Review: Stolen: The Astonishing Odyssey of Five Boys Along the Reverse Underground Railroad

Stolen: The Astonishing Odyssey of Five Boys Along the Reverse Underground Railroad
by Richard Bell

Stolen tells the story of five boys kidnapped from Philadelphia in 1825 and forced to journey south to be sold into slavery. It is just one story of the "Reverse Underground Railroad", the name for the groups of kidnappers who stole thousands of free Blacks from the north in the first six decades of the 1800s, and who sought to profit by selling them south to slavery. Children were especially targeted, as they were less likely to resist. Dozens of children were kidnapped from Philadelphia in 1825 alone. What sets the story of these five boys apart is that four of them made it back to freedom.

The author notes that by 1825 the Reverse Underground Railroad sold as many free Blacks into slavery as the Underground Railroad sheparded enslaved Blacks to freedom. Since the Reverse Underground Railroad was a criminal, though tolerated, enterprise, by design it left very few records of any kind, and thus very few individual stories can be told with any historical accuracy about it. Stolen makes use of the available records around this one case to take us in depth and in detail through the kidnapping and journey these children took.

Last fall I read I've Got a Home in Glory Land which told the story of Thornton and Lucie Blackburn's flight from Kentucky to freedom in Toronto on the Underground Railroad. Like that book, this one takes full advantage of the historical material available about their central figures to yield a well researched and well written story.

You will be gripped by the story of these boys' kidnappings, their harrowing journey south, the white men who interceded for them, and their amazing return to freedom to testify against their kidnappers. I rate Stolen 4 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐ - I really liked this book. I was moved by the boys' story. I recommend it.

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