BOOK REVIEW: The Underground Railroad in the Adirondack Region

I found this book inspiring — not just because of its subject but because the author, Tom Calarco, has created such a meticulous and readable account of what is, after all, a rather esoteric corner of American history – the existence and operation of the Underground Railroad in one relatively small part of the country — with few of the usual academic or professional credentials that conventional wisdom says are needed to snag a publisher’s interest. Calarco is, as is noted on the back of the book, a “professional writer and researcher” who became interested in the subject of the Underground Railroad and set himself to learning as much about it as he could, and after a decade of poring through historical archives and old newspaper articles from the period, visiting sites thought to have been stops on the Underground Railroad, tracking down local legends and oral history, and interviewing locals in towns and villages throughout the Adirondack region, he had the material for a book, and here it is.

The book has the physical dimensions of a textbook, and at first I expected it to be dry and academic, but it was anything but. Calarco takes us into the lives of the fugitive slaves who became abolitionists after successfully escaping their own bondage – like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth – as well as the many white abolitionists – most of them deeply religious Christians who actually took the precepts of their faith to heart. The book is filled with detailed maps, drawings, and both current and contemporary photographs. Amazingly, Calarco drew all the maps himself. I learned a lot from this book. For one thing, I had not realized how many slaves gained their freedom via the Underground Railroad – thousands, maybe tens of thousands. It’s instructive to realize that even at a time when both the existence and the legitimacy of slavery were taken for granted by so many white Americans – probably most – there were still significant numbers who were not ‘men and women of their time,’ as the exculpatory cliché goes. Even in the worst periods of our history, there have been those individuals who remained decent and humane, who did not accept the seemingly immovable realities of the time in which they were born when they knew them to be wrong, and who did something about it.





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