Tracy Chevalier

Honor Bright

This is how I imagine the main character, a young English Quaker who emigrates to America in 1850.

Oberlin, Ohio

This town was a major stop on the Underground Railroad. Always a radical place, Oberlin College was the first to admit women and African Americans.

The Sick Room

Many 19th-century American houses had “sick rooms” off the kitchen because someone often had a fever and needed tending. This one is at Hale’s Farm, Ohio.

Desperate measures for desperate times

Henry "Box" Brown was a slave who mailed himself to freedom.

Tracy’s quilt

In researching the novel, I learned how to quilt the way my heroine would have, and made this all by hand.

Quakers have no formal creed.

Their unity is based on shared understanding of the "Inner Light" in each person and a shared practice of silent worship.

The Inspiration

In April 2009 I was visiting Oberlin College in Ohio, where I got my degree back in 1984. Since its founding in the 1830s it has been a progressive place – one of the first colleges in the USA to admit both African Americans and women. I was lucky enough to see the novelist and Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison there, dedicating a Bench by the Road to mark Oberlin as a significant place in African American history. Oberlin was an important stop on the Underground Railroad – a 19th-century network of people helping runaway slaves escape from the South to the relative safety of the North.

A couple of days later I went to a Quaker meeting. While sitting in silence, I began thinking about how Quakers were opposed to slavery and many had been abolitionists and worked on the Underground Railroad. Oberlin and Quakers came together in my mind then, a spark ignited, and I knew I would write about it.

Other elements emerged from my research to thicken the story – quilts, bonnets, farms, woods and corn – but the core of The Last Runaway centers on searching for freedom.

The Last Runaway