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Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America's First Civil Rights Movement Paperback – Bargain Price, January 10, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Though the Underground Railroad is one of the touchstones of American collective memory, there's been no comprehensive, accessible history of the secret movement that delivered more than 100,000 runaway slaves to freedom in the Northern states and Canada. Journalist Bordewich (Killing the White Man's Indian) fills this gap with a clear, utterly compelling survey of the Railroad from its earliest days in Revolution-era America through the Civil War and the extension of the vote to African Americans in 1870. Using an impressive array of archival and contemporary sources (letters, autobiographies, tax records and slave narratives, as well as new scholarship), Bordewich reveals the Railroad to be much more complicated--and much more remarkable--than is usually understood. As a progressive movement that integrated people across races and was underwritten by secular political theories but carried out by fervently religious citizens in the midst of a national spiritual awakening, the clandestine network was among the most fascinatingly diverse groups ever to unite behind a common American cause. What makes Bordewich's work transcend the confines of detached social history is his emphasis on the real lives and stories of the Railroad's participants. Religious extremists, left-wing radicals and virulent racists all emerge as fully realized characters, flawed but determined people doing what they believed was right, and every chapter has at least one moment--a detail, a vignette, a description--that will transport readers to the world Bordewich describes. The men and women of this remarkable account will remain with readers for a long time to come. Illus. not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

In the first years of the nineteenth century, most runaway slaves didn't get very far: "Slave holders sought to impress their slaves with a belief in the boundlessness of slave territory," Frederick Douglass wrote, and, given the reach of fugitive slave laws, "the real distance was great enough." Those who did make it almost always had the help of Quakers, free blacks, and other opponents of slavery, who composed what Bordewich calls a "national geography of freedom." This engrossing account of the Underground Railroad describes how scattered "experimental, impulsive" acts (for instance, defending a fugitive from a patrol) became an organized operation involving thousands of stationmasters, conductors, and spies. Some of the less known, and more remarkable, stories here involve the black workers on the Railroad, such as Arnold Gragston, who, while remaining a slave, ferried hundreds of runaways across the Ohio River until 1863, when he became his own last passenger.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Amistad (January 10, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060524316
  • ASIN: B002FL5EV2
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #852,681 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

FERGUS M. BORDEWICH is the author of six non-fiction books: America's Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise that Preserved the Union (Simon & Schuster, 2012); Washington: The Making of the American Capital (Amistad/HarperCollins, 2008); Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America (Amistad/HarperCollins, 2005); My Mother's Ghost, a memoir (Doubleday, 2001); Killing the White Man's Indian: Reinventing Native Americans at the End of the Twentieth Century (Doubleday, 1996); and Cathay: A Journey in Search of Old China (Prentice Hall Press, 1991).

In his newest book, America's Great Debate, Bordewich tells an epic story of the nation's westward expansion, slavery and the Compromise of 1850, centering on the dramatic congressional debate of 1849-1850 - the longest in American history - when a gallery of extraordinary men including Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, Stephen A. Douglas, Jefferson Davis, William H. Seward, and others, fought to shape, and in the case of some to undermine, the future course of the Union.

He has also published an illustrated children's book, Peach Blossom Spring (Simon & Schuster, 1994), and wrote the script for a PBS documentary about Thomas Jefferson, Mr. Jefferson's University. He also edited an illustrated book of eyewitness accounts of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, Children of the Dragon (Macmillan, 1990). He is a regular contributor to Smithsonian magazine, mainly on subjects in nineteenth century American history. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife and daughter.

Bound for Canaan was selected as one of the American Booksellers Association's "ten best nonfiction books" in 2005; as the Great Lakes Booksellers' Association's "best non-fiction book" of 2005; as one of the Austin Public Library's Best Non-Fiction books of 2005; and as one of the New York Public Library's "ten books to remember" in 2005.

Washington was named by Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post as one of his "Best Books of 2008."

Bordewich was born in New York City in 1947, and grew up in Yonkers, New York. While growing up, he often traveled to Indian reservations around the United States with his mother, LaVerne Madigan Bordewich, the executive director of the Association on American Indian Affairs, then the only independent advocacy organization for Native Americans. This early experience helped to shape his lifelong preoccupation with American history, the settlement of the continent, and issues of race, and political power. He holds degrees from the City College of New York and Columbia University. In the late 1960s, he did voter registration for the NAACP in the still-segregated South; he also worked as a roustabout in Alaska's Arctic oil fields, a taxi driver in New York City, and a deckhand on a Norwegian freighter.

He has been an independent writer and historian since the early 1970s. His articles have appeared in many magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Smithsonian, American Heritage, Atlantic, Harper's, New York Magazine, GEO, Reader's Digest, and others. As a journalist, he traveled extensively in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa, writing on politics, economic issues, culture, and history, on subjects ranging from the civil war in Burma, religious repression in China, Islamic fundamentalism, German reunification, the Irish economy, Kenya's population crisis, among many others. He also served for brief periods as an editor and writer for the Tehran Journal in Iran, in 1972-1973, a press officer for the United Nations, in 1980-1982, and an advisor to the New China News Agency in Beijing, in 1982-1983, when that agency was embarking on its effort to switch from a propaganda model to a western-style journalistic one.

America's Great Debate joins Bordewich's two previous books in exploring from a new angle the ways in which slavery and sectional conflict distorted American democracy in the years before the Civil War. In the aftermath of the Mexican War, new conquests carried the United States from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean. How would the newly acquired empire be governed? Could it even be governed? Would that empire be slave or free? California's request to join the Union as a free state in 1850 pushed slavery's defenders to the brink of armed conflict. Many Americans expected secession and civil war to begin within months, if not weeks. The prevention of war through ten months of fierce debate was one of the greatest political achievements in American history. The compromise that resulted preserved the Union for another decade, ultimately enabling the North to ready itself for a war that it could win. America's Great Debate vividly recounts that story.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Loveitt on April 29, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I read a lot of history books and am always glad to find a book that deals with a topic I know little or nothing about. It's an added bonus if the book is well-written and a pleasure to read, as this one is. "Bound For Canaan" is both thought-provoking and entertaining, which is another big plus. Mr. Bordewich presents many harrowing tales of escape, attempted escape, and recapture. Famous people, such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and John Brown, are brought to life. Even better, brave people who have been lost in the mist of history, such as Jermain Loguen, Gerrit Smith, and Levi Coffin, are given their day in the sun. The Underground Railroad was peopled by slaves, free blacks, and women, as well as white male abolitionists. People with strong religious beliefs, notably Quakers, but also Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists were in the forefront of the movement to abolish slavery. What I especially liked about this book was that Mr. Bordewich didn't try to simplify things. People and movements are complex, and all the nuances are present here: religious abolitionists who wanted an end to slavery, but who thought blacks were inferior and shouldn't be allowed to vote or "mingle" with whites; male abolitionists who thought women had no business being active in the movement; slaves who betrayed (for reward money) other slaves who were attempting to escape; American Indians being slaveholders; "free" blacks not being allowed to vote or to use "white" accomodations, etc. It was especially interesting (and ironic) to learn of the numerous "passengers" who chose to go to Canada (still under British rule at the time)so that they could get a fair shake....British law treated them as equal to white people, and they didn't have to worry about being hunted down and being returned to slavery.Read more ›
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Steven K. Szmutko VINE VOICE on May 30, 2005
Format: Hardcover
For many, hear the phrase "Underground Railroad" and immediately the names of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and - well maybe that's about it - come to mind. Textbooks give, at best, a few pages of only the most superficial examination of a pivotal movement in American history. Most of what we have learned about it from either these sources, or brief mentions in periodicals and such. BOUND FOR CANAAN offers a fresh insightful and illuminating exploration of this ultimate road to hope, which helped to dismantle the great American hypocrisy of slavery amidst the rhetoric of liberty.

Fergus M. Bordewich is an exemplary writer and historian - a master craftsman of the written word. His writings have appeared in American Heritage, Smithsonian, Atlantic Monthly and others. Journalist and author, he has authored well-received books including KILLING THE WHITE MAN'S INDIAN, which dispels Native American misconceptions and fallacies, and MY MOTHER'S GHOST, an exploration of the author's dealing with the tragic death of his mother. His current book stands as an in-depth study of the Underground Railroad, synthesizing original materials, academic research and anecdotal recollections into a seamless and thoughtful narrative of epic proportions.

The true value of BOUND FOR CANAAN (in my opinion) is Mr. Bordewich's presentation of the humanity of the movement. Historical figures - black and white, slave and free, noted and obscure - all are shown as complex richly textured characters in the ultimate American drama. Men and women are shown in all of their strengths and weaknesses, rather than one-dimensional stereotypes.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By David E. Levine on April 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book is a huge contribution to the literature of the decades leading up to the Civil War. Until Eric Foner's monumental work, there was no good, comprehensive history of Reconstruction in the years following the War. So too, until now, there has not been a good, comprehensive history of the Underground Railroad. Author Fergus M. Bordewich has remedied this with "Bound for Canaan." There have certainly been histories of the years leading up to the Civil War, indeed one of the best is the beginning couple of hundred pages of James McPherson's "Battlecry of Freedom." But these histories were intended to cover the broader spectrum of events leading to the Civil War. This concentration on the Underground Railroad is long overdue.

We have all heard of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, both monumental figures. However, there were numerous heroes of the Underground Railroad who have been lost to history. Fortunately, Bordewich brings to life figures such as Isaac Hopper, Levi Coffin, David Ruggles, Josiah Henson and many others. Sadly, because there was scant record keeping of many of the Underground Railroad's activities, some others may be permanently lost to history.

Early efforts at rescuing slaves commenced with the efforts of Quakers such as Isaac Hopper in Philadelphia. Also, on or about 1805, a young Quaker boy, Levi Coffin, saw the horrible sight of slaves, chained together, being marched along the road. He saw the hopelessness in them and also, the fate of another slave who was probably a runaway. He had a metal collar placed around his neck and it was afixed to the master's buggy. The poor fellow was forced to run behind the buggy at a rapid clip to avoid being dragged by the neck.
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