Review: I've Got a Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad

I've Got a Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad by Karolyn Smardz Frost

This is the true story of Thornton and Lucie Blackburn, two slaves who "steal themselves" from their masters in Kentucky and successfully make it to a new home in Toronto, Ontario. 

In 1985 Karolyn Smardz Frost, Toronto historian and archaeologist became interested in the potential for an archaeological dig beneath the schoolyard of one of the oldest continually used school buildings in Toronto.  In researching the site, she discovered that it had originally belonged to one Thornton Blackburn, who records noted was a "cabman, coloured".  Partnering with the Ontario Black History Society she got permission to excavate the site, and thus began her 20 year project of researching the story of how the Blackburns arrived in Toronto.

The result is this book.  Amazingly, Frost had stumbled on the homesite of the escaped slave couple who's court case cemented Canada as the main terminus of the Underground Railroad.  

Escaping from Kentucky in 1833, Thornton and Lucie first made their way to Detroit, in the then "free territory" of Michigan, where an attempted kidnapping by slave catchers resulted in the Blackburn Riot, causing the couple and several other escaped slaves to flee across the Detroit River to Upper Canada (now Ontario).   Upper Canada, the first British territory to rule against slavery, had just recently passed the Fugitive Offenders Act, formalizing extradition rules to the US.  Among its provisions was a rule that escaped slaves would not be returned to America with some exceptions.  

The Blackburns were pursued across the border by the slave catchers, and the resulting court case established precedent, setting a very high bar for returning slaves to the US from Canada. 

Thornton and Lucie spent some time in the Detroit River area of Ontario, but eventually settled in Toronto, where they achieved much success, and, though Frost has to rely on what is found in the archaeological dig, in newspaper clippings and legal records.  Even so she manages to tell their story quite well.

I read this book after completing Ta-Nehisi Coates' The Water Dancer, and doing some research on books about the Underground Railroad.  I give I've Got a Home in Glory Land Four Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐. Recommended.

I've Got a Home in Glory Land links

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