Harriet Hyman Alonso and Elizabeth Zunon, Martha and the Slave Catchers
Martha and the Slave Catchers was written for middle grade children and is a story of the effects of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 on the lives of two children living in the northeastern area of Connecticut. Here is a brief synopsis of the tale: Danger lurks in every corner of almost fourteen-year-old Martha Bartlett’s life—and all because her mama and papa, agents of the Underground Rail-road in Liberty Falls, Connecticut, decide to claim as their own the orphan of a runaway slave who died in their attic hideaway. They name him Jake.
After the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 is enacted, two hired slave catchers, Will and Tom, kidnap Jake and take him south to the plantation of Robert Dawes. Always ambivalent about her demanding, mischievous, and learning impaired brother, Martha nonetheless feels guilty about his disappearance. After all, it was her job to watch over him on that very day he was snatched. She pledges to find him and bring him home. Martha becomes part of an Underground Railroad plan to rescue Jake. That journey takes her away from the safe world she has always known to a world full of danger, bigotry, violence and self-discovery.
Missing their connection with famed slave rescuer, Harriet Tubman, Martha and Jake are forced to start their perilous journey north with only each other to depend on. Meanwhile Will and Tom are always close on their heels. Will they receive help from the Underground Railroad in their escape? Will they make it to safety? Will they ever see their home and parents again? These and other questions are answered by the end of the novel.
To accompany the novel, the author’s web page (https://harrietalonso.com/martha-and-the-slave-catchers/) explains the historical context for many episodes in the story. While Martha and the Slave Catchers is a work of historical fiction, there are many historical facts that exist within its pages. The location of the story, Liberty Falls, is not a real place. But if you look at the website of the Connecticut Freedom Trail you will see two maps. They both show antislavery activity and the Underground Railroad in Connecticut. In the upper right hand corner of either map, the Northeast corner of the state, are the towns of Brooklyn and Putnam. Liberty Falls would exist somewhere between these two towns. Martha and Jake’s story ends in Aramintaville, Canada. The name is fictional; a nod to Harriet Tubman whose birth name was Araminta Ross. Tubman led many fugitives to St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada (or Canada West as it was then called) where they developed strong and prosperous communities.
Harriet Hyman Alonso is a Brooklyn based author of five books, including the prize-winning biography, Growing Up Abolitionist: The Story of the Garrison Children, and a recipient of the National Endowment for the Humanities Research Fellowship. She recently retired professor of History at the City College of New York. Martha and the Slave Catchers is her first novel for younger readers.