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Louis is a slave who at the beginning of the story lives about a day's walk from the Ohio border. Having learned that his master plans to sell him, Louis makes a spur-of-the-moment decision to flee north to the big river on the other side of which, his mother told him, is freedom. The story is more than an account of a slave's escape; it tells of what help a fleeing slave could expect, of what dangers an escaped slave might encounter, and of what slaves did once they made their way into Ohio. The story of Louis, in Lester's view, also illustrates a cause of the Civil War: slaves were eventually escaping through the Underground Railroad at such a furious rate that the institution of slavery was threatened with extinction, and the Southern slave states began a war in an effort to stop the northward exodus of slaves to freedom.

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