Bound for Canaan
The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul
Fergus M. Bordewich
April 15, 2005
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". . .a true story of heroism and tenacity."
"Bordewich tells the story of The Underground Railroad through the eyes of those involved. ."
Bound For Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America, is a true story of heroism and tenacity.
In reality, the underground railroad was not a railroad line, nor was it a tunnel beneath the earth. It was a loosely-organized rag-tag army of both whites and blacks who secretly helped African Americans escape slavery.
The organization formed a chain of hope that stretched from the upper Southern states to Canada. There were no actual locomotives run by the Undergound Railroad–only the human connections they made. The Underground Railroad got its name at the time when steam engine lines were popular. The clandestine group used terms like “conductor”, “station” to disguise their activities.
Few knew the identities of those involved in the “railroad” chain. The air of secrecy protected the underground workers who personally hid or transported escapees and often funded the effort. They would use whatever necessary means to save their desperate charges, whether legal or not. Some members were themselves, slaves who remained with their masters while secretly helping others escape. Some even lost their lives.
Bordewich tells the story of The Underground Railroad through the eyes of those involved. Many of the names of those who were involved have been lost to poor record-keeping and the need for secrecy. Some, however, wrote their stories down shortly after the Civil War. No one knows how many slaves were saved from the horrible fate of slavery. But the operation surely saved many lives.
Bound for Canaan includes stories of some families who did leave written records, including the Coffin family and the Rankin families. The author tells about Frederick Douglas’ involvement and about Harriet Tubman who inspired the book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. These stories of the Underground Railroad capture the great courage of the Railroad members and of those trying to escape slavery, and covers how the slaves lived once they made it to freedom either in the North or in Canada. Some African Americans returned to the South to help save their family members or others.
Bordewich tells of events that range from hair-raising to funny, and shows how slave catchers were frequently tricked or out witted.
This book is far from a dry academic history of the Underground Railroad. It is a delight to read and ponder. It provides a true account of the heroism and tenacity of the Underground Railroad. This reviewer highly recommends the work for any collection on slavery issues or the Civil War.
Reviewer: Br. Benet Exton