clerk. The Spring Hill Baptist Church minutes reveal that on July 7, 1842, Ford was elected deacon. On December 11, 1842, Ford became the church treasurer, too.
It was not until February 10, 1844, that Ford was ordained as a Baptist preacher. A little over 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 mentor, Joseph Willis.
Solomon Northup described Ford's Wallfield Plantation as "two stories high, with a piazza [porch] in front." Also on the grounds was a log kitchen, poultry house, corncribs, and several slave cabins.
Northup mentions peach, orange and pomegranate trees. Northup lived at this plantation while working at Ford's lumber mill, north of the plantation, until a 60% share in him was sold to John M. Tibeats in the winter of 1842. Ford's 40% share would later save Northup's life. This remaining 40% was conveyed later to the cruel overseer and small plantation owner, Edwin Epps, on April 9, 1843, along with Tibeats' interest.
Jim Bowie was a neighbor of Joseph Willis when they both lived near Bayou Chicot. His brother, Rezin Bowie, was also 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 today near present-day Eola.
It was also at Holmesville, on Bayou Boeuf, that the brutal plantation owner 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' 3rd great-grandfather Agerton Willis met and married Sophie Story, an Irish orphan brought from Tennessee by a Mr. Park, who lived near Holmesville.
And there is much, much more in the novel Three Winds Blowing...
Randy Willis Links:
Three Winds Blowing trailer
Twice a Slave trailer: https://vimeo.com/93896657
Twice a Slave, the play trailer: https://vimeo.com/99360694
Randy Willis' Amazon author's page:
"According to his testimony, his father was English and his mother of Cherokee Native American ancestry; he was born in 1758 in Bladen County, North Carolina, and was a 'Marion' man." (John Pinckney Durham and John S. Ramond, Baptist Builders in Louisiana, Shreveport, Louisiana, Durham-Ramond Publishers, 1934) p15.
A contemporary of Joseph Willis and the greatest Baptist historian of his generation, David Benedict wrote, in 1813, that "...Joseph Willis... has done much for the cause, and spent a large fortune while engaged in the ministry, often at the hazard of his life, while the State [Louisiana] belonged to the Spanish government." That date would place Joseph Willis in Louisiana, west of the Mississippi River, before October 1, 1800, the date Napoleon secured Louisiana from Spain.
Benedict's statement also establishes Joseph Willis as preaching the first Gospel sermon by an evangelical west of the Mississippi River. (David Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America and Other Parts of the World, Boston: Printed by Lincoln and Edmonds,1813)
Joseph Willis had become accustomed to great obstacles. Decades before his first venture west, in 1798, his family (which included 5 of the 20 wealthiest plantation owners, in North Carolina) took him to court, in 1777, to deprive him of his vast inheritance - a battle that involved the first governor of the newly formed state of North Carolina.
Joseph Willis, never daunted, fought in the Revolutionary War, as a Patriot, under the most colorful of all the American generals, Francis Marion, "The Swamp Fox."
After the Revolutionary War, Joseph Willis, along with Richard Curtis and William Thompson, constituted a church, called 'The Baptist Church on Buffaloe' [sic] near Woodville, Mississippi, in October of 1798. (W.E. Paxton,A History of the Baptist of Louisiana, from the Earliest Times to the Present, 1888) p 33.
Joseph Willis was greatly affected by First Great Awakening preacher's George Whitefield and Shubal Stearns and crossed the Mississippi River at the very beginning of the Second Great Awakening, between 1798 and 1800, thus becoming the first evangelical foreign missionary to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ west of the Mississippi River.
According to his son, Joseph Willis Jr., Joseph Willis crossed the mighty Mississippi River at Natchez, to preach the Gospel, riding only a mule and at the peril of his own life.
Joseph Willis entered this most hostile land, the Spanish claimed Louisiana Territory, before October 1, 1800, and was there too from October 1, 1800, to April 30, 1803, while it was the French claimed Louisiana Territory. The dreaded Code Noir, the "Black Code," was in effect during this time, which forbade the coming of any ministers into the territory except Roman Catholics. Joseph Willis defied this most terrifying rule of law by traveling into the heart of the Black Code, as far south as Lafayette, Louisiana, preaching the Gospel, at the risk of his own life.
The message that Joseph Willis brought with him would cause them to try to kill him! He would live for another 58 years, establishing churches, preaching Jesus, and over coming obstacle after obstacle.