The Coastguard

I’m acquainted with the history of the Black Loyalists in Shelburne in 1783 and after. Have researched, written and read. But, Chasing Freedom has moved me in a way that reflects more than historical interest. It is a story close to home. Full of warmth and humanity amid the worst in human depravity, it make me accept that my United Empire Loyalist forebearers may have participated in those terrible events.

Chasing Freedom opens with grandmother, Lydia, only fifty but already aged and her sixteen year old granddaughter, Sarah. They are trudging from their hovel in Birchtown on their way to Roseway to trade a handful of meager goods for the meanest bit of food. Lydia carries on her back a rich white woman’s laundry. Sarah, wrapped in rags to keep warm, lugs the small harvest of vegetables from the rocky plot they have seeded. Ironically, it’s a beautiful fall morning-the one we Nova Scotians all look forward to: “all fall colours melted into a thick stew of forest greens.”

Lydia and Sarah were slaves, now “free” citizens of Roseway (Shelburne). Lydia is wise, cautious, aware that on all sides is danger from the hostile whites of Roseway. Sarah is aware of the dangers but she is as young in dreams and joys as any sixteen year old. As they trudge along, suddenly Lydia says, “Hush”, a sound of danger. They hide in the bushes none too soon. In a clearing a white man on horseback is dragging a black man by a rope attached to his saddle. Around the black man’s neck is another rope. The white man alights, pushes the black man up onto the saddle and ties the noose to a tree and slaps the horse.

The stuggling black man dies while the white man cackles his pleasure. He is a figure we become all too familiar with, Boll Weevil, out to capture blacks to sell back to slavery or to murder at will.

Lydia and Sarah are interesting, lively, original people. Lydia was used as a “breeding” slave, her babies taken from her at birth and, if a proper colour, sold to white, childless slave masters. To Lydia they are still her children. The story follows her relentless search for her family. One daughter, her identity unknown, is a rich, respectable woman in Roseway. Lydia is a strong woman guided by faith and folk lore. She has learned survival the hard way and teaches, admonishes her young granddaughter. Sarah, although anticipating the joys of youth, has yet inherited much of her grandmother’s strengh and determination, pride in her race, in her colour. She will not give in. Such spirit infuriates the Boll Weevils of Roseway, and there are many, so that Sarah’s rebelliousness results in one of the most horrifying scenes in the book as she is severely punished for defying authority.

You will read this book without stopping. Painful as it is, it is compelling, and the “special thanks” to Finn Bower convinces us, sadly, that it is historically accurate.-Kathleen Tudor

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