National Book Award Finalist
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. 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 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, D.C. 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 more and more with their section. In 1820 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.
"Bronson Pinchot's voice is pleasant and engaging, his narration is generally expressive and intelligent, and his modulations adequately match the sense of the text." (AudioFile)
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one of the best audiobooks I've read recently
Terrific book, a micro-history of the Virginia Chesapeake region, slavery, and the War of 1812. The author does a very skillful job providing the context from the American points-of-view, the historical background for both the slavery elements and the War. Taylor then provides a fascinating, blow-by-blow narrative of the War of 1812 in the region, one you can understand very well because of the context he has already served up. I thought the book was going to be mostly about slave escapes, and it is, but without the background that portion would be adrift.
I thought Bronson Pinchot's narrative approach was perfect for a history book. No need for a narrator or narration with different voices or with lots of up & down emphasis. This is a history, not a drama. I am going to seek out more of the books he's narrated for Audible.
- D. Littman
This is everything historical nonfiction should be
I would, because this is an area of history so otherwise obscure that I could appreciate both the facts and analysis a second time.
A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn, in that it turns the traditional narrative of American history on it's head in a way that is both convincing and compelling. By the latter portion of the book one is "rooting" for the British to burn Washington.
He makes the quotations, which are drawn from a small but diverse set of primary sources, stand out from one another and makes the book feel as though it has a cast of characters rather than subjects.
It did not make me cry, but it did have one or two anecdotes that have stayed with me despite having read several books since then. In particular the story of a man who fought his way to freedom, befriended the British commander, but was ultimately captured and re-enslaved because he couldn't bear to leave his family behind.
This book deserved, hands down, to win the pulitzer prize.