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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on February 10, 2013
The title and subtitle of this book are somewhat incorrect. The gamble of choosing sides applied to freemen as well as slaves, and as the author relates, these activities actually started well before the War of 1812. This is an important book that describes the choices faced by African Americans (when that is they had a choice) as to whether to take up arms or serve in other capacities in the conflicts from early in the seventeenth century up through the War of 1812.

Early on, the author shows how not long after the first Europeans arrived in the New World, and not long after they had started bringing in black slaves, those slaves were employed to protect their masters from Native American incursions and attacks by other European nations. As some slaves became freemen, they were also sometimes called upon to serve. Yet many white colonists were against the arming of slaves or even "colored" freemen. The American Revolution made this issue even more critical. Many American leaders were slave holders and resisted any calls to recruit slaves or black freemen, but manpower shortages often forced their hands. Yet after the war, promises of freedom offered for military service were often forgotten and laws passed to restrict black participation in militias or other military areas.

As tension mounted between the United States and Great Britain in the early years of the nineteenth century, British and Indian incursions into the Old Northwest states of Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois brought pressure upon the political leaders to once again call upon black slaves and freemen to take up arms to provide defense for these areas. As the author shows, blacks had the opportunity to use the situation to gain respect and position within their local societies, yet again there was pressure by many whites to avoid this action, often because of concerns of slave insurrections.

Meanwhile, in the southeastern part of the United States, a separate conflict was taking hold. A rebellion in West Florida had overthrown Spanish rule and there was a growing movement by more radical elements in the South to forcibly seize East Florida. Part of the reason for this action was that it had become a haven for runaway slaves who were tolerated by a Spanish government who could spare little manpower for the area. Again, as the author shows, these runaway slaves used the opportunity to take up arms for the Spanish government to help fight off the American filibusters in their ultimately futile invasion. By doing this the former slaves hoped to gain prestige and power within their new communities and in relationships with their new government.

The book then moves on to primary issue, the War of 1812 and the choices faced by slaves and free blacks. The British military leaders offered freedom to those slaves who came to them, while American leaders once again faced the issue of whether to use blacks as soldiers and possibly give them inspiration to rise up against their white masters. The situation was of course far more complex than this, based upon locations and many other factors. The author discusses these issues and many others thoroughly yet without the book becoming tedious or boring.

The above review only touches on the great depth of this book. It is an amazing complex subject which has been dealt with before only in a more piecemeal fashion. What Smith has done (as he relates in the Acknowledgments) is to try to answer the question of "why did some free blacks and slaves side with the United States, while others joined the British, the Spanish, the Native American tribes or the maroon communities". I think he has answered that question in an excellent, thorough yet very readable way. Highly recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2013
The war of 1812 is considered much less significant and is not as well taught in schools as the Revolution. In other words this war seems something as an after thought. Dr. Smith brings this part of American history more to light.

Dr. Smith is a history professor at Texas Christian University and a history curator at the Fort Worth Museim of Science and History. He was a speaker at this Fort Worth museum, spoke about his book, signed and autographed copies. He has also spoken about other eras in American History at the museum.

An interesting fact which I never knew is that many slaves were leaving Canada to go to the northern states where there was no slavery at that time and place. This is one of many interesting facts. White Carolinians used blacks to defeat Native Americans in the past, then provided Indians with ammunition, guns, and ways to capture escaped slaves, thereby turning one disenfranched group against another. This is another interesting fact of history and well documented. The northern states abolished slavery, the south did not. Slaves fled to the north to get away from slavery.

Blacks served in almost all battles. There were black regiments, few gained noteriety, few served as officers. There were free black communities in large cities, run away slaves fled to these cities and also blended into marroon communities, assimilated with Native Americans, enlisted in the British Navy, did many ways to get away from being slaves. Surprisingly the British offered slaves a way to become free by joining up with British forces. Slave owners would lease their slaves to those needing help, then keep the slaves salaries. The book begins with black soldiers in North America, then goes on to fighting in the north, politics, politicans and the rights of slaves and free blacks, then goes on to the war in Florida. One chapter of the book contains how Florida became part of the United States and was taken from Spain. Slaves moved to Florida to become free when this state was part of Spain. The book contains seven chapters and goes into much concerning slavery and the war all over the eastern part of the United States, from the north, mid-west, the cities and counties between the north and south,then continues into the deep south. There is the growth of slavery among the newly opened southern states. Cotton is grown and slaves are needed to harvest and work the land. This is the history of slaves leaving the United States to become free. British colonies were a popular option. Spanish colonies were another choice.

There is much to read, much to learn about the War of 1812 and the fate of slaves, slavery and those wanting to free themselves and their families.

This is an interesting read especially for history buffs. There are facts that are not well known and have been lost in the long years from then until now.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2013
Peter Denison, Charles Ball, Prince William, and especially Jordan B. Noble are four reasons why you should read this new book "The Slaves' Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812" by Gene Allen Smith. Great story-telling skills and extensive research in multiple archives and museums have produced this focused study on the role of African Americans in the War of 1812. Smith discusses British strategies, American attitudes, and the various options faced by slaves and free blacks throughout the conflict. Each of us might well have a favorite personality. I found Jordan Bankston Noble a captivating character. Born in 1800, Noble served as a drummer boy at the Battle of New Orleans. Then, he also fought in the Seminole War, the Mexican War, and was a combatant on both sides during the Civil War. He died in New Orleans in 1890, having witnessed many changes during his 90 years. This book provides a unique perspective on many of the key events of this "Forgotten Conflict" and provides an opportunity to expand one's view of the War of 1812.
Dr. Jim McConnell, Secretary, Michigan War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 12, 2013
An interesting examinination of the issue of slavery during the early years of the republic. Written in an interesting and informal style, the book is composed of a number of anecdotes and biographies of black men and their families and their participation in the War of 1812.
Some unexpected facts that I wasn't aware of was that slavery was permitted in Canada but not in Michigan at this time, so a number of escaped slaves came over the border from Canada to find their freedom. Later, after slavery was abolished in Canada, many slaves left the US through Michigan for safety in Windsor.
This book also incuded information about the war in the southern states, particularly in the British Colonies of East and West Florida, and the impact of the war on the entire Caribbean and Spanish possessions.
The profuse use of footnotes allows other researchers to locate and explore the primary and secondary sources used by the author, and this is the mark of a good historian.
A recommended book for any collection of the War of 1812, and also of American History, Black History, or the American Civil War. This is also an interesting book for British history, as it describes the war with the US as part of their global war of the period, and stirkes to the issues concerning the British Empire, Canada and the United States.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 27, 2013
Smith's "The Slaves' Gamble..." is magnificent.

His illumination of heretofore unfamiliar corners of U.S. history
ought to be read by all Americans.

His omission is this; He gives the impression that Britain
opposed slavery, and cites cases of British naval raids into
Chesapeake Bay communities in Virginia and Maryland, in which
they successfully invited slaves to flee onto their ships.
He cites the damage that those raids did to the plantation
economies but still gives the unmistakable but erroneous
impression that Britain conducted those raids to express an
anti-slavery policy rather than to punish the U.S. with whom
it was then at war.
At that time, 1812-1814, the many abolitionists in Britain
and the US weren't shaping governmental policies. By then Britain
had lost its near monopoly in slaving; Bristol was no longer
the home port of the slave-ship fleet. Having lost that monopoly
Crown support for slavery had ended, but ONLY SLAVERY PRACTICED BY
THE REBEL U.S. Britain continued enforcing slavery in Ireland for
many decades after those slave-freeing raids in Virginia, etc.

See Henry C. Carey's "The Slave Trade, Domestic, and Foreign (1853);
especially its chapter 13 headed; "How Slavery Grows in Ireland and

British slavery in Ireland is further documented by a British M.P.,
William Cobbett, in his "Cobbett in Ireland; A Warning to England"
(1834) and his "Cobbett's Tour of Scotland" (1833). For that slavery
in Ireland and one then beginning in Scotland, Cobbett denounces a
cabal of genocidists connected to Edinburgh; Malthus, Nassau Senior,
et al, and their governmental-implementers led by Lord Brougham. Senior
is on the record stating (1n 1848); "Current British policy in Ireland
(deploying more than half its then empire army to remove Ireland's food
at gunpoint) "will kill no more than one million, and that's not enough
to do much good."

Despite Smith's misleading silence on British motive regarding slavery,
his book is very much a keeper.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 3, 2013
It came quickly and in good condition.I would recommend it. It was well written. It is a story that was not taught in school.
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on June 5, 2014
Gene Allen Smith's "The Slaves Gamble Choosing sides in the War of 1812" is an interesting read on the war and how slavery was impacted by the war. Smith's most interesting conclusion(among others) was that slaves were often offered freedom to come over to the side of the British and often slave owners were surprised that the slaves wouldn't return when given the chance. Smith's also shows that free blacks often showed their loyalty of the US by volunteering when they were allowed to, however many states were uncomfortable allowing slaves and free blacks to serve.

Recommended for anyone interested in American History or the history of slavery.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2013
For serious scholars of the War of 1812, this is a useful book. Most of the other books give fairly light attention to slavery or ignore it altogether. For students of slavery, I am not as convinced that this measures up well against the wealth of scholarship on slavery in the period, such as Brown's Moral Capital, Seymour Drescher's, Abolition: A History of Slavery and Antislavery, Mason's, Slavery and Politics in the Early American Republic or Rothman's Slave Country.
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on November 10, 2015
Very informative as to the slaves' role in the War of 1812 but also in the Revolution. I didn't know that many stayed on in the military as it paid better than what they were used to earnng
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2013
I was made aware of the details concerning the complicated lives and difficult choices that slaves and free blacks experienced during the war of 1812. It was surprising how many choices mirrored options that slaves had during and after the American Revolution. It is a sad commentary that fairness and justice were most often displayed by the British, Spaniards, and French than by Americans. The book is very revealing and impressively written.
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