Saturday, February 24, 2007

Reviewed: Frost on the Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad

Robin Breon for the Toronto Globe and Mail reviews I've Got a Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad, by Karolyn Smardz Frost. Breon writes, in part, that this book presents:

the remarkable story of...two escaped slaves, who fled the U.S. South and found their way to Canada by way of that clandestine system of transport we now know as the Underground Railroad. The book is part of an important new emerging genre of a rescued African Canadian past that also includes work by Afua Cooper (The Hanging of Angélique) and Lawrence Hill's engaging fiction, The Book of Negroes.

In 1831, Thornton Blackburn conspired to leave his master's home in Louisville, Ky., and make his way to freedom when it was revealed that his new bride, Lucie, was to be sold "down river." Their passage on the steamboat Versailles, facilitated by the use of forged documents, and their arrival, settlement and subsequent incarceration in Detroit, is told in painstakingly researched detail through the use of period documents and narratives of the period that construct a story that was never actually told. That is, Thornton Blackburn himself remained illiterate all his life, and there is very little oral history that Smardz Frost could glean from to provide first-person narrative.

And so, perforce, there is conjecture, surmise and imagining, based on numerous extant narratives from manumitted Africans who lived in the same region of the South, personal diaries, letters, newspaper accounts, family wills, primary court documents etc., all combined in a meticulous weave that drives the story forward.

For the rest, click here.