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.
©2013 Alan Taylor (P)2014 Audible Inc.
"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)
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.
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.
It's an incredible story: How the Brits got slaves to flee their plantations and fight with them against their former owners during the War of 1812. And that's only the highlight of the book. The author does a fantastic job of getting us to understand the reality of slavery in Virginia during this period. The author got the Pulitzer Prize for the book -- and he deserved it. Not only was his research superlative, he's a great story-teller.
His recounting of the actual sacking of Washington during the war was incredible. Because of how awful the system of slavery was, I found myself almost rooting for the Brits and their ex-slave allies.
Alan Taylor's study of slavery in Virginia during the years of the War of 1812 offers new insights for historians, and a fascinating story for those interested in slavery or the antebellum South.
Omnivorous reader since childhood with a love of intelligent, well written books, whether fiction or nonfiction.
Certainly worthy of its Pulitzer Prize, at least to someone who has lived in Richmond for the past 35+ years. The period of 1792 to 1832 reveals some of the Founders in a dreary light. The determination of enslaved people to escape Tidewater Virginia is inspiring and certainly not what I was taught about the War of 1812.
I only gave Bronson Pinchot 4 stars, despite his beautiful reading voice, due to the number of incorrectly pronounced names and places. A few of the more frequent mispronunciations: ca-BELL instead of CAB-ull, HEN-ri-co instead of hen-RYE-co, Wythe should rhyme with Smith, and many others. But this is my constant gripe about many readers. Given all the time that goes into these readings, I do not understand why the editors do not do a bit of research on local pronunciations. Then again, if you have not spent time in Virginia, it probably won't bother you.
I have read/listen to many books about this era, but the author's thorough analysis of slavery in Virginia clearly described how Virginians became trapped into supporting slavery. Most historians skim past discussion of the U.S. Presidents from Virginia slave owning. All thought they treated their slaves liked them, but all had slaves who ran away. A marvelous book.
An educator and senior who listens to his books from his phone through his hearing aids.
The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 by Alan Taylor is an excellent discussion of the culture of slavery between the American Revolution and the Missouri Compromise. Taylor is one of the history scholars who can time travel the reader to the time he is describing. I came away knowing what a slave's life was like on a day by day basis. I discovered that the British did more for slaves in that time than any absolutionist, evangelical Christian group, or "Inalienable Rights" advocate ever did. The elaborate rationalizations that otherwise moral, fair, and humane used to justify America's original sin of slavery fascinated me at the same time they repulsed me. Finally, I learned that an honest southerner cannot take any pride in his or her unique heritage.
This is a fascinatingly told history of the white and slave communities in Virginia before and during the War of 1812. If anyone doubted the enormous significance of slavery to every important detail of the founding and subsequent history of the American republic, this book puts that question to rest.
Bronson Pinchot, however, is a poor narrator who doesn't appear to have done much preparation for the job. It was really hard to hear him mispronounce "Cockburn" (with a hard 'ck' sound) repeatedly. The guy was perhaps the most important British military officer in the war.
This book is a history of people who owned saves more than a thorough telling of the experience of people that suffered immeasurably at the hands of their oppressors. These people of color are dishonored by being referred to as "the slaves" while the recounting of white history is thorough. This point of view is exactly what's wrong in our country, it is the view of the white person as the primary focus and the black person as secondary. Disgusting. If this book told a more balanced version it would be interesting.
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