The Book of Negroes is a six-part miniseries recounting the harrowing journey of Aminata Diallo: from her abduction from her village in West Africa and being forced into slavery at eleven years old to her arduous ocean crossing to South Carolina where she is tortured by an indigo plantation owner and her triumphant return home.
Learn more about the series’ characters below or watch The Book of Negroes on CBC Gem now.
My name is Aminata Diallo, and I seem to have trouble dying.
Abducted as a child from her village of Bayo and subsequently enslaved in South Carolina, Aminata Diallo (Aunjanue Ellis) wants nothing more than to secure her freedom and one day return home. Eventually escaping her masters, Aminata is thrown into the chaos of the Revolutionary War. In Manhattan, she helps pen The Book of Negroes, a list of British Loyalist-supporting former slaves rewarded with safe passage to Nova Scotia. Aminata’s gifts include an ability to read, write and translate between several languages — these are recognized by many of her peers and small, life-changing opportunities for leadership embolden her to find a way back home.
What makes my life rich is my bond with Aminata.
As a young boy, Chekura (Lyriq Bent) is recruited to assist the Bayo slave catchers in kidnapping local villagers only to be enslaved himself and forced to join Aminata on the Middle Passage, where they fall in love. He grows up on a neighbouring plantation in South Carolina and follows Aminata northwards to his eventual freedom.
I am a son of the South, and it is in the South that I shall die.
Robinson Appleby (Greg Bryk) purchases Aminata at a slave market in Charleston, South Carolina. He is brutal in the treatment of his indigo plantation slaves and agrees to sell Aminata to Solomon Lindo after unsuccessfully trying to break her spirit.
My name is Georgia. I don’t have a last name.
The strong-willed and protective matriarch of the St. Helena Island plantation, Georgia (Sandra Caldwell) nurses Aminata back to health while keeping Robinson Appleby at bay. As a nurse and educator, Georgia teaches Aminata to read and helps develop her skills as a midwife, all the while becoming a mother figure for Aminata as she grows into adulthood.
My people came to England centuries ago, but even in England we did not enjoy full political and social rights.
"My name is Solomon Lindo [played by Allan Hawco]. I am of Sephardic Jewish descent, descended from those who had to flee Spain in the time of the Inquisition. My people travelled to England centuries ago, but even in England we did not enjoy full political and social rights. When the Province of South Carolina let it be known that it would respect the rights of Jewish people, I passed along my qualifications and was recruited to come to Charleston to become the chief indigo grader.
I made a good living, better than most, but not among the most very wealthy of Charleston. Although my wife Rosa objected, I took slaves into my employ from time to time. Every other man of my economic standing did the same, although I treated them civilly in my modest home in the town, and generally preferred to think of them as my servants.
From the moment I encountered Aminata on an indigo plantation, she brimmed with intelligence and I knew I had to lift her up. I brought her into my employ as a servant; or slave, if you must."
"I did my best to treat Aminata kindly, educating her, feeding her, and never brandishing the whip. But I did terribly wrong to enslave her, and to participate in the sale of her child, and it came very close to breaking my own soul in half to discover that she did not have it within her to forgive me, even after I saved her from re-enslavement by a notoriously evil slave master named Robinson Appleby. After the Revolutionary War, when Aminata finally made good her escape from New York, I used my business connections to follow her migrations from a respectful distance, and I have never ceased trying to find absolution for having perpetuated the evils of slavery."
I cannot say that I had a dramatic youth, although sometimes I wish that I did.
The pregnant wife to Solomon Lindo, Rosa (Amy Louise Wilson) quickly develops a deep connection with Aminata as she prepares to have her baby.
I helped usher Aminata Diallo toward her own rightful freedom, and I am proud of that gesture.
"My name is Sam Fraunces [played by Cuba Gooding Jr.]. I was born in 1722 in the West Indies and came to New York as a young man, to make something of myself. I have always determined to be successful in business, and believe that economic independence is the best way to protect and ensure one’s liberty.
In New York, after some earlier business ventures, I created the Fraunces Tavern. My inn became one of the most successful establishments in Manhattan, and appealed to both the British Tories and the American Rebels. Many people came through my tavern, which gave me a window into the progress of the war. I make no disguise of my sympathies for the Rebels, and believe that they were entirely entitled to their freedom from the tyranny of British rule. As a tavern owner and businessman, I meet my share of interesting people. But I have never been so struck by a woman as I was by Aminata Diallo. She first came to my tavern with Solomon Lindo, her owner, and later she fled from him with my assistance. Yes. I helped usher Aminata Diallo toward her own rightful freedom, and I am proud of that gesture. If Aminata Diallo did not love her husband, I would have moved heaven and earth to make her my wife."
"It was a grand honour to serve Commander George Washington when he met General Carleton in New York State to discuss the terms of peace. And again, I was honored to serve Commander Washington when he dined with his generals in my tavern to celebrate their successful revolution. After the war, it gave me great satisfaction to become President Washington’s chief steward. But even these pinnacles of my labour do not distract me from thinking about Aminata Diallo. I was honored to see her off on a ship to the British colony of Nova Scotia, even if it meant sending Aminata to her husband. This taught me that true love is selfless. Wherever she is, and wherever she is travelling – and I do suspect that her travels did not cease with her sailing from New York harbor – I think daily of Aminata Diallo and her regal African name, and I always wish her well."
Their endurance and vision elevates us all.
"My name is John Clarkson [played by Ben Chaplin]. I was born in England in 1764, of family stock that is both God-fearing and staunchly abolitionist. I joined the Royal Navy when I was eleven, and became a Lieutenant at the age of 22. But all of that seems unremarkable to me, in comparison to the moral highpoint of my life. This, Dear Listener, was to oversee the voluntary migration of 1,200 Black Loyalists from Halifax, Nova Scotia across the ocean to found the colony of Freetown, in Sierra Leone.
I sailed from England to Nova Scotia in 1791, with a view to presenting to the Negro community the opportunity to uplift themselves by creating a free colony in Sierra Leone. Earning their trust deepened my gratitude for public service, and cemented my everlasting friendship with the Black Loyalists."
"Organizing a flotilla of 15 humanely outfitted ships with respectable provisions was no easy feat. Indeed, the task of moving 1,200 men, women and children safely and responsibly across the Atlantic Ocean cost more than the entire annual budget of Nova Scotia. I have a delicate constitution, physically and emotionally, and I found it an exhausting business. Indeed, on the journey from Halifax to Freetown, I very nearly exhaled my last breath. But I regained my health, inspired by the perseverance of these men, women and children who refused to accept any insults to their freedom, and who trusted me to steer them safely to a better life in Sierra Leone.
I never cease to be amazed by one fact: that fully one third of the adults who sailed with me were not merely going to Africa. They were returning to their native land. They had been born in Africa, stolen into slavery and were returning to Africa later in the same lifetime. How many former slaves were able to accomplish that? Their endurance and vision elevates us all."
My mission has been to lead my people along two paths, which are one and the same: to know freedom, and to know God.
Blind, wise, grizzled church leader in Nova Scotia, who doubles as community organizer and father figure to Aminata, Daddy Moses (Louis Gossett Jr.) stands by Aminata through thick and thin. Many in the community look to him for guidance, both religious and practical and he is instrumental in organizing a mass exodus to Africa.
I am Claybourne Mitchell, and I don't take kindly to chains of any sort.
A resident of Canvas Town, Claybourne (Dwain Murphy) builds Aminata a home in exchange for learning how to read. When the war breaks out, he is initially against the conflict, seeing it as a white man's argument. But when the British offer freedom to any slave that takes up arms against the Americans, he is quick to follow Chekura's lead and enlists.
I am proud to be born free.
Claybourne's wife and constant companion, Bertilda (Cara Ricketts) is a strong and opinionated woman who grew up fighting to stay free. When slave catchers begin undertaking periodic raids on Canvas Town, Bertilda will stop at nothing to keep her family intact.
It's mighty hard to be great, or even to be good, living in a place where they let you come in, but won’t let you thrive.
A resident of the Birchtown Colony, Shakspear (Stephan James) is young, brash, and upset at the lack of opportunity, food, and shelter in “Nova Scarcity”. On the brink of starvation he indentures himself to a local woman, Maria Witherspoon, losing his right to travel with the other loyalists back to Africa.
Life in Nova Scotia has tested my faith and led me to wonder about the wisdom of having thrown my lot in with the British.
Owner of the Witherspoon Print Shop that employs Aminata, Witherspoon (Jane Alexander) is a prominent member of the white community in Shelburne and a key contributor to the town's rising racial tensions after her son is found dead on the road to Birchtown.