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Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution

by Simon Schama

Choice This powerful, engaging narrative tells the rich story of African American loyalists, their British supporters, and their adversaries from the onset of the American Revolution to 1808, when the British Crown assumed formal control over Sierra Leone, where perhaps a thousand of these loyalists settled after a sojourn in Nova Scotia. Specialists knew many portions of this saga, but its complexity--not to mention US racism--has kept it outside the mainstream. Weaving the stories of freedom-seeking African Americans--Thomas Peters, David George, and Phyllis Halstead, among others--with the actions of British abolitionists Granville Sharp and John Clarkson, Schama (Columbia Univ.) illustrates how African Americans used their understanding of law, including the Somerset case, and their belief in British proclamations of liberty in exchange for loyalty to gain freedom and ultimately, in many cases, their own land. Frustrated by slaveholding loyalists, southern interests impacting the Treaty of Paris, British racism, and the vicissitudes of climate and weather, black loyalists experienced hardship and cruelty, but consistently acted on their preference for freedom over comfort. Schama's story serves as a powerful corrective for any who seek a simplistic meaning of the American Revolution. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries. E. R. Crowther Adams State College

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

Library Journal Promised freedom if they served King George, slaves fled Southern plantations en masse during the American Revolution. A new look at our country's beginnings from a celebrated historian. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Given his popularity, Schama, widely known for his 15-part BBC documentary, A History of Britain, might bring more attention to this important topic: the African American slave struggle, during and after the American Revolution, to achieve freedom in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone and the British citizens who supported them. Schama's is not a complete history-readers will wonder, for instance, how word spread so fast about Virginia Governor Lord Dunmore's declaration that slaves would be granted their freedom if they bore arms against the rebels. Also, Schama does not provide a detailed account of African Americans as soldiers, for which readers might turn to Benjamin Quarles's The Negro in the American Revolution. But he effectively gives enough information to move the story. The book's strength is the discussion of Sierra Leone, in which Schama uses original source material to create an absorbing real-life tale. It is here that he hits his stride. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/06.]-Bryan Craig, Ursuline Coll., Pepper Pike, OH Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Book list African-American history, as well as American history, is too often geographically restricted in focus and content, lacking larger global context. Schama, a much-hailed Columbia University history professor and writer, frees us from those debilitating limitations. In the American Revolution, he exposes the complex dimensions of black interests associated with both the loyalist and patriot forces. For those of slave status, the American quest for liberty had hollow virtue without its companion of freedom. The slavery issue impacted both the revolution and our nations' early formation far more than is commonly known. Schama takes the reader to Nova Scotia, where Britain's promise of freedom to black loyalists conflicted with the interest of white loyalists whose sense of a loss of privilege added to more material losses they suffered during the war. Although pragmatism may have been at the root of loyalists' promise of freedom, Britain also contained strong abolitionist forces in the personalities of Granville Sharp, Thomas and John Clarkson, as well as others. However, these three sought to facilitate their nations' promise to African-American loyalist blacks by creation of Sierra Leone in West Africa. This important book reveals the interplay between American and British ideals and hypocritical practices in impacting the plight of black Americans' freedom quest. --Vernon Ford Copyright 2006 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly Has there ever been a patch of history more celebrated than the American Revolution? The torrent is endless: volume after volume about the glory of 1776, the miracle of 1787 and enough biographies of the Founding Fathers to stretch from the Liberty Bell to Bunker Hill and back again. The Library of Congress catalogue lists 271 books or other items to do with George Washington's death and burial alone. Enough! By contrast with the usual hagiography, distinguished historian Schama has found a little-known story from this era that makes the Founding Fathers look not so glorious. The Revolution saw the first mass emancipation of slaves in the AmericasAan emancipation, however, not done by the revolutionaries but by their enemies. Many American rebel leaders were slave owners. To hit them where it most hurt, Britain proclaimed freedom for all slaves of rebel masters who could make their way to British-controlled territory. Slaves deserted their horrified owners by the tens of thousands. One, who used his master's last name, was Henry Washington; another renamed himself British Freedom. The most subversive news in this book is that the British move so shocked many undecided Southern whites that it actually pushed them into the rebel camp: "Theirs was a revolution, first and foremost, mobilized to protect slavery." Even though they lost the war, most British officers honored their promise to the escaped slaves. The British commander in New York at the war's end, where some 3,000 runaway slaves had taken refuge, adamantly refused an irate Washington's demand to give them back. Instead, he put them on ships for Nova Scotia. And there, nearly a decade later, another saga began. More than a thousand ex-slaves accepted a British offer of land in Sierra Leone, a utopian colony newly founded by abolitionists, which for a few years in the 1790s was the first place on earth where women could vote. Sadly, however, financial problems and the British government's dismay at so much democracy soon brought an end to the self-rule the former slaves had been promised. Schama once again gives his readers something rare: history that is both well told and well documented. In this wonderfully sprawling epic, there are a few small errors about dates and the like, and perhaps a few more characters than we can easily keep track of, but again and again he manages to bring a scene, a person, a conversation dramatically to life. Would that more historians wrote like this. (On sale Apr. 25) Adam Hochschild is the author of, most recently, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves, a National Book Award finalist. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.