This riveting biography of a Massachusetts slave boy who fought in the Revolutionary War illuminates race relations in the Northern colonies, early battles of the revolution, and the experiences of black soldiers on both sides of the conflict.
Much has been written about the cruel irony of America being a land of freedom founded on the backs of slaves. Malcolm has uncovered some interesting stories about blacks, both free and slave, who fought on both sides of the Revolution. She uses these stories to explore a new perspective on that irony—on why, particularly, different slaves chose different sides. Her book, however, lacks focus.
In Malcolm’s effort to give depth to these personal stories, she resorts frequently to surmise and supposition. In her effort to give context to the blacks’ war-time experiences, she gives a disjointed account of various events in the Revolution, overemphasizing trivial details and omitting more important events. She never provides any analysis of how important black involvement was to the conduct of the war. Nor, other than through conjecture, does she analyze how important the example of black soldiers was to other blacks, to the anti-slavery movement or conversely to the hardening of racial attitudes. The result is superficial and unsatisfying.
In addition, the narrator’s frequent mispronunciation of important names, such as that of Gen. Philip Schuyler, is greatly annoying.
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The author apparently had multiple themes to pursue in writing this book, which left me constantly wondering which way the book was going. The attempt to build this book around the historical person (Peter), an 18th century slave in Massachusetts, was weak. The chronicling of Peter's life makes up for 10 - 15% of the book. The larger purpose of the book seemed to be to compile an almost complete history of the American Revolution into one audio book. It was like cramming two semester-long college history classes into six or seven hours of listening. Fortunately, I had recently done some reading on the American Revolution and had some context to put this book in. Still the avalanche of names, dates, events, etc. had my head spinning. Finally, there was a race-relations theme that would pop up every so often.
Moving past the multi-directional path of this book, it did provide some good insights into life during this period of time.