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Dear Canada: Desperate Road to Freedom

Dear Canada: Desperate Road to Freedom


Julia May and her family have done the unthinkable. They have fled from their life of slavery on a tobacco plantation in Virginia and are making their way north, on foot, where they have heard that slaves can be free. The journey takes them through swamps, travelling by night and hiding by day. The diary that Julia May keeps is another act of bravery. Learning to read and write alongside her mistress at the plantation was her own secret and forbidden as a slave. Julia May’s diary records her fears and the extraordinary things she sees during her voyage and keeps her going through the hard times until they are finally free.

Time Line ~ 1863

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An Excerpt from Julia's Diary

It’s barely light enough to see my pages, but I can manage.

Joseph was having a bad dream. I don’t wonder after what happened that day. He might be only five years old and not sure what’s going on, but he knows enough to be scared. I got him settled back down before any of the others woke up, but then I couldn’t sleep. Too many pictures in my head that I didn’t want to see.

When we heard the dogs we all froze. Then the lady grabbed us and pulled us into some thick bushes and we huddled there, all holding onto each other. The bushes prickled something awful, but we none of us paid them any mind at all. We heard the dogs coming closer and closer, baying and howling just the way they were the night Uncle Bo got caught. Men were shouting, too. The noise was fierce and it was coming straight at us. I held my breath and prayed as hard as I could. I knew real well those dogs could smell us easy as could be in those bushes. All I could think of was Uncle Bo shot and hanging dead in that tree.

Then it seemed they were right about to crash into us, I started to cry. Couldn’t help it. I was so scared I even wet myself. Just as I closed my eyes and waited to feel those teeth tearing into me, I heard the dogs run past. Right past us! And then it sounded like they went crazy.

“They got him!” someone cried. At the same time, I heard a man scream. The man screamed again. And again. I never in my life heard anything so terrible. I heard a shot, and the screaming stopped. That quiet was even worse than the screaming.

We stayed huddled there together while the men called to the dogs, and went off, laughing and joking. Joseph was hanging tight to Papa and wouldn’t even look up. Papa kept soothing him and rubbing his back, telling him things were all right. Finally, the lady signalled to us to stay hidden while she made certain they had all gone. When she came back, she beckoned to us to follow her.

“Safe now,” she said.

But I don’t think I’ll ever feel safe again.

From Dear Canada: A Desperate Road to Freedom, copyright © 2009 by Karleen Bradford.

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