Thursday, March 02, 2017

Histories of slavery and murder in 19th century Ontario

Karolyn Smardz Frost, archaeologist, writer, scholar, GG nonfiction winner a few years ago for I've Got a Home in Glory Land, her study of escaped slaves coming to Canada West,  has a new book on a similar theme: Steal Away Home, about Cecelia Reynolds, a youthful enslaved woman who escaped successfully to the African-Canadian community of Toronto and then spent years in correspondence with her former owner, Fanny Ballard of Kentucky, seeking to purchase the freedom of her family members.
She had the benefit of expert advice, probably from Washington Spradling, a free African-American in Louisville. Her escape plan suggests there was a communications network stretching across the Ohio River and all the way to the borders of Canada, a "grapevine telegraph" operated by African-American men and women who worked on the rivers, lakes, and canals that made up the continent's inland waterways, and as railroads progressively made their way across the continent, by those who stoked the engines and served the passengers on the trains as well.
Also on the subject of race issues, Ray Argyle's An Act of Injustice, forthcoming from Mosaic Press, is centered on the trial and execution of Cook Teets in Owen Sound, Ontario in 1884, protesting his innocence all the way.

Argyle's subject is principally the wrongful conviction issue, but the murder and its surroundings involved the African-Canadian and mixed race community of the "Queen's Bush" country south of Owen Sound.
I became aware of the tragic fates of Rosanah and Cook while researching wrongful convictions in Canada.  An astonishing story turned up in the October 12, 1908, issue of the Toronto Evening Telegraph. A single paragraph below th fold of an inside page, it bore the headline, "Hanged an Innocent Man." The story carried neither attribution nor byline, but suggested a plot far deeper than the modest space it occupied might indicate.  The actual murderer had confessed, leaving no doubt that Cook Teets was innocent of the crime for which he had been hanged
Argyle has written a novel. not a history, but he's a friend of mine and the story sounds interesting, so I'll bend the no fiction rule we mostly have here.

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