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The story of a woman who valued freedom above all else.


Born into bondage in Louisville, Kentucky, Cecelia was only fifteen years old in 1846 when she made her perilous journey across the Niagara River. With a fellow freedom-seeker’s aid, she reached Toronto, where she married Underground Railroad conductor Benjamin Holmes and began a new life. But she never forgot the beloved family members she had been forced to leave behind.


Cecelia risked her own freedom when she wrote to her Kentucky owners asking the price of her mother’s liberty. The letter rekindled her relationship with Fanny, the Louisville belle who was both her mistress and the closest companion of her childhood, and began a twenty-year correspondence entirely unique in the annals of the Underground Railroad.


Cecelia’s struggle to raise the needed funds carried her across the Atlantic and from the Rochester, New York, of the great Frederick Douglass to the battlefields of the Civil War. At war’s end, she returned to Kentucky with her wounded husband and two small children. But hooded Night Riders roamed the countryside, terrorizing newly freed Blacks. It was to Fanny that Cecelia turned, and these two very different women resumed the precious but unequal friendship that would endure for the rest of their lives.

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Karolyn Smardz Frost deftly situates Cecelia in history. Her evocative descriptions of landscapes and cityscapes capture the various times and places of Cecelia’s story.

Winnipeg Free Press


Smardz Frost’s impeccable research and vivid description takes the reader through the Civil War, the shameful backdrop of slavery, the history of the Underground Railroad in Ontario and the very real and stirring tale of one woman’s struggle for freedom—and her return to her former home on her own terms, despite the risk involved.

Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario Book Award 2017

Dr. Karolyn Smardz Frost's nonfiction "Steal Away Home: One Woman’s Epic Flight to Freedom – And Her Long Road Back to the South" won the Ontario Historical Society’s J.J. Talman Award. [This] prize is given to the best book about Ontario's social, economic, political or cultural history.

Ontario  Historical Society

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