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Eliza's Freedom Road: An Underground Railroad Diary


Eliza's Freedom Road: An Underground Railroad Diary

All that Eliza has left to remind her of her mother, Jane Mae, is the handmade, patchwork story quilt that Jane Mae sewed. Master sold Jane Mae at auction. The only friend young Eliza has on the tobacco farm in Virginia where she lives is Abbey, the kitchen slave. Because Mistress taught her to read and write, Eliza sometimes reads the newspaper to Mistress so Eliza knows what is going on out in the world, beyond the confines of the farm. Eliza writes her thoughts and feelings in her hidden journal, the only place where she feels safe to say what she thinks. 

She misses Jane Mae and the stories her mother used to tell. Each square of the precious quilt tells a story --- 10 in all, because there are two blank squares on the quilt. Jane Mae was a gifted storyteller. Since slaves were not allowed to be educated, it was important for someone who could tell stories well to share them with as many people as possible, so they could know about their families and their past.

Eliza accompanies Mistress to her sister's farm in Maryland. Mistress is not well, and it is hoped that a visit with kin will cheer her up. Eliza is regularly reading the newspapers to Mistress, which are full of news of runaway slaves bound for freedom. There is even a whole book printed in them: UNCLE TOM'S CABIN. One day Eliza meets a woman the slaves refer to as “Moses.” Her real name is Harriet, and she’s active in the Underground Railroad. It isn't really a railroad at all, but a network of folks who are willing to hide slaves and help them travel to freedom by way of "stations" (safe houses) and with the help of "conductors," brave men and women like Harriet.

A slave running away is chased through the woods by tracking dogs and men with guns. Sometimes the runaways are caught, and the punishment is quite severe. Striking out for for freedom is a very daring thing to do, but it certainly is better to run away and find freedom than to be owned by someone.

Eliza finds her chance to leave and is determined. Advice is given to her: Do not look back. Of course she’s frightened, but she’s not alone. Several others go with her. They travel by night and hide, and try to rest during the day. Each day that they get further away from the men with guns and dogs is another day closer to freedom. What courageous folks they are to travel all that way from Maryland to the safety of St. Catherines, Canada. And how brave are the helpers on the Underground Railroad. Because they are helping others escape, they put themselves and their families in great danger.

Though historical fiction, ELIZA’S FREEDOM ROAD gives a very realistic picture of what life was like in the United States during a very dark time in our country's history.

Reviewed by Carole Turner on January 4, 2011

Eliza's Freedom Road: An Underground Railroad Diary
by Jerdine Nolen

  • Publication Date: February 14, 2017
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
  • ISBN-10: 1481498320
  • ISBN-13: 9781481498326