Free Boy

A True Story of Slave and Master

Lorraine McConaghy and Judith M. Bentley

  • Published: July 2015
  • Subject Listing: African American Studies; Biography, Autobiography, and Memoir
  • Bibliographic information: 112 pp., 5.5 x 8.5 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

Free Boy is the story of a 13-year-old slave who escaped from Washington Territory to freedom in Canada on the West's underground railroad.

When James Tilton came to Washington Territory as surveyor-general in the 1850s he brought with his household young Charles Mitchell, a slave he had likely received as a wedding gift from a Maryland cousin. The story of Charlie's escape in 1860 on a steamer bound for Victoria and the help he received from free blacks reveals how national issues on the eve of the Civil War were also being played out in the West.

Written with young adults in mind, the authors provide the historical context to understand the lives of both Mitchell and Tilton and the time in which the events took place. The biography explores issues of race, slavery, treason, and secession in Washington Territory, making it both a valuable resource for teachers and a fascinating story for readers of all ages.
Lorraine McConaghy is a public historian at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle and the author of Warship under Sail. Judy Bentley teaches at South Seattle Community College and is the author of Hiking Washington's History, along with fourteen books for young adults.
1. James Tilton: The Making of a Master
2. Charles Mitchell: The Making of a Slave
3. Growing Up with the Territory
4. Charlie's Choice
5. Stowaway
6. "Wrongfully Detained"
7. "A Righteous Decision"
8. Tilton's Choice
9. James Tilton's War
10. Charles Mitchell's Peace
Epilogue: Free Men

Methods and Sources
Selected Bibliography

"Written with deft, lucid prose, this book is a reminder of why lightly fictionalized biography is a marvelous genre. . . . Free Boy provides richly detailed settings and imagined conversations (based on documented events) that bring the story to life."
-Micol Ostow, Readergirlz, May 2013

"Two U. S. historians have shed new light on a little-known but powerful story . . ."
-Randy Boswell, Vancouver Sun, March 2013

"A must-read for anyone interested in history of the Northwest, especially Olympia, Wash., and the history of slavery."
-Rachel Bennett, Idaho Statesman, March 2013

"The recounting of his escape aboard a steamer, capture, and eventual freedom in Canada are captivating, as are the italicized, dramatized scenes . . . admirable primary-source detective work results in a context-rich story that shines a light on racial attitudes and Civil War politics in pre-statehood Washington."
-Publishers Weekly, February 2013

"An intriguing piece of scholarship . . ."
-Kirkus Reviews