Tracy Chevalier

Honor Bright

This is how I imagine the main character, a young English Quaker who emigrates to America in 1850.

Oberlin, Ohio

This town was a major stop on the Underground Railroad. Always a radical place, Oberlin College was the first to admit women and African Americans.

The Sick Room

Many 19th-century American houses had “sick rooms” off the kitchen because someone often had a fever and needed tending. This one is at Hale’s Farm, Ohio.

Desperate measures for desperate times

Henry "Box" Brown was a slave who mailed himself to freedom.

Tracy’s quilt

In researching the novel, I learned how to quilt the way my heroine would have, and made this all by hand.

Quakers have no formal creed.

Their unity is based on shared understanding of the "Inner Light" in each person and a shared practice of silent worship.

Ohio

ohioOhio is a curious state. It has never felt like part of the East Coast, with roots extending back to Great Britain; but it does not have a Western, or even a Midwestern, mindset either. It is a swing state in elections; every Presidential candidate must win it to win the election. Seven US Presidents have come from Ohio. Clearly it taps into the American psyche; it is perhaps more representative of the USA as a whole than any other state.

The first region west of the East Coast states, Ohio was settled in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in the northeast by New England veterans of the War of Independence, and in the south and west by people from the East and South. Geographically it served as a gateway: pioneers heading from northeast states had to pass through on their way to the promise of land and adventure in the unsettled West.

Of all the states the Underground Railroad operated in, the most active was probably Ohio. Situated between Kentucky – a slave state – and Canada, it was crisscrossed with activity, primarily from Virginia and North Carolina into the northeastern part of the state, and from Kentucky, Tennessee and states further south into the western part of Ohio.

The southern border of Ohio is along the Ohio River, which presented a challenge to slaves trying to cross it. They often could not swim and needed access to boats, and were exposed as they did cross. It is curious to think of a mere river separating slave owners from abolitionists opposed to slavery. The reality was not quite so black and white. There must have been enough sympathetic people even in the southern states to help runaways reach a free state like Ohio. Yet Ohio also had its share of those sympathetic to southern owners, enough to help them catch their property. Borders are porous, with beliefs as well as with people.

The Last Runaway