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'Free Boy: A True Story of Slave and Master'
Event features co-author of book with local ties
, Courier Staff Writer
Thursday, May 02, 2013 11:00 AM
A man with Indiana ties earned mention in the history of Washington Territory as one of the only masters to have a slave escape the area in the 1800s.
The slave's master James Tilton didn't come from a long line of slave owners. In fact, he grew up in the free state of Indiana near the hot spot of Underground Railroad activity in Madison. As a loyal soldier in the U.S. Army, he only tolerated slavery in hopes of keeping the country together as one.
Authors Lorraine McConaghy and Judy Bentley tell the story of slave Charlie Mitchell and his master in the recently-published book, "Free Boy: A True Story of Slave and Master." Bentley plans to highlight her research for the book about Tilton's ties to the Madison, as well as the Dupont areas, and the Underground Railroad on the western frontier during a book talk and author signing at Village Lights Bookstore on Saturday.
"Free Boy" follows the journey of Tilton - son of the town of Dupont founder and Madison physician Dr. James Tilton - and the 13-year-old slave boy who was a wedding gift from a cousin during their journey to Washington Territory.
Set in the 1850s, Tilton decides to move to the Washington Territory as surveyor-general after the death of his father. After arriving in the Washington Territory, Mitchell considers an escape to freedom in Canada with the help of conductors on the Underground Railroad.
"Most people think there is no Civil War history in the Washington Territory," Bentley said, but the book's co-author found one instance where a slave did attempt to leave his master for the free lands of what would become Canada.
McConaghy, a public historian at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle, was working on an exhibit when she came across articles detailing the escape.
"She was quite surprised to find that," Bentley said. "It was thought (Washington Territory) was a free territory. There were no large plantations here."
To provide background for the book, Bentley visited Madison in 2009 to research Tilton's family history. The Jefferson County Public Library gave her plenty of background information about Tilton and his family, yet background information about Mitchell was lacking.
The authors had to take the little information known about Mitchell and add other historically-known facts about slaves' lives to create the book. The authors make note of the researched information and the fictionalized portions of the book by placing the fictionalized sections of the book in italics.
The book also highlights other major issues of the 1800s, including issues of race, slavery, treason and secession prior to the Civil War.
The author signing and reading will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday at Village Lights Bookstore, 110 E. Main St. The event is co-sponsored by the Jefferson County Historical Society.
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