The New Race
William H. H. Johnson’s The Life of Wm. H. H. Johnson, from 1839 to 1900, and the New Race (1904) is the only classical slave narrative in the black North American tradition published by a British Columbian. In his memoir, Johnson writes an account of his mother’s flight from Kentucky to Indiana while pregnant with him. During his youth, his family were “station masters” of the Underground Railroad in various towns in Indiana, helping blacks escape to freedom in Canada. Although Indiana was ostensibly a free state, the law allowed bounty hunters to recapture those who had freed themselves. Johnson’s family ultimately fled to Ontario. Johnson migrated west to British Columbia, where he worked as a varnish maker in the Vancouver neighbourhood of Mount Pleasant. There he wrote his life story. Johnson also wrote a tract called The Horrors of Slavery. Both works are included in this volume.
Wayde Compton’s afterword puts Johnson’s life and writing in historical context, comparing his life to the lives of other enslaved people who escaped to BC, whose stories were told by others.