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I've Got a Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad Paperback – June 24, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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 Thorntons have, once again, evaded capture.
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 Booklist

*Starred Review* In downtown Toronto in 1985, archaeologists uncovered remains of a house that had belonged to Thornton and Lucie Blackburn, fugitive slaves who settled in Canada in 1833 and later became successful business owners. Smardz Frost was part of the archaeology team and went on to undertake 20 years of research on the fascinating couple. In this richly detailed book, she recounts the perilous journey of the couple from Louisville, Kentucky, to prevent threat to their marriage by the imminent sale of Lucie. They were pursued to Michigan, where they were captured. Protest by Detroit's black community halted the return of the Blackburns to Kentucky and set off the riots of 1833. The couple was spirited across the river to Canada, but Michigan's governor demanded their extradition, setting in motion a legal and diplomatic battle between the U.S and Canada over the issue of fugitive slaves and firmly establishing Canada as the end point of the Underground Railroad. Smardz Frost's fascination with her subject and love of detailed historical documentation are evident in this engrossing look at a couple who defied slavery with their escape and their assistance to other fugitive slaves. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 452 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition (June 24, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374531250
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374531256
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #993,250 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By AfroAmericanHeritage on August 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
One would have to read this book several times to completely absorb its multifarious layers, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

First and foremost, it is the compelling life story of Thornton and Lucie Blackburn. They escaped from slavery boldly using forged documents to travel by steamboat to Cincinnati (appropriately arriving on July 4) then settled in Detroit and were subsequently incarcerated under the Fugitive Slave Law. The community (white and black) rose up in their defense, sparking what history records as "The Blackburn Riots of 1833." After their hair raising escape to Canada and subsequent incarceration while appealing extradition under provisions of the Fugitive Offenders Act, they finally settled in Toronto, where Blackburn established the first cab company. The couple acquired affluence and influence - though they always lived modestly - and assisted many other refugees escaping slavery and intolerance before, during and after the Civil War.

Equally fascinating is the process by which their life story was reconstructed. Both Thornton and Lucie remained illiterate, and no one recorded their memoirs. This book is the result of over 20 years of painstaking research and - as the author states in the introduction - no small amount of "historical coalescence." It perfectly illustrates the creative approach historians must take when attempting to break through what genealogists call "The Wall of Slavery." The author relies on everything from Bibles to court documents to glean information and put all the pieces together, and her extensive bibliography alone is worth the price of the book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Nancy Beiman on August 21, 2008
Format: Paperback
Karolyn Smardz Frost's tale of the exodus of the Blackburns from America to Canada via the Underground Railroad is incredibly moving and brutal. Moving, because these people, and their mostly-unknown helpers and friends, risked everything for freedom. They found it in the Glory Land, Canada. But they didn't stop there. Thornton Blackburn actually returned to Hell to free his mother, and he and wife Lucy helped other refugee families settle in Toronto.

It was no bed of roses for them in Canada, but it wasn't slavery. Any nostalgia for 'gone with the wind' depictions of antebellum Southern life is put to rest forever when you read of this brutal system that measured degrees of freedom (free blacks lived alongside slaves; slaves counted as 3/5 of a person for census purposes, giving the South more voting clout than it deserved since the '3/5 men' weren't allowed to vote; slaves could be 'hired out' to companies and taught a trade, but their wages were paid to their masters; women were raped by slavers before being sold down the river as concubines.)

The book has its weaknesses. I could have done without the endless geneologies of inbred Southern planters and instead read quotes from the defense speech given by Blackburn's lawyer after the first Detroit Riot ("The Blackburn Riot") in 1833; surely that must have been printed somewhere? I'd have liked it if there were more direct quotes from the principals. And there is a bit too much of 'they might have' 'they must have' and other vagaries. True, the Blackburns could not read or write and many details of their story were not written down, but other people who traveled North could and did write about their experiences in their own words.

The book will leave a bad taste in your mouth if you are from the USA.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By M. Sive on August 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Canada's role relative to slavery in the United States - little-known by Americans - is excellently told through the life story of a couple born in slavery. The Blackburns' escape from slavery calls out for dramatization in a movie or at least on PBS' "American Experience." It would also make a fine children's book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By S. Gillians on February 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I couldn't put this book down. It's a fascinating window into the times and I came away with a much better understanding of it. Some of it was shocking, to be honest. I highly recommend this book.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By John O. Bronson on May 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I cannot overstate the importance of this book. It is a moving, heart-wrenching story. Additionally the Kentucky material was of particular interest to me since my own ancestors were in Mason COunty, KY for a good portion of the story of Thornton Blackburn. I have not finished reading it as of this writing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Gary J. on April 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've got a Home in Glory Land is well researched. Karolyn Smardz Frost writes in a very readable form which is important for an academic history book. As we watch the 150th anniversary Civil War events this year, the subject of slavery in the United States is even more important. This book chronicles this dark and shameful chapter in our past. The author uses real stories debunking the myths of African-American inferiority. She tells part of the untold story about what happened to slaves who did escape to Canada. We all know Freedom Seekers followed the Drinking Gourd north, but what happened when they got North? This book answers that question. For more about the life that caused slaves to "Follow the Drinking Gourd",See Negroes To Hire
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