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Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia (Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia) Paperback – September, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0807847848 ISBN-10: 0807847844 Edition: First Edition
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Editorial Reviews

Review

May be the most important book on the political culture of Revolutionary Virginia since Rhys Isaac's "The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790"."Journal of Southern History"

Review

The Revolution in Virginia is at last explained. The great menaces that threatened the Virginia gentry and that gave force to their revolutionary rhetoric have been effectively documented for the first time. Woody Holton shows most persuasively that armed Indians, rebellious enslaved workers, and democratically active smallholders were just as much active agents of the Revolution as Lord North and Patrick Henry.--Rhys Isaac, La Trobe University|In this tour de force, Woody Holton takes on a powerful image: (white) Virginians moving together into independence, united behind a patriot leader class. He shows instead how Virginians of all sorts confronted a shared crisis from their own points of view, how all of them influenced the outcome, and how living through that crisis changed them all.--Edward Countryman, Southern Methodist University|A challenging reconstruction of the trajectory which carried Virginia's gentlemen revolutionaries from resistance to independence. It will be appreciated by serious scholars of Virginia's revolutionary period; its lively style and wealth of anecdotes will make it an enjoyable read for anyone.--Journal of American Studies|[Holton's] insights into the interplay among class, race, and ideology produce a complex and persuasive account of Virginia's path to revolution. The strength of Holton's book lies in its careful delineation of the regional issues propelling the Chesapeake into revolution and in his insistence that Indians, slaves, and small farmers played roles as significant as the planter elite and British policy-makers in making that revolution. . . . A really well-written book, with vivid descriptive details and clearly presented analysis.--Carol Berkin, Baruch College and The Graduate Center, CUNY|A fascinating reinterpretation of the coming of the Revolution in Virginia. . . . Each vividly detailed and keenly argued section of the book demonstrates how a diverse collection of ordinary men and women pushed Virginia's leaders to declare independence. . . . Holton's powerful and innovative book should influence the study of the American Revolution for years to come.--Virginia Magazine of History and Biography|In a detailed, painstakingly researched book that examines the forces that fomented revolution in Colonial Virginia, Holton reveals a new view of Virginia history and a lesser-known side of himself.--Richmond Times-Dispatch|An important revisionist appraisal of the factors from 1763 to 1776 that propelled Virginians to support the Revolutionary movement and independence.--Choice|[A] fine new book. . . . Where Holton moves beyond his predecessors is the large and colorful cast of characters that he includes in this story.--James H. Merrell, H-Net|This may be the most important book on the political culture of Revolutionary Virginia since Rhys Isaac's The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790. It is certainly the most provocative.--Journal of Southern History|The main strength of Holton's book is his effort to place the actions of the Virginia gentry within a more detailed local context and to see them as actors who were responding to the material concerns that governed their everyday lives.--Law and History Review|Holton does more than transfer a familiar neo-progressive narrative of the coming of the Revolution to Virginia. . . . [He] portrays the coming of the Revolution in Virginia as deeply bound up with competing social groups--planters, farmers, Indians, slaves, and British merchants--all of whom pursued their own interests. His social history of a revolution emerging out of these struggles rather than out of civic humanism or disputes surrounding the imperial constitution complements Rhys Isaac's interpretation of cultural conflict in revolutionary Virginia.--American Historical Review|This book gives us a brisk and convincing analysis of a region--and revolutionary leaders--we thought we already knew. Given the threats they faced, we can only marvel that those uneasy leaders ever succeeded in such a desperate feat as making a revolution in such a dangerous and divided region. As Holton shows us, they were forced to.--Journal of American History
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Product Details

  • Series: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia
  • Paperback: 231 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; First Edition edition (September 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807847844
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807847848
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #106,149 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Woody Holton (Ph.D., Duke University) is an McCausland Professor of History at the University of South Carolina, where he teaches classes on African Americans, Native America, early American women, the origins of the Constitution, Abigail Adams, and the era of the American Revolution. He is especially interested in studying the impact of ordinary citizens on grand political events. He is the author of Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia (1999), which won the Organization of American Historians Merle Curti Social History Award; Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution (2007), which was a finalist for the National Book Award; and Abigail Adams, which won the Bancroft Prize.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Philip Caudill on May 21, 2005
Format: Paperback
In Forced Founders, Woody Holton writes about five non-elite groups in pre-Revolutionary America who struggled for relief from a long list of economic and political imperial burdens. Small landholders, merchants, debtors and even Native Americans and slaves in Virginia were affected by a global depression in which the price of tobacco had fallen close to its lowest historical levels, prices of other commodities had plummeted and the credit market had collapsed. Elite, wealthy Virginia gentlemen farmers like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry felt the squeeze but for Virginia's non-elites, the confluence of adverse economic factors became an overwhelming millstone. Everyone in Virginia suffered the effects of the Navigation Acts that restricted colonial trade only to Britain. Everyone was forced to adjust to the boycott of Britain passed by the Continental Congress. Virginia's economy staggered when small businesses and landowners defaulted on their debt, faced foreclosure of their assets and sunk into economic ruin. Holton's thesis is that well-to-do colonial Virginia leaders were pushed to choose rebellion against Britain by these non-elite groups whose meager resources made them defenseless against this toxic brew of imperial oppression and negative global economic conditions.

Perhaps the most powerful force behind the fight for independence was the paralyzing debt incurred by Virginia's growers. It was held primarily by their British merchant counterparts who bought their tobacco, sold them supplies and lent them money. The Virginians' debt was even more overwhelming because it landed on their balance sheets during one of the worst recessions of the colonial era.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By wynott@aol.com on September 27, 1999
Format: Paperback
Prof. Holton does a masterly job of thoroughly documenting the effect that the people about which one doesn't read in most history books -- slaves, Indians, small farmers -- had on the decision of Washington, Jefferson, et.al. to make their momentous break from Great Britain. The book is a rarely-seen guide to the complex decision-making process of the seemingly-oxymoronic elite revolutionaries of Virginia, a guide that applies to politics today. It also spells out the implications -- for better or (often) for worse -- of the strategic and tactical decisions made by the supposedly powerless elements of society in times of transition . . . which, again, reverberate for today's political and social activists.
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59 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Glenn F. Williams Sr. on May 2, 2006
Format: Paperback
While the book is a "good read" and "thought provoking," I have serious contentions with Holton's interpretation and analysis on many levels, not the least of which center on his lack of understanding and/or misinterpretation of the military and Indian issues which he attempts to cite as supporting his thesis, and which in turn causes me to question his other conclusions in "Forced Founders."

First, he apparently does not know the difference between the provincial militia of the royal colony, the independent militia formed at the resolution of the First Virginia Convention (and Continental Association after the First Continental Congress), or the Virginia militia as constituted by Virginia's revolutionary government, the Virginia Minutemen (as different from common militia) formed by the state in response to a resolution by the Second Continental Congress, the formation of Virginia State Troops or the establishment of the Virginia Continentals. To him, all those organizational concepts seem to be interchangeable.

Second, it is true that Virginia's last royal governor, John Murray, the Fourth Earl of Dunmore, formed his "Ethiopian Regiment" by offering freedom to the military age male slaves of rebel masters (not all slaves), but Holton's explanation leads the reader to believe that the project was an overwhelming success. The primary source documents show that it was never accepted into Provincial service, and with less than 100 "effective" men present for duty, and about 60 sick on board hospital ships in May 1776, the regiment was disbanded. Furthermore, they were not Dunmore's only available troops. So how their presence forced slaveholders to support the revolution is questionable.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Nicholas R. Fry on September 17, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Holton's account of the conflict between Virginia whites, slave owners and Royal Governor Dunmore is fascinating. The conflict, Holton believes is part of the reason that there is small mention in the Declaration of Independence of exciting domestic insurrections. Runaway slaves often tried to seek refuge form their owners by enlisting or joining with the British side. The protection offered to them enraged the slave owning class, and is why Holton argues that by blacks seeking their freedom they unknowingly added motivation for the decision to declare independence. Holton also presents evidence that many enslaved people actively sought to use any moment of crisis as an opportunity to rebel against their owners and the conflict with England was not immune to that fact. Dunmore's strategy was quite brilliant, even if he underestimated the big picture. He captured the powder from the magazine holding it hostage, and eventually attracted fierce black fighters to join his side in exchange for their freedom. While reading this account I kept thinking how the British should have applied Dunmore's strategy to the whole of the colonies.

Holton as describes how and why smallholders and poor whites contributed to the gentry's decision to declare independence. Servants and poor whites were even more openly unruly at this time then their enslaved counterparts. The boycotts caused shortages and riots among whites. Foreign governments would not trade with semi-sovereign British subjects, so the only solution for the ruling class was to declare independence. The gentry needed a buffer between their seat of power and the slaves/Indians; their solution was to calm the anxiety of middling and poor whites. There were many reasons that the white lower classes mistrusted the gentry.
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Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia (Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia)
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