Ohio History Journal

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Book Notes

Book Notes



The Liberty Line: The Legend of the Underground Railroad. By Larry Gara.

(Lexington:  The University Press of Kentucky, 1996. xiv + 201p.; index.)

Appropriately titled when originally published in 1961, this seminal work on one

of America's most enduring legends is finally available in paperback edition.

Having researched, written and lectured on this topic for nearly 50 years, Professor

Gara skillfully distinguishes fact and faction, while chronicling the colorful and

frequently misstated history of the underground railroad. The author's new preface

reiterates a central theme of the original volume-that the underground railroad

legend has become part of the American psyche. Further re-examination of the

traditional version has convinced Gara the legend of the passive slave being

shepherded by whites to freedom is overstated, while the roles of white abolition-

ists and the colonization movement, along with the nonviolent nature of the slave

escapes, are understated in contemporary literature. Still, the legendary accounts

persist. In this regard the underground railroad might be comparable to the French

resistance movement, where recent research indicates the role of an organized,

large-scale resistance has been exaggerated by postwar reflections and reminis-

cences. Gara examines such historical dangers as recollections and hyperbole in

his concluding chapter, "Reminiscences and Romance." In the final analysis,

Americans love their legends, and all too often, despite Gara's careful scholarship,

are reluctant to be confused by publication of the truth.


Ohio Historical Society                                     Steve Gordon



Niagara-1796: The Fortress Possessed. (Youngstown, New York: Old Fort

Niagara Association, Inc., 1996. 64p.; illustrations, appendices, notes, authors.)

This attractive booklet commemorates the bicentennial of one of the last chapters

in the birth of the American nation-the 1796 transferal of the western frontier

forts to U.S. sovereignty. Published as part of this bicentennial celebration,

Niagara-1796 is a collection of six essays by noted historians detailing the

events surrounding the thirteen-year "hold-over" period during which Great Britain

retained possession of five Great Lakes fortresses located on American soil, focus-

ing particularly on Niagara. The first essay by R. Arthur Bowler reveals the unre-

solved political and military situation in the Old Northwest at the time of the 1783

Treaty of Paris and explores the diplomatic struggles between a young nation and

the old colonial power to come to terms on a boundary which was actually domi-

nated by Native peoples. Carl Benn's article examines in more detail the precipi-

tous decline in the fortunes of the powerful Iroquois Confederacy during this period

caused by the withdrawal of their British allies and the ascendancy of the new

Republic. The article by Dennis P. Farmer looks at an emerging American army in

the 1790s, about to take responsibility for the Northwest frontier outposts. Brian

Leigh Dunnigan takes a closer look at the American detachment that was to effect

the transfer at Niagara and the last British garrison which it displaced, while

Robert S. Allen describes the establishment of Fort George, the new British out-

post across the river. Each article includes pertinent notes, and the volume also

includes in the appendices excerpts from the 1794 Jay Treaty, British orders con-

cerning the western posts, contemporary newspaper accounts of the transfers and