In Chapter 2, Elijah tells the reader that the story takes place
"in the Elgin Settlement at Raleigh in Canada West, what we call Buxton."
He also makes references to real historical figures, including John Brown, Frederick Douglass, and Reverend King, the founder of the Settlement. Elijah describes Frederick Douglass' visit to Buxton when Elijah was a baby, placing the narrative in the mid-nineteenth century.
In the "Author's Note" at the end of the book, Christopher Paul Curtis clearly establishes that Elijah of Buxton is a fictionalized account which takes place in a real place and time. He goes on to detail
"What an interesting, beautiful, hope-filled place the Elgin Settlement and Buxton Mission of Raleigh was and is."
According to the author, Buxton was founded in 1849, and as Elijah is supposed to be the first child freeborn in the Settlement, the story must take place sometime during the decade following that date.
The setting, a community established in Canada where escaped slaves from America can live in freedom, is central in driving the events of the story. All of the residents bear the scars of their time in bondage, and must be ever watchful of the threat of recapture which lies just a few miles south, over the border. Although they are free, the citizens of Buxton are still consumed by the ominous reality of slavery. They welcome newly escaped brothers and sisters, struggle to find ways to secure the release of loved ones still in America, and remain ever-vigilant to the threat of slave-catchers and bigots who threaten their newfound peace.
The values taught by the Buxton parents to their children are universal, relevant to the present day. They strive to shelter their young ones from corrupting influences like the carnival, stress the importance of education, and constantly try to instill in their offspring pride in their heritage, integrity, and sensitivity towards others.