Free Spirits: The Story of Jack Ruffin and the Underground Railroadby Grant Simpson

Kindle Edition, 308 pages
Published June 25th 2017 by Vicksburg Press
4 Stars

My Review: This is a great story about the Underground Railroad. Over the years I have read many books dealing with this subject, some very vividly descriptive of the horror and others geared for a much younger audience. This book would be a good one for anyone over the age of 15 or 16. The characters working for the Underground Railroad vary from escaped slaves and freemen, to doctors, teachers, lawyers and simple farmers. The idea that even if the slaves were treated well, they were still prisoners emanates from this story. Of course the risks that both the slaves and those helping them escape took were immense and it could cost them both their lives. The fact that the females were okay to have relations with, but the children resulting from this were not only their offspring but still their property to sell or do what they wanted with. The main character of Jack Ruffin was an interesting character and of course this could actually have happened. He was actually 1/8 negro so could pass easily for white, especially with his adoptive parents being white and very respected in the community. He wasn’t as strong physically as some of those he rescued, but he certainly was determined and loyal to the cause. Tracker, a freed black man was also integral to the story as well as Grace. You will see some famous names in this story as they also believed in the Underground Railroad. Overall, a very good story with a lot of details that were well researched. This would make a wonderful book to be read in a junior high classroom studying this period in time. A book that everyone should read to learn about this terrible time in history. I received a copy of this book via Netgalley to read. The comments are my own honest review.

Synopsis: ‘Free Spirits’ is the story of West Point Cadet Jack Ruffin who was brought up in Boston as the son of a judge, passed as white and went to the best schools. He spent his summers on the family plantation where he formed an inexplicably deep bond with Lucy, a domestic slave in his uncle’s household.

As with many pre-Civil War households, all is not as it seems. Upon the death of Judge Ruffin, his ‘father’, he discovers the truth. Lucy is his mother, having given him away at birth under impossible circumstances.

The action starts in 1859 when Jack enlists the aid of the Underground Railroad, the secret network designed and constructed to rescue slaves.

The reader moves between black and white worlds. The world of slavery, slave markets, free blacks (Freedmen) and the Underground Railroad. The world of white society (North and South) peopled by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson and his daughter Ellen, with whom Jack is in love. The world of planters, slave traders, slave catchers and the Patrol whose job it was to keep the slaves in their place.

The action revolves around the struggle between the Underground Railroad and the Patrol. The book introduces the reader to the pre-American Civil War South, its people and traditions, from the point of view of those resisting slavery and the institutions (formal and informal) which nourished it.

You meet Grace, a Harriet Tubman-like figure who is the founder of several branches of the Underground Railroad. You meet Tracker, Graces’ eyes and ears. You will see them operate in hostile territory in the bid to assist Jack in securing his mother’s freedom. You will meet the members of the Patrol and see their methods, their desperate and casual cruelty as they struggle to keep slaves in bondage and rush against time to thwart Jack.

Through Jack, you see all these worlds as if for the first time in fast-paced action as it rushes to its dramatic and heart-rending conclusion.

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