When free black children are kidnapped and sold into slavery, Opal, a runaway slave, and Constance, an inexperienced abolitionist, set out to rescue the children before they are sold at auction.
Constance Drake - A young woman who wishes to become more involved in the antislavery society of Ripley, Ohio. She is being courted by a rising star of the abolitionist group, but she is uncertain of her feelings.
Opal - A young enslaved woman who ran away from the Kentucky farm when she learned that she was to be separated from her infant son, MARCUS.
Micah Spencer - A young man from Ripley who has become a slave catcher because he sought easy, quick money. He regrets his decision and seeks redemption for his past actions. He is secretly in love with CONSTANCE.
Charlie Mason - A free black man who owns a farm in Ohio. He helps runaways, works with abolitionists on the Ripley line of the Underground Railroad, and wants to marry OPAL.
Samuel Lynton - a seminary student and active member of the Ripley Antislavery Society. He is courting CONSTANCE.
John Ripley, John Mahan - leaders of the Ripley Antislavery Society and active conductors on the Ripley line of the Underground Railroad. Both men are in their mid-40s.
Alfred, Sidney, and Eldon Porter - three brothers who work as slave catchers. They are lawless and known for taking any black person they find.
Lola Armstrong - a slave trader who runs an auction house in Lexington, Kentucky. She has worked with Micah Spencer in the past. She is in her 40s.
\tLocated at the southernmost point of the Ohio River, the town of Ripley was ideally positioned to become a major commercial hub for river traffic and an important point for runaway slaves to escape from Kentucky. The winter of 1838 was exceptionally harsh, causing the river to freeze.
\tCONSTANCE DRAKE watches children play on the frozen Ohio River. She is joined by SAMUEL LYNTON and JOHN RANKIN,leaders of the Ripley Antislavery Society, and MICAH SPENCER, slave hunter. Samuel and Micah will both be on alert that night because the frozen river will act as a land bridge for escaping slaves.
\tTen miles south of the river, a slave named OPAL works in the kitchen of the Stanton Plantation. Her infant son, MARCUS, plays on the floor beside her. When she is called into the parlor, she discovers she is to be sold and parted from her son. Desperate to keep her child, Opal escapes in the middle of the night and attempts to cross the frozen river. A few feet from the Ohio shore,the ice breaks, and she falls into the frigid water. She is saved from drowning by Micah Spencer who intends to hand her over to the Ripley sheriff. However, moved by her love for her baby, Micah takes her to the house of JOHN RANKIN where she is cared for.
\tOpal is taken to Gist Settlement, a community of free blacks. There she meets CHARLIE MASON, a local farmer and a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Charlie takes her to the farm of GEORGE and ANNIE HAWKIN, a childless couple who take in orphans. Opal and her son join the Hawkin family where she will help with the children in return for food and lodging.
\tConstance travels to Poplar Valley, Kentucky with Samuel Lynton, his sister, and his mother. There he speaks to a church group about the abolition of slavery. Although the congregation welcomed him, Samuel is arrested for inciting slaves to riot, and he is sentenced to thirty-nine lashes. While Samuel undergoes his punishment, Constance stands near him and prays. Afterwards, Samuel recuperates at a local hotel. Micah reads a newspaper account of the incident and goes to Poplar Valley to offer his help. Micah convinces Samuel that he has quit slave catching and wants to make amends.
\tOpal adapts to her new life at the Hawkin farm. Charlie invites her to visit his farm where she meets the escaped slaves who work for him. Charlie makes it clear that he is interested in courting her, but Opal isn’t sure.
\tConstance returns to Ripley and witnesses the arrest of JOHN MAHAN, one of the most active conductors on the Ripley Line of the Underground Railroad. Mahan is imprisoned in Washington County, Kentucky for the crime of stealing slaves.
Opal, Charlie, and the Hawkin family travel to a nearby white settlement for market day. Near the end of the day, Annie Hawkin takes Opal’s son, Marcus, and the other children home. It is the first time Opal has been separated from her son, and she is uneasy. On the way home, she and Charlie discover that Annie was attacked by slave hunters. Two men who traveled with her were killed, and the children were kidnapped. Opal grieves for her son and vows to go after him.
Opal and Charlie go to Reverend Rankin’s house to ask the Antislavery Society for help in recovering the stolen children. However, Reverend Rankin and all the other members of the society have traveled to Kentucky in order to help Reverend Mahan. Constance is the only person available. Opal and Constance devise a plan where Constance will act as their owner and travel into Kentucky to search for the children. Although Charlie doubts their plan will be successful, he has promised to find Marcus and the other children. Constance goes to Micah to ask for help gathering information on the missing children. When Micah learns of her idea, he warns her of the dangers and silently vows to help her.
Using funds from the Antislavery Society, Constance, Charlie, and Opal set out for Kentucky. Micah travels alone, stopping in towns to ask for information. While speaking to the PORTER brothers, Micah finds out a slave catcher has been seen taking a wagon load of black children to the slave market in Lexington, Kentucky.
Opal, Charlie, and Constance travel by carriage toward Lexington, but, believing that Constance must be carrying money with her, Alfred Porter attacks their party. Micah arrives in time to save them, but Charlie is wounded and Constance suffers multiple bruises. When they finally arrive in Lexington, Micah and Charlie find the stolen children who are being held in a pen near the auction house. Micah speaks to the proprietor of the auction house, a woman named LOLA ARMSTRONG. Lola wants to resume her relationship with Micah, but he only wants to buy the children. Using the money he earned from catching slaves, he buys all of the Hawkin children. Marcus, he learns, is being cared for in another location because a local woman intends to buy him at the auction.
Constance, Opal, and the slave women who work in the Lexington hotel care for the neglected children. At the auction, Opal is eager to see her son and take him home. However, Lola expects to sell him for eight hundred dollars. Constance plays her part well and bargains for the child. Afraid of losing her son, Opal offers herself as a slave as long as she can be reunited with Marcus. Seizing the opportunity, Constance insists that she be paid for Opal. At the end of the transaction, Micah pays one hundred dollars for the child, and Opal is reunited with her son.
The journey back to Ripley is joyous. All the children have been rescued, and Constance and Micah have grown closer. But they are not yet out of danger. While camping one night, Micah realizes that Constance is gone. He finds her gagged and tied, guarded by Sidney Porter. Micah makes quick work of Sidney and frees Constance. After immobilizing Sidney, Micah hears the children crying and realizes that Alfred Porter plans to capture and sell Opal and Charlie. He returns to the campsite and sees Alfred has seized Opal. Unable to get a clear shot, Micah lays his musket on the ground and calls to Alfred. While Alfred boasts about his plans for Constance and Opal, Micah changes positions, forcing Alfred to turn his back on Charlie. Charlie takes advantage of the opportunity, and hits Alfred across the back of the head. Alfred falls to the ground unconscious, but there is one brother left.
The sound of a musket shot discloses Eldon’s location, and he soon emerges from the tree line. Micah tries to reason with Eldon, but before he can decide what to do, another shot sounds from close by. Eldon turns toward the sound, and Micah wrests the musket away from him. Charlie makes quick work of tying up Eldon and Alfred, the terrified children run to Opal, and Micah leaves to find out who fired that last shot. He discovers a stunned Constance holding his musket. She fired it, hoping to distract Eldon, even though she’d never fired a weapon before.
Micah separates from the others so he can take the Porter brothers to the U.S. Attorney in Cincinnati. Constance and the others return to the Hawkin farm where Annie and George Hawkin are reunited with their children. Constance returns to Ripley where she tells her story to the abolitionists there. Samuel Lynton also has news. Word of his bravery in response to being unjustly punished in Poplar Valley has traveled throughout the northern states, and noted abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison has invited Samuel to work with him. Samuel is excited about the opportunity, but it means he will not be able to marry Constance. Since Constance has fallen in love with Micah, she agrees with the wisdom of Samuel’s plan and wishes him well.
A few weeks later, Micah, Constance, and Constance’s mother attend the wedding of Opal and Charlie. The former slave hunter has been redeemed by love and by doing the right thing. When Micah and Constance find a moment alone, Micah proposes and Constance gladly accepts.
Plot/Idea: 8 out of 10
Originality: 7 out of 10
Prose: 10 out of 10
Character/Execution: 8 out of 10
Overall: 8.25 out of 10
Plot: Freedom River follows two tales from different worlds: the enslaved and the oppressors. Told largely from the omniscient view of abolitionist Constance Drake, the author uses the protagonist as a force of harmless innocence, in order to teach of the atrocities in practice and not just conversation. The woman-centered narrative offers a humbling account from another class—a group that was not equally subordinated but still fighting for their own suffrage.
Prose/Style: Readers will marvel at the figurative language in this book, where similes furnish every plain description. Intricately detailed sentences flecked with strong verbs only accentuate the engaging content. With a theme that could be critiqued as easily as Huckleberry Finn, the author is cautious about the language used to probe such a sensitive topic.
Originality: In an article about fictional representation, Zadie Smith once said, “It’s natural that we should fear and be suspicious of representations of us by those who are not like us....But in our justified desire to level or even obliterate the old power structures…we can, sometimes, forget the mystery that lies at the heart of all selfhood.” The current #OwnVoices movement propels this notions, but Sanders does not attempt to become the voice for the oppressed. Her white protagonists may arguably steal the focus from the enslaved, by making the plot about the abolitionists’ good deeds and not the affected victims. But this focus excuses the author from misrepresentation, by sharing how that time spawned racial ignorance and injustice.
Character Development/Execution: As characters repent for their transgressions, the plot exhibits a remorseful narrative with characters that evolve with the story. However, the book should be wary about the way it sympathizes with its characters and their acts, which some would deem unforgivable. As the narration enters the slave hunters’ minds, the book may benefit from a neutral narrator that corrects its subjects, the same way Jane Austen’s narrator offers a frank and critical description of Emma. This voice would soften the sometimes candid sentiments.
Date Submitted: April 02, 2021