Publishing historical fiction for children is not as fashionable as it once was, a victim perhaps of the headlong rush to exploit more contemporary themes. But the past is not always a dusty place with mold growing in the corners, a fact born out by "Jump Ship to Freedom," a fast-paced narrative about a black slave in 1787.
Daniel Arabus is the slave, a bright but somewhat cowed teen-ager owned by Captain Ivers of Stratford, Conn. Daniel has been told that feeling lowly and stupid is an inherent condition in "negroes," but his natural intelligence says otherwise. Through his eyes the Colliers have subtly documented the ironic idiocy of regarding men and women as property when they are so demonstrably human beings. Daniel's one source of pride is the memory of his recently drowned father. Jack Arabus had fought bravely in the Revolution, serving in his master's place in exchange for his freedom. When Captain Ivers tried to renege on this promise, Jack sued him and won. The facts of the actual case are the basis for the Colliers' story.
Unfortunately for daniel and his mother, Captain Ivers commandeered the $600 in financial notes that the government owned Jack Arabus for his service. Daniel had hoped to buy their freedom when and if the new government redeemed the notes. Through the ruse of a fire, the notes are reclaimed, but not without raising suspicious. Marked as a troublemaker, Daniel accompanies Captain Ivers on his next voyage of the West Indies where the captain plans to get rid of him.
The Colliers have done an excellent job of re-creating the flavor of the Colonial period without overwhelming the story with it. The description of a working clipper ship is rough and taut, not just the romanticized accout of so many yarns. The descent of a deadly storm changes the captain's plans, and he is forced to turn his crippled ship to New York for repairs. The desperate Daniel escapes into the city, finding a temporary haven with former friends of his father. During the course of events, he is thrust into a privotal role in the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.
Throughout his journeys, Daniel measures himself and his earlier perception against the people the encounters. His growing self-esteem is not starkly determined, however. Not every black character he meets is good, not all the white ones bad. As Daniel shakes off the doctrines of inferiority instilled in him from birth, he learns that each person must earn respect on his own merits.
When Daniel gains the freedom to do that, he is a slave no longer.