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Rough Crossings: The Slaves, the British, and the American Revolution Reprint Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0060539177
ISBN-10: 0060539178
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Editorial Reviews


“A master storyteller.” (Newsweek)

“If there’s a better living writer of history than Simon Schama, I’d sure like to know who it is.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

“. . .plenty of gorgeous writing from this most elegant of stylists.” (Christian Science Monitor)

“Schama tells this complex story through a series of richly drawn, idiosyncratic individuals, from musical bureaucrats to rebellious slaves.” (San Diego Union-Tribune)

Simon Schama’s Rough Crossings . . . brilliantly re-creates the histories of runaway slaves in and after the American revolution. (Sunday Times (London))

“A lively and accessible book.” (Newsday)

” Schama is back at his best -and historians don’t come much better than that. (Sunday Times (London))

About the Author

Simon Schama is University Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University in New York. His award-winning books include Scribble, Scribble, Scribble; The American Future: A History; National Book Critics Circle Award winner Rough Crossings; The Power of Art; The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age; Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution; Dead Certainties (Unwarranted Speculations); Landscape and Memory; Rembrandt's Eyes; and the History of Britain trilogy. He has written and presented forty television documentary films for the BBC, PBS, and The History Channel, including the Emmy-winning Power of Art, on subjects that range from John Donne to Tolstoy.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (May 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060539178
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060539177
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #244,185 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Schama is always an interesting writer, but he has seldom been as easy to read as in Rough Crossings. Perhaps the subject itself is so unambiguous that he finds his way to simplicity. That subject is the fate of African and African-American refugees from the Thirteen Colonies, the bold proclaimers of Liberty, during and after the Revolutionary War. Unmentioned in most American textbooks of history, thousands of slaves and some free blacks took refuge with the British army and navy during the war. After the war, many of them were transported to other British lands, especially to Nova Scotia. Schama details their hopes and their misery quite eloquently. Eventually, the tale focuses on the efforts of English abolitionists to establish a "homeland" for liberated American and British slaves in Sierra Leone. The English abolitionists, especially John Clarkson, are the central personages of the book, but the former slaves themselves are the most compelling figures.

For a sometime-American reader like myself, the most enlightening portion of this book comes first, i.e. the chapters that describe the role of the defense of slavery in the southern colonies against perceived threats of abolition and strategic offers of freedom from Britain. The motives of our Founding Fathers, in other words, were not always as idealistic as we were taught. An understanding of the American Revolution can't always be limited to Boston and taxes. The story of Virginian expansionism, the problems of colonial indebtedness, and colonial racism towards both slaves and Native Americans must also be told, and Schama does a good part of that job. Particularly revealing are Schama's pages devoted to George Washington, whose slaves were as willing to run away to the British as most others.
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Format: Paperback
This well written and informative book provides yet another useful reminder that Americans like me shouldn't be too smug about being shining beacons of freedom throughout the world. It goes into interesting detail about the debates in the Continental Congress on slavery prior to the Revolution, the compromises made, and who made them. The British offered freedom to slaves who came over to their side during the Revolutionary War, and they actually tried to keep these promises, but not always to the satisfaction of the freed slaves. However, a movement to abolish the slave trade was gathering momentum in Britain, one result of which was the establishment of the state of Sierra Leone in West Africa as a home for many of these formerly enslaved people and their families. It is a very interesting story, and the author tells it in a lively style.

However, I can't help wondering if the author hasn't applied a little melodrama to add sparkle to his story; for example, individuals and groups of individuals tend to be characterized as all good or all bad. The author also uses rather nasty sarcasm in describing people and events. I can see his point in using it to describe George Washington's hypocrisy, but he also uses it when talking about Granville Sharp, who may have been quite an eccentric but nonetheless was a leading figure in abolishing the slave trade. It seemed mean-spirited. Finally, I wish I had counted the number of times the author referred to British air as being "too pure for slaves to breathe." Maybe it was, but that never stopped the British from fouling other countries' air: India, Australia, South Africa, etc., etc., etc.

On the whole, I recommend this book as a readable history of an important but not widely discussed event in the establishment of the United States.
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Format: Paperback
No short review of Rough Crossings by Simon Schama could begin to do it justice. It is far too big a project, far too significant an achievement for any simple summary. It presents a momentous story, highly relevant to our own times, of partial emancipation for the enslaved. The book is not for the faint hearted. For a start there's almost five hundred pages of detailed historical narrative, several distinctly prickly characters to meet and many direct quotes from contemporary documents, complete with the writers' inconsistencies of spelling and grammar. And then there is the raw suffering that it describes. There is real human suffering here, real people who were wronged by others who perpetrated a crime for which they will remain forever unpunished. Balancing this, however, is optimism engendered by the idealism of those who campaigned and worked for freedom and justice, against the convenient populist bigotry of their time. But rising above all others are those whose personal histories are described. These are people who devoted their lives to the undoing of the wrongs that were done to them, who never lost faith in life's eventual ability to deliver justice, despite the repeated contradiction of experience. In the end, it's the enduring human spirit that seems to triumph, despite the lack of any obvious lasting victories. For all concerned, it's a struggle, has always been so and will probably remain so in the future.

Rough Crossings chronicles the politics, warfare, commerce and human experience surrounding the practical application of the campaign to abolish the slave trade. It was Gore Vidal who described several of the founding fathers of the United States as dedicated slave owners, eager to protect their investments.
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