From Underground Railroad to Rebel Refuge

Filled with engaging stories and astonishing facts, From Underground Railroad to Rebel Refuge examines the role of Canadians in the American Civil War

Despite all we know about the Civil War, its causes, battles, characters, issues, impacts, and legacy, few books have explored Canada’s role in the bloody conflict that claimed more than 600,000 lives.

A surprising 20,000 Canadians went south to take up arms on both sides of the conflict, while thousands of enslaved people, draft dodgers, deserters, recruiters, plotters, and spies fled northward to take shelter in the attic that is Canada. Though many escaped slavery and found safety through the Underground Railroad, they were later joined by KKK members wanted for murder. Confederate President Jefferson Davis along with several of his emissaries and generals found refuge on Canadian soil, and many plantation owners moved north of the border.

Award-winning journalist Brian Martin will open eyes in both Canada and the United States to how the two countries and their citizens interacted during the Civil War and the troubled times that surrounded it.


“Martin offers a well-researched and lively account, rich with fascinating characters and sparkling anecdotes. He skillfully explores an important era in Canada’s development when it banned slavery, offered sanctuary to those escaping it, played significant roles in the Civil War that was fought to end it, and later provided asylum to Confederates who had battled to keep it.” — John Boyko, author of Blood and Daring: How Canada Fought the American Civil War and Forged a Nation

“Several good books have been written about Canadians in the Civil War. But the story of how Canada was a Confederate base and refuge during and after the Civil War was a black hole. Not anymore.” — Mark Bourrie, award-winning author of Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson

“This should be obligatory reading for serious Civil War, Canadian and international history buffs.” — The Passionate Reader blog


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From Underground Railroad to Rebel Refuge tells the story of the flight and history of fugitives from south of the border and how Canadians dealt with them over the course of many decades. Before the conflict, an estimated 40,000 runaway slaves and free Blacks settled in what became Ontario. When the war broke out, some American whites, motivated by money, crossed the border to enlist young Canadians to take up arms in Union blue. In all, about 20,000 men from British North America joined the Union and Confederate armies, some as a result of trickery, but others for their own reasons. Buying agents from both the North and South came north to buy supplies to feed their armies and a large number of horses to move them. There were also American spies and operatives who worked from bases in Toronto and Montreal. Some were funded by large amounts of Confederate money to distract the North with daring missions launched from its back door. They too were tolerated by Canadians, if not welcomed. The border proved porous and many who chose to cross it died in each other’s country. From their vantage point above the fray that played out below them, Canadians developed sympathies and prejudices in response to events in which they became entangled. An intriguing four-way relationship existed for a time between Canada, the United States, Britain, and the Confederacy, in which Canada (and Britain) developed sympathy for the South and Southerners coupled with distrust, dislike, and fear of the Union. The Civil War helped push Britain’s North American colonies toward Confederation for fear that victorious Union guns might be directed north to finish a conquest the aggressive young republic failed to accomplish in the War of 1812.

Here, then, is the story of the northward flight of Blacks, draft dodgers, the Confederate president and his prominent officials and generals, some leaders of the Ku Klux terror organization, and of wealthy citizens unable or unwilling to accept changes in the lives they had known. All found refuge in a friendly and much calmer place mere steps away from a republic in turmoil. For them, the attic beckoned. And while some refugees remained in Canada only briefly, others adapted to their new surroundings well and chose to live out their days in a land which extended them the welcome mat.

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352 Pages


October 25, 2022


ECW Press



Book Subjects:

HISTORY / Canada / Pre-Confederation (to 1867)

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