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Free Boy: A True Story of Slave and Master

Overview

Free Boy is the story of a 13-year-old slave who escaped from Washington Territory to freedom in Canada on the West's underground railroad.

When James Tilton came to Washington Territory as surveyor-general in the 1850s he brought with his household young Charles Mitchell, a slave he had likely received as a wedding gift from a Maryland cousin. The story of Charlie's escape in 1860 on a steamer bound for Victoria and the help he received from free blacks reveals how national ...

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Overview

Free Boy is the story of a 13-year-old slave who escaped from Washington Territory to freedom in Canada on the West's underground railroad.

When James Tilton came to Washington Territory as surveyor-general in the 1850s he brought with his household young Charles Mitchell, a slave he had likely received as a wedding gift from a Maryland cousin. The story of Charlie's escape in 1860 on a steamer bound for Victoria and the help he received from free blacks reveals how national issues on the eve of the Civil War were also being played out in the West.

Written with young adults in mind, the authors provide the historical context to understand the lives of both Mitchell and Tilton and the time in which the events took place. The biography explores issues of race, slavery, treason, and secession in Washington Territory, making it both a valuable resource for teachers and a fascinating story for readers of all ages.

Lorraine McConaghy is a public historian at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle and the author of Warship under Sail. Judy Bentley teaches at South Seattle Community College and is the author of Hiking Washington's History, along with fourteen books for young adults.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
McConaghy and Bentley collaborate on an exhaustively researched account of a boy in Washington Territory who was "the first, last and only known fugitive slave to travel the tiny Puget Sound Underground Railroad." Charlie Mitchell's scant biography is interwoven with the more extensive one belonging to his master, surveyor-general James Tilton. Mitchell runs away from Tilton and his home in Olympia, Wash., on the eve of the Civil War at the urging of free blacks from Victoria, B.C. The recounting of his escape aboard a steamer, capture, and eventual freedom in Canada are captivating, as are the italicized, dramatized scenes that conclude several of the 10 chapters. These fictional portrayals of characters' thoughts and conversations help flesh out their personal sides, especially that of Mitchell, whose slave status didn't afford him the same well-documented history as Tilton. The myriad details of Tilton's life and ancestry can overwhelm the narrative, but the authors' admirable primary-source detective work results in a context-rich story that shines a light on racial attitudes and Civil War politics in pre-statehood Washington. Ages 10-15.
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From the Publisher
"Written with deft, lucid prose, this book is a reminder of why lightly fictionalized biography is a marvelous genre. . . . Free Boy provides richly detailed settings and imagined conversations (based on documented events) that bring the story to life." -Stephanie Guerra, Readergirlz, May 2013
Readergirlz - Micol Ostow

Written with deft, lucid prose, this book is a reminder of why lightly fictionalized biography is a marvelous genre.... Free Boy provides richly detailed settings and imagined conversations (based on documented events) that bring the story to life.

Vancouver Sun - Randy Boswell

Two U. S. historians have shed new light on a little-known but powerful story...

Idaho Statesman - Rachel Bennett

A must-read for anyone interested in history of the Northwest, especially Olympia, Wash., and the history of slavery.

Kirkus Reviews
Shedding light on a truly obscure historical incident, a hybrid account of "the first, last, and only known fugitive slave to travel the tiny Puget Sound Underground Railroad." A single-passenger "Underground Railroad" isn't the only reach here. Filling in a scanty documentary record with substantial amounts of invented dialogue ("I don' wanna leave here. Why I gotta go?"), imputed actions and outright speculation, the authors present a double portrait: of James Tilton, surveyor general of Washington Territory, and of Charlie Mitchell, a mixed-race child in Tilton's household who may well have been the Territory's only enslaved person. Born on a failed Maryland plantation around 1847 and taken by Tilton as a favor to a relative, Mitchell arrived in Olympia in 1855--not so far from Victoria (a boomtown on the southern tip of Vancouver Island) and freedom. In 1860, he fled to Canada, sparked a kerfuffle recorded in court documents and newspaper articles, and then, aside from a few tantalizing census records, dropped from history. Along with a broad analysis of Tilton's typically (for his class and times) paternalistic racial and political views, the authors fill in the blanks with details of his experiences as a soldier in the Mexican War and later (futile) attempts to run for office. They also include references to larger events, the area's general history and its loose community of free African-Americans. An intriguing piece of scholarship, despite the unnecessary inventions (and lack of footnotes). (afterword, bibliography) (Fiction/Nonfiction blend. 11-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780295992716
  • Publisher: University of Washington Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2013
  • Series: V Ethel Willis White Books
  • Pages: 104
  • Sales rank: 1,415,241
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Lorraine McConaghy is a public historian at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle and the author of Warship under Sail. Judy Bentley teaches at South Seattle Community College and is the author of Hiking Washington's History, along with fourteen books for young adults.

University of Washington Press

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Table of Contents

Prologue 1. James Tilton: The Making of a Master 2. Charles Mitchell: The Making of a Slave 3. Growing Up with the Territory 4. Charlie's Choice 5. Stowaway 6. "Wrongfully Detained" 7. "A Righteous Decision" 8. Tilton's Choice 9. James Tilton's War 10. Charles Mitchell's Peace Epilogue: Free Men

Acknowledgments Methods and Sources Selected Bibliography

University of Washington Press

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