Olu is a happy Igbo girl of 12, living in a Nigerian village with her brothers and parents in 1753, until African slavers kidnap her and her younger brother. Separated before reaching the coast, Olu survives the Middle Passage, and is sold to a South Carolinian rice farmer. Olu cooks, cleans, catches babies, and falls in love. While pregnant, Olu escapes during the Revolutionary War, via the Ashley River, with several other discontented slaves. After several harrowing weeks of traveling by night, all the way to Virginia, Olu finds refuge with Lord Dunmore, the governor of Virginia. Olu serves as ship cook, and then nurses several of the African soldiers who suffer from smallpox. Olu gives birth to her daughter Theodosia (Sadie for short) and reunites with Teddy, the father, who has tracked her down – and is the brother of her former master. The three of them live in Manhattan during the Revolutionary War, and settle in Nova Scotia in 1783, along with 3,000 other escaped slaves and their families. Throughout her life, Olu seeks to reunite with her family, especially her brother Ledu (Olaudah).
Joanna attends the House of Commons vote on the Abolition of the Slave Trade Bill, at which William Wilberforce speaks. Orphaned at the young age of two, Joanna has moved between her grandmother’s home and her guardian John Audley’s home. In September of 1807, Joanna is sent to boarding school, where, as a biracial orphan girl, she has a difficult time making friends and experiences racial harassment. She visits the Wilberforce family a few times a year, becoming close to their oldest daughter Barbara. Joanna meets Sadie and Frances, members of the London Anti-Slavery Society, and joins in their efforts. Joanna meets and marries Rev. Henry Bromley. They minister together at the Congregational Church at Clavering and begin a school there. Joanna is bereft of all her family, is barren, and seeks to find her Aunt Olu. Will she ever connect with any of her African family members?