Cover Image: From Underground Railroad to Rebel Refuge

From Underground Railroad to Rebel Refuge

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This book filled a gap in my knowledge as I have seen very little available about the role of Canada in slavery and anti-slavery action. Some of the accounts of individual cases are so heartbreaking as to be difficult to read - but they must be read and discussed. This part of our shared history must never be forgotten and must not be repeated. The author does a great job of respectfully describing events and people while also ensuring the book is a balanced, rational account. This is clearly a subject about which the author cares deeply and that shines through in this sterling book.

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From Underground Railroad o Rebel Refuge: Canada and the Civil War by Brian Martin gives a well-researched, in-depth and highly readable look at the American Civil and the surprising role Canada olayed in it. Most of what Canadians are taught about this is limited to Canada’s role as a final destination of the Underground Railroad for runaway enslaved people . But this is only part of the story. As he shows, approximately 20,000 Canadians took part in the war and on both sides - many Canadians and Britain feared if the North won, they would turn their sights back on Canada in a reprisal of the War of1812. He also explains how Canada became a refuge not only before for Black people but during for many including draft dodgers and deserters, and after, for many white Southerners who took part in the war on the Confederate side who moved to Canada to escape any retribution. This included members of the Ku Klux terrorist organization (later to be renamed Ku Klux Klan during its revival in the early 20th c.) and Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. Many of these people would eventually return to the US but many remained here. And Canada welcomed them all.

Using both primary and secondary sources, this book adds a great deal, not only to Canadian history but to a wider history of the Civil War. But, perhaps even more important, Martin avoids the pitfalls of excessive pedantry that too often makes history inaccessible for those outside academia but, instead, has compiled a fascinating and compelling look at a part of history that few of us learned in school but should have.

<i>Thanks to Netalley and ECW Press for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review</i>

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Martin does an excellent job outlining the various ways Canada became a safe haven for those caught in the currents of the American Civil War. Accounts of the cross-boarder cooperation between abolitionists were particularly interesting and the scope of these often clandestine networks was truly remarkable. I also found Martin's examination of the legacy of the war on northern communities like Chatham, and others, to be very well done. The author effectively captures the long-term influence of the conflict in these communities, and the fissures, tensions, and linkages that persisted long after war's end.

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This book presents a different perspective of the American Civil War, documenting the involvement of Canada in the war and their role in slavery. Great book, highly recommend.

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From Underground Railroad to Rebel Refuge: Canada and the Civil War is such an eye opener. I never new Canadians took part in protecting slaves, fighting the south and like the Notzys took refuge in America, the KKK and confederate took refuge also in Canada. Amazing book. A must read

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While books, scholarship, films, documentaries and other media concerning the American Civil War of 1861 to 1865 have no shortage of materials, and have their own dedicated areas of study, one of the underrepresented and lesser-known aspects of this history is that of Canadian involvement.

Canada's image remains that of a beneficent safe haven for escaping enslaved people of African descent from the United States. After 1834, when Britain abolished slavery, Canada followed suit not because it wanted to but because they had no choice as a country of the Commonwealth. Canada's history as part of the Underground Railroad absolutely helped to emancipate some of the most notable figures of the abolitionist movement, including Harriet Tubman to St. Catharine's Ontario, as well as Josiah Henson, who would later go on to become a preacher. However, that is just one part of a far more complex story.

The author, Brian Martin, had to do much of his archival research focused on London, Ontario. 20,000 Canadians took up arms in this conflict. Most shockingly of all, according to the description on the back of the book, "Confederate President Jefferson Davis along with several of his emissaries and generals found refuge on Canadian soil, and many plantation owners moved north of the border."

Martin sets the scene at Woodlawn Cemetery, the final resting place of many people in London, Ontario. Americans are also buried there--some former enslavers and plantation owners born in Charleston, South Carolina. How did such an anomaly happen?

Shadrach T. Martin, formerly of Tennessee arrived in London in 1854, "and became a popular barber." He was the first Black person to enlist on the Union side, and his grave is unmarked. He served before 'colored' regiments were formed.

While Canada has long been thought of as the quaint, boring, and polite neighbour to our louder, brasher American counterparts, a look at headlines from the past 5 years suggests much otherwise. Canada is only now beginning the long overdue process of acknowledging its history of residential schools and the unthinkable conditions that thousands of First Nations children suffered. Those who survived have never fully recovered. The Ottawa truck brigade that terrorized the nation's capital for months at the start of 2022 was not polite in any way, shape, or form. I haven't even gotten to the bills in Quebec that have been and are continuing to cause problems.

People seem to have conveniently forgotten that the same white supremacist ideals, actions, genocide against indigenous First Nations people, spreading of disease, and colonization that took place to form the backbone of the United States are the same in Canada. It shouldn't surprise me that many people, if they realize this, refuse to deal with it in any meaningful way. One thing I do know for sure is that the way it's taught in most schools in Canada is a far cry from the reality of what happened.

Martin goes on to explain that the community of Niagara-on-the-Lake became a home for Confederate generals "and other Southerners who may have been tried for treason and hanged had they remained in the United States." They found their former president, Jefferson Davis, who was "hailed" by the public. Most of these Americans returned to the States after a while, but some stayed like the Manigault family of South Carolina.

It may surprise readers to discover that two leaders of the Klan wanted for murder went to Canada, one of them settling in London, the other in Niagara.

The author also differentiates between the first iteration of the organization readers identify as the KKK, which disappeared around 1871. These were KK, the Ku Klux, no Klan. In 1915, not coincidentally around the time of the release of possibly the most white supremacist fill in history, "The Birth of a Nation," a new Klan was formed. They became the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, or KKK, or Klan for short.

Martin dutifully goes through each of the American states that abolished slavery by 1798. Vermont (1777), Pennsylvania (1780), Massachusetts (1781), New Hampshire (1783), and Connecticut (1784). Maine, it's important to note, never allowed slavery. "New York's bill to gradually abolish slavery wasn't enacted until 1799 and its provisions were similar to those in Upper Canada."

In Chapter 2, Martin starts the discussion with a Black boy about age five forcibly dragged from his home in Madagascar to New France in the 1620s. David Kirke, the Englishman who purchased this boy, bought him from an Englishman who 'found him' in Madagascar. He was sold again to a French clerk, who then sold him to Couillard, a father of 10 who arranged for a Father Le Jeune to teach him along with an 'adopted' indigenous girl. He was baptized Olivier Le Jeune. Even at such a young age, Olivier understood that he was fundamentally different and an enslaved person because of the colour of his skin. Martin writes that he became the first Black student in Quebec and died in 1654 at age 31. He was believed to have been a free man of colour at the time of his death. However, his occupation was listed as 'domestique' and he was still living with the Couillard family.

The author then discusses other historical factors like the British conquest of New France and the Treaty of Paris which affected the state of slavery in Canada.

There's a false notion that when enslaved people of African descent escaped the plantations where they were bound and made it to non-slaveholding states like Ohio, that the whites there welcomed and accepted them. This is a complete falsehood for the most part, as historical records demonstrate that Cincinnati in particular was very hostile to Black people and violence increased between 1815 and 1829. The whites who lived in this area and other parts of Ohio feared the the formerly enslaved were here to 'steal their jobs' and homes, or that because of their proximity to find shelter near certain businesses, that it would reduce sales. Threats of mob violence were too present.

Readers will also get to read about Henson, previously mentioned in the part discussing Harriet Beecher Stowe. Next up, the book discusses Harriet Tubman and the circumstances of this key figure in the abolitionist movement while also discussing the conditions that Black people in Canada West would have faced (modern-day provinces like Alberta and British Columbia).

Going into the origins of how South Carolina was the first to secede from the Union, Martin discusses political figures of the day including Seward and Lincoln.

Slowly but surely, Martin reveals in bits how it was that Canadians entered the Civil War and factors like how those with Irish heritage disliked the English, so they were more amenable to deserting British ranks.

Civil War buffs as well as Canadian History buffs of the time period that this covers will enjoy the thoroughness of this compelling volume, which I highly recommend for purchase in academic as well as public libraries. Further, anyone who wants to know about the earliest establishments of communities in parts of Ontario in the Reconstruction Era as well as before, would do well to pick up a copy of this volume. For film history buffs or those who study mass media images of race, the discussion of "The Birth of a Nation" is also something that will interest you.

I hope that Canadian publishers in particular, both independent and those who are the Canadian arm of the Big 4, will publish more titles about Canada's involvement in the Civil War, because it's an area that needs more scholarship and scholarly sources to be available.

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From Underground Railroad to Rebel Refuge examines the role of Canadians in the American Civil War. This book needs to be on your radar! Fabulous read!

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