By Julia Pfedehirt
On July 4th, 1842, Caroline Quarlls left family, friends, and the only life she'd known behind in St. Louis, Missouri. As the child of a slave mother and a slave-owner father, her young life was one of drudgery and obedience until that fateful Independence Day when she illegally took a steamboat across the Mississippi River from St. Louis to Alton, Illinois, in the hope of reaching freedom.
With the help of abolitionists, the sixteen-year-old traveled through Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan on the Underground Railroad, enduring long, bumpy rides in the bottom of a wagon and taking cover in everything from barrels to potato chutes. Each step of the way, Quarlls was pursued by lawyers paid to retrieve her and bounty hunters greedy for the reward money. Finally, she crossed from Detroit into Sandwich, Canada, where she created a new life as a free woman- an exciting but also frightening, experience.
Quarlls' story gives young readers a personal snapshot of the tension-filled journey of a runaway slave while illuminating a segment of the complicated history of race in our nation.