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.