Slavery and freedom are the central themes in Elijah of Buxton. The Buxton Settlement was founded specifically as a refuge for escaped and freed slaves, and every adult resident there bears the scars of their past experiences. Some, like Mr. Leroy, who was branded on the chest with the letter "T", carry physical reminders of their ordeals, and he and the rest, without exception, must also live with stories of mistreatment, and loss so traumatic that they are "best not looked at too hard." Even though they themselves are now free from bondage, the residents of Buxton still live under the shadow of slavery. Mr. Leroy struggles to save enough money to buy the freedom of his wife and children, Mrs. Holton learns that her husband has been beaten to death by his owner down in America, and Ma is still tormented by the haunting memory of her own mother, who would not allow her to put familial ties before the chance to live free.

Having known firsthand what it is like to live without it, the adults in Buxton have a deep appreciation for freedom. When newly-freed slaves find their way to the Settlement, there is great rejoicing among the population, and the Liberty Bell, which was commissioned and paid for by the former slaves themselves, is rung twenty times for each individual: "ten times to ring out their old lives, and ten more to ring in their new ones, their free ones." The adults in Buxton are constantly working to ensure that their children, who have had the privilege of being born free, appreciate the true value of the gift they have been given. As Elijah discovers, this lesson is not one that can be taught in the classroom, and he does not really internalize the true meaning of slavery and freedom until the end of the book. When he sees Mrs. Chloe and the others shackled to the stable wall and knows that despite the fact that freedom is tantalizingly almost within reach, there is nothing he can do to bring it to them, Elijah finally understands the meaning of what it is to be free.

The elements of community and family are central in the lives of the people of Buxton. One of the most tragic results of slavery is the destruction of the family unit. Almost without exception, the adults in Buxton have been forcibly...

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