Saturday, January 14, 2006

Bound for Canaan

I bought Bound For Canaan by Fergus Bordewich today and opening the book at random, began to read the story of Josiah and Charlotte Henson.

    "Escape from the Riley plantation had been imperative: had they not run away, they would have been sold and separated from each other. But the flight was a psychological as well as a geographical odyssey, a journey of self-discovery and self-realization. The Hensons, profoundly devout people, of course believed that their lives ultimately lay in the hands of God. In the act of flight, however, they would discover if they could become the agents of their own fate. After a lifetime spent in the fragile security of the plantation, they were now suddenly more completely alone, and in charge of their own destiny, than they had ever been in their lives. Now, even the simplest decision, a moment's lack of attention - a fork in the road, the problem of finding food, whether to trust a stranger, how long the children could keep going - was heavy with potentially catastrophic consequences.

    Henson and his family continued northward, heading for Lake Erie, about 150 miles farther north. ... the Hensons again ran out of food. They were saved by a chance encounter with a band of unepectedly friendly Indians, probably a last remnant of the Wyandot or Shawnee. The Indians, who had never seen black people before, surprised the terrified Hensons by feeding them "bountifully," and providing them with a "comfortable wigwam" for the night."
The forward by Lawrence Hall gives details of the ambiguity towards slavery that existed in Canada at that time. Simcoe, the governor of Upper Canada (Ontario) began the campaign against slavery in 1792, and Ontario was essentially a safe haven from 1812 on. However, slavery was not officially against the law in Canada until 1834, when it was abolished throughout the British Commonwealth.

This review explains the title of the book,
    For many of the thousands of blacks who escaped slavery in 19th-century America through the network of the Underground Railroad, "Canaan" meant "Canada" and freedom. In Bound for Canaan, the first panoramic exploration of the Underground Railroad, slaves, slave owners and emancipators are caught up in a fierce clash of values that becomes a turning point in race relations and the human rights movement.

    Complemented by an introduction by Lawrence Hill, the acclaimed author of Any Known Blood, Fergus M. Bordewich’s masterful narrative weaves together the personal stories of men and women with the politics of slavery and abolition to show how the Underground Railroad gave birth to North America’s first racially integrated, religiously inspired movement for social change.

Read more about Bound for Canaan here.

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