Maine’s connection to the famous Underground Railroad that helped free runaway slaves in the mid-1800s does not begin and end with Harriet Beecher Stowe. Indeed, from Kittery to Fort Fairfield, including Camden, Rockland and Belfast, Mainers conspired together to break the law — the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 — forming a network of “safe houses,” hiding people from slave hunters and scurrying them to Canada.
At the Camden Public Library at 55 Main St., at 7 p.m. on Oct. 9, author Mark Alan Leslie will weave the tale of the brave families who housed and fed slaves in hidden rooms, attics and elsewhere en route to the next secret “way station” in the “railroad.” “Some called slavery ‘the absolute power of one person over another’ — the vilest human behavior and institution,’” said Leslie. “Others called it ‘essential to our economy and prosperity’ and even ‘a humane institution which provided food, shelter and family’ to the African race.”
“Slavery was the one issue that has been able to tear America apart,” he added, “the fight to preserve it and the battle to undo its suffocating hold on the South.”
In Camden, residents hung quilts to dry on their porch railings, with each pattern holding a different coded message. Writes Barbara Dyer, “It was not unusual because most people put quilts out to air or dry. A quilt with certain symbols told the Africans that there was a passage under that home. Many were on the coast, even Camden, where it would lead to water and a ship with the Captain waiting to take them to Canada, where they would be free.”
And slavery remains in the news. The Treasury Department plans to add Harriet Tubman, a heroine of the Underground Railroad, to the $20 bill. Also, the Brunswick home of Harriet Beecher Stowe, a National Historic Landmark since 1962, was placed on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. The former parlor room, where it is believed she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is open to the public as “Harriet’s Writing Room.”
Publisher’s Weekly hailed Leslie’s novel, True North: Tice’s Story, about a slave’s escape over the Underground Railroad through Maine, naming it a Featured Book for 2016. The Midwest Book Review cited Leslie’s “genuine flair for compelling, entertaining, and deftly crafted storytelling.”
And AFA Journal called Leslie “a seasoned wordsmith” whose contemporary novels
are “in the class with John Grisham.”
A longtime journalist, Leslie first burst on the literary scene in 2008 with his novel Midnight Rider for the Morning Star, based on the life of Francis Asbury, America’s first circuit-riding preacher.
Since then, in addition to True North, he has written The Crossing about the Ku Klux
Klan in Maine in the 1920s and three contemporary thrillers: Chasing the Music about the hunt for King David’s music of the Psalms, The Three Sixes about Islamic terror cells in America, and the just-released The Last Aliyah about the Jewish escape from America when the United Nations bans Jewish emigration to Israel.
A book signing will follow Leslie’s presentation.