A leisurely summer stroll through the beautifully maintained restored buildings and grounds of Colonial Williamsburg is a wonderful excursion back in time to an era on the cusp of revolution Touring the Governor s Palace, the Courthouse, and the taverns and churches that lined the main streets of the old village that was, at one point, our capital city is a glorious reminder of how far we have come as a nation.Yet, even as we see the birth of our nation s independence and the beginnings of the American Experiment based on the principles of inalienable rights and the equality of Man in those Virginia fields and forests and towns and homes, our view is incomplete Because as we celebrate the early colonial era and its importance in the formation of our United States of America, we are gently reminded by history and historians like Taylor that a significant segment of our population felt none of the effects of independence and liberty.Even after our Forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence and penned the Constitution two of the greatest documents ever written the reality of the institution of slavery was an inconvenient truth that would forever taint the reputations of otherwise decent and intelligent men For some, it was an inspiration to work toward abolition, starting with the freeing of their own slaves For others, like Thomas Jefferson, their racism would inevitably lead to the blood and strife of the American Civil War Patriotic historians tend to whitewash the racist views of people like Jefferson, but Taylor chooses a honest and objective approach We can still honor and appreciate our Forefathers while acknowledging that they were, like us, very imperfect people with views and beliefs that are, by today s standards and knowledge, clearly wrong.Pulitzer Prize winning historian Alan Taylor examines the history of slavery in America by focusing on the state of Virginia during the decades between 1772 and 1832 in his book The Internal Enemy In doing so, he also examines, to an extent, the history of racism in this country a racism that made hypocrites of many of our famous Forefathers Hypocrisy and Contradictions The title of Taylor s book refers to the term that many Virginians called black slaves It almost seems oddly contradictory that many Virginians indeed, many Americans at the time considered slaves a valuable and even integral part of their economy while simultaneously considering them a time bomb waiting to blow.Taylor writes, On the one hand, masters often felt secure with, and even protective of, particular slaves well known to them But when thinking of all slaves collectively, the Virginians imagined a dreaded internal enemy who might, at any moment, rebel in a midnight massacre to butcher white men, women, and children in their beds p 7 This fear was palpable enough among white slaveholders that discussions of how to safeguard themselves and their families were a commonly held occurrence during church and government meetings throughout the states The most common or, at the very least, the most powerful view among Virginians was to keep blacks enslaved To free all the slaves at once almost ensured a vengeful bloodbath perpetrated by the ex slaves.Even Thomas Jefferson one of the key architects of the Declaration of Independence and our third president felt that freeing the slaves was a bad idea in part because he denied that different races could learn to live together as equals He dreamed of gradually emancipating Virginia s slaves over two generations, but only if they could be deported across the Atlantic as colonists to Africa p.8 Mass deportation was, however, extremely cost prohibitive, so Jefferson s plan was repeatedly shot down by Congress.Of course, there were some on the other side of the argument who felt that the fears of a slave uprising were ridiculous and based on very little evidence In fact, according to those who favored ending slavery, t he pervasive dread ignored the considerable evidence that black people wanted equality and opportunity rather than revenge p 9 Not that slaves weren t being freed.Manumission was the term given to the legal process of freeing slaves It enabled masters the right to voluntarily free their slaves, with the consent of the legislature In 1782, the law was changed so that legislative consent was no longer a requirement, perhaps due to a subtly shifting view against slavery and an increasing sense of guilt and hypocrisy among some slave masters Regardless of the reasons why, the number of manumissions dramatically increased after 1782, from 2,000 in 1782 to 20,000 in 1800.Granted, this was only a small percentage of the overall number of black people still enslaved.It is difficult to believe that a country founded on freedom and liberty could be so callous and unsympathetic to a large group of people within its borders It is perhaps even difficult due to the fact that many white people today probably, statistically, had great grandparents who owned slaves It is a thought hard to digest, and yet, s lavery could not have endured without the support of attentive husbands, good fathers, pious church goers, and conscientious citizens Otherwise honorable men sustained an exploitative and encompassing economic system dedicated to property in humans, the pursuit of profit, the rights of creditors, and interests of heirs p.83 Taylor writes, One master confessed, Surely, the Virginians are not barbarians Habit may make them forget the situation of these poor wretches, who tremble under their hands, and even reconcile them, in spite of themselves, to the daily horrors which pass under their eyes p.83 In passing judgment on our ancestors, Taylor says, there is a danger in forgetting that we as contemporary Americans are just as imperfect It is too easy for modern readers to feel superior by blaming slavery on the bad people of another time and region Slavery reveals how anyone, now as well as then, can come to accept, perpetuate, and justify an exploitative system that seems essential and immutable After all, we live with our own monsters p.83 A glance through our daily news feed the homophobic backlash against same sex marriages trigger happy police officers who seem to target black people crazed shooters with automatic weapons killing randomly in schools, theaters, and malls science denying parents who put their own children and everyone else s children at risk by choosing not to vaccinate ignorant politicians making decisions about the environment based on economic rather than scientific reasons a steadily widening wealth gap in which the super wealthy find better and efficient ways to exploit and vilify the poor will attest to the rightness of Taylor s statement A Setback for Abolitionists There is a pervasive lie still being told hopefully by a dying minority regarding the history of slavery in this country The lie is that slavery wasn t that bad Tied into that lie is another lie most slaves were happy with their lot in life.These ridiculous beliefs stem from a residual racist notion that black people are somehow less than human, incapable of free will, and prone to violent behavior if left to their own devices It is this notion that bolstered the institution of slavery, and it is also a notion that, in some cases, remains active in our society.During Jefferson s days, these notions of black inferiority were so prevalent as to be common knowledge among the majority.When Jefferson became president in 1800, his fellow Republicans controlled Congress The opposing party of the time, the Federalists, had suffered a defeat with Jefferson s inauguration Former President John Adams was a bit too anti slavery and had engaged in a bit too much governmental over reach for a majority of voters, especially Southern ones.President Jefferson, hoping to maintain the good relationship with the Southern states that helped get him elected, refused to meddle with slavery, reasoning that no good must be attempted than the nation can bear In 1805, he noted having long since given up the expectation of any early provision for the extinguishment of slavery among us He helped to defeat a proposal in Congress to restrict slavery in the new territories of the Louisiana Purchase His administration also sought to isolate and impoverish the new republic of Haiti the renamed Saint Domingue , which he dreaded as a dangerous example to American slaves The existence of a negro people in arms, occupying a country which it has soiled by the most criminal acts, is a horrible spectacle for all white nations p 103 Jefferson s, and the majority of American s, fears of the internal enemy were too great, and the anti abolitionists protests too powerless, to make any headway in eradicating the institution of slavery and providing humane and civilized treatment of black people.Indeed, the abolition movement came to a virtual standstill during Jefferson s presidency, due in large part to an outspoken Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals, St George Tucker The irony is that, during the 1790s, Tucker was a notable voice among the abolitionists By the early 1800s, however, Tucker had reversed himself on nearly every issue regarding slavery and race issues Being an inspirational orator, his views unfortunately helped to shape opinions of others.Tucker believed that blacks were incapable of freedom and happiest under the benign rule of paternalistic masters Slavery also restrained them from falling into vicious habits, which emancipated blacks appear too prone to contract p.107 Tucker was also one of many people during this time to fall under the sway of a popular pseudo science based on the premise that clear and definite biological features such as flat noses or natty hair could determine whether a person had African ancestry and, thusly, no rights as a free citizen.Like many others at this time, Tucker was less interested in the natural rights of blacks and interested in the socio economic benefits awarded whites thanks to the institution of slavery After all, slaveholders tended to be rich and politically powerful Abolitionists, on the other hand, tended to be neither.Tucker s views helped to redefine slavery in purely racial terms Along with Jefferson, Tucker retreated from the revolutionary flirtation with universal human rights Ultimately, both men converted the scientific reasoning of the Enlightenment from a philosophical call for equality into a biological mandate for inequality p 110 The Civil War of 1812An international incident off the coast of Chesapeake Bay on June 22, 1807 sparked a chain reaction of events that eventually led to the Civil War of 1812.When a British frigate, HMS Leopard, detained an American frigate, USS Chesapeake, in order to find British Royal Navy deserters on board, the captain of the Chesapeake refused to let the British on board The Leopard fired off cannon rounds at close range, crippling the American ship, killing three sailors, and wounding many others.To understand the circumstances leading up to this incident, one must know that, at the time, the British were fighting the French under Napolean The Royal Navy was roughly 100,000 men strong, but the King wanted Under British law, no man born anywhere within the empire this included the colonies, pre Revolution could ever renounce his British citizenship If captured by the British, anyone British by birth could be sent back to England At the time, almost 40% of the 50,000 sailors on American merchant ships were British by birth.Led by a belief that people from other countries could be naturalized as citizens of the United States, the Republicans in power protested the actions of the Royal Navy Obviously, the British were not pleased When war was ultimately declared, the American military was not totally up to par, as it had been gutted for financial reasons by Jefferson and the Republicans Jefferson ordered immediate repairs of existing warships and directed state governors to prepare 100,000 militiamen for war.That America would so vehemently stand up to the British over what was perceived as a violation of human rights for Navy deserters while ignoring the plight of black people in its own country was an irony not lost upon the British.To the British, Jefferson s and the Republican s protests were nothing than hypocritical rhetoric and bluster Captain William Stanhope Lovell of the Royal Navy Republicans are certainly the most cruel masters, and the greatest tyrants in the world towards their fellow men They are urged by the most selfish motives to reduce every one to a level with, or even below themselves, and to grind and degrade those under them to the lowest stage of human wretchedness But American liberty consists in oppressing the blacks beyond what other nations do, enacting laws to prevent their receiving instruction and working them worse than a donkey p 140 There was also the fact that, compared to the British, the American military was woefully unprepared As one American Congressman at the time noted, the Virginia militia was very badly equipped, worse disciplined, and still worse commanded p 150 When five British warships entered Chesapeake Bay on February 4, 1813, militiamen from the different states were ordered to Norfolk This led to a problem in the minds of many militiamen leaving their wives and children alone on the farms and plantations with their slaves The conditions, they feared, were ripe for bloody insurrection.The Mayor of Richmond stated that he feared our worst enemy , a reference NOT to the British but to the slaves of Virginia He claimed to have proof that the Slaves of this City, probably in conjunction with free persons of colour, have conspired and are conspiring to burn the City, possess themselves of the public arms, and probably to murder the white Inhabitants indiscriminately p 155 Escape to freedom Not surprisingly, many slaves took the opportunity to escape their masters afforded by chaos created by war Many of these slaves escaped to one place they figured they would be safest British warships Literally hundreds of slaves, in stolen boats and canoes, sought refuge among the British.The British, whose numbers continued to diminish from deserters, decided to capitalize on these slaves by recruiting them into the British military.Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn believed it to be a win win situation to replace missing white marines with black recruits He said, Blacks are stronger Men and trust worthy for we are sure they will not desert whereas I am sorry to say we have Many Instances of our white Marines walking over to the Enemy p 200 Indeed, the new black marines continued to prove themselves and so impressed Cockburn that he initiated a campaign to send the message to all slaves in the United States that safety and, above all, liberty would be waiting for men, women, and children if they could escape to the British warships.By most accounts, nearly 3,400 slaves escaped to the British.Cockburn organized the black runaways into a special unit of Colonial Marines, under the command of a white drill sergeant, William Hammond They were put to the test on May 29, 1814 at the mouth of Pungoteague Creek in Accomack County to attack a militia stronghold A single Colonial Marine, Michael Harding, was killed, but his actions helped to save the other British soldiers Captain Charles B.H Ross, who led the raid, later praised the black soldiers Their Conduct was marked by great Spirit and Vivacity and perfect obedience p 284 As the numbers of runaways grew, so too did the numbers of Colonial Marines By July 17, there were 120 Their performance in battle continued to garner praises The War s End Peace arrived on December 24, 1814, when a treaty was signed between British and American negotiators In the months that followed, as the news spread throughout the states, a mix of emotions was felt.White Americans celebrated, mainly because many knew although refused to acknowledge or admit that they would not have been able to win the war Sickness, famine, and incompetence had brought the American forces to its knees, and, had it not been for the peace treaty, many would have ultimately starved or surrendered.Black Americans lamented the peace treaty As Taylor writes, One man s freedom was another s slavery in Virginia, so the peace that saved the republic also shut down a war that had freed thousands of slaves While Virginians loudly celebrated, many of their slaves privately mourned the passing of an opportunity p 334 For the most part, the British were good on their word of providing safety and liberty for the slave runaways that chose to stay with the British Amazingly, while the numbers were small, some slaves actually chose to return to their masters in the U.S., mostly because they had left family members behind After the war, most refugees settled in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, or Trinidad A small percentage settled in various places throughout the global British Empire.Despite the peace, however, many white Americans especially slave holders knew that a day of reckoning would eventually come for their sins For many, the fears of a bloody slave rebellion still racked their imaginations Very few could imagine it would come many years later in the form of a bloody civil war between the states.But that is another book. Alan Taylor won his second Pulitzer Prize for The Internal Enemy, which unfortunately is one of his weaker books The book starts with an intriguing topic the fraught relationship between Virginians and their slaves, exploited by the British in America s early conflicts and manages to muff it with a rambling narrative that often ignores, elides or even minimizes its ostensible subject Much of the book provides a narrative of British campaigns in the Chesapeake during the War of 1812 similar to his much better Civil War of 1812 not necessarily an uninteresting subject, but the slaves become an afterthought Taylor does show how the British armed, or threatened to arm, both slaves and freed black men during the Revolution and the 1812 conflict, which panicked the Virginian elite, and how it hardened pro slavery sentiments in the antebellum South But the book is too loosely organized and indifferently argued to really cohere What could have been an excellent look at an overlooked topic is sadly freighted by sloppy writing, lack of focus and an overall inability to cohere. White Virginians lived in fear that the people they enslaved would turn on them They had reason to be afraid, not only of a violent uprising but also of the determination of enslaved people to escape bondage any way they could Taylor opens a window onto enslaved people s resistance in Virginia during the War of 1812 and shows the processes by which several thousand enslaved people gained their freedom by siding with the British. If your mental map of American history is like mine, it may jump rather directly from 1776 and 1787, Declaration and Constitution to 1860 and the Civil War The early 19th century sits there like a vast vague blob of things you and I should have remembered from high school but probably don t What the heck really happened in America in the first half of the 19th century Let s see Uh Westward Expansion The Second Great Religious Awakening A Bunch of Obscure Presidents Bloody Kansas Harper s Ferry And then it s 1860 and time for The Civil War Now we re back in familiar territory.Sadly, this was my basic mental map of American History in the first half of the 19th century Alan Taylor s The Internal Enemy is a marvelous corrective to my ignorance There was a war in there of course, the war of 1812 and another one in 1846 against Mexico too But it was in 1814 that the bombs were a bursting in air over Fort McHenry in Balti Harbor, while the British raided plantations and settlements up and down the Chesapeake bay, and burned Washington DC As they did so, thousands of slaves fled to freedom on British warships, and provided invaluable assistance to British raiding parties as they guided them back through hidden forest paths to their former masters estates and stores of food Slaves had always been owners of the night, and they put their knowledge to good use.Taylor highlights the fear of slave rebellion in Virginia as a driving force in American history Thousands of slaves fled plantations for the freedom offered by British warships Taylor brings us these thrilling narratives of freedom He highlights the mingled bonds of hatred and affection between slaves and masters, documenting scenes on British warships in which slaves refused their masters pleas to return to slavery He describes the lives of slaves after obtaining freedom in Halifax, Trinidad and elsewhere We read letters from former slaves, written years afterwards, proudly describing their successes as free men to the men who once owned them as property This is a glorious American history It does us well to remember that in the scheme of things the British recognized the dignity of enslaved persons when Americans would not.Taylor also describes how the success of the British in organizing a unit of Black Marines from American refugee slaves struck terror in the hearts of southerners and confirmed their deepest fears about the military potential of organized Blacks Taylor documents the extensive planning for suppressing a slave rebellion that was always part of Virginia s White culture, but which intensified during the war and after it Taylor sees the war of 1812 as a key moment in the hardening of the Southern commitment to slavery, as various schemes to manumit free individual slaves, or to resettle them in Liberia, all increasingly came to be seen as likely to inspire thoughts of freedom among those who must be owned and oppressed lest they rebel and kill British manipulation of southern fears of slave rebellion hardened resolve across the south to never let go of slavery.An interesting counter factual historical question is raised Taylor wonders aloud what might have happened had the British not agreed to peace in 1815, but instead continued to raid with their own troops and Black Marines comprised of organized runaways The Americans were enormously weak, and the pace of runaways was increasing But the British had other concerns and chose to end the war, with the Treaty of Ghent There is so much rich history of American and southern attitudes and actions here There are African American heroes here, Red Coat wearing predecessors to the Blue Coat wearing Black units of the Civil War, and even the ordinary heroes whose heroism consisted of simply finding the strength to steal a canoe and paddle toward the rumor of freedom on a British warship anchored in the Chesapeake Bay I cannot recommend this highly enough You will know America in a new way when you read this. Review of The Internal Enemy Slavery and the War in Virginia 1772 1832, by Alan Taylorby Stan Prager 2 9 16 Every now and again I read a nonfiction book that fits neatly into the geography of multiple areas of scholarship that I have been pursuing, reinforcing previous ground covered, rounding out the sharp edges of probes made into unexplored territory, while bringing an original and entirely new perspective to certain corners of the terrain Such is the case for the superlative Pulitzer prize winning volume, The Internal Enemy Slavery and the War in Virginia 1772 1832, by noted scholar Alan Taylor, whom I consider one of the greatest living historians of early American history While The Internal Enemy focuses on the experience of the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake, it actually surveys a much wider arena an especial talent of Taylor as a historian which is why I found that it touches upon so many areas that I have been studying The internal enemy of the book s title is the slave population that the planter aristocracy of the early Republic somewhat uncomfortably but stubbornly considered essential to their way of life, even while often privately confessing their revulsion for the peculiar institution Their descendants would sometimes come to deny the humanity of their human property, and argue on spurious religious and moral grounds that the master slave relationship was beneficially enshrined in the natural order of things, but at this stage justifications are clumsy at best, and perhaps best summarized by Jefferson s much cited wolf by the ear agonized cop out But, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go Justice is in one scale, and self preservation in the other Despite contemporary accusations by some that we are applying unfair political correctness when judging the founding generation, Taylor reminds us that these guys knew that they had their arms wrapped around a great evil and nevertheless chose to abide it The planter St George Tucker, central to this narrative, acknowledges the incongruity of the ideals of the American Revolution and the institution of slavery, noting that we were imposing upon our fellow men, who differ in complexion from us, a slavery ten thousand times cruel than the utmost extremity of those grievances and oppressions No less a patriot than Patrick Henry conceded that the system was as repugnant to humanity as it is inconsistent with the bible, and destructive to liberty But Henry never freed his own slaves due to the general inconveniency of living without them Slaves comprised so much property in Virginia that they could not be freed without impoverishing white men and ruining their creditors p35 36 This portion of the narrative recalls for me the fine book I read last year, Dominion of Memories Jefferson, Madison the Decline of Virginia, by Susan Dunn reviewed by me here , which explores the failure of the founding generation of planters to solve the problem of human chattel slavery and how that led to the decline of Virginia in the antebellum era Taylor adds further nuance and complexity to the subject and thus deftly rebuts any attempt to give a pass to those whose soaring rhetoric on liberty failed to address their deep complicity in its antithesis, which was the foundation of their economic life.Alan Taylor tends to personalize history, and as in his previous works The Internal Enemy carefully studies not only individuals but entire families Despite his misgivings, it turns out that St George Tucker ultimately reconciled himself to plantation slavery, but in a great twist of irony his stepson Charles Carter was of an abolitionist bent, and pronounced his desire to free his share of their mutual human property Carter was thus ever after viewed by the rest of his clan with the kind of suspicion and disdain that a family today might direct towards a son and heir who was a thief or a heroin addict p229 30 Taylor aptly translates this into unsettling contemporary terms Seeing no other choice, most Virginians maintained slavery as their duty It is too easy for modern readers to feel superior by blaming slavery on the bad people of another time and region Slavery reveals how anyone, now as well as then, can come to accept, perpetuate, and jus tify an exploitative system that seems essential and immutable After all, we live with our own monsters p83 As a historian, Taylor often shines by forcing the reader to view something we think we know very well through a completely different lens, and he does not disappoint in The Internal Enemy For example, Jefferson was proud of his achievements in the early Republic of overturning time honored traditions of primogeniture and entail, which formerly had granted title to the eldest son and required estates to be passed down intact Historians have often credited the Jefferson revolution in this regard because it led to a greater economic democratization over time But Taylor neatly highlights the unintended consequences One of the cruelest aspects of American slavery was the arbitrary separation of families when members were sold away to other plantations, sometimes at great distance the end of entail made that far common Entails often had attached slaves to their estates, which barred the owners from selling them Although certainly not meant to benefit the slaves, that feudal restriction inhibited the breaking up of their families by sale Under the reformed laws, the division of estates tedded to divide enslaved families among multiple heirs The changes benefited younger sons, entrepreneurs, and creditors, but not the enslaved people treated as liquid capital p46 Taylor s previous outstanding work, The Civil War of 1812 American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, Indian Allies reviewed by me here treats the largely disastrous American attempts to take Canada during the war The Internal Enemy showcases British revenge for Canada through their punishing attacks on the Chesapeake, which the Virginia planter class felt most painfully Just as the centrality of slavery undeniably defines the later Civil War, it is the centrality of slavery that determines Virginia s response to the British assault Already deeply suspicious of a central government with too much authority, and despite the fact that it was the most prominent scions of their planter class first Jefferson and now Madison serving as the new nation s Chief Executives Virginia prized its sovereignty along with its slaves And these slaves also already inspired great fears among their owners In fact, throughout the antebellum era across the vast southern geography where slavery thrived, slave rebellions were extremely rare, but the exaggerated possibilities ever overshadowed the jittery planters Just as ancient Spartan armies hesitated to venture far from home for long periods lest their helots rise up, so too elite Virginians were less willing to invest manpower in armies to protect them from British incursions than in militias to protect them from imaginary slave uprisings At the same time, they were loath to draw upon the vast human resources in their slave population to buttress their defensive posture against the invaders, although blacks had served with some distinction in the Revolutionary War Already there was the root of the feeble claim that later echoed in the Civil War a half century later that blacks by virtue of their race were incapable of successful military service Despite experience and common sense, enlistment of blacks, slave or free, was stubbornly resisted.The British put a lie to this ungrounded theory by upping the ante Not only did they vigorously encourage and abet slaves to run away to British ships, but they soon put them to impressive use as marines against their former masters The greatest fears of the planters that the invaders would incite slave rebellions never came to pass, not only due to moral objections to such tactics despite generalized British antipathy for slavery but also because of self interest slaves still served as the chief labor force in often grueling conditions in British colonies in the West Indies But there was little reluctance to the undermining of the wealthy Virginia aristocracy by encouraging slaves to flee and then helping them to return to aid the escape of family members Racism led many British officers to doubt the capabilities of black soldiers, but this was soon overcome as the former slaves, wearing British uniforms over their lash scarred backs, proved brave and able in combat Slavery could be cruel and barbaric, but conditions varied just as human beings vary Not all planters mistreated their chattel property, but yet many slaves that lived relatively well in servitude did not hesitate to flee when the opportunity arose, to the sometimes great puzzlement of their former masters who had become conditioned by their own delusional propaganda to be surprised that few would choose slavery even when benign over freedom They coped with such rejection by persuading themselves that the Brits were resorting to compulsion to force loyal servants to abscond The British responded by summoning such masters to visit their ships and invite their former slaves back into bondage Unsurprisingly, there were not many takers.There is far to this excellent book than any review could properly encapsulate If Taylor can reasonably be faulted, it is that sometimes his books are too long and too pregnant with detail In the case of The Internal Enemy, the concluding chapters, which serve as a bridge to the next phase of the antebellum era, could perhaps have been attenuated Still, that hardly detracts from the well written compelling narrative that relates a truly fascinating and little known chapter of a little known war one that came to presage events that led to another much familiar war some several decades hence I would highly recommend this book to all students of American history My review of The Internal Enemy Slavery and the War in Virginia 1772 1832, by Alan Taylor is live on my book blog This winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for History is an extensively researched and wonderfully readable history of slavery in Virginia focusing on the impact that slavery had in Virginia on events during the War of 1812 Slavery in Virginia was a two edged sword It provided needed labor for the cash crops upon which the Virginia economy was based while also creating both fear and loathing on every side Taylor describes slave owners as living in a cocoon of dread for the day when their slaves the internal enemy would openly act against them That day came in 1813 when British warships entered the Chesapeake Bay and were surprised by the hundreds of slaves who rowed out to the warships under cover of darkness beseeching the British for protection and liberation Ultimately the British recruited the runaway slaves to serve in their army and navy and also utilized slaves as guides and spies Because of their knowledge of the area that these slaves possessed the British were able to successfully broaden their onshore attacks culminating in the capture and burning of Washington, D.C. Overall I enjoyed reading this book I m not sure that others interested in history for purely entertainment leisure would find this a gripping read Some parts of Taylor s prose become extremely tedious as he dissects the generational inheritances of a plantation and the evolution of discipline and correction on that plantation Corrottoman Despite its title about 350 of 435 pages focus on the War of 1812, with an introductory and conclusion that brings in the period 1776 1812 and 1815 1832 He advances a fairly accessible argument that Virginians long feared that the enslaved presented an internal enemy that could, at any time, given their numerical superiority take up arms against a defunct militia system and overthrow the slavery regime Because the Federal government could not muster adequate national forces to defend slavery against British raiding during the War of 1812 many Virginian elites and pundits began advocating ultra local, states rights nationalism that expressed a profound distrust for the Union The British strategy of liberating slaves, training them as Colonial Marines, and using them as guides and soldiers against Virginians prefigured how Union armies during the American Civil War would attack slavery and use freedmen to topple the Confederate regime. Frederick Douglass Recalled That Slaves Living Along Chesapeake Bay Longingly Viewed Sailing Ships As Freedom S Swift Winged Angels In 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 Warships 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 They Enabled The British To Escalate Their Onshore Attacks And To Capture And Burn Washington, DC Tidewater Masters Had Long Dreaded Their Slaves As An Internal Enemy By Mobilizing That Enemy, The War Ignited The Deepest Fears Of Chesapeake Slaveholders It Also Alienated Virginians From A National Government That Had Neglected Their Defense Instead They Turned South, Their Interests Aligning And With Their SectionIn Thomas Jefferson Observed Of Sectionalism Like A Firebell In The Night It Awakened And Filled Me With Terror I Considered It At Once The Knell Of The Union The Notes Of Alarm In Jefferson S Comment Speak Of The Fear Aroused By The Recent Crisis Over Slavery In His Home State His Vision Of A Cataclysm To Come Proved Prescient Jefferson S Startling Observation Registered A Turn In The Nation S Course, A Pivot From The National Purpose Of The Founding Toward The Threat Of Disunion Drawn From New Sources, Alan Taylor S Riveting Narrative Re Creates The Events That Inspired Black Virginians, Haunted Slaveholders, And Set The Nation On A New And Dangerous Course This book could have been a bit dense, were it not for the fact that the author used the personal history of a specific family in Virginia to illustrate the points of the bigger picture So that, plus the fact that the bigger picture seems to me to be a really important and, to my knowledge, overlooked part of the story of the early years of the US, makes it a book well worth reading The story of the black slaves of Virginia and their role in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 is fascinating, and the author tells it well I d also recommend this book to people interested in the Civil War, as it illuminates the beginnings of the antipathy between the North and the South basically, I finished the book astonished that the nation held together as long as it did before the fighting began I m so glad that new research is always being done, so that our understanding of the past deepens. Terrific contribution to American history, particularly when examining the lives of slaves The book has a particular point of view, which I have greatly come to appreciate as I read history The author takes every opportunity to expose Thomas Jefferson s racism in action, while he mostly acquits George Washington even contextualizing his grandson s financial social inability to free his slave Conversely, the author also takes every opportunity to state that the slaves were almost universally concerned with living free and being welcome in the country into which they were born and which they helped build If there was any desire for violent retribution, it involved individual slaves wanting revenge against individual masters overseers for particular crimes against humanity Jefferson hoped to gradually phase out slavery over two generations, but only if the blacks could be deported back to a colony in Africa Most slaves by this time were third or fourth generation americans and felt no kinship with Africa, which was a great unknown compared to the land of their birth Great planters like Jefferson could not believe that slaves did not want revenge on their masters, a paranoia which probably says about the slaveowners awareness of their inhuman treatment of others than any supposed subhuman qualities of the enslaved On the contrary, the slaves wanted the rights of full citizenship and were willing to fight for their country whenever given a chance Jefferson ruled out a black colony, one which might have acted as a buffer between the U.S and the British in the future Canada, and could also have included relocated Native Americans, because the land was ultimately coveted by white Americans, and because Jefferson envisioned a white nation spanning the continent completely But the young nation could not afford the expense of shipping freed slaves back to Africa or to the West Indies, and the notion became too inconvenient it was easier to enact greater social control through curfews, whipping, and threats of sale to the deep south Prior to this, there had been some nascent movements to try educating select slaves with the eventual intention on preparing a greater number of slaves for emancipation By the end of Jefferson s presidency, however, this movement had evaporated Laws grew tighter on manumission as well, requiring freed slaves to leave Virginia within a year or become enslaved again this despite the idea that the gentry should have the liberty to do as he wishes with his property Because families were often dispersed among several estates, leaving Virginia much bigger then than now was unattractive to most freedmen, who would have gone into exile from their communities Slaves were too numerous and valuable that they couldn t be freed without extreme ruin to most slaveholders If freed, the law stated that they must also have money to relocate outside the state 1778 Virginia barred the importation of slaves to appease early abolitionists, which then had the unexpected side effect that the slaves monetary value increased Many of the great planters started to run into financial problems around the time of the American Revolution for a variety of reasons, and the consequence for slaves was that there became little incentive to manumit the slaves instead of selling them south.The author writes of slave life in great detail, avoiding the slavemasters behavior that was dehumanizing and focusing on daily life and the slaves humanity By day they were slaves, but at night men often felt like they were no longer a slave, as they were allowed to travel by night to visit family or girlfriends or wives Because of this, they knew the land and felt attached to it than the whitefolk Tidewater Virginia in many ways belonged to the Africans than the whites, who would pick up and leave at little notice for the western frontier It was generally acknowledged by even the slaveholders that men married to women on the same estate worked better by day because they did not desire to travel by night to meet a wife or girlfriend Jefferson rewarded slaves for marrying within, but not for marrying outside the plantation, and he would sell anyone if they fell below his expectations, regardless of their family ties Sundays often provided a release of pressure, a break from unendurable rigor, and holidays often provided a sense of community between the races Running away was often an attempt to gain leverage among the remaining, so they could appeal for better conditions, especially if there was a new overseer with harsh methods If there was a mass bolt to freedom it generally happened in two stages first, one or two men would escape and make contact with the British, and then would return to liberate kin, hopefully with some kind of assurances made by the British When escaping, men often kept plots secret from the women to prevent them from divulging the secret to a close master or mistress Slaves often had complicated relationships with their masters, vacillating between feeling protective, emotionally dependent, and resentful all of which were usually reciprocated in some manner A great example is John Randolph of Roanoke and his slave John, whom Randolph called never a truer friend, but was also a possible lover A continually fraught relationship, when Randolph was serving in U.S Congress John ran away, was jailed, left for three days by Randolph and when returned was consigned to 3 years field labor by Randolph himself In the West Indies, the British, fighting the French and Spanish, clad for black than British troops because they impressed the commanders so much with their courage in battle and thereby weakened the justification for slavery by treating black soldiers as equal In the War of 1812, the British tried to merely hint at, rather than promise, freedom to blacks who escaped to join the cause against the States, but so many black men escaped that it escalated the war in the short term In the long term, it proved the planters fear that the slaves intended to do their masters harm if given half a chance However, it should also be noted that the common white man particularly on the western frontier of Virginia also resented the expectation that they protect the planters from slave revolt, and were just as likely to defect to the British or give aid to runaway slaves The British did not necessarily want slaves to revolt in VA because didn t want to set precedent for West Indies slaves After the war, the British were compelled to return the slaves to their owners, but as the British no longer considered them as property, they were in the unenviable position of trying to coerce their wards to go back into slavery of their own volition by extolling the virtues of family, community, and trying to convince them that their former owners wouldn t be too harsh if they returned Many former slaves went to Nova Scotia, some went to the Caribbean, and a few eventually went to Africa, but a large amount went back into slavery, either right away or after a long period of freedom before being tracked down The planters used the slaves defection to the British as further proof that blacks were not to be trusted, although many poorer whites fought with the slaves against the planters, and often tried to intervene on behalf of the slaves The slaves were invaluable to the British, as their knowledge of the land gained from nighttime sojourns aided undetectable travel and their knowledge of systemic weaknesses helped the British to divide and conquer large estates This was also the birth of the notion that black Americans trying to fight an oppressive system, the very bedrock of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, were traitorous for attempting to gain a stronger foothold in this nation an accusation that dogged Martin Luther King, Jr and persists to this day The war traumatized the white upper class, now knowing that Native Americans and blacks could be used against white people, causing further racial entrenchment in the U.S that is still felt The extent that non white races were utilized, however, was greatly exaggerated.There was a lot of history covered here that I was already aware of, namely the slaves role in the war of 1812 So that section, nearly the second half of the book, dragged for me However, there was greater detail than I had previously encountered I also feel that the time period supposedly covered in the title, going as far as 1832, was a bit of a misnomer because the story peters out shortly after the blacks relocation to Nova Scotia, the Caribbean, and Sierra Leone after the War of 1812 However, because of the detailed account of slave life, which captures the contradictions as well as the humanity, I have to give the book five stars Also, the early attempts at manumission and the accumulation of laws that made it increasingly unattractive when combined with changing market forces, make the first half of the book endlessly fascinating.
Alan Shaw Taylor is a historian specializing in early American history He is the author of a number of books about colonial America, the American Revolution, and the Early American Republic He has won a Pulitzer Prize and the Bancroft Prize for his work.Taylor graduated from Colby College, in Waterville, Maine, in 1977 and earned his Ph.D from Brandeis University in 1986 Currently a professor
- 624 pages
- The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832
- Alan Taylor
- 09 November 2019 Alan Taylor