U.S. historians shed light on young slave’s 1860 escape to Vancouver Island

Two U.S. historians have shed new light on a little-known but powerful story from 19th-century Canada, when black settlers on Vancouver Island orchestrated the dramatic escape of a 12-year-old slave from his master in Washington territory, on the U.S. side of the border.

A rare example of the Underground Railroad operating on the Pacific frontier, the 1860 rescue of young Charles Mitchell by abolitionists in pre-Confederation Victoria — and the ensuing legal battle that resulted in a landmark victory for freedom — has itself been rescued from obscurity this month with the publication of Free Boy: A True Story of Slave and Master on Puget Sound.

At a time when the fate of escaped slaves was always uncertain — even in the abolitionist “promised land” of British North America, where U.S. bounty hunters sometimes roamed in search of runaways — the Mitchell case reinforced the rights of fugitive blacks and helped galvanize a newfound sense of citizenship within Vancouver Island’s fledgling African-Canadian community....

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