Synopses & Reviews
turns on a single huge question: if you were black in America at the start of the Revolutionary War, whom would you want to win? In response to a declaration by the last governor of Virginia that any rebel-owned slave who escaped and served the King would be emancipated, tens of thousands of slaves Americans who clung to the sentimental notion of British freedom escaped from farms, plantations and cities to try to reach the British camp. This mass movement lasted as long as the war did, and a military strategy originally designed to break the plantations of the American South had unleashed one of the great exoduses in American history.
With powerfully vivid storytelling, Schama details the odyssey of the escaped blacks through the fires of war and the terror of potential recapture at the war's end, into inhospitable Nova Scotia, where thousands who had served the Crown were betrayed and, in a little-known hegira of the slave epic, sent across the broad, stormy ocean to Sierra Leone.
"[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. Audio reviews reflect PW's assessment of the audio adaptation of a book and should be quoted only in reference to the audio version." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Simon Schama offers an impassioned account of the war waged by black Americans against their former masters, and, in the aftermath of defeat, their long struggle to obtain justice." New York Times
"Rough Crossings makes a powerful statement it offers a panoramic vision of how a brand-new antislavery movement did battle with stubborn, violent racism across three decades and two continents." Chicago Sun-Times
"Apart from Schama's excessive enthusiasm to paint America's founders as hypocrites, Rough Crossings is well worth reading. Written in engaging prose, it tells an inspiring set of stories that illuminate neglected aspects of American, British, and African history." Portland Oregonian
"Schama tells this complex story through a series of encounters with richly drawn, idiosyncratic individuals, from musical bureaucrats to rebellious slaves." San Diego Union-Tribune
"In his excellent new book, Simon Schama traces the tension between the British anti-slavery movement and pro-slavery forces in the American colonies and the Caribbean during and after the American Revolution.... Rough Crossings is a well-told history." Rocky Mountain News
"For those looking for something more acerbic than yet another hagiography about the Founding Fathers, Schama offers an impressive and challenging alternative." USA Today
"This important book reveals the interplay between American and British ideals and hypocritical practices in impacting the plight of black Americans' freedom quest." Booklist
"An important contribution to the history of the Revolution, and of slavery in America." Kirkus Reviews
If you were black in America at the start of the Revolutionary War, which side would you want to win?
When the last British governor of Virginia declared that any rebel-owned slave who escaped and served the king would be emancipated, tens of thousands of slaves fled from farms, plantations, and cities to try to reach the British camp. A military strategy originally designed to break the plantations of the American South had unleashed one of the great exoduses in U.S. history. With powerfully vivid storytelling, Schama details the odyssey of the escaped blacks through the fires of war and the terror of potential recapture, shedding light on an extraordinary, little-known chapter in the dark saga of American slavery.
About the Author
Simon Schama is University Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University and a bestselling, prizewinning author, critic, and broadcaster. His books include The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Landscape and Memory, and Rembrandt's Eyes. His television work includes the Emmy-nominated fifteen-part A History of Britain and he is currently making an eight-part series, The Power of Art, for PBS. He has been art critic and cultural essayist for the New Yorker since 1994 and his writing has appeared regularly in The New Republic, The Guardian, and The New York Review of Books.