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Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home

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A gripping and true story about five boys who were kidnapped in the North and smuggled into slavery in the Deep South—and their daring attempt to escape and bring their captors to justice, reminiscent of Twelve Years a Slave and Never Caught. Philadelphia, 1825: five young, free black boys fall into the clutches of the most fearsome gang of kidnappers and slavers in the A gripping and true story about five boys who were kidnapped in the North and smuggled into slavery in the Deep South—and their daring attempt to escape and bring their captors to justice, reminiscent of Twelve Years a Slave and Never Caught. Philadelphia, 1825: five young, free black boys fall into the clutches of the most fearsome gang of kidnappers and slavers in the United States. Lured onto a small ship with the promise of food and pay, they are instead met with blindfolds, ropes, and knives. Over four long months, their kidnappers drive them overland into the Cotton Kingdom to be sold as slaves. Determined to resist, the boys form a tight brotherhood as they struggle to free themselves and find their way home. Their ordeal—an odyssey that takes them from the Philadelphia waterfront to the marshes of Mississippi and then onward still—shines a glaring spotlight on the Reverse Underground Railroad, a black market network of human traffickers and slave traders who stole away thousands of legally free African Americans from their families in order to fuel slavery’s rapid expansion in the decades before the Civil War. Impeccably researched and breathlessly paced, Stolen tells the incredible story of five boys whose courage forever changed the fight against slavery in America.


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A gripping and true story about five boys who were kidnapped in the North and smuggled into slavery in the Deep South—and their daring attempt to escape and bring their captors to justice, reminiscent of Twelve Years a Slave and Never Caught. Philadelphia, 1825: five young, free black boys fall into the clutches of the most fearsome gang of kidnappers and slavers in the A gripping and true story about five boys who were kidnapped in the North and smuggled into slavery in the Deep South—and their daring attempt to escape and bring their captors to justice, reminiscent of Twelve Years a Slave and Never Caught. Philadelphia, 1825: five young, free black boys fall into the clutches of the most fearsome gang of kidnappers and slavers in the United States. Lured onto a small ship with the promise of food and pay, they are instead met with blindfolds, ropes, and knives. Over four long months, their kidnappers drive them overland into the Cotton Kingdom to be sold as slaves. Determined to resist, the boys form a tight brotherhood as they struggle to free themselves and find their way home. Their ordeal—an odyssey that takes them from the Philadelphia waterfront to the marshes of Mississippi and then onward still—shines a glaring spotlight on the Reverse Underground Railroad, a black market network of human traffickers and slave traders who stole away thousands of legally free African Americans from their families in order to fuel slavery’s rapid expansion in the decades before the Civil War. Impeccably researched and breathlessly paced, Stolen tells the incredible story of five boys whose courage forever changed the fight against slavery in America.

30 review for Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home

  1. 4 out of 5

    Moonkiszt

    Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home When I first picked up Stolen, I thought I was reading of five boys in an imagined history, free in their difficult but navigable world, and the tale had the feel of shady, but survivable, adventure. The kind of adventure where a reader is first introduced to the main characters precisely at the point where the adventure presents itself upside-down and backwards. . .. but a reader knows that, having got reader’s Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home When I first picked up Stolen, I thought I was reading of five boys in an imagined history, free in their difficult but navigable world, and the tale had the feel of shady, but survivable, adventure. The kind of adventure where a reader is first introduced to the main characters precisely at the point where the adventure presents itself upside-down and backwards. . .. but a reader knows that, having got reader’s attention, the storyline will right itself and proceed on a progressive, forward direction. You know – the way most good fiction starts! Very soon, though, with footnotes aplenty, paintings of actual places and powerful people and endnotes promised, this reader soon realized this was no fiction. With sinking heart I read it all. Every last endnote. Shameful, terrifying to think real people, regardless of age went through these horrors. Then heartbreaking to realize their ages, just little kids. My heart went out to the women that were with them, and all the abuse they must have suffered and the hopelessness all of them had to carry with them constantly. Even the imbecilic keepers who imposed this unrighteous dominion – what if one little rebellious desire arose in their hearts – why are we doing this? This doesn’t feel right. . . how fast would they have to squash that good urge due to the general mores and sick traditions of their society and families? How fast does a good person turn into the same monster from which they are running? How does that song go? [Verse 1] You've got to be taught to hate and fear You've got to be taught from year to year It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear You've got to be carefully taught [Verse 2] You've got to be taught to be afraid Of people whose eyes are oddly made And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade You've got to be carefully taught [Verse 3] You've got to be taught before it's too late Before you are six or seven or eight To hate all the people your relatives hate You've got to be carefully taught (From the musical, South Pacific, You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II) In his book "Stolen," author Richard Bell presents a serious case for the realities of the “Reverse Underground Railroad”: the active business of going North and kidnapping free black citizens and getting them to a part of their world that would willingly turn a blind eye as citizens and neighbors were hauled off into the shadows, where they would be shipped to buyers with money in hand for the best deals on the river. That these five boys made it back. . .well not all did, and that’s part of the sorrow. . .that they made it back was nothing short of miraculous. Not all victories are happy. . . and they did make it back, but carried the memories down through the generations (if there be generations). Appalling. Astonishing. On one hand I think of my ancestors with reverence and veneration. On the other – What the Hell Were YOU Thinking?????!!!!! How can anyone justify this?? What got you to THAT place??? Outrage stoked. If that was the goal. I’m there. A worthy read. A sincere thanks to Richard Bell, 37 Ink / Simon & Shuster and NetGalley for an e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  2. 5 out of 5

    ♥ Sandi ❣

    4 stars In the mid 1800's, prior to the Civil War, nearly 20 thousand black people were stolen in northern states and trafficked to slave barring states each year. Men, woman and children alike. Anyone that would bring a good dollar to the illegal slave traders. This is the story of 5 such young boys, between the ages of 8 and 16, who were stolen off the streets of Philadelphia. Warned by their parents not to believe strangers, especially white men. Tricked into thinking they were being taken to 4 stars In the mid 1800's, prior to the Civil War, nearly 20 thousand black people were stolen in northern states and trafficked to slave barring states each year. Men, woman and children alike. Anyone that would bring a good dollar to the illegal slave traders. This is the story of 5 such young boys, between the ages of 8 and 16, who were stolen off the streets of Philadelphia. Warned by their parents not to believe strangers, especially white men. Tricked into thinking they were being taken to a job that would earn them a quarter. Tricked by a black man - a man of color - one of their own. Or savagely abducted and carried off. Ending up chained and shackled in the cargo hold of a small sailing vessel. A vessel headed south. For four months this group of 5 boys traveled south, often walking barefoot for miles at a time, hand and neck chains often used to bind them together. Minimal food, severe beatings, and always under surveillance. While their parents tried desperately to find them. This is an amazing story of how 3 white men in Mississippi and a lone white Mayor of Philadelphia brought 4 of the 5 boys home to their families over a year later. And how three of these boys were able to testified against their captors - at a time when a black man was refused the right to testify in his own behalf. Just the fact of and the process of getting these 4 boys home was miraculous in that day and age - something that just did not happen - ever. Once stolen and taken south a person did not return. They were forever more a slave in the south. A lot of research went into this book, but it was two letters and a newspaper summary from the past that pulled all the facts together. All three appearing word for word in the book appendix. At first I thought this book was pretty dry and I was not going to like it because it was just going to spew out facts. However as I got a bit further into the book I was worried for the lives of the 5 boys involved and was caught up in the corruption of the family of illegal slave traders. This is a sad story and not all turned out well for everyone, but for those that it did, it was due to the human dignity and worth that 4 white men - one of whom was a slave owner himself - placed on the lives of 4 young black boys.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Missy Block

    “””even today, we confront the haunting legacies of the sins of the past””” ...... In all honesty I’ll have to get my hands on a finished copy to truly appreciate the illustrations that are included in this amazing book. We’re all painfully familiar with the Underground Railroad, but most of us know next to nothing about the Reverse Underground Railroad. In this book we follow five, young, free black boys who are savagely ripped from their homes and delivered to the south to be sold as slaves. “””even today, we confront the haunting legacies of the sins of the past””” ...... In all honesty I’ll have to get my hands on a finished copy to truly appreciate the illustrations that are included in this amazing book. We’re all painfully familiar with the Underground Railroad, but most of us know next to nothing about the Reverse Underground Railroad. In this book we follow five, young, free black boys who are savagely ripped from their homes and delivered to the south to be sold as slaves. An incredible story that will, at the very least, rip your heart out. Intensely written, fast paced and mind gripping.

  4. 4 out of 5

    January Gray

    I did not know about the Reverse Underground until reading this. This is more research material than book, but it was still a good read and very informative. It was greatly disturbing as well.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Nemo Nemo

    STOLEN: FIVE FREE BOYS KIDNAPPED INTO SLAVERY AND THEIR ASTONISHING ODYSSEY HOME Author’s Bio Richard Bell is the author of Stolen. He currently teaches Early American History at the University of Maryland. Who is the target audience? The answer in a word is; humanity. Synopsis' The time is 1825, the place Philadelphia, North America, and a small group of free black boys are about to be kidnapped. They are about to be transported as slaves to serve the needs and wants of a slave hungry South and its STOLEN: FIVE FREE BOYS KIDNAPPED INTO SLAVERY AND THEIR ASTONISHING ODYSSEY HOME Author’s Bio Richard Bell is the author of Stolen. He currently teaches Early American History at the University of Maryland. Who is the target audience? The answer in a word is; humanity. Synopsis' The time is 1825, the place Philadelphia, North America, and a small group of free black boys are about to be kidnapped. They are about to be transported as slaves to serve the needs and wants of a slave hungry South and its human Grissom for the Cotton Kingdom Mill. The real story, however, relates to the titanic strengths and fortitude exhibited by the 5 boys placed in the untenable excruciating predicament of having lived free and taken as slaves under the threat of violence. Despite the seemingly overwhelming odds, the boys seek ways to escape their bondage and return home. To discover if they manage to escape and the consequences of the events affecting their lives you will have to read it yourself. At its worst, this is one example of mans’ inhumanity to man. At it’s best, this is a call to the resilience of spirit and the power of unity in the face of extremes of privation and enormous adversity. Conclusion Masterfully written, flawlessly researched, and a tale of 5 free men abducted and taken on a journey of epic proportions. This is a work for our times; lest we forget. I cannot recommend this book enough. Acknowledgment My sincere thanks go to: NetGalley, and 37 Ink for affording me the opportunity to review of “Stolen”.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Steven Baumann

    Stolen is a compelling history that is well-written, accessible, and will capture the attention of undergraduates, high-level high school students, and anyone interested in a story that details the brutal 19th-century United States Slave Economy. Bell's book is a microhistory of five different free black boys, from different backgrounds and different ages, who are kidnapped, coffled (caravan) across the US to the deep south, and eventually attempt to escape back to their homes. For historians of Stolen is a compelling history that is well-written, accessible, and will capture the attention of undergraduates, high-level high school students, and anyone interested in a story that details the brutal 19th-century United States Slave Economy. Bell's book is a microhistory of five different free black boys, from different backgrounds and different ages, who are kidnapped, coffled (caravan) across the US to the deep south, and eventually attempt to escape back to their homes. For historians of the United States, there isn't a whole lot that is new here theoretically, but Bell does bring the Reverse Underground Railroad into painful visibility. At the heart of this story, is the separation of families and the ability of individuals to make a difference. This will resonate with anyone struggling with the current political situation in border areas around the world. It will also be moving for parents of all backgrounds to read. Shining brightly in an otherwise dim story are the people who help out along the way. Abolitionists and people who fought injustice rather than participating in the illegal and legal slave trade illustrate clearly the importance of action in times of injustice. Rick Bell's "Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home" is a skillfully written book that will appeal to wide audiences and hopefully be read by many. You can hear my interview of Bell at www.hourofhistory.com

  7. 5 out of 5

    Johnna Whetstone

    I think this book is definitely an important book to read, but be prepared to have your heart broken. It’s disturbing in many ways, but sadly this was reality. If you like learning about history, you should read this book. Have tissues and take lots of breaks, they will be needed. Will make sure I recommend to those I feel can handle the topic.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    This was one of the first book reviews that was difficult for me to write. The subject matter was so powerful and sensitive I wasn't sure I could do it justice. Let me start by saying that Stolen by Richard Bell is a book that is a must read for everyone. It tells the story of two women and in particular five boys named Cornelius, Sam, Enos, Alex and Joe that were kidnapped in the North (PA) and sold into slavery in the South, taken by human traffickers in the 1820’s for no other reason but This was one of the first book reviews that was difficult for me to write. The subject matter was so powerful and sensitive I wasn't sure I could do it justice. Let me start by saying that Stolen by Richard Bell is a book that is a must read for everyone. It tells the story of two women and in particular five boys named Cornelius, Sam, Enos, Alex and Joe that were kidnapped in the North (PA) and sold into slavery in the South, taken by human traffickers in the 1820’s for no other reason but greed and financial gain. With no new influx of slaves from abroad, these human traffickers would kidnap free men, women and children or buy and resell slaves from the North to plantations down South where free labor was in demand and questions about the origin of these men, women and children were often not asked. Stolen primarily focuses on these five unfortunate young boys who were taken from their family and friends. The crimes committed against these children were atrocious, yet not uncommon at this time in history. These boys became the victims of what was known as the Reverse Underground Railroad, the opposite of the Underground Railroad. Instead of being led to freedom, these victims of the Reverse Underground Railroad were free children, men and women of color that were outright kidnapped or led away with promises of work or food. Held against their will, shackled and kept in the most horrible conditions, they were marched South to be sold to the highest bidder not knowing what awaited them or if they would ever see their families again. What they endured for months was nothing short of torture. Their families living their own private hell back home not knowing what happened to their children or loved ones. Through a series of events and with the help of a few men who were willing to right an injustice their stories were eventually told and the children returned to their families. However, there were many more victims of the Reverse Underground Railroad that will forever be lost. Names and faces that would never make it home. Not only anguish for the victims, but heartbreak for their families. The stories of these lost men, women and children cry out to be heard and in light of the rise in human trafficking today, this story is so relevant and more important than ever. This book was not a page turner and at times was difficult to read. Sometimes I had to put it down because the content was difficult and left me emotionally disturbed, but I continued to read because I needed and wanted to know what happened to these boys and if they ever saw justice and their families again. Stolen will touch so many hearts in so many ways, but it’s a story that must be told and I’m grateful to Richard Bell for telling it. I want to thank publisher Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for a complimentary copy of the book Stolen by Richard Bell. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Darcia Helle

    I'd read enough about the reverse underground railroad to understand, intellectually, the brutality and horror of it all. With Stolen, Richard Bell takes this backdrop and presents the true story of five free black boys who'd been kidnapped and swept up into slavery. By personalizing this piece of history, Bell makes us feel it. Imagine being a ten-year-old child yanked off the street, beaten, transported to another state, and sold, all because your skin is the right - or wrong - color. Then I'd read enough about the reverse underground railroad to understand, intellectually, the brutality and horror of it all. With Stolen, Richard Bell takes this backdrop and presents the true story of five free black boys who'd been kidnapped and swept up into slavery. By personalizing this piece of history, Bell makes us feel it. Imagine being a ten-year-old child yanked off the street, beaten, transported to another state, and sold, all because your skin is the right - or wrong - color. Then imagine being that child's parent and having absolutely no legal recourse because your skin is dark and no one cares. This is the truth Bell shares with us. I'm not sure I can put into words how vital this book is. Schools teach us a sanitized version of history, which does, perhaps, more harm than good. While the content is intense, the writing style is an easy to read, casual narrative. This isn't a long, time-consuming read requiring a huge commitment. Almost half of the book is the research notes at the end. The book contains quite a few images. I read this in ebook format, which never really does justice to images. They're small and it's difficult to see detail. I highly recommend buying the print version. *I received a review copy from the publisher, via NetGalley.*

  10. 5 out of 5

    Vic

    Stolen is a stunningly lucid account of the kidnapping and repatriation of five Philadelphia black boys. Their return to freedom in the North was effected by the disparate efforts of basically independent whites, acting from their own motives. To my mind, the efforts of the various whites who participated in the recovery effort illustrates, among other things, the self-reliance and initiative de Tocqueville was writing about when he dissected the character of Americans. True, the motives of some Stolen is a stunningly lucid account of the kidnapping and repatriation of five Philadelphia black boys. Their return to freedom in the North was effected by the disparate efforts of basically independent whites, acting from their own motives. To my mind, the efforts of the various whites who participated in the recovery effort illustrates, among other things, the self-reliance and initiative de Tocqueville was writing about when he dissected the character of Americans. True, the motives of some Southerners were based on a larger self-interest in protecting the legal integrity of the Confederacy, but that doesn't change the fact they were willing to act 'honorably' in line with their notions of right and wrong. The better Angels of our Nature, indeed. By all odds, this is one of the most intelligently written historical books I have ever read. The language is crisp, direct and cogent, and the time line is cleanly recounted. The narrative flows as well as anything ever written by John McPhee, David McCullough or Stephen King, three literary lions of our age. I do hope author Richard Bell receives as many awards for historical writing as are available!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Heather Bennett

    Stolen is a heart wrenching and a historical lesson of evil. Slavery,ignorance,and torture is a history lesson that never seems to be learned, but just gets repeated is some form of some area of the world. This book is so well written and the characters are well developed. This is a must read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    J.J.

    The author did some deep digging into archives and historical sources to put together a complete and horrific story of the reverse underground railroad.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    Until I read this book, I was not aware of the Reverse Underground Railroad, and yet, given the opportunistic tendencies of men with no moral compass, I should have suspected, had I only thought about it. This is a meticulously researched, well-written and important read. At the same time, it is very dark, and emotionally, a very difficult read, and I found myself needing to take frequent breaks from it. There is no possible way, despite the author's efforts, to truly understand the horrors of Until I read this book, I was not aware of the Reverse Underground Railroad, and yet, given the opportunistic tendencies of men with no moral compass, I should have suspected, had I only thought about it. This is a meticulously researched, well-written and important read. At the same time, it is very dark, and emotionally, a very difficult read, and I found myself needing to take frequent breaks from it. There is no possible way, despite the author's efforts, to truly understand the horrors of that time. As with WWII, it is challenging to wrap my mind around the madness, inhumanity and pure evil occurring and the complicity of those who stood by afraid to become involved to stop it. Honestly, I feel stunned. I don't know what to say, and anything I can say would be far too inadequate. This happened. Human trafficking is still happening. Slavery is still happening. Torture and inhumanity is still happening. Evil is alive and well. God help us all. Many thanks to NetGalley and 37 Ink for allowing me to read a copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. All opinions are my own.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kari

    Solid writing about five young, black, Philidelphia boys kidnapped into slavery in 1825 and their quest for freedom. The author makesure a compelling narrative despite the lack of a wealth of primary sources/information on the boys. A lot of the book is based on similar events and happenings in the time period.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Abigail

    Informative and worth reading, just a little boring. Definitely got a lesson out of it tho.

  16. 4 out of 5

    BMR, LCSW

    I got this ARC from Netgalley for review. Lost a star because nearly 40% of the content was references. I'm glad it was so heavily researched but, it made for a thin book. This book chronicles the story of 4 free Black boys (and one runaway slave boy), lured off the streets of Philadelphia and onto a boat where they were bound and gagged and shipped off by a notorious gang of kidnappers. The kidnappers made their money by stealing free persons and selling them down south with forged papers, and I got this ARC from Netgalley for review. Lost a star because nearly 40% of the content was references. I'm glad it was so heavily researched but, it made for a thin book. This book chronicles the story of 4 free Black boys (and one runaway slave boy), lured off the streets of Philadelphia and onto a boat where they were bound and gagged and shipped off by a notorious gang of kidnappers. The kidnappers made their money by stealing free persons and selling them down south with forged papers, and sometimes not even bothering with papers. One free Black woman who was kidnapped while getting firewood ended up with the boys in the lot for sale, and her story is told too (but not in as much detail as the boys). Rarely were stolen children returned to their families. This tale had a happy ending. I had never heard of the Reverse Underground Railroad before reading this book. Of course, it doesn't surprise me one bit. This country fought a war to try to keep Blacks from being treated as full humans in the eyes of the law, and even when the Civil War was over the disenfranchisement continued for another century +. March 6, 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, of the United States Supreme Court wrote: "The negro has no rights which the white man is bound to respect." This country has plenty of folks that still agree with that statement, one-hundred and sixty two years later. Recommended for history geeks.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sharyn Berg

    This is a difficult book to read. It is filled with horrible, untenable, lurid, accounts of the miseries thrust upon innocent men, women, and children. I cannot even begin to imagine how the captors of these five young, innocent, free boys and two women could treat them this way and then go on to spend time with normal humanity, as though they were actually a part of it. This is a "just the facts” type of book, no pretty fill-in story or fluff, it just lays the facts out there, ugly as they are. This is a difficult book to read. It is filled with horrible, untenable, lurid, accounts of the miseries thrust upon innocent men, women, and children. I cannot even begin to imagine how the captors of these five young, innocent, free boys and two women could treat them this way and then go on to spend time with normal humanity, as though they were actually a part of it. This is a "just the facts” type of book, no pretty fill-in story or fluff, it just lays the facts out there, ugly as they are. If you are interested in an education in the sordid ways of procuring slave labor, then this is a book you must read. Thanks to NetGalley for the advance read copy.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    ARC provided in exchange for honest review. ARC provided in exchange for honest review. 👩‍🔬

  19. 5 out of 5

    Carol Kean

    Brutal, heart-rending, and sadly, true - this is why I can only read so much history or historical fiction. We've all heard of the Underground Railroad. How many of us know of the Reverse Underground Railroad? Richard Bell, in painstaking detail, with photos and documents, tells us how traffickers and slave traders stole away thousands of legally free African Americans - ripped from their families - never to be seen again - to feed the demand for slaves in the decades before the Civil War. Brutal, heart-rending, and sadly, true - this is why I can only read so much history or historical fiction. We've all heard of the Underground Railroad. How many of us know of the Reverse Underground Railroad? Richard Bell, in painstaking detail, with photos and documents, tells us how traffickers and slave traders stole away thousands of legally free African Americans - ripped from their families - never to be seen again - to feed the demand for slaves in the decades before the Civil War. Snatching free black people, children in particular, "was more widespread than is generally known, especially after 1808, when the importation of foreign-born slaves was banned." We know so little about the conductors and agents who trafficked these people because "the identities of all but a handful still remain a secret." Unlike Nazis who were caught and convicted after World War II, most of these villains walked free and remain unscathed in news reports and history books. Philadelphia was "bitterly divided by racism," with white people "ever more enamored of schemes to deport to Liberia or Haiti black neighbors they regarded as idle and worthless." Bell delivers statistics and stories, documented and researched. As he puts it, "Throughout the early 1820s, white thugs beat, robbed, or otherwise molested many black residents, knowing full well that city authorities were unlikely to prosecute them." Worse, anti-kidnapping work was very dangerous. Is there no end to the injustices, horrors, shocks, and sad stories? I had to put this book down for a while just to keep my sanity. An Amazon reviewer, Kathy F., says it so well, I will quote her: > This is a meticulously researched, well-written and important read. At the same time, it is very dark, and emotionally, a very difficult read, and I found myself needing to take frequent breaks from it. > There is no possible way, despite the author's efforts, to truly understand the horrors of that time. As with WWII, it is challenging to wrap my mind around the madness, inhumanity and pure evil occurring and the complicity of those who stood by afraid to become involved to stop it. Is there a bright light to be found? In places, yes. Black churches served as sanctuaries for fugitives from slavery and worked "to transform a group of refugee migrants fresh from slavery into a cohesive and self-supporting community of respectable citizens. Education was essential to these efforts," and "many African American parents believed that teaching their children to read and write was the surest path to prosperity, dignity, and respectability." Only a few pages after that, we get stories of chimney sweeps, children working in dangerous conditions, and those who survived would have a lifetime of breathing problems and higher rates of cancer. Slave traders stole children from free families and sold them into slavery, and parents in the free north would warn their children not to wander alone and to beware of strangers offering jobs that sounded too good to be true. It is unthinkable that so many free people, not just children, were tricked into becoming slaves. "Twelve Years a Slave" was no isolated incident. "Husbands and wives reminded each other to carry their freedom papers at all times and to keep them up to date," Bell writes. Parents "pestered their sons and daughters to stay in large groups, to read body language, to steer clear of certain streets, and to be wary of promises too good to be true." Neighborhood watch groups formed, but in most cases, "the efforts of vigilante neighbors to tackle traffickers and intercede in kidnappings fell tragically short." Operatives worked in the shadows, quickly and quietly. Most of the book focuses on the story of five boys who managed to escape. Cornelius Sinclair had a father who wouldn't give up. "Boy Lost," he posted in newspapers, paying for the poignant ads. I will say no more in hopes that anyone reading this review will just go read the book instead. Bell adds in the Acknowledgments, "The thought that anyone could take our children from us--and that we might be powerless to stop them--still tears at me in a primal, elemental way. Families belong together." These horror stories feel so recent. They're not fiction. Thank you Richard Bell for bringing them to light, and thank you Net Galley and Simon and Schuster for providing me with an ARC of this book. I'm sorry it has taken me so long to bring myself to write about it. #Stolen #NetGalley

  20. 4 out of 5

    Dree

    This book was fabulously and thoroughly researched, and is yet another example of the amazing and fascinating stories out there, hiding in newspaper articles, city council minutes, and court records. At one time everyone knew of these stories due to the extensive newspaper coverage, and now no one does. These are the stories that get people interested in history, yet most students in middle and high school are still taught boring famous name-date-place history, rather than history involving This book was fabulously and thoroughly researched, and is yet another example of the amazing and fascinating stories out there, hiding in newspaper articles, city council minutes, and court records. At one time everyone knew of these stories due to the extensive newspaper coverage, and now no one does. These are the stories that get people interested in history, yet most students in middle and high school are still taught boring famous name-date-place history, rather than history involving regular people--tradesmen, apprentices, county officials, landowners, jury members, newsmen, abolitionist groups members, farmers, sailors, newspaper readers. In this book Bell examines the story of 4 free black boys and 1 runaway kidnapped into slavery in Philadelphia in the 1820s. They, a woman legally purchased, and a woman kidnapped in Delaware were forced into a coffle overland to Mississippi with their small-time kidnappers. One boy (the literate one, unsurprisingly) was sold in Tuscaloosa. The rest were taken on. And then, in Mississippi, one of the boys was beaten to death by his kidnapper. And then another told his entire story to a potential purchaser. And what did that man do? He told. He got the courts involved. The county official wrote to the mayor of Philadelphia, and in the end--well over a year later--the kidnap victims were freed and returned home. The story itself is amazing--the cast of characters that made this seemingly impossible story happen. A nearly bankrupt wannabe plantation owner, county- and state-level government officials, the mayor of Philadelphia and his high constable, judges, two Methodists, an Alabama jury, a Scottish immigrant who traveled from Philadelphia to Alabama on his own dime to testify, and random people called in on favors--all came together to get the 4 surviving kidnap victims home. So many people I would not expect to care affected the outcome of this particular instance. Mayor Watson of Philadelphia tried to rescue other victims kidnapped by the same Delaware gang, but was largely unsuccessful. Solomon Northrup chronicled his own story in Twelve Years a Slave--and while the story Bell tells only covers about 2 years, the time lag before telephones, the internet, and truly reliable mail service is astonishing. The kidnap victims spent weeks trekking overland, and then months and months essentially living as and being treated as slaves (back pay was not awarded in their freedom suit), just waiting for mail to go back and forth. The other amazing thing about this story is the sources. And the research it took to pull them together. Court minutes and documents, newspaper articles, pamphlets, journals, legislative records, minutes from abolition groups, and so many more primary sources--they are out there, in different states and counties and archives, just waiting to be combined with their counterparts from other places.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Keisha

    This book was a hard read for me. I am usually a fast reader, but I trudged through this book. The writing was easy and the story had a consistent flow. It was the content that was disturbing. I know this is our country's history, but I am disturbed because it happened. I wonder, how many would be okay with this if it were the "norm" today? I am truly afraid of the answer. I have seen history books, in our educational system, gloss over slavery as though it never happened (or worse, that those This book was a hard read for me. I am usually a fast reader, but I trudged through this book. The writing was easy and the story had a consistent flow. It was the content that was disturbing. I know this is our country's history, but I am disturbed because it happened. I wonder, how many would be okay with this if it were the "norm" today? I am truly afraid of the answer. I have seen history books, in our educational system, gloss over slavery as though it never happened (or worse, that those who were enslaved consented to it). I have witnessed those who flippantly laugh about this part of history while others shout that all the blacks should be sent back to Africa. The ignorance is saddening. It's what people have chosen to tell themselves so that their conscience can rest easy. I heard of people being kidnapped and dragged into slavery, free people, but I did not realize how elaborate the operation was, so much so that it was given a name: The Reverse Underground Railroad. My heart broke for the boys and women who were part of this story as well as the many others who were never able to have their stories told. I understand that most of the people who experienced this horror did not have a happy ending. This is a book that should be in schools. Richard Bell did extensive work to piece this story together and I was in awe of what his research revealed. I thank Netgalley, Simon & Schuster, and 37 Ink for the honor of receiving an ARC copy of this book for my honest review.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    Professor Richard Bell documents the true kidnapping story of five free African-American boys in Philadelphia in 1825. A black man lured them onto a ship with promises of work/food. A white married couple controlled the gang of human traffickers and moved the boys through the Reverse Underground Railroad to the American South. Violence kept victims silent and compliant. One risked telling a prospective slave buyer, John Hamilton, that he was free. Hamilton took custody of the victims and Professor Richard Bell documents the true kidnapping story of five free African-American boys in Philadelphia in 1825. A black man lured them onto a ship with promises of work/food. A white married couple controlled the gang of human traffickers and moved the boys through the Reverse Underground Railroad to the American South. Violence kept victims silent and compliant. One risked telling a prospective slave buyer, John Hamilton, that he was free. Hamilton took custody of the victims and reported the kidnapping to authorities. He wasn't being altruistic. Hamilton's political and economic self-interests enabled the boys to receive help and miraculous solutions to bureaucratic/legal issues that allowed some of them to return home. Politicians, Quakers, and activists drew national attention and publicity to the dangers experienced by free blacks. I'm impressed by the meticulous research and great storytelling. Looking through archives and collections for these sources takes a lot of patience, money, and detective work. Everyone should read this page-turner. https://catoverlord.blogspot.com/2019... I'm on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/catoverlord...

  23. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    Interesting story about the Reverse Underground Railroad through which many free blacks were stolen from the North and sold into slavery in the Deep South. Bell explains the economic and legal atmosphere of the pre-Civil War US that made this such a lucrative and inevitable endeavor. Inevitable because when there is money to be made, bad people will do anything. This book follows the story of five boys, and two women, who were stolen and taken by boat, and then over land, into Mississippi to be Interesting story about the Reverse Underground Railroad through which many free blacks were stolen from the North and sold into slavery in the Deep South. Bell explains the economic and legal atmosphere of the pre-Civil War US that made this such a lucrative and inevitable endeavor. Inevitable because when there is money to be made, bad people will do anything. This book follows the story of five boys, and two women, who were stolen and taken by boat, and then over land, into Mississippi to be sold. One of the boys awesome bravery sets in motion a chain of events that somehow ends up in the law "working" for these kids. It's not a happy ending in the broader sense. More brutality is to be done, and the Civil War and the end of slavery is yet to occur. But, this is an incident that I had personally never heard about and it this book brings to light events that were occurring in that time period that set the stage for the division of the US.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Amy Frazier

    This is a very important and hard book that is very well researched. It depicts the true story of five black boys in the north (as young as 9 and 10 years old!) who were kidnapped from their lives as free citizens. They were forced by foot and in chains to Mississippi to be sold on the Reverse Underground Railroad, a black market of slave trade throughout the south. The story follows them as they finally gain back their freedom and return home (although not all of them do). They had to live out This is a very important and hard book that is very well researched. It depicts the true story of five black boys in the north (as young as 9 and 10 years old!) who were kidnapped from their lives as free citizens. They were forced by foot and in chains to Mississippi to be sold on the Reverse Underground Railroad, a black market of slave trade throughout the south. The story follows them as they finally gain back their freedom and return home (although not all of them do). They had to live out their lives with the graphic memories of their time as slaves. This period of our history is such a stain on our country, and it's important to continue to read and share these stories to honor the lives of those who lived these horrors. Many free people kidnapped and sold into slavery were never heard from again. Their stories and names and lives are forever lost to history. So the fact that so much information was able to be found about this case and such in-depth research was done to bring this story and trial to light is remarkable.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra Greene

    Wow how did I miss all this history in school? Oh that's right they don't teach it. I was never very interested in history in school anyway. What surprised me the most was I always thought slavery happened many many years ago, now that my interest in history has grown I realize this stuff was happening a little over 100 years before my parent and grand parent birth. It is horrible that free black people had to fear being kidnapped and put into slavery. I couldn't imagine going through what they Wow how did I miss all this history in school? Oh that's right they don't teach it. I was never very interested in history in school anyway. What surprised me the most was I always thought slavery happened many many years ago, now that my interest in history has grown I realize this stuff was happening a little over 100 years before my parent and grand parent birth. It is horrible that free black people had to fear being kidnapped and put into slavery. I couldn't imagine going through what they had to go through.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sheri S.

    I hadn't previously know about the Reverse Underground Railroad so I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about this topic. It is incredibly sad and maddening that free Black Americans who lived in the free states were subjected to kidnapping and deception which resulted in their relocation to slave states. This book recounts the story of how a group of individuals were taken from free states and transported to the South where they had to fight for their story to be told, believed and I hadn't previously know about the Reverse Underground Railroad so I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about this topic. It is incredibly sad and maddening that free Black Americans who lived in the free states were subjected to kidnapping and deception which resulted in their relocation to slave states. This book recounts the story of how a group of individuals were taken from free states and transported to the South where they had to fight for their story to be told, believed and corroborated. Overall, it was an interesting read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mary Snyder

    A very well researched and informative book. I had never heard of the Reverse Underground Railroad and I find it amazing this history isn’t taught in schools. Slavery was evil in its own right ... but this particular trafficking is even more appalling. Thank you to the author for documenting this history. My heart went out to the poor souls who were kidnapped and abused, especially those who weren’t fortunate enough to be returned to their families. Praise God this evil was abolished with the A very well researched and informative book. I had never heard of the Reverse Underground Railroad and I find it amazing this history isn’t taught in schools. Slavery was evil in its own right ... but this particular trafficking is even more appalling. Thank you to the author for documenting this history. My heart went out to the poor souls who were kidnapped and abused, especially those who weren’t fortunate enough to be returned to their families. Praise God this evil was abolished with the Emancipation Proclamation.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    4.5/5 Richard Bell uses rich, scarce, and historical sources that make up this educational story concerning the lesser-known facts concerning the Reverse Underground Railroad. Recent movie buffs are familiar with Solomon Northup story, and 12 YEARS A SLAVE was lucid tale, but Bell is prompt and quick to point out that there will always be holes and speculation surrounding the RU. There are a few dry spells throughout the book, but the historical facts and the perniciously dark turns regarding 4.5/5 Richard Bell uses rich, scarce, and historical sources that make up this educational story concerning the lesser-known facts concerning the Reverse Underground Railroad. Recent movie buffs are familiar with Solomon Northup story, and 12 YEARS A SLAVE was lucid tale, but Bell is prompt and quick to point out that there will always be holes and speculation surrounding the RU. There are a few dry spells throughout the book, but the historical facts and the perniciously dark turns regarding American life led up to a gleaming conclusion, overcast with liberation. C

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jeanne Vander Ploeg

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I just finished the book, Stolen. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I learned a lot. How serendipitous the boys’ path was; from being stolen, to who was sold and who was beaten, to how their freedom was finally obtained. I appreciated the author making it so ‘human’ and helping me understand the horror of the kidnappings. Also interesting to me was how the practice of kidnapping both helped and hurt the cause of slavery. So interesting.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Adam Burke

    Important story to be told but unfortunately there is a lack of source material. It was clear the author had to speculate concerning a lot of the details. Even without that luxury, author did a good job of framing what was probably going on with sketches from similar cases and contemporary data. It is sad the heroes of the story are mostly silenced due to lack of source material. Regardless, I’m glad the author chose to produce this work.

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