Benjamin Drew was a white Abolitionist from Boston, who traveled to the Ontario region in Canada and interviewed and registered the stories of slaves, who escaped to Canada from America. His interviews were done during the 1850s, and the compilation of these hand-written interviews was first published in the year 1856. His works is the only major and reliable source of historical accounts of the plight of slaves who took refuge in Canada, and thus it gains an important spot in the black American history.
His work was in response to the crisis that befell on the Northern anti-slavery sentiment. In the year 1854, Reverend Nehemiah Adams, a former Boston abolitionist, had published a book called, “South-Side View of Slavery”, after a tour through South. In this book, he challenged the notions about the cruelty to slaves and advocated that the White owners were actually the guardians and the educators of the African race, and that the Africans were meant to be and happy to be slaves. So Drew’s work was mainly aimed at garnering support for anti-slavery movements in the North and to show the world, the atrocities inflicted on the blacks through slavery.
The interview of Mrs. James Steward clearly indicates the amount of physical violence wreaked out on the slaves. Today we have laws to prevent cruelty inflicted even on animals. But it is appalling to know that, a legal system in a bygone era, either allowed or was blind, to such physical torture induced on human beings. Her interview clearly explains how slaves were not given enough food, and were not treated with dignity. She talks not just about her sufferings she clearly elucidates the wounds and punishments meted out to her siblings. The part were here sister was separated from her new born child further highlights her White Master’s meanness. She not just delineate how she miraculously escaped from slavery but also explains how she had longed during all those years of slavery that she somehow run away from this undignified life.
The account of Mrs. Nancy Howard is full of horror as to how cruel punishments were given by her master for even the simplest of mistakes, like forgetting to place a carving knife on the dining table. She also says how slaves were not even allowed to marry the person they love. We understand how the scar of the slave experience leaves a permanent mark, when she says even after her escape she has nightmares of being captured and taken back to her former life.
Drew through these interviews attempt to prove that, the claims of Adams and other like minded slavery proponents were wrong, and showcases to the world what a life of a slave really is. Thus, Drew through sharing the real slavery experiences of the African Americans in Canada, throws light on the evils of the slave practice and tries to gather the much needed support for the slavery abolition movement.