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I've Got a Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale…

I've Got a Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad

by Karolyn Smardz Frost

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The Land of Canaan

In this harrowing tale of terror, resistance, love, and emancipation Archeologist Karolyn Smardz Frost has brought to life the stories of fugitive slaves Thornton Blackburn and his wife Lucie Blackburn in their journey to Canada in what is now known as "The Underground Railroad" during the 19th century.

The significance of the Blackburns lies in the amazing journey they took to freedom, and their subsequent activities in facilitating the flight of future slaves and their work as abolitionists leading up to the Civil War period. Frost shines as a narrator bringing to life the painstaking research she has done to piece together the lives of these remarkable individuals. As a work of non-fiction, Frost is well-deserving of the Governor General Award for 2007.

For the most part, Frost gets all the historical details correct. The brutality of the Cotton King plantation slavocracy, the merciless slave traders, the determination of the abolitionists, enduring racism in British North America (BNA), and the Civil War triangulation between US, BNA and Britain. The greatest accomplishment of Frost's book is to show "the manipulations of personal relationships [between] masters, mistress, and other whites" (p64). In other words, the master/slave relationship was much more complicated than it appeared on the surface and Frost is able give us a glimpse of this complexity through the relationships between Thornton and his masters, and Ruthie (as she was known before she fled) and her masters. Frost is also able to combine elements of romance and suspense through the difficulties they encountered to hide the love for each other and ultimately their desire to be with one another which led them on their harrowing journey to earn their liberty.

Having said that, there are a few minor blemishes in detail of the book. Firstly, Frost would like to have the reader believe that the number of refugee slaves that fled to BNA was upwards of 30,000. Recent figures based on Canadian census data puts the figure at less than 5,000 and US census data at approxiamately 6,000. Frost acknowledges this, but states that census data was highly unreliable. However, Frost contradicts herself here as she relies heavily on much of this "unreliable" census data herself for research in this book. The figure could very well be 30,000 or more, however, there is no factual data that proves this. As flawed as they are, the only data we have to draw from are the census figures which both put the number between 5 and 6,000.

The other minor historical blemish is the omission of Vancouver Island and James Douglas as a primary destination of many fugitive slaves in BNA. James Douglas himself being part Creole, actively campaigned to settle refugee slaves in his colonial territory as a way to dissuade American annexation.

Despite the minor errors, "I've Got a Home in Glory Land" is a significant contribution to the Underground Railroad literature. The story of the Blackburns should be added alongside pioneers such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Sojournor Truth who won their own freedom then fought to break the chains of slavery for so many others. ( )
  bruchu | Aug 22, 2008 |
Interesting read for the history buff, but if you are more into historical fiction this may not be the best choice for you since it is written a bit like a text book.
I checked this book out of my local library after hearing the author interviewed on a radio show. She was very enthusiastic about her research and told enough of the Blackburn story to make me want to find the book immediately.
Karolyn Smardz Frost was the director of an archaeological dig involving the Toronto (Canada) site of Thornton and Lucie Blackburn's home. The Blackburn's were both born into slavery and escaped to Detroit and then to Canada. In Canada they were active in the Underground Railroad, and became prominent buisness people and land owners. During the archealogical excavation of this site in 1985, Karolyn Smardz Frost became facinated with the Blackburn story and committed to finding out as much as she could about the couple. She dedicated subsequent years to the geneological, historical, and political research involved in pulling this story out of it's archival obscurity.
I found the story of the Blackburns very interesting, and I also found many interesting Canadian and American historical facts that I had never heard before. Although I am sure that true history buffs would not be surprised by anything contained in this book, I never cease to be amazed at the many aspects of Canadian history that are not taught in Canadian schools (at least not when I went to school) Although we were taught about the Underground Railroad in school, it wasn't taught in the all encompassing way that this book is told, including quotes from former slaves, slave owners, abolitionists, and political leaders from the U.S., Upper Canada, and Britain. This book does an excellant job of portraying a pivotal time in North American history. ( )
  caymil | Dec 18, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374164819, Hardcover)

It was the day before Independence Day, 1831. As his bride, Lucie, was about to be “sold down the river” to the slave markets of New Orleans, young Thornton Blackburn planned a daring—and successful—daylight escape from Louisville. But they were discovered by slave catchers in Michigan and slated to return to Kentucky in chains, until the black community rallied to their cause. The Blackburn Riot of 1833 was the first racial uprising in Detroit history.
The couple was spirited across the river to Canada, but their safety proved illusory. In June 1833, Michigan’s governor demanded their extradition. The Blackburn case was the first serious legal dispute between Canada and the United States regarding the Underground Railroad. The impassioned defense of the Blackburns by Canada’s lieutenant governor set precedents for all future fugitive-slave cases.
The Blackburns settled in Toronto and founded the city’s first taxi business. But they never forgot the millions who still suffered in slavery. Working with prominent abolitionists, Thornton and Lucie made their home a haven for runaways. The Blackburns died in the 1890s, and their fascinating tale was lost to history. Lost, that is, until a chance archaeological discovery in a downtown Toronto school yard brought the story of Thornton and Lucie Blackburn again to light.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:41 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Traces the story of former slaves Thornton and Lucie Blackburn, who launched a daring escape from their slave masters in 1831 and became the subjects of a legal dispute between Canada and the United States regarding the Underground Railroad.

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