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FREE BOY: Primary Sources

In 2013, Lorraine McConaghy and Judy Bentley published FREE BOY: A True Story of Slave and Master (Seattle: University of Washington Press).FREE BOY explores the decision of slave Charles Mitchell to flee his master James Tilton, on September 24, 1860, following a tiny Puget Sound Underground Railroad. Black residents of the British Crown Colony of Victoria had approached Mitchell in secret, in the small town of Olympia, Washington Territory, to encourage him to stow away on the international mail steamer Eliza Anderson. After Mitchell made his life-changing decision, the steamer’s black cook hid him in a pantry on board ship. But the boy was discovered during the voyage, and the ship’s captain was determined to return him to his owner.

When the Eliza Anderson arrived at Victoria, a crowd of Mitchell’s supporters met the vessel, expecting him to walk onto the dock to freedom. Instead, the captain had imprisoned the boy on board. Mitchell was released from the ship by the local sheriff, spent the night in jail, and was then declared free to join the welcoming black community in Victoria.

Meanwhile, Mitchell’s master, James Tilton, protested again the actions of Victoria authorities and was indignant at what he saw as Charles Mitchell’s ingratitude. Tilton’s racial views were radicalized and hardened after the boy’s escape. In 1865, when Mitchell had been living free in Victoria for five years, Tilton ran for office in Washington Territory as a frank white supremacist. FREE BOY follows the twined biographies of master and slave in the context of the late antebellum and Civil War period.

In an innovative agreement with BlackPast.org, the authors have chosen to post all of the FREE BOY supporting primary documents related to Mitchell’s enslavement and eventual freedom as well as those showing the history of James Tilton.  Charles Mitchell was a boy – just turned 13 – when he made his life-changing decision to flee slavery.  BlackPast.org hopes that teachers find his story of interest to their

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