This is a very well-researched and interesting testament of some of the key players involved in the implementation of the Underground Railroad and their impact, following a timeline starting well before the American Civil War and following up through the war and during the Reconstruction period.
Included is the well-known Araminta Ross (Harriet Tubman), whom I always pictured only as an old woman, but we are also given her personal history as a young woman, including her abandonment by her first husband. She was married to John Tubman and was separated from him when she was forced to flee for her own safety. They assume John didn’t feel the need to flee with her because he was already a free man. Ain’t love grand? By the time she came back to free the rest of her family, he had already remarried. She later married Nelson Davis. Harriet collaborated with abolitionist, John Brown, in planning his fateful raid at Harper’s Ferry, which doomed him and many others, but left him a martyr to the cause in many people’s eyes. During the Civil War, Harriet served as a nurse, scout and spy for the Union army, crossing rebel lines on many occasions to uncover helpful information.
Another interesting study is of Josiah Henson, the gentleman who inspired the noble character, Tom, in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He and his family made their way to freedom and prosperity in Canada, and later returned to help another 100 slaves find their way to freedom through the Underground Railroad. Unfortunately, his association with the famed book turned out not to be favorable to his reputation, as the docility and loyalty seen in Tom’s character was thereafter more often seen as a sign of stupidity or associated with “selling out”, which was not the intention of the author, nor was it anything like the highly intelligent man who inspired the character in Stowe’s novel.
The author included a lot of written correspondence, sermons, and newspaper articles, etc., throughout the book which shared what was happening politically and socially, giving us an interesting viewpoint of what the cultural climate was at the time. There was a particularly poignant discussion by a former slave of how it felt as a slave-husband to see his wife and child abused by their owner and mistress. To know that his wife could not be pure for him, could just be “taken” or beaten at the master’s whim; or to come back from working in the field to see welts and bruises on his young daughter from beatings received from their mistress, and he as the husband/father not being able to do anything about it. Not to mention not having any control over if or when any of them could be sold, causing a possible permanent separation from each other. If being treated as a possession wasn’t horrible enough.
Another avenue of thought that was interesting to me was how much more progressive Canada was even back then. Thirty years before (white) America even had a twinkle in its eye about freeing the slaves, Canada (and all of the British Empire with a few exceptions such as the territories in the possession of the East India Company; all such exceptions were eliminated in 1843) had already declared emancipation for their black citizens, as well as integrating them as equals into schools and society in general. Runaway and freed slaves who made it to Canada found they were welcome to make a new life on their own merits, ingenuity, and hard work.
This book is more informative than entertaining, but it is important because it covers people and events which aren’t always talked about. The whole Canada connection was really interesting to me, because any education on my part about this subject was always about only what was going on in America or the more dramatic tales of slave auctions, abusive masters, the process of escape, or the arduous life on the plantations themselves.
From Midnight to Dawn: The Last Tracks of the Underground Railroad
by Jacqueline L. Tobin
Audio narrated by Richard Allen