Seeking a connection

Underground Railroad author Bordewich
to discuss new book in Madison

By Debi Maylum
Staff Writer

MADISON, Ind. (March 2005) – Author Fergus M. Bordewich will be making a stop in Madison, Ind., on March 31 for a signing and discussion of his book, “Bound for Canaan, the Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America.”
Bordewich’s book tells a story about how the Underground Railroad became what he calls “the greatest movement of civil disobedience since the American Revolution, engaging thousands of citizens in the active subversion of federal law and the prevailing mores of their communities.”

Bound for Canaan

Photo provided

Fergus M. Bordewich’s book “Bound for Canaan” features Madison, Ind.

Due to the area’s rich Underground Railroad history, Bordewich speaks frequently about Indiana and Madison in his book.
“I’ve read the book and it is quite good,” said Joe Carr, executive director of the Jefferson County Historical Society. Madison’s involvement makes this an ideal location for a signing.
Bordewich visited Madison and spent a couple of days researching the intricate, well-organized Underground Railroad routes that took hundreds of runaway slaves through the area. He recalls his visit as “one of his most productive days I have ever spent doing research.”
“The story in Madison is unusually dramatic because of its location on the river, right on the front line between free and slave states,” said Bordewich. “The area is also unusual in the respect that the history there is so well documented.”
Overall, Bordewich says, Underground Railroad history is better documented than many people think. The quality of the material in Indiana and in Madison, possibly because of the large number of people that were involved in the movement there, he says, is better than most other places.
“I have encountered some of the most knowledgeable people and best research in the state of Indiana,” said Bordewich. “It is one of the best organized states in the country in terms of Underground Railroad history.”
Bordewich has written for publications such as The New York Times, Harper’s Atlantic Monthly, Smithsonian, American Heritage and Reader’s Digest, and many other top publications. Bound for Canaan is his fourth book.
His interest in human rights began as a child growing up in a neighborhood in New York that was said to have been settled by fugitive runaways of the Underground Railroad. “I grew up close to the story,” he said. “Additionally, I write a great deal about human rights, and the Underground Railroad sits at the forefront of those issues.”
“Bound for Canaan” tells the stories involving abolitionists who lived and worked in Madison and Indiana. The book tells stories of men such as George DeBaptiste, a free black man who led hundreds of runaway’s north to freedom, and Levi Coffin who assisted freedom seekers primarily in Fountain City, Ind. DeBaptiste’s former home is marked today in the “Georgetown” district of downtown Madison, an area named a Historic District on the National Historic Register in 2004.

Fergus Bordewich

Photo provided

Fergus M. Bordewich

“Bound for Canaan” is not an academic book. “It is written as a fast-paced narrative rooted in thorough research,” said Bordewich. Not only is it a story about Underground Railroad history, it also examines the role that the Underground Railroad played in the abolition of slavery, the precipitation of the Civil War, and the larger issue of race relations in the United States. Underground Railroad history is not about tunnels and hidey holes but about people of extraordinary courage who changed the way people thought about slavery, explained Bordewich.
“It is a story about people, morality and courage,” he said. “I hope that the book will help to lift the subject of the Underground Railroad out of the realm of legend and restore it to its rightful place in the struggle for human rights in American History.”

• The “Bound for Canaan” signing and discussion will be held at 6 p.m. on March 31 in the Heritage Center at the Jefferson County Historical Society, 615 W. First St. The book will be available for purchase at the Historical Society that evening. For more information, call the Historical Society at (812) 265-2335.

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