"They Seemed to be transformed..."

An excerpt from "Bound for Canaan" by Fergus M Bordewich, a book about the Underground Railroad.

Conductors who were in a hurry, or desperate, sometimes literally flung fugitives onto a passing ship, and hoped for the best. In one such instance, a steamboat captain named Chapman, en route from Cleveland to Buffalo, was hailed about three miles offshore by four men in a small boat, two of them merchants with whom he had done business the day before, and the others black strangers.

One of the whites threw on board a purse containing fifteen dollars in silver, and asked Chapman to land the black men in Canada, telling him to take his pay out of it, and to give the passengers what was left. The sight of the new passengers didn't please the captain, who, imbued with the racial prejudices of his time and place, found them "very black, coarse in feature and build, stupid in expression, and apparently incapable of any mental excitement except fear."

Fortunately, however, Chapman was a man with a heart, and he ran in near the Canadian shore, and landed the men on a beach, where they were met by the agents of the underground... ...Chapman handed the men the entire fifteen dollars, and told them they were free.

What he then witnessed startled the captain.

"They seemed to be transformed; a new light shone in their eyes, their tongues were loosed, they laughed and cried, prayed and sang praises, fell upon the ground and kissed it over and over. I thought to myself, 'My God! Is it possible that human beings are kept in such a condition that they are made perfectly happy by being landed and left alone in a strange land with no human beings or habitations in sight, with the prospect of never seeing a friend or relative?' "

"Before I stepped upon my deck I had determined to never again be identified with any party that sustained the system of slavery."


This is a powerful story, and it's also a powerful metaphor. We are all slaves to something. What or who is your master? What would your freedom look like? How would it affect the people who saw it, like this captain? Is it worth it to pursue it? How will you?