Synopses & Reviews
Frederick Douglass recalled that slaves living along Chesapeake Bay longingly viewed sailing ships as “freedom’s swift-winged angels.” In 1813 those angels appeared in the bay as British warships coming to punish the Americans for declaring war on the empire. Over many nights, hundreds of slaves paddled out to the vessels seeking protection for their families from the ravages of slavery. The runaways pressured the British admirals into becoming liberators. As guides, pilots, sailors, and marines, the former slaves used their intimate knowledge of the countryside to transform the war, enabling the British to escalate their onshore attacks and capture the nation’s capital. Tidewater masters had long dreaded their slaves as “an internal enemy.” By mobilizing that enemy, the war alienated Virginians from a national government that had neglected their defense. Drawing on new sources, this riveting history delivers a dramatic story of freedom and slavery in the early republic.
"The Internal Enemy reinforces Alan Taylor's standing as our leading historian of colonial and early national America. This deeply researched, beautifully written account of the slaves who sought freedom by escaping to the British during the War of 1812 illuminates a little-known episode in our nation's past and offers a dramatic instance of the persistent interconnections between American slavery and American freedom." Eric Foner, author of The Fiery Trial
"Alan Taylor has added a remarkable chapter to American history, showing how the actions of black Virginians in the War of 1812 remade the nation’s politics in ways that profoundly influenced the racialized lead-up to the Civil War. Taylor’s meticulous research and crystal-clear prose make this essential reading for anyone seeking new insights into a troubled American past." Elizabeth A. Fenn, author of Pox Americana
"Alan Taylor’s brilliant new book illuminates the crucial role runaway slaves played in the devastating British campaign that led to Washington D.C.’s burning. Deeply researched and movingly told, The Internal Enemy is a great historian's masterwork." Peter Onuf, author of Jefferson's Empire
British warships ignite a fire of freedom in the Virginia Tidewater in this revealing work by a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian.
This searing story of slavery and freedom in the Chesapeake by a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian reveals the pivot in the nation’s path between the founding and civil war.
About the Author
Alan Taylor has won the Pulitzer and Bancroft prizes for his histories of early America. He is Distinguished Professor of History at University of California, Davis.