In Flee North: A Forgotten Hero and the Fight for Freedom in Slavery's Borderland, Scott Shane (Objective Troy; Dismantling Utopia) tells the story of the man who led hundreds along the underground railroad and the first--in a letter published in 1842--to call it by that name in print. (The letter "marked a signal moment in the history of both the American battle against slavery and the American language.") Thomas Smallwood, born into slavery in Maryland, was in the rare position of being able to purchase his freedom from an enslaver who first ensured he was taught to read and to write, and then fulfilled a pledge to manumit him when he turned 30. Smallwood lived and worked quietly for a decade as a shoemaker in Washington, D.C. Although his own journey to freedom did not begin with an escape to the northern states, Smallwood reached out to white activist Charles Torrey and formed a partnership that would actively encourage and aid hundreds in fleeing slavery, often taking whole carriage-loads of families at a time. All the while, Smallwood wrote biting satirical articles for the newspapers in which he mocked the slave traders and slave catchers his charges eluded.
Using Smallwood's newspaper columns, his memoirs, and other contemporaneous documents, Shane builds a convincing case that history unjustly erased Smallwood and left the spotlight on Torrey alone. Readers will find this riveting account an excellent step toward restoring to Smallwood the place in public memory he richly deserves. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library