Flee North

A Forgotten Hero and the Fight for Freedom in Slavery's Borderland

By Scott Shane
An artistic book cover titled "flee north" featuring bold typography over a suggestive, smoke-like illustration, with a subtitle reading "a forgotten hero and the fight for freedom in slavery's borderland" by scott shane.
Author: Scott Shane
ISBN: 9781250843210
ON SALE: 09/19/2023

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ISBN: 9781250843210
Flee north: a gripping tale of courage and perseverance in the struggle for freedom.
ISBN: 9781250843234
ISBN: 9781250843227
ISBN: 9781250902252

**A Publishers Weekly Top 10 Book of the Year**

A riveting account of the extraordinary abolitionist, liberator, and writer Thomas Smallwood, who bought his own freedom, led hundreds out of slavery, and named the underground railroad, from Pulitzer Prize–winning author and journalist Scott Shane. Flee North tells the story for the first time of an American hero all but lost to history.

Born into slavery in Maryland, Thomas Smallwood by the 1840s was free, self-educated, and working as a shoemaker a short walk from the U.S. Capitol. He recruited a young white activist, Charles Torrey, and together they began to organize mass escapes from Washington, Baltimore, and surrounding counties to freedom in the north.

They were racing against an implacable enemy: a lucrative industry run by men like Hope H. Slatter, the region’s leading slave trader, that would tear one million enslaved people from their families and sell them to the brutal cotton and sugar plantations of the Deep South. Men, women, and children in imminent danger of being sold south turned to Smallwood, who risked his own freedom to battle what he called “the most inhuman system that ever blackened the pages of history.” And he documented the escapes in satirical newspaper columns, mocking the slaveholders, the slave traders, and the police who worked for them.

At a time when Americans are rediscovering a tragic and cruel history and struggling anew with the legacy of white supremacy, this book—the first to tell the extraordinary story of Smallwood—will offer complicated heroes, genuine villains, and a powerful narrative set in cities still plagued by shocking racial inequity today.

A bespectacled man with a gentle expression, wearing a blue checked shirt, standing in front of a brick wall.
Scott Shane was a reporter for 15 years at The New York Times, where he was twice a member of teams that won Pulitzer Prizes, and before that for 21 years at The Baltimore Sun. His two previous books are Dismantling Utopia, a firsthand account of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Objective Troy, the story of an American terrorist killed in a drone strike on orders of President Obama. In 2019-2020 he was a fellow at the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University, where he has taught courses on media and on the Russian attack on the 2016 American presidential election.

Praise for Scott Shane

“The tremendous achievements of the man who coined the term ‘underground railroad’ are given their full due... and [Shane] does so against a fascinating backdrop of the cultural, political and financial situation in the antebellum mid-Atlantic.”
The New York Times

"Flee North stands on its own...as both a thrilling portrait of the underground in action and as an inspiring demonstration of the extraordinary personal courage and sacrifice that activists demanded of themselves at a time when slavery’s defenders dominated the national government and cynical businessmen like Slatter built mansions on profits derived from selling their fellow human beings."

The Wall Street Journal
Flee North, a gripping story told at a brisk pace in the no-fuss prose of a practiced reporter, is a model of the advantages that journalists can bring to the writing of history… [It] is the kind of story we sorely need at a time when there is no shortage of opportunities for inspiring acts of heroism.”
Washington Post

“This astonishing and propulsive narrative rights a historical wrong by returning Smallwood to prominence. It’s an absolute must-read.”

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review

“A rich history of two men who were active in helping enslaved people escape to Canada in the years before the Civil War… a lively, readable narrative.”


"Written in an engaging, dynamic style, Flee North will captivate readers who want to know how people like Smallwood succeeded in duping countless enslavers. The fascinating tale of a swashbuckling abolitionist and his white activist companion will make readers wish for a film adaptation. This book is a tale of triumph in the face of unspeakable adversity. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries."

Starred Review
Two compact discs (CDs) with shiny, reflective surfaces are overlapping each other on a white background. The discs display a spectrum of colors due to the light reflection, creating a rainbow-like effect.

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