The Illustrated Edition of The Book of Negroes
An Excerpt from the Introduction to The Illustrated Edition of The Book of Negroes
While in the thick of writing The Book of Negroes, I travelled to Shelburne, Nova Scotia, unsure of what I would find. Walking along Water Street, with its timid string of cafés, stores and homes — some of which opened only in the summer — I tried to imagine the town teeming with thousands of Loyalists, ships filling the harbour, goods spilling onto the piers, and disbanded soldiers haggling for land. To do so took some imagination. I saw the water lapping against the rocks, heard the seagulls crying, and felt the wind rising-but Water Street, on that desolate April day, was dormant.
Stepping into the Shelburne branch of the Nova Scotia Museum, I wondered if I had wasted a trip. I didn't wonder for long. Finn Bower, who worked at the museum at the time and greeted me like a long-lost son, took me straight to materials she had assembled about the Loyalist era, and about the Black Loyalists. And I was forever hooked.
The History Behind the Novel
Lawrence Hill's novel is inspired by a fascinating but little known historical document called the Book of Negroes, copies of which can be found in the USA at the New York Public Library, the Rockefeller Library at Colonial Williamsburg (Virginia) and the U.S. National Archives in Washington D.C. In Canada, copies of the same historical document can be found in the Nova Scotia Public Archives and in the National Archives of Canada. Lawrence Hill wrote a feature article called "Freedom Bound" about the historical document The Book of Negroes in the February/March 2007 edition of The Beaver: Canada's History Magazine.
Lawrence Hill spoke with CBC Arts Online about the history and his novel. You can read the interview at http://www.cbc.ca/arts/books/book_of_negroes.html.