The stories of the settlements in Canada founded and developed by fugitive slaves from the United States who traveled along the Underground Railroad and gained freedom—and even prosperity—at a variety of northern termini.
Tobin (coauthor of Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad, 1999, not reviewed) and Jones (How I Became Hettie Jones, 1990, not reviewed) tell some compelling stories of people both well known (Harriet Tubman) and little-known (Isaac Rice), all involved in various ways with the establishment of Canadian ports of refuge for the more than 30,000 who fled slavery before the Civil War. (Most returned afterwards.) Although the authors struggle for scholarly impartiality, their admiration for many of their characters is evident on nearly every page. Tobin and Jones pause continually to offer necessary background—the history of Canada (with an emphasis on its anti-slavery culture), of Detroit, of Abolitionism, of the Civil War and Reconstruction—even of Niagara Falls. But their focus remains on places and people much less known. We learn about the Canadian communities of Wilberforce, Dawn (now Dresden), Chatham (“the colored man’s Paris,” say the authors) and Buxton, both the biggest and most successful. Along the way the authors present the biographies of community founders and others of prominence. These include the Rev. William King, who established with 15 of his former slaves the settlement of Elgin (known later as Buxton); Richard Pierpoint, a black veteran of the War of 1812 who settled in the Niagara area; and Eliza Harris, who may have been the model for Stowe’s Eliza in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The authors record the locations of various historical markers and periodic public celebrations on both sides of the border.
Will answer many questions regarding what occurred at the northern end of the Underground Railroad.