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Description

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A gripping and true story about five boys who were kidnapped in the North and smuggled into slavery in the Deep South—and their daring attempt to escape and bring their captors to justice, reminiscent of Twelve Years a Slave and Never Caught.

Philadelphia, 1825: five young, free black boys fall into the clutches of the most fearsome gang of kidnappers and slavers in the United States. Lured onto a small ship with the promise of food and pay, they are instead met with blindfolds, ropes, and knives. Over four long months, their kidnappers drive them overland into the Cotton Kingdom to be sold as slaves. Determined to resist, the boys form a tight brotherhood as they struggle to free themselves and find their way home.

Their ordeal—an odyssey that takes them from the Philadelphia waterfront to the marshes of Mississippi and then onward still—shines a glaring spotlight on the Reverse Underground Railroad, a black market network of human traffickers and slave traders who stole away thousands of legally free African Americans from their families in order to fuel slavery’s rapid expansion in the decades before the Civil War.

Impeccably researched and breathlessly paced, Stolen tells the incredible story of five boys whose courage forever changed the fight against slavery in America.

Review

“’BOY LOST,’ read the advertisement placed in a newspaper by the father of one of the five free boys kidnapped in Philadelphia in 1825. Richard Bell’s heartbreaking and searing account of their story chronicles not only the agonies and atrocities of slavery, but the fragility of freedom, and the dauntlessness of resistance.” -  Jill Lepore, author of These Truths: A History of the United States

“Opening an unknown world from an unsung tragedy that started in early national Philadelphia and stretched grimly South, Stolen offers a worm’s eye view of the leviathan of American slavery, and of some of its most dastardly perpetrators and its most remarkable survivors. Richard Bell has researched inventively and mastered a vast body of scholarship, as we would expect from so distinguished a historian. But he also imbues his tale with the deep humanity of a great novelist. Both riveting and heartrending, Stolen joins the great literature of America’s founding tragedy, earning a place alongside the work of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edward P. Jones, and Toni Morrison.” – Jane Kamensky, Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History, Harvard University

“Stolen is historical storytelling at its best. Bell makes brilliant detective work come alive with vivid, powerful writing. The saga of these five boys, kidnapped and smuggled from Philadelphia to Mississippi in the 1820s, captures both the powerful undertow of slavery in the free black communities of the North and the urgent dawning of the abolitionist movement. There''s been nothing like it since Northup.”  Adam Rothman, author of Beyond Freedom''s Reach: A Kidnapping in the Twilight of Slavery

“Rigorously researched, heartfelt, and dramatically concise, Bell''s investigation illuminates the role slavery played in the systemic inequalities that still confront Black Americans.”  Booklist

“A well-told story… A deep dive into the extraordinary risks faced by free blacks in the antebellum era.”
Kirkus Reviews

“A fascinating story.” Library Journal

"It’s an uncomfortable part of New Orleans’ history, but one that needs to be told. Bell’s story — part thriller, part tragedy, part ode to the resilience of the human spirit — goes a long way to making that history come alive." - The Advocate

In Stolen Richard Bell brings to life amoral con men, heartless slave dealers and suffering
victims. He vividly re-creates the squalid social environments of interstate human trafficking.
His superbly researched and engaging book exposes previously hidden horrors of American
slavery. - The Wall Street Journal 

"Meticulously researched... Stolen is a remarkable narrative, in part, because of how Bell manages to clearly relate the complex politics of the time without ever legitimizing the choices made by those who bought and sold human lives." - NPR

About the Author

Richard Bell teaches Early American history at the University of Maryland. He has received several teaching prizes and major research fellowships including the National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar Award. His first book, We Shall Be No More: Suicide and Self-Government in the Newly United States, was published in 2012. He is also the author of Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home.

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4.5 out of 54.5 out of 5
191 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Bill EmblomTop Contributor: Baseball
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
An Eye-Opening Book On the Separation of Families
Reviewed in the United States on December 29, 2019
This is quite a story. I was unaware of the Reverse Underground Railroad in which individuals of African-American descent were kidnapped be being lured into thinking they would be employed in a line of work to earn some well-earned money. This story takes place among... See more
This is quite a story. I was unaware of the Reverse Underground Railroad in which individuals of African-American descent were kidnapped be being lured into thinking they would be employed in a line of work to earn some well-earned money. This story takes place among children in the Philadelphia area who were transported through the Delmarva peninsula and then forced to walk through neighboring states into the deep south to be illegally sold to others. The pain and suffering people had to endure from the cruel kidnappers for falling out of line resulted in life-long scars from whippings or even death.

The story includes the many legalities and painfully slow-moving justice that followed for four of the surviving boys on their return to Philadelphia. I found it ironic that in the acknowledgments at the end of the book the author notes, "The thought that anyone could take our children from us--and that we might be powerless to stop them--still tears at me...Families belong together." Perhaps we need to take heed to what is taking place in our country today with those who are seeking asylum.
13 people found this helpful
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539hLz80kx
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Organized gangs of kidnappers
Reviewed in the United States on November 10, 2019
This book is eye-opening. I had no idea that the kidnapping of free blacks from northern states for sale into slavery was so well organized and extensive. The boys who are the subject of this book were kidnapped in the 1820s. At that time, they were extremely lucky to... See more
This book is eye-opening. I had no idea that the kidnapping of free blacks from northern states for sale into slavery was so well organized and extensive. The boys who are the subject of this book were kidnapped in the 1820s. At that time, they were extremely lucky to find white men who, whether from upbringing or political calculations, chose to help them. Without that help, they would have disappeared into the maw of slavery as so many others did. Their case raised the visibility of kidnapping. But the attitudes of whites and blacks toward the protection of liberty diverged, with whites dropping case work for the written word and free blacks adopting violent confrontation.

The author keeps the reader engaged. The book was hard to put down--I wanted to know what would happen next.
12 people found this helpful
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C. Evans
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The Reverse Underground Railrod
Reviewed in the United States on July 7, 2020
3 1/2 stars I would recommend this book be made into a movie. Not that I haven’t heard about free blacks being sold back into slavery but this book provided so much detail about an era I’m so familiar with, but a topic not often written about. (Plus my home town is... See more
3 1/2 stars
I would recommend this book be made into a movie. Not that I haven’t heard about free blacks being sold back into slavery but this book provided so much detail about an era I’m so familiar with, but a topic not often written about. (Plus my home town is mentioned in the book )

Even in the early 1800’s when you think that justice will prevail slaveholders and kidnappers who are labeled as criminals are time and time again set free. ( sound familiar)

This is another sad tale of slavery but the worst part of this is that most of these crimes were against children.
5 people found this helpful
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Jeanne S Vander Ploeg
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Well worth the read!
Reviewed in the United States on October 31, 2019
I just finished the book, Stolen. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I learned a lot. How serendipitous the boys’ path was; from being stolen to who was sold and who was beaten to how their freedom was finally obtained. I appreciated the author making it so ‘human’ and helping me... See more
I just finished the book, Stolen. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I learned a lot. How serendipitous the boys’ path was; from being stolen to who was sold and who was beaten to how their freedom was finally obtained. I appreciated the author making it so ‘human’ and helping me understand the horror of the kidnappings. Also interesting to me was how the practice of kidnapping both helped and hurt the cause of slavery. So interesting. Well worth the read .
9 people found this helpful
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cycling chemist
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Important part of history.
Reviewed in the United States on December 14, 2019
The story is quite shocking. It has opened my eyes to the atrocities inflicted on free people during the slave era. We all know about the underground railroad but the reverse underground railroad was far more active than I thought. It is a good read.
5 people found this helpful
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Nina and Chris
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Has information I hadn''t found elsewhere
Reviewed in the United States on May 26, 2021
I bought this book because I will buy any historical book that has my last name in its index. What a wonderful surprise to discover that the author has been doing extensive research into the very areas that I had come interested in and spent time in musty... See more
I bought this book because I will buy any historical book that has my last name in its index.

What a wonderful surprise to discover that the author has been doing extensive research into the very areas that I had come interested in and spent time in musty archives that I am not likely to ever visit.

My third great Uncle (Samuel P. Garrigues)''s and Mayor Joseph Watson''s detective work on this case really comes alive because Richard Bell is a very good writer on top of it.

I should say that this case is a fascinating piece of African American History that really should be know by more people. These tragic events form an important step in the lead-up to the Civil War and it illustrates what it was like to live in Philadelphia for black people when it was a border town. When I stumbled into it in my family tree, I fell into a rabbit hole of transcribing scanned documents from the internet to piece together things that weren''t in the easily found sources. If I''d had this book, I might not have fallen into that rabbit hole because the author has already been there and totally explored the catacombs.
One person found this helpful
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songbird
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
I learned things I never knew!
Reviewed in the United States on June 19, 2021
I enjoyed reading this book and learned many things I was not aware of before. I had never heard of the Reverse Underground Railroad. These kidnappers of free black people and the cruelty inflicted upon them is just so heart breaking. reading abut how the law at times... See more
I enjoyed reading this book and learned many things I was not aware of before. I had never heard of the Reverse Underground Railroad. These kidnappers of free black people and the cruelty inflicted upon them is just so heart breaking. reading abut how the law at times helped and at other times, the law turned a blind eye.
The current problem that is called Human Trafficking is just another form of slavery. How can people be so cruel to others?. This book is well worth reading.
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H. Clark Dean
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Interesting account of kidnapping of five free black boys before the the Civil War
Reviewed in the United States on November 7, 2019
Background information takes over half the book, the freeing of the boys and return to Philadelphia rounds it off.
3 people found this helpful
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