- "The Underground Railroad is powerful. Many people do not believe in slavery. Many are willing to help people like me and my family find their way to freedom. I did not know until the meeting tonight that the law punishes people who help."
- —Corey Birdsong
Corey Birdsong (born August 8, 1848) was the son of Roland and Angel Birdsong. He and his family were slaves on the Hart plantation until they escaped. The family settled in Canada in 1858. Corey's best friend Mingo, who was like a brother to him, later joined them in Canada.
Corey was born to Roland and Angel on August 8, 1848. Him and his family were owned by Bob Hart, who put them to work on his plantation in Kentucky. Corey's best friend was another slave, named Mingo.
Roland taught Corey how to read and write, and later gave him a book to practice in. Corey also learned a number of bird calls from his father.
The Birdsong family was visited by a freeman preacher in late August 1857. He spoke to them about the Underground Railroad, which helped slaves escape the south. Roland wished to leave the Hart plantation, but Angel was hesitant. A few days later, Roland was forced to leave on his own after hearing about Mr. Hart's plans to sell him. Mr. Hart was extremely angry at Roland's escape and even put up an award for his return. Corey wrote less and less in his journal over the following months since he missed his father.
In March 1858, an abolitionist named Mr. Renfield visited the Hart farm, pretending to be interested in birds. Mr. Hart naturally introduced him to Corey, who had a special talent for birds. A few days later, Mr. Renfield his intentions to help Corey and his mother escape. Corey eventually convinced his mother to take Mr. Renfield's offer. Their first stop on the Underground Railroad was at a schoolhouse near Maysville.
Corey and his mother were taken across the Ohio River by John Parker. He brought them to Reverend Rankin's house in Ripley, Ohio. They reached Owl Creek, where Angel stayed behind to give birth to Star. Corey headed toward Oberlin to try to find his father. The trip took nearly a month after Corey got lost along the way. In Oberlin, Corey stayed with Dodd for a few days, before finding his father. They then went to retrieve Angel in Owl Creek. Together the family headed to their ultimate destination, Canada.
Life in Canada
- "Is the Promised Land Canada?" I ask. "Is the Promised Land Amherstburg?" Mama smiles. "Yes, Corey. I think it might be.""
- —Corey and his mother
In June 1858, his family settled in Amherstburg, Canada, where they lived at Nazrey AME Church for a short time. Corey's father began working at a Navy Yard, while his mother continued her seamstress work. By the end of July, his father was employed by Mr. Bentley at his smithy. The Birdsongs then moved into a small house near the Bentleys. As he settled into his new life, Corey began missing Mingo, whom stayed behind in Kentucky.
On his birthday, Corey wrote a letter to Mingo in code, telling him where they were. Corey began attending school in September with his friends, Gwen Thurman and George Davis. He later received a letter from Mingo, which indicated that he was heading toward Canada. Meanwhile, the Birdsongs had purchased a piece of land from the Thurmans. Corey helped his father clear the land, before they started building their cabin.
The family's cabin was finished by the end of November. In January 1859, Corey had been sick for several days, when the postmaster's son informed him that a package had arrived for him. He had to travel across the river to the United States to claim the package, which contained Mingo. Corey was sick for the rest of January and part of February. He was able to resume writing in his journal in mid-Feburary. Corey and Mingo started going to school at the beginning of March.
Second year in Canada
- "Freedom is being with your family on your own place. Freedom is not to be hit in the face with an iron key. Freedom is making your own sweet maple syrup from your own maple trees. Freedom is making many more friends, like my family has in Amherstburg."
- —Corey's speech for school
In April, Corey began helping his father clear their land where they planned to plant crops. The land was ready for planting by early June, keeping the family busy. Meanwhile, Mingo got an idea to buy Aunt Queen's freedom. She was his foster mother and an old friend of Corey's family. They then decided to start saving their money and wrote a letter to their old master to ask about the price. Master Hart agreed to sell her for one hundred dollars
Corey later got a job swabing the deck of the Pearl. His mother insisted that he only worked when the ship was in the harbor. However, Corey ignored his mother's worries and began going across the river with the ship. During this time, he had began to race his pigeons, Just and Jim, often. He later brought them aboard the Pearl. The ship accidentally left him behind in Ohio. Corey had missed the Pearl since he was helping Gladys Jenkins and her mother.
He hid with Gladys and her mother, who was deathly sick, in a cave near the docks. Corey wrote a letter to his father and attached it to one of his pigeons. His father successfully found them just a few days later. Sadly, Mrs. Jenkins died a day after being reunited with her family. Mr. Jenkins later gave the Birdsongs his freedom fund, which he had saved to buy his wife and daughter. In November 1859, Aunt Queen was brought to Canada by Reverend Binga.
Personality and traits
Corey had an affinity with birds and could recognize several different types of birds. He also was able to imitate bird calls, earning him his last name "Birdsong". Corey was smart and enjoyed learning, especially new words. He was a calm and collected person, as well as being resourceful and brave.
|Roland Birdsong||Angel Birdsong|
Behind the scenes
- Corey is the hero of three books, Freedom's Wings, Flying Free, and Message in the Sky, all written by Sharon Dennis Wyeth.
- He is a My America character, but only one of his books takes place completely in America. Corey likely never considered himself an American since he was a slave when he lived there.