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the Father of Our Country, whose virtues continue to be extolled in hypocritical history books as a man who could never

tell a lie, is exposed, here, as an inveterate two-face who deliberately defamed his opposition

 

 

Rough Crossings

Britain the Slaves and the American Revolution

By Simon Schama

Book Review by Kam Williams

 

Seeing the Revolutionary War through the eyes of enslaved blacks turns its meaning upside down. … The vaunted war for liberty was a war for the perpetuation of servitude. The contortions of logic were so perverse, yet so habitual, that George Washington could describe [Virginia Governor] Dunsmore as ‘that arch traitor to the rights of humanity’ for promising to free slaves whilst those who kept them in bondage were heroes of liberty. [Therefore] for blacks, the news that the British were coming was a reason for hope, celebration and action.Excerpted from the Introduction

 

In order to appreciate Rough Crossings fully, you have to be prepared to throw out virtually every preconceived notion you are probably harboring about the birth of this nation. The self-serving myths long propagated about the American Revolution would have us believe that the Founding Fathers were a brave and idealistic freedom-loving bunch who altruistically took up arms in the name of independence over the issue of taxation without representation.

 Truth be told, it turns out that the Civil War wasn’t the first to be waged over slavery on this country’s soil. The real reason for the revolt in 1776 had more to do with the colonists’ reluctance to abolish slavery than with differences over the King’s tax rate.

As a consequence, the leaders of the rebellion were all slave owners, including such supposed heroes as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Patrick Henry. But I bet you never heard of Henry Washington, a slave of General George who escaped from the plantation to enlist in an all black British regiment to take up arms against old wooden choppers. Why did Henry do so? Because England had promised freedom outright to any slaves from rebel plantations who agreed to fight with the Redcoats.

Thanks to Columbia University Professor Simon Sharma, author of Rough Crossings, we now know that Henry Washington was not alone. Although the history books canonize Crispus Attucks, a black man, as the first patriot to die for the noble cause at the Boston Massacre, seems that he had aligned himself with the wrong side, at least as far as the interests of Africans in America were concerned.

In fact, for every Attucks, there were probably a thousand Henry Washingtons. While the Loyalists eagerly recruited blacks, in 1776, Congress passed a law specifically excluding slaves from massa’ George Washington’s Continental Army. The author refers to this wholesale flight of runaways as the Revolutionary War’s “dirty little secret,” estimating that about 100,000 slaves defected during the conflict.

Yet, the Father of Our Country, whose virtues continue to be extolled in hypocritical history books as a man who could never tell a lie, is exposed, here, as an inveterate two-face who deliberately defamed his opposition as being against freedom when it was he and his racist cohorts who had answered the call to arms to preserve the institution of slavery. In sum, Rough Crossings represents a long-overdue revision of fiction into spellbinding factual narratives which answer lots of long-suppressed questions about a seminal period in American lore. 

Required reading as a counterbalance to all the patriotic claptrap we’ve been fed for generations.  

posted 23 August 2006

Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves, and the American Revolution

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American Creation

Triumphs and Tragedies in the Founding of the Republic

By Joseph J. Ellis

This subtle, brilliant examination of the period between the War of Independence and the Louisiana Purchase puts Pulitzer-winner Ellis (Founding Brothers) among the finest of America's narrative historians. Six stories, each centering on a significant creative achievement or failure, combine to portray often flawed men and their efforts to lay the republic's foundation. Set against the extraordinary establishment of the most liberal nation-state in the history of Western Civilization... in the most extensive and richly endowed plot of ground on the planet are the terrible costs of victory, including the perpetuation of slavery and the cruel oppression of Native Americans. Ellis blames the founders' failures on their decision to opt for an evolutionary revolution, not a risky severance with tradition (as would happen, murderously, in France, which necessitated compromises, like retaining slavery). Despite the injustices and brutalities that resulted, Ellis argues, this deferral strategy was a profound insight rooted in a realistic appraisal of how enduring social change best happens. Ellis's lucid, illuminating and ironic prose will make this a holiday season hit.— Publishers Weekly /  American Creation (Joseph Ellis interview)

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The Last Holiday: A Memoir

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Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. —Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)

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The White Masters of the World

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W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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