The novel’s Leila Ellis’s inheritance of the house slaves Natalie and Brutus from her wealthy late husband Clayton is in keeping with the facts of Tennessee slavery, according to Bobby Lovett, a historian of slavery at Tennessee State University:
“In the late 1850s the average cost of a ‘prime hand’ slave was about $1,300. A well-connected white man could borrow this money from a brokerage business that you might find in Nashville o[r] Memphis and pay the money back incrementally. However, at the time, most free Tennesseans earned less than $150 each year. So you didn’t own a slave unless you were wealthy. In fact, only 15 percent of the families in Tennessee owned slaves.”
Ninety percent of the 275,000 African-American slaves in Tennessee were in the western and middle parts of the state, which may have helped account for East Tennessee’s tendency to favor the Union over the slave-owning Confederacy.