The Next Chapter

Why Karolyn Smardz Frost spent eight years researching one woman

Steal Away Home is the true story of a slave who escaped America and found a new life in Toronto's African-American community.
Steal Away Home is the true story of a woman who escaped slavery to begin a new life. (HarperCollins Canada/Bruce Dienes)

Cecelia Jane Reynolds was born into slavery, purchased with her mother at just five months old by a Kentucky family. At the age of 15, Cecelia made the decision to escape. With the help of underground railroad operators who worked at a Niagara Falls, N.Y., hotel where her owners were staying, she crossed the Canadian border, eventually ending up in Toronto.

Cecelia's story comes to life in Steal Away Home, a book by historian Karolyn Smardz Frost which chronicles Cecelia's dangerous journey to freedom.

Cecelia is one of the most inspiring people I've ever had the chance to research. To be able to arrange her escape at the age of 15 is astonishing enough, but the later details of her life — her dedication to trying to raise the money to save her mother, her bravery... She struggled, she fought and she instilled in her children a love of freedom that never died. If there's one element of her life that inspires me most, it is the value for the sense of freedom that her children had and the wonderful things they went on to accomplish in their lives as well. And that was due to Cecelia's character, her strength of purpose, and her understanding of the meaning of liberty.

Karolyn Smardz Frost's comments have been edited and condensed.