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The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0393073713
ISBN-10: 0393073718
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Escape from slavery in the antebellum South evokes images of secretive flight on the Underground Railroad or bizarre efforts like that of “Box Brown,” who hid in a small shipping crate sent north. Taylor, a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, teaches at the University of California, Davis. In this revealing and engrossing study, he illustrates that a great factor in the liberation of thousands of slaves was the policy and intervention of the British government and military. Taylor concentrates on the six decades between the American Revolution and the slave revolt of Nat Turner, and he focuses on the Chesapeake region of Virginia. The area is dotted with numerous rivers flowing to the bay, and here hundreds of slaves paddled out to British warships, especially during the War of 1812. British naval officers, through a combination of military practicality and, in some cases, antislavery sentiments, encouraged and facilitated their flight. This, of course, served to reinforce the slaveholders to view their slaves as “internal enemies.” This is a well-written and scrupulously researched examination of an important aspect of the struggle against American slavery. --Jay Freeman

Review

Alan Taylor has added a remarkable chapter to American history, showing how the actions of black Virginians in the War of 1812 remade the nation’s politics in ways that profoundly influenced the racialized lead-up to the Civil War. Taylor’s meticulous research and crystal-clear prose make this essential reading for anyone seeking new insights into a troubled American past. (Elizabeth A. Fenn, author of Pox Americana)

Impressively researched and beautifully crafted… Mr. Taylor has established himself as one of our leading historians of the Early Republic. (Mark M. Smith - The Wall Street Journal)

A comprehensive, scholarly work, made accessible by Taylor’s skill as a storyteller. (Kel Munger - Sacramento Bee)

Remarkable… it’s hard not to be dazzled by the ease with which Taylor moves from the lives of individual slaves, to the history of a large planter family, to the fault lines of Virginia politics, to the national debate over slavery in the western territories, out into the Atlantic world to the history of the British Empire. (James Oakes - Washington Post)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (September 9, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393073718
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393073713
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.9 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #370,410 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Carole T. Goldberg on October 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Alan Taylor is an exceptional story teller. This is a meticulously researched, beautifully written account of the little-known details in the nation's history of the crucial role that Black Virginians played in the War of 1812. Around this theme, with Taylor's wonderfully detailed and precise writing style, he creates an intricate tapestry of historical facts and events that bring to life a vital picture of the conflicted political atmosphere of Virginia and beyond, the day to day operations of the powerful leaders, and the intertwining of their lives with the status and existence of their slaves. The book was mesmerizing and I couldn't put it down.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Frank Bellizzi on March 27, 2014
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As the author explains, "the internal enemy" was a phrase used by some Americans to speak of slaves, especially during times of war. In states like Virginia, with its many thousands of slaves, free people used this expression to speak of slave rebellion and sabotage, or at least their potential. The phrase could refer to runaways who took refuge with, provided information to, and sometimes even fought for the external enemy, the British.

The chronological bookends of the subtitle, 1772 and 1832, are significant. The first date refers to the Somerset decision in Great Britain, a legal ruling which had the effect of threatening the future of slavery in the British American colonies and thereby hastening the American Revolution (pp. 19-23). Following the uniquely-bloody slave rebellion of 1831 led by Nat Turner, in 1832 Thomas Jefferson Randolph, a grandson of Thomas Jefferson, introduced to the Virginia legislature a plan for the gradual abolition of slavery. Taylor suggests that the vote against that plan was a milestone in the road that led to the Civil War (pp. 414-17). Yet, almost all of the book focuses on 1812-15, the years of the War of 1812. During that war, it was common for slaves, especially from the Tidewater region of Virginia, to escape to British warships in the Chesapeake Bay.

In this book, Taylor is intent on showing that as the American Revolution heated up, events in Virginia were just as significant as better-known events in Massachusetts. He also wants to show that the activities of rebellious slaves made the War of 1812 significantly worse for Virginians, and for the American republic in general. For example, unlike British troops, slaves knew the terrain and hideouts on land.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Karole on November 25, 2013
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This brilliantly researched history tells the true story of the War of 1812, and the heroism of former enslaved men. African Americans in the thousandsliberated themselves, and worked to liberate their families and friends through military service as Colonial Marines in the British services. The book also shows the lengths to which American slavers and leaders sought to malign the heroism of those marines and the honour of the British who fulfilled their commitments as liberators after the war.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By jac on November 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover
With regard to the American Revolution and the War of 1812, many of us have internalized the lessons of elementary school: the aristocratic British were the bad guys, and the colonists fought for freedom. Author Alan Taylor has a far different perspective. For the enslaved African American population, it was the British who were the liberators and the Americans who, at best, were hypocrites. The Somerset v. Stuart decision in Britain, in effect, meant that any slave that set foot in England, or by extension on the ships of the Royal Navy, was deemed a free man. African Americans, including women and children, escaped to British ships, and their freedom, by the thousands. In the War of 1812, men were organized into an effective fighting unit, the Colonial Marines, who just by their existence fanned the South’s very real fear of slave rebellion. Taylor tells a thoroughly engrossing story, if disdainful and unforgiving of the Americans. The book is a sobering reminder of the inhumanity of slavery.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Kel Munger on November 22, 2013
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Alan Taylor writes solidly-researched history, but has a storyteller's flair. This book offers a well-rounded view from the perspective of everyone: enslaved people, slave owners, white non-slaveholders, political leaders, and the British. It's fascinating, especially the information gleaned from letters that slaves who escaped wrote to their former owners.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By John F. McDonald on January 14, 2014
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Alan Taylor continues his detailed analysis of the evolution of the United States, prior to and through the War of 1812, as he sees events as a continuous path from the American Revolution forward. While the results of the conflict along the NW border were mixed, British successes in Virginia and Washington,including the burning of the Capitol, could come as a surprize to the casual observer. Dr. Taylor explains runaway slaves played a crucial role in these successes; indeed, it is unlikely they could have been accomplished without their participation.

As a Canadian, it is interesting as well to note that that many of the former slaves and their families were resettled in Halifax Nova Scotia, in a portion of the city that came to be known as Africaville. While their treatment there was an improvement, it was not exemplary by any means.

The book also examines political trends in the US that persist to this day - the aversion to taxes, the willingness to wage war, and the rampant profiteering that typically follows.

Highly recommended.
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