Monday, 1 September 2008

Book ~ "I've Got a Home in Glory Land" (2008) Karolyn Smardz Frost

From ~ In 1985, archeologists in downtown Toronto discovered what would become the most highly publicized dig in Canadian history: the remains of a house belonging to former slaves Thornton and Lucie Blackburn, who, as it turns out, were key figures in the Underground Railroad.

Fleeing Louisville, KY, in 1831 shortly before Lucie was to be sold down the river, the Blackburns used forged documents to cross the Ohio River and eventually make their way to Detroit. They built a life in the "nominally Free Territory of Michigan," until Thornton was recognized and arrested, along with Lucie. Before they could be convicted and returned to slavery, though, the first racial uprising in Detroit, a crowd of friends and abolitionists who marched on the jail, gave them the opportunity to escape. Fleeing to Toronto, Thornton's case established the promise of the Underground Railroad: Canada's refusal to turn the former slaves over to Michigan's governor established Canada as a haven for escaped slaves (so long as they weren't wanted for capital crimes).

Frost spent years researching this story, as attested to by 100-plus pages of notes. Unfortunately, the voices and personalities of the Blackburns themselves remain sketchy; Frost fills in numerous chinks in their story, using first-hand accounts from others in similar situations, but it still feels like the Blackburns have, once again, evaded capture.

Though I've lived in Toronto for more than 20 years, I hadn't heard about the Blackburns until I read about this book in the Toronto Star.

It's definitely an interesting story and I would like to learn more. And if I get a chance, I'd like to go look for Thornton's grave at the Toronto Necropolis and Crematorium.

The book, though, provides a lot of details ... way more details than I needed so I found the book for the most part hard to read. I kept at it because of the story.

1 comment:

John Mutford said...

When I think of downtown Toronto, archeology is probably the furthest thing on my mind. Sounds like very interesting piece of history that I'm unfortunately not all that familiar with.

Btw, I don't know if you saw my reply to your comment on my blog, but listing you under "Quebecois" not "Ontarian" wasn't a mistake (though I do know where you hail from as your blog is quite pro-Toronto! :) The labels I've chosen are a bit confusing, and I'll look for new ones the next time I host this challenge, but in the meantime head back to my blog for an explanation.