It seems fitting on Martin Luther King day to draw attention to a book published in 1856 The Refugee, or, The narratives of fugitive slaves in Canada compiled by Benjamin Drew whose trip was sponsored by the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada and by John P. Jewett, the publisher of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It is estimated that in 1852 there were some 30,000 refugees from slavery in the United States living in Upper Canada. This by Drew from the introduction to the book:
When in any State, the oppression of the laboring portion of the community amounts to an entire deprivation of their civil and personal rights; when it assumes to control their wills, to assign them tasks, to reap the rewards of their labor, and to punish with bodily tortures the least infraction of its mandates, it is obvious that the class so overwhelmed with injustice. are necessarily, unless prevented by ignorance from knowing their rights and their wrongs, the enemies of the government. To them, insurrection and rebellion are primary, original duties. If successfully thwarted in the performance of these, emigration suggests itself as the next means of escaping the evils under which they groan. From the exercise of this right, they can only be restrained by fear and force. These, however, will sometimes be found inadequate to hold in check the natural desire of liberty. Many, in spite of all opposition, in the face of torture and death, will seek an asylum in foreign lands, and reveal to the ears of pitying indignation, the secrets of the prisonhouse.
Benjamin Drew sought out many black Americans who had fled to Upper Canada to escape slavery in order to interview them and record their experiences under slavery and what they were experiencing under conditions of liberty. His intent was to place “their testimony on record.” One of the people he interviewed was HARRIET TUBMAN. She was born into slavery in Maryland in 1820, and successfully escaped in 1849. She is well known for leading hundreds of other slaves to freedom utilizing the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War she served as nurse, cook, and spy for the Union forces. Here is her brief narrative.
I grew up like a neglected weed,—ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it. Then I was not happy or contented: every time I saw a white man I was afraid of being carried away. I had two sisters carried away in a chain-gang,—one of them left two children. We were always uneasy. Now I’ve been free, I know what a dreadful condition slavery is. I have seen hundreds of escaped slaves, but I never saw one who was willing to go back and be a slave. I have no opportunity to see my friends in my native land. We would rather stay in our native land, if we could be as free there as we are here. I think slavery is the next thing to hell. If a person would send another into bondage, he would, it appears to me, be bad enough to send him into hell, if he could.