A Shadow on the Household: One Enslaved Family's Incredible Struggle for Freedom (Paperback)
The extraordinary story of one couple’s determination to free themselves and their children from slavery and make a new life in Canada
Prior to abolition in 1865, as many as 40,000 men, women, and children made the perilous trip north from enslavement in the United States to freedom in Canada. Many were aided by networks that came to be known as the Underground Railroad. And the stories that emerge from the past about these journeys are truly remarkable.
In A Shadow on the Household, Bryan Prince, a descendant of slaves, brings to life the heart-wrenching story of the Weems family and their struggle to liberate themselves from slavery. John Weems, a man who purchased his own freedom, paid the owner of his enslaved wife and eight children an annual fee to keep them together at one plantation. But when that owner died, the Weemses were cruelly separated and scattered throughout the South. Heartbroken and desperate, John resolved to raise the money to buy his family’s freedom and reunite them. Mining newspapers, private letters, diaries, estate records, marriage registries, and abolitionist papers for details of a story cloaked in secrecy, Bryan Prince has rescued the Weems family and their plight from historical oblivion.
An unforgettable story of love and persistence, played out in four countries (the United States, Canada, Jamaica, and the United Kingdom) against the backdrop of the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a growing abolitionist movement, and the heroic efforts of the Underground Railroad, the Weems family saga must be read to be believed.
About the Author
Bryan Prince is an award-winning author and a descendant of slaves who came to Canada prior to the American Civil War. Among his many projects, he is a director and historian with the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum, a partner of York University’s Harriet Tubman Institute, and a consulting editor with the Adam Matthew Publications digital project Slavery, Abolition, and Social Justice in England. He is the author of I Came As a Stranger: The Underground Railroad, which won the 2005 Children’s Nautilus Book Award for Non-Fiction. He lives in Buxton, Ontario.
Praise for A Shadow on the Household: One Enslaved Family's Incredible Struggle for Freedom…
“A work with the breadth and depth of a historical epic. . . . At times, it’s easy to forget that A Shadow on the Household is a work of history, and not fiction. Often, the text has the heightened drama of a detective narrative, with villains and heroes, and people working against the clock, against unimaginable odds. . . . a gripping and comprehensive historical investigation that will draw you in and make you think.”
– Montreal Gazette
“Prince's concrete details of a desperate time and place bring the family fiercely to life. It is a superb piece of scholarship.”
– Globe and Mail
“[A] compelling work of popular history . . . Extensive details and background make for chilling and gut-rending reading. . . . Accounts such as this people's history remind us of our inhumanity, but also of the good that devotion and commitment can achieve.”
– Winnipeg Free Press
“Prince, a Buxton-area farmer and a descendant of slaves, clearly possesses a remarkable understanding of the history of the subject he has written about. A Shadow on the Household is an unrelenting triumph; a glowing, exhaustively researched and utterly sincere work that demonstrates how tight family ties can be. Outstanding.”
– SCENE magazine
“What a fascinating story! With prodigious research, a fine eye for detail, and a deep respect for a family who endured the most painful trauma under the slave system that governed their lives, Bryan Prince brings the dramatic tale of Arabella and John Weems and their nine children to life. Prince is an accomplished storyteller.”
– Karolyn Smardz Frost, Governor General’s Award-winning author of I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land
“The powerful drama of the Weems family’s pursuit of freedom is beautifully and hauntingly retold here through Bryan Prince’s remarkable storytelling skill. A Shadow on the Household is an extraordinary tale of the powerful bonds of family that even slavery and forced separation could not destroy. . . . A Shadow on the Household is a story of heroes and villains, of joy and pain, and ultimately a salute to real freedom fighters. A must read.”
– Kate Clifford Larson, Ph.D., author of Bound For the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero
“A Shadow on the Household contrasts slavery’s insidious and cruel assault on the black family with the Weems family’s unflagging, courageous, heartbreaking and exhilarating struggle to free each and every member of the family. A Shadow on the Household is a must read for the steadily growing number of people who know history is far more exciting and complex than the watered-down version we’ve long been offered.”
– Mary Kay Ricks, author of Escape on the Pearl: the Heroic Bid for Freedom on the Underground Railroad