Bloodhounds chase twelve-year-old Moses as he runs away on the Underground Railroad, following the North Star to Pennsylvania. His mother teaches him to find the star before she is sold to another plantation. “Never forget, Mose, you is named after Moses in the Bible. Someday you is goin’ to the Promised Land, just like he did.” Fueled by his mother’s hopes for his freedom, Moses determines to reach Canada.
In Harrisburg he finds refuge with the Reverend and Mrs. Palmer, who also shelter a runaway teenage girl, Tillie. They do chores for the Palmers and Mrs. Palmer gives them reading lessons. Their freedom ends when the Fugitive Slave Law is passed in 1850, making it illegal to harbor slaves in the North. Offenders must pay a thousand dollar fine and serve six months in jail. The Palmers purpose to help Moses and Tillie escape.
The reverend arranges safe passage for Moses and Tillie to the next Underground Railroad station, but the county sheriff, who collaborates with the new Slave Commission Office, arrives at their home after dark, demanding the runaways. They escape out the backdoor and follow a canal where they meet a boat captain who takes them to Williamsport. With slave catchers hot on their trail, they continue north by steamboat, rail and stagecoach, but will they ever reach Canada?
Although Moses and Tillie are fictional, many of the characters in Dark Enough to See the Stars are based on real people who helped slaves to freedom, including abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Thaddeus Stevens.
As I researched my novel, I learned a lot about the terrible institution of slavery. I also discovered how different the national mindset was in 1850. Abolitionists and Underground Railroad workers were the radicals of their day and found limited respect even among people who despised slavery. These workers risked their reputations to help slaves reach freedom. This is a story about the courage and determination exhibited by slaves who risked their lives to escape, and by free men who jeopardized their families and careers to help them.