Gregory Wigmore, doctoral candidate at University of California at Davis, looks at how slaves of British Loyalists traversed both boundaries of nation-state and enslavement to secure manumission. Wigmore begins his essay with a slave woman and her son escaping enslavement from an attorney in Upper Canada. Similar to the process and dynamic of Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad, the mother and son board a small boat and flee Sandwich by way of the Detroit River to Detroit. His compelling introduction, illuminates slave negotiation of the borderlands in order to attain freedom. Wigmore situates his historical characters and many others in the greater historiography of slavery by suggesting their absence from the historical narrative and asserts that runaway slaves “played a significant role in the hardening of that boundary.” (p.438) Wigmore claims historians have traditionally looked at slave flight from the U.S. to Canada not the reverse. Combined with cross border activities of the enslaved, the idea behind the border as sacred, and the deterioration of U.S.-British relations, Canadian and American officials sought to “recognize the boundary’s political significance.” (p. 483) All of these factors combined claims Wigmore, “inadvertently established free spaces where fugitives from the opposite side could find sanctuary, a development that destabilized and ultimately destroyed slavery in the borderland.” (p. 439)
I appreciate Wigmore’s use of Jeremy Adelman and Stephen Aron’s continental approach because I have also found relevance in my work. Nevertheless, I am a little confused with his use of Peter Sahlins, Adelman, and Aron collectively, and I wonder if Adelman and Aron would be too. Moreover, where is his discussion on our Borderland forefathers or should we move away from these Turnercentric discussions. Finally, why not refer to Bridging National Borders in North America: Transnational and Comparative Histories, a seminal anthology in the discussion of a North American approach when using Adelman and Aron.