Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis is an award winning historical fiction novel told from the perspective of 11-year-old Elijah Freeman, the first child to be born free in the settlement of Buxton in Canada. Buxton is a real place settled by African Americans who had escaped the horrors of enslavement in America. Elijah is seen by his family and friends as "fra-gile", however, when he embarks on a dangerous mission to help a friend, Elijah displays courage and fortitude beyond his years.
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis was written in 2007 and tells the story of 11-year-old Elijah Freeman growing up in the settlement of Buxton in Canada in 1860. Buxton is a real place that was founded by Reverend William King in 1849 to be a refuge for escaped slaves. Elijah tells the reader that he was the first baby to be born free in Buxton. He explains that when Frederick Douglass visited the settlement, he lifted baby Elijah in the air calling him a "shining beacon of light and hope for the future." Through Elijah's adventures and daily life, the reader becomes familiar with Buxton and its courageous and self-sufficient inhabitants.
Elijah lives with his Ma and Pa, attends school, and does many chores around the settlement to help his neighbors. Elijah is known for being "fra-gile" but he wants to be seen as "growned" and acknowledged for his expert rock throwing and fish catching. He excels in school but is also naïve and is easily tricked by the untrustworthy "Preacher" who lives just outside Buxton.
Buxton's residents are all runaway slaves and their children. They relish their newfound freedom but also work extremely hard day in and day out to create a thriving settlement that includes a school, farms, and a mill. They are a close-knit community that live by the creed: "One helping one, to uplift all." As a destination on the "Underground Railroad", when new residents arrive escaping the horrors of slavery, they are welcomed with open arms and the ringing of the "Liberty Bell".
Elijah works with Mr. Leroy, who has a family still enslaved in America. Mr. Leroy works tirelessly day and night helping his neighbor Mrs. Holton clear her land so that he can earn enough money to rescue his family by "purchasing their freedom" from their enslaver. Mrs. Holton has also been saving money to similarly rescue her own husband. But when Mrs. Holton finds out that her husband has been killed by his enslaver, she gifts all the money she had to Mr. Leroy so he can save his family. Mr. Leroy is overjoyed! However, the greedy, nefarious "Preacher" tricks them all and runs off with the money!
Mr. Leroy is distraught and secretly enlists Elijah's help to go to America, so he can track down the Preacher and get the money back. Tragically, when they arrive in Michigan, Mr. Leroy passes away of a heart attack. Before he dies, Mr. Leroy makes Elijah promise that he will go after the Preacher and get the money to save his family. Elijah agrees and courageously continues the dangerous quest.
Elijah manages to find the Preacher but he has already been killed by evil slave catchers and all the money is gone. Elijah finds other enslaved men, women, and children chained by the slave catchers. He valiantly tries to free them but cannot break their chains.
Just as Elijah is about to flee the imminent danger and return to Buxton, he realizes he has a chance to rescue the baby, Hope Too-mah-ee-nee. He promises her mother that he will bring Hope to freedom in Buxton. While Elijah has to tragically leave the rest of the enslaved men and women, he manages to sneak out baby Hope Too-mah-ee-nee and brings her to freedom. As they arrive in Canada, Elijah recites the words that the settlers always say to new arrivals, "Looky there! Look at that sky! Ain't that the most beautifullest sky you ever seen? Looky there, look at that land! Look at those trees! Have you ever seen anything that precious? It's the land of the free! Today you're truly free, and you choosed the most specialist, most perfectest day for doing it!"