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Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into…

Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and Their Astonishing…

by Richard Bell

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192825,336 (4.5)2
"A gripping and true story about five boys who were kidnapped in the North and smuggled into slavery in the Deep South -- and their daring attempt to escape and bring their captors to justice, reminiscent of Twelve Years A Slave and Never Caught"--



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I'd read enough about the reverse underground railroad to understand, intellectually, the brutality and horror of it all. With Stolen, Richard Bell takes this backdrop and presents the true story of five free black boys who'd been kidnapped and swept up into slavery. By personalizing this piece of history, Bell makes us feel it. Imagine being a ten-year-old child yanked off the street, beaten, transported to another state, and sold, all because your skin is the right - or wrong - color. Then imagine being that child's parent and having absolutely no legal recourse because your skin is dark and no one cares. This is the truth Bell shares with us.

I'm not sure I can put into words how vital this book is. Schools teach us a sanitized version of history, which does, perhaps, more harm than good.

While the content is intense, the writing style is an easy to read, casual narrative. This isn't a long, time-consuming read requiring a huge commitment. Almost half of the book is the research notes at the end.

The book contains quite a few images. I read this in ebook format, which never really does justice to images. They're small and it's difficult to see detail. I highly recommend buying the print version.

*I received a review copy from the publisher, via NetGalley.* ( )
  Darcia | Oct 30, 2019 |
This book was fabulously and thoroughly researched, and is yet another example of the amazing and fascinating stories out there, hiding in newspaper articles, city council minutes, and court records. At one time everyone knew of these stories due to the extensive newspaper coverage, and now no one does. These are the stories that get people interested in history, yet most students in middle and high school are still taught boring famous name-date-place history, rather than history involving regular people--tradesmen, apprentices, county officials, landowners, jury members, newsmen, abolitionist groups members, farmers, sailors, newspaper readers.

In this book Bell examines the story of 4 free black boys and 1 runaway kidnapped into slavery in Philadelphia in the 1820s. They, a woman legally purchased, and a woman kidnapped in Delaware were forced into a coffle overland to Mississippi with their small-time kidnappers. One boy (the literate one, unsurprisingly) was sold in Tuscaloosa. The rest were taken on. And then, in Mississippi, one of the boys was beaten to death by his kidnapper. And then another told his entire story to a potential purchaser.

And what did that man do? He told. He got the courts involved. The county official wrote to the mayor of Philadelphia, and in the end--well over a year later--the kidnap victims were freed and returned home.

The story itself is amazing--the cast of characters that made this seemingly impossible story happen. A nearly bankrupt wanna by plantation owner, county- and state-level government officials, the mayor of Philadelphia and his high constable, judges, two Methodists, an Alabama jury, a Scottish immigrant who traveled from Philadelphia to Alabama on his own dime to testify, and random people called in on favors--all came together to get the 4 surviving kidnap victims home.

The story is fascinating, so many people I would not expect to care affected the outcome of this particular instance. Mayor Watson of Philadelphia tried to rescue other victims kidnapped by the same Delaware gang, but was largely unsuccessful. Solomon Northrup chronicled his own story in [book:Twelve Years a Slave|18478222]--and while the story Bell tells only covers about 2 years, the time lag before telephones, the internet, and truly reliable mail service is astonishing. The kidnap victims spent weeks trekking overland, and then months and months essentially living as and being treated as slaves (back pay was not awarded in their freedom suit), just waiting for mail to go back and forth.

The other amazing thing about this story is the sources. And the research it took to pull them together. Court minutes and documents, newspaper articles, pamphlets, journals, legislative records, minutes from abolition groups, and so many more primary sources--they are out there, in different states and counties and archives, just waiting to be combined with their counterparts from other places. ( )
  Dreesie | Oct 27, 2019 |
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