Q & A with Jackson & McDonald
Wisconsin Historical Society Press: What motivated you to write about Joshua Glover?
Ruby Jackson: Having strong black teachers, who were themselves educated by Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois, as well as having a great-grandmother who was a slave, instilled an early sense of the value of black history.
WHS Press: What did you know about Glover before you started this project?
RJ: While I was employed as an African American history coordinator by the Wisconsin Historical Society, I was loaned to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism to research and write a brochure about heritage tourism sites in Wisconsin. I first learned about Joshua Glover when conducting research for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism to develop a brochure called "Heritage Tourism." Information about him was found in the bowels of the Racine Heritage Museum. Most of the emphasis was on the abolitionists who had freed him and the court cases that ensued.
Walter McDonald: Absolutely nothing until Ruby asked me 10 or more years ago whether I would like to write a book with her about Glover.
WHS Press: What kind of detective work was involved with your research?
RJ/WM: It was a case of finding someone who had been dead a long time, about whom almost nothing was known except that he was the incidental subject of a famous court case. In general, there was very little literature about individual slaves. The work that did exist was primarily about abolitionists and their involvement in assisting slaves who had runaway from their masters. This left us with the task of locating Glover in Canada. We made two trips there: the first yielded nothing. After we located him in Canada in their 1871 census index, we made our second trip. It was then that we learned Glover had the good sense to become employed by a man who kept meticulous diaries, enabling us to reconstruct his life in Canada. A black history researcher in Toronto, who was also a docent at the historic inn where Glover had been employed, was also an enormous help in providing additional material.
WHS Press: What did you find most fascinating or surprising about Glover?
RJ/WM: We were gratified to be able to reveal the complexities of the life of an ordinary former slave. The opportunity for such detail is not easily obtained in slave literature, which typically, after brief mention of the slave, goes on to emphasize the white movers and shakers. We were very impressed with Glover's courage and resolve in the difficulties and problems he faced both during his brief captivity and his more than 30 years of life in Canada.
WHS Press: How did you navigate doing research in both the U.S. and Canada?
RJ/WM: We made only two visits to Canada. Thanks to the miracle of email and the presence of the researcher in Canada who had become our friend, we were able to locate ample Canadian material. In the U.S., we made two trips to St. Louis, where Glover had left the service of his owner, as well as to a museum in Lynchburg, Virginia, which had been the home of Glover's former owner, and to various archival facilities in Wisconsin, including Racine, Burlington, Waukesha and Elkhorn. We also made use of the excellent facilities in the archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
WHS Press: How did you work as a team on this project?
RJ/WM: Primarily by encouraging the other not to give up on the occasions when promising leads turned into dead ends. We also ran up sizable phone bills between Madison and Racine as we discussed our latest finds. While we visited many places in tandem, we also divided our work into individual assignments.
WHS Press: Who are some of the interesting side characters in the story?
RJ/WM: It is difficult to choose because we discovered so many interesting people. Chief among the group would be the Milwaukee committee of colored abolitionists who held a public protest program following passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. Among individuals, we would list Benammi Stone Garland for his single-minded pursuit of what he believed was his stolen property, Nelson Turner, the former slave who betrayed Glover for personal reasons, the abolitionists A.P. Dutton and Sherman Booth, who risked their liberty and their careers to help Glover, Martha Glover and John Messenger, both of whom remained too enigmatic and about whom we would still like to know more, and Thomas and William Montgomery, without whose diaries and journals we would have had a much less complete story.
WHS Press: What do you hope readers take away from this book?
RJ/WM: Above all, the knowledge that slaves were not just anonymous tillers and toilers but individual human beings. Also, that the Underground Railroad didn't end at the Ohio River, but was a factor in antislavery efforts further west as well.
WHS Press: How is Glover's story relevant or important today?
RJ/WM: Glover's story is another reminder that unless evil is actively opposed by people of good will, it will flourish unchallenged and unchecked.