- Hardcover: 496 pages
- Publisher: Ecco / HarperCollins; 1st edition (April 25, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 006053916X
- ISBN-13: 978-0060539160
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 41 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #157,191 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
[Signature]Reviewed by Adam HochschildHas 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 Americas—an 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Though historians have known this story for decades, expatriate British historian Simon Schama, a professor at Columbia, brings his narrative vigor to the account of America's first emancipation. The "novelistic, exacting" (Chicago Sun-Times) touch that made A History of Britain and Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution successes is evident in RoughCrossings, as is an appetite to tell the story of those dispossessed by history's sweep. Uninfluenced by patriotism, Schama confronts the hypocrisy of both the colonists and the British. Though some of Schama's facts might be skewed and his scope limited by available primary materials, Schama presents a compelling story that should serve to correct any lingering hagiography.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
Top customer reviews
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American history lauds the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the subsequent revolutionary war as a turning point in world history. This is true. But how many people would understand that the new country, ostensibly based on freedom, was also a slave pariah state especially when compared with Great Britain? I suspect that very few Americans are aware of the facts.
As part of its war strategy, the British offered freedom to any American slave who could cross the lines. Tens of thousands of slaves took up the offer. To them, American freedom meant nothing. It was a revolution for the whites. It failed to address slavery. Indeed, many of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence were themselves slave owners. They were by their words and deeds nothing short of hypocrites.
Simon Schama's book, although somewhat meandering at times, has seemingly unearthed something new to the reader of American history. Not only does he outline the fact that slaves fled their American owners but that many ultimately settled in Nova Scotia. Several years later, the British even tried to establish a utopian new society in Sierra Leone where, briefly, black women could vote. We know that this dream failed but its protagonists were men of great humanity.
It is true that history is often written by winners. The great shame here is that these winners have avoided certain unpleasant facts that spoil an otherwise good story.
This nation has never come to grips that it was built upon the bloodied backs and tragedies of slaves. Simply take a quick look at history books for elementary to high school students - and college students at too many universities - and you'll understand that the story of the birth of this nation is still written as a more myth than fact to protect the personalities as larger than life and focused on liberty for all.
Until the nation truly takes a critical look at the ramifications of slavery from the time before and leading to the American Revolution to today, there will continue to be such a huge gap between the fiction force-fed students and the fact covered in such books like Rough Crossings.
That this is an important book is found in the opening pages. Rough Crossings certainly should be considered the best history book written in 2006.
Was the Revolution in large part fought to maintain slavery? That surely bears on the problematic nature of our Constitution.
The wonderfully gifted writer and historian (would that they were always the same thing!)poses these vital questions. And we are fortunate that the near simultaneous publication of David B. Davis' Inhuman Bondage complements this fine effort. So, as one reviewer suggests, it is in some ways an overwritten period, but Schama and Davis add something new and exciting to the dialogue. My thanks.