MONMOUTH — Maine’s crucial part in the Underground Railroad that helped slaves escape to Canada in the early-to mid-1800s included at least four Monmouth families who put their lives and fortunes in peril by breaking the law — the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

While history books focus on the prominence of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Hannibal Hamlin when recounting the state’s connection to the Underground Railroad, Monmouth author Mark Alan Leslie said hundreds of Mainers from Kittery to Fort Fairfield formed a network of illegal “safe houses” operated by “conductors” and “station managers” to hide slaves from slave hunters, according to a news release from Cumston Public Library.

Homes on Monmouth’s Main Street, North Main Street, Academy Street and Norris Hill Road were among the places slaves found protection on their way to Freedom Land.

Mark Alan Leslie Contributed photo

Leslie, whose historical novel, “True North: Tice’s Story,” is a Publishers Weekly Featured Book, will talk about the Underground Railroad at 7 p.m. Monday, March 15, via Zoom. The Zoom link will be available on the Cumston Library’s Facebook page or by calling the library at 207-933-4788.

The public is invited to hear Leslie weave the tale of the brave families who housed and fed slaves in hidden rooms, attics and elsewhere en route to the next secret “way station” on the “railroad.”

“Slavery was the one issue that has been able to tear America apart, and that included Mainers,” Leslie said, according to the release. “Reportedly half Maine’s population thought slavery was essential to the economy, while many others reviled it as ‘the absolute power of one person over another — the vilest human behavior and institution.’ The rift was tangible and dangerous. Americans were bound by law to not only turn over slaves but to help law officers find them.”

Maine’s Underground Railroad itself was “a marvel of secret connections from churches to hack stands, second-hand clothing stores and people’s homes,” Leslie said. “Slaves sometimes escaped aboard ships, but more often northward on land, and that included through Monmouth, Augusta and eastward along the Boston Post Road through Vassalboro and China to Bangor.”

The Midwest Book Review has cited Leslie’s “genuine flair for compelling, entertaining, and deftly crafted storytelling.”

And AFA Journal called Leslie “a seasoned wordsmith” whose contemporary novels are “in the class with John Grisham.”

A longtime journalist, Leslie has won six national magazine writing awards. He first burst on the literary scene in 2008 with his novel “Midnight Rider for the Morning Star,” based on the life of Francis Asbury, America’s first circuit-riding preacher.

Since then, in addition to “True North” he has written “The Crossing” about the Ku Klux Klan in Maine in the 1920s and four contemporary suspense/thrillers: “Chasing the Music” about the hunt for King David’s music of the Psalms; “The Three Sixes” about Islamic terror cells in America; “The Last Aliyah” about the Jewish escape from America when the United Nations bans Jewish emigration to Israel; and “Operation Jeremiah’s Jar.”

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