Canadians take pride in being on the “good side” of the American Civil War, serving as a haven for 30,000 escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad. But dwelling in history’s shadow is the much darker role Canada played in supporting the slave South and in fomenting the many plots against Lincoln.
The North Star weaves together the different strands of several Canadians and a handful of Confederate agents in Canada as they all made their separate, fateful journeys into history.
The book shines a spotlight on the stories of such intrepid figures as Anderson Abbott, Canada’s first Black doctor, who joined the Union Army; Emma Edmonds, the New Brunswick woman who disguised herself as a man to enlist as a Union nurse; and Edward P. Doherty, the Quebec man who led the hunt to track down Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth.
At the same time, the Canadian political and business elite were aiding the slave states. Toronto aristocrat George Taylor Denison III bankrolled Confederate operations and opened his mansion to their agents. The Catholic Church helped one of Booth’s accused accomplices hide out for months in the Quebec countryside. A leading financier in Montreal let Confederates launder money through his bank.
Sher creates vivid portraits of places we thought we knew. Montreal was a sort of nineteenth-century Casablanca of the North: a hub for assassins, money-men, mercenaries and soldiers on the run. Toronto was a headquarters for Confederate plotters and gun-runners. The two largest hotels in the country became nests of Confederate spies.
Meticulously researched and richly illustrated, The North Star is a sweeping tale that makes long-ago events leap off the page with a relevance to the present day.