In the early 1850s, white American abolitionist Benjamin Drew was commissioned to travel to Canada West (now Ontario) to interview escaped slaves from the United States. At the time the population of Canada West was just short of a million and about 30,000 black people lived in the colony, most of whom were escaped slaves from south of the border. One of the people Drew interviewed was Harriet Tubman, who was then based in St. Catharines but made several trips to the U.S. South to lead slaves to freedom in Canada.
In the course of his journeys in Canada, Drew visited Chatham, Toronto, Galt, Hamilton, London, Dresden, Windsor, and a number of other communities. Originally published in 1856, Drew’s book is the only collection of first-hand interviews of fugitive slaves in Canada ever done. It is an invaluable record of early black Canadian experience.
"Through its abundance of firsthand testimony, The Refugee provides a long and heart-wrenching glimpse into a chapter of both U.S. and Canadian history. The eloquent narratives reveal the courage and ingenuity of men and women who first succeeded in escaping the physical and mental torments of slavery, and then built livelihoods from scratch in a different frontier land ... Regardless of the choice of edition, The Refugee is an emotionally powerful and factually detailed nonfiction classic - essential reading for anyone who wants to hear and understand the voices of slavery survivors, and early black settlers in Canada."
(Joseph Howse Chronicle-Herald, The
About the Author
Benjamin Drew (1812–1903) was an American abolitionist from Boston whose work was made possible thanks to the support of the Canadian Anti-Slavery Society and John P. Jewett, a renowned anti-slavery sympathizer from Boston who had unexpectedly reaped a fortune from publishing Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852.
George Elliott Clarke is the E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Toronto. An award-winning poet, playwright, and screenwriter, he is the author of Execution Poems, winner of the 2001 Governor General’s Award for Poetry.