Posts Tagged With: Fugitive Slave Law

Abolitionists Pardoned!

In Plank Road Summer, Yorkville pioneer families debate whether citizens in the free state of Wisconsin should help runaway slaves. Today it is hard to believe that such actions could be considered criminal, but in the 1840s and ’50s, aiding fugitive slaves was against the law even in Northern states.  Nobody can ever know just how many unknown abolitionists risked their livelihoods and reputations by assisting runaways, but records exist of those who were caught and convicted of the crime.

How inspiring to read that Illinois governor Pat Quinn recently granted clemency to three 19th-century abolitionists. Back in 1842, Dr. Richard Eells of Quincy, Illinois, gave Charley, a runaway slave, a change of clothes and tried to transport him to a school for missionaries that served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. When Charley and his conductor were caught, Dr. Eells was found guilty and fined $400. Today the Eells home serves as a museum recognized by the National Park Service, but until a few days ago, Dr. Eells was still a convicted criminal.

Two years ago, the Friends of the Dr. Richard Eells House began seeking a pardon for Eells. As Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon worked to assemble the case, the stories of two more Illinois abolitionists were uncovered. In 1843, Julius and Samuel Willard, a father and son from Jacksonville, were convicted of trying to help an escaped slave.  According to Lt. Gov. Simon, “It’s important for all of us to remember heroes who spoke up and acted at great risk to themselves for what was right, even when they knew it was not what the law would support.” After reviewing the cases, Governor Quinn issued pardons for all three abolitionists, calling them “early warriors for freedom.” (For full Chicago Tribune story, click here.)

Hattie’s War and the Plank Road books celebrate the lives of ordinary people who work together to do what is right, whether by assisting fugitive slaves, aiding families devastated by disaster, or supporting veterans and their families. In this New Year, may each of us remember the unsung heroes and do our part in our communities and our world.

Categories: Hattie's War, Plank Road Summer book, Underground Railroad | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Everybody Joined the Dance

I was asked to speak about Plank Road Summer at a couple adult and youth Sunday school classes. Since an author never turns down an invitation to talk about her book, and the church was close to my heart, I agreed.  Though we didn’t write our book as a moral tale, we don’t need to search very hard to see faith issues at work.

The 1850s Wisconsin community was facing a moral dilemma–what side would they take on the slavery issue?  When Hilda and I started writing our book, every character in the neighborhood was against slavery.  How could anyone have an opinion other than that?  But as we dug deeper into the issues and laws of the time, we realized that some people in that community would have believed that following the law of the land was the right thing to do.  The law stated that slaves were to be returned their masters in the South. 

This became a starting point for my Sunday morning conversations–what would you have done? Would you have helped the slaves? Would you follow the law? Would you risk a $1000 fine?  We came to understand that the people of the time would have faced an moral dilemma–when the right choice may not have seemed as obvious as it does to us today, 150 years later.

What issues do we have today that are dividing our communities?  Health care, illegal immigration, human rights, political divisions.  We face moral and ethical dilemmas every day, some close to home, and some at a national or international level.

My hope is that as we face the issues that divide us, we can remember one lesson from Plank Road Summer: In the end, everybody joined the dance. It didn’t matter who won the horse race or who was an abolitionist or who was part of the posse–everybody joined the dance.  As a country and as local communities, we need to take time to celebrate the unity we share, despite our differing opinions.  How would our world be better if we listened more, accused less, worked together, and invited everybody to the dance?

Categories: Plank Road Summer book, Plank Road Summer Teaching Ideas, Underground Railroad | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Developing a Book Cover for Plank Road Summer

Greetings from the publisher of Crickhollow Books! (That’s me, Philip Martin.) I just wanted to give a shout-out to the Plank Road Summer cover artist, Kathleen Spale.

Plank Road Summer, by Hilda and Emily Demuth

We found Kathleen through the network of the Illinois chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The SCBWI is an amazing organization for writers and artists, with state chapters, newsletters, and workshops, and many services and programs at the national level for children’s book creators.

When I checked out Kathleen’s website, I saw both the professional skills and the artistic sensibility to interpret a story. She uses the dynamics of light and dark, with lots of moody nuances, perfect for this Plank Road Summer chapter book, a cheery, uplifting tale for young readers . . . but with a few dark secrets moving through it.

The secrets involve the dark history of the Fugitive Slave Law and the legal efforts of slave catchers to chase escaped slaves, even into the states of the north. What a tragedy for young men, women, and children to “follow the dipping gourd” right to the edge of freedom . . . only to be threatened with capture and a return to their terrible condition of slavery. Through the good services of keepers of Underground Railroad way-stations and other good-hearted individuals, practicing a 19th-century civil disobedience, many slaves made it safely to Canada across the Great Lakes.

Anyhow, I loved working with Kathleen on the cover. She offered multiple initial pencil sketches, refined my top choice, did color roughs, then several rounds of the final artwork.

Kudos! Books by new emerging authors like the Demuths – and coming from a small independent press like Crickhollow Books – need all the help they can get! We are thankful for everyone’s interest and support, and are very grateful to get to work with someone like Kathleen Spale.

You can, it turns out, judge a lot about a book by its cover. In this case, the cover promises a wonderful story, well told!

(By the way, check again the historic photo of a hay wagon on a plank road in the previous post on this blog . . . you’ll see the source for part of the cover image!)

Thanks, Kathleen! Let’s do another book together soon!

Categories: Plank Road Summer book | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Create a free website or blog at