Monday, May 08, 2006 05/08/06 Revolutionary Slaves

In today's excerpt, American slaves try to gain their own independence during America's war for independence from Britain:

" 1775...the royal governor of Virginia, Lord Dunsmore, offered freedom to any slaves who would join His Majesty's troops in suppressing the American rebellion. 'There is not a man of them but would leave us if they believed they could make their escape,' a cousin of (George) Washington's wrote from Mount Vernon, adding bitterly, 'Liberty is sweet.'

"...No one knows how many former slaves had fled the United States by the end of the American Revolution. Not as many as wanted to, anyway. During the war, between eighty thousand and a hundred thousand (nearly one in five) left their homes, running from slavery to the freedom promised by the British, and betting on a British victory. They lost that bet. They died in battle, they died of disease, they ended up someplace else, they ended up back where they started, and worse off. A fifteen-year-old girl captured while heading for Dunsmore's regiment was greeted by her master with a whipping of eighty lashes, after which he poured hot embers into her wounds.

"...but those who did leave America also left American history. Or, rather, they have been left out of it. Theirs is not an undocumented's just one that has rarely been told, for a raft of interesting, if opposing, reasons. A major one is that nineteenth-century African-American abolitionists decided that they would do better by telling the story of the many blacks who fought on the patriot side during the Revolution and had therefore earned for their race the right to freedom and full citizenship and an end to Jim Crow."

Jill Lepore, 'Goodbye, Columbus,' The New Yorker Magazine, May 8, 2006, p. 74


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