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on February 21, 2016
I don’t recall when I decided to add this book to my wish list on Amazon, but I received it as a Christmas present. Beginning in February I opened it and begin to read. Though coincidental, it was a great read for “Black History Month”.
So much of the history, geography and narrative of this book were unknown to me that at times I struggled to keep focused on the message of the book. I found it confusing as I reviewed the countless names, places and events. But what I will take with me is noted below.
1. God Bless the Quakers. Their resistance to the mores of the South and their active participation in the movement of slaves from bondage to freedom from 1800 through the Civil War is remarkable.
2. There are heroes that seemed to sacrifice all and take huge personal risks to return again and again to the border states and shuttle slaves to freedom. Some, such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman were familiar. Others such as Josiah Henson and Herny Bibb were new. Their stories are all inspirational.
3. The success of the Railroad owes much to the ingenuity, risk-taking and genius of the blacks. One advantage the blacks enjoyed was the stupid prejudice of the whites in thinking the black race so inferior as to not credit them with the initiative and wherewithal to organize, plan, finance and achieve success in moving people from slavery to freedom.
4. Canada, oh Canada. Canada was the land of the free and home of the brave long before the U.S. The ultimate goal of many former slaves was to arrive safely in the land where “Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.” Micah 4:4
5. Sometimes rivalry amongst the forces destroyed the good of both camps. Such was the case of Henry Bibb and Mary Ann Shadd. Instead of cooperation, they sunk into bitter rivalry and neutralized or even destroyed the good of one another. Bordewich points out that some of the principles dividing these early abolitionists continue to echo down through time to today.
6. The story of John Brown is well-known today, but the details contained in this book are very illuminating. I did not realize that Brown had recruited and conversed with a virtual “Whose Who” of the abolitionist movement of his time in preparation for his taking of Harper’s Ferry. He truly lit the fuse leading to the final scenes in the opening of the Civil War.
I am glad that I read this book for the following reasons:
-I had little understanding of the key figures in the liberation of slaves from 1800 – 1860. Now I have a reference that I can refer back to as my understanding deepens about the forces leading to the Civil War.
-This book caused me to think about civil law verses natural or higher law. The movement of thousands of slaves from the South and border states to the North and Canada was the largest collective act of civil disobedience in our nation’s history. What is my stance regarding civil disobedience? What is my response with I am compelled to do something that violates my sense of duty or fairness?
-Words matter. The rhetoric of politics at this time (during the election of 2016) are so strident and hateful that I wonder if we have come all that far. While I am tired of the “P.C. Police” demanding proper phrasing of every word, I am shocked at those who support the hateful and ugly rhetoric of Donald Trump. Do we have the capacity to support one who would turn the clock back so far?
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on October 2, 2017
Fergus Bordewich has written an immensely readable and gripping history of the underground railroad, bringing to life the most famous of its "conductors" and many of its unsung heroes as well. This book made me realize how little I knew about the railroad and the years before the Civil War. "In an age when self-interest has been elevated in our culture to a public and political virtue," Bordewich writes in the Feb. 2, 2007 issue of the New York Times, "the Underground Railroad still has something to teach: that every individual, no matter how humble, can make a difference in the world, and that the importance of one’s life lies not in money or celebrity, but in doing the right thing, even in silence or secrecy, and without reward." After reading this book, I couldn't agree more.
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on July 25, 2017
Well written, easy to read, coherent story of the underground railroad. The only gripe I'd have with this book is that the author probably takes some liberties in describing the emotions or possible actions of actors where they aren't clear from primary sources but the language he uses almost always makes it clear where speculation exists.

The author does an,excellent job of weaving the overall story around the lives of several frequently recurring individual making the themes apparent through anecdotes involving the main players.

Worth reading.
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on July 10, 2015
Bound for Canaan is a remarkable history of the Underground Railroad. Those involved in the railroad tended not to keep written records of their activities, but the author does an excellent job of collecting the available material. Although the book is well-written, I don't consider it to be easy reading. For one thing the book is long--as mentioned, the author did his research. In some cases, the individuals are hard to follow. The story is generally told by chronology and themes--a person might appear in one chapter, disappear for a while in the narrative, and then reappear later. I sometimes had trouble remembering where I had heard that name before. As one might suspect at the outset, a book dealing with slavery is not dealing with a pleasant subject.

The book is a very significant. As the author notes, with the exception of Harriet Tubman, those involved with the Underground Railroad are largely unknown today. This book recognizes the accomplishments of many of these heroes. both black and white. I mentioned above that it was sometimes difficult to remember where a name came up before. I think some of this was because I hadn't heard the name before reading this book. As a teacher, I also was impressed with the value the ex-slaves placed upon educating themselves and their children. We too often take our freedoms and ability to acquire education for granted--these people valued both.
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on May 10, 2018
Excellent, well researched and documented. Very interesting to understand the major impact of “independently” organized escape routes for black slaves from the south to safe locations in northern states and Canada. Citizens who assisted the escape of slaves often became targets themselves as attacks on individuals and families found to help with escapes also had consequences. Yet, they held to their beliefs and found ways to continue to support the end of slavery in many different ways. The Underground Railroad was a significant part of our history and deserves to be well known to all current citizens.
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on December 11, 2005
Anything written about the Underground Railroad is positive. It was, and remains, the most singular movement in our Nation's history where Americans decided, through a massive grass roots effort, to change the fundamental policy of their government. It is something to be very proud of.

The Fugitive Slave Law, enacted in the early 1850s was uncomfortably Nazi-like legislation. It projected the very real police state that existed throughout the South in support of slavery directly into all other States as well. This fundamentally repugnant law was ultimately defeated not by Armies in the field, but by the simple recognition by the common person that this law was fundamentally wrong, that it took EVERYONE'S rights away. And it is the passage of this law, with its concurrent stripping of all of our citizens' individual rights that, in the end, defeated slavery.

How a privileged few were able to dominate Southern society remains a mystery to many of us today. For the most part everyone knows the slavery argument was over cotton but few today understand the incredible wealth, North and South, that was at stake. Cotton was GLOBAL trade and the agricultural Southern United States was the main underpinning. Cotton drove the Industrial Revolution in both Europe and the United States; it made nations and broke them. It WAS international trade. No other good or product came close to its wealth generating ability. Unfortunately, the fundamental bedrock, the foundation for all of this amazing wealth generation, was slavery.

Fergus M. Bordewich has penned an excellent compendium that details the depth and the scope of the remarkable social movement that came to be known as the Underground Railroad. It is a journey that freed a people, not just black, but white as well. It was a movement that was the most unselfish act of civil disobedience America has ever known. As a way of thinking, it did not end with the conclusion of the Civil War or Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation but rather has come to define the continuing journey of our country, defining just what kind of country we will be.

Mr. Bordewich does a very credible job of describing the magnitude of and the unselfish participation by all of our ancestors who rebelled against the loathsome wrong that slavery was. You do not want to miss this story.
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on July 14, 2005
My wife and I caught a lecture by the Author of Bound For Canaan: The Underground Railrod and the War for The Soul of America, Fergus M. Bordewich, on CSpan. His talk really intrigued us both. So, on that basis we purchased his book. Being a product of a late 60's early 70's college education and a History major I did take early courses in the Civil War and Reconstruction and African-American History, neither of which got to the heart of what is known as "The Underground Railroad."

The author did a superb job in explaining the movement to free slaves in the United States, the people and places involved, and the obstacles to getting human beings from slavery to freedom. Mr. Bordewich does not just tell the reader about routes to freedom or known entities in this movement, but emphasis the human factor. He shows the reader how slavery in the US, practiced even in its mildest form, was an oppresive de-humanizing system. He explains the rationalization, in the minds of people like Thomas Jefferson, who despite his philosophical ponderings on the subject of slavery, because of prejudices in how he viewed Africans really did nothing to alleviate the suffering of the slaves he owned.

The author does an excellent job in explaining the motivations of everyone involved in The Underground Railroad movement. Some were motivated by religion, others by philosophy, others for humanitarian reasons, and most importantly of all Black America's desire for freedom and equality. To me, the most interesting parts of this history were the author's explaining how slaves themselves did much to aid their own escape. It brought to life that African-Americans were not passive victims waiting to be saved by white men. Slaves and free Blacks took the problem in hand to secure their own freedom and the freedom of their fellow men.

The book does much to destroy the mythology of the Post-Civil War America, where slavery was looked upon as beneficial to African-Americans. The book does much to dispell the bigger myth of the benevolent slave holder or master. The author points out that even when the slave owner was "kind" to his slaves in many cases families were broken up and promises to slaves were not kept. Not to mention, how slave owners lied to take advantage of slaves who purchased their own freedom and the freedom of family members.

This book should be required reading for every high school student in the United States. It shows how the problems of race, that continue to plague this nation, and the problems in Black America are attributable to the institution of slavery. Unless we truly seek to understand the past, we have no future. Bound For Canaan: The Underground Railroad And The War For The Soul Of America by Fergus M. Bordewich is one tool to help us do just that.

This fine work of history is a definite buy.
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on April 11, 2015
While everyone knows about the famous people involved in the Underground Railroad.. few remember that most of the conductors on the railroad were farmers, ministers, and school teachers. The Underground Railroad was one of the key tools of Abolitionists prior to the Civil War and it helped thousands of former slaves to escape from slavery.

Bordewich does an effective and accurate job of portraying the lives and motives of these everyday people. He tells of ministers who believed truly in the Golden Mean and the schoolteachers who looked at slave children and just say children. This is recommended for any who are interested in African American history, or the history of the Civil War and Antebellum period.
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on May 23, 2013
My family lived in upstate New York in the early portion of the 19'th century. Parts of it still live there. A part of the family history is their participation in the Underground Railroad. Fergus has given me a picture of the complex relationships that existed at that time. To the best of my knowledge my family's support of emancipation comes from a simplistic, literal interpretation of Thomas Jefferson's writings. There weren't any Quakers in the family as far as I know. But if you were black they knew where to direct you on the road to Canada. If you were white and you were looking for blacks they knew were the other groups of smugglers were working. Showing up at one of their sites without an invitation probably resulted in a quick end to your search. That is one part of the story that Fergus doesn't talk about. It is hard to write history about criminal activity. Fergus has done a wonderful job of trying to do the impossible. Add one more recommendation for 'Bound for Canaan.'
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on April 12, 2006
It is hard to write a documented, scholarly history of a secret amorphous operation, harder to give a human feel to that history, but Fergus Bordewich does that here in a way that makes this book valuable as part of the history of the era of slavery, not just on the Underground Railroad. Bordewich focuses on key people, rather than any kind of attempt to show the history of the railroad as an operation distinct from the development of opposition to slavery among whites and the revolt against slavery among Blacks. Instead, this book functions as a good, concrete history of both.

More than that, we see the broad outlines of overall American history and politics in the 19th century. We see the reality of the conflict that led to the Civil War, where it was the South's drive to impose slavery on the West, if not the whole country, they drove the people to rise up against it, drove the victory of Lincoln and the defeat of the slavorcracy in the civil war.

Bordewich has a rare talent for making the many individuals he focuses on come to life as real people. He has a yearning to tell the Black stories as well as the white, and is not afraid to explain the limitations of abolitionists and white underground railraoders' attitudes toward Blacks.

What I found interesting and unique in this book were his several developed chapters on the lives, struggles, and politics of African American fugitives in Canada West (Ontario) from the 1830s until the Civil War. This begs the question about what is known about African Americans fugitives who ended up in Quebec, and whether any ended up in the Maritimes where there was already an African-Canadian community whose core were former slaves who had obtained freedom by fighting with the British against the American Revolution.

This book centralizes information essential for understanding of the antislavery movement, African American and African Canadian history, and the general history of the US and Canada in the 19th Century.
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