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Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence.

Author: Alan Gilbert

Publisher: The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637

Paper ISBN: 9780226101552

Cloth ISBN: 9780226293073

E-book ISBN: 9780226293097

Number of Pages: 392 (Cloth)

Copyright date: 2012 (Cloth)

Price: $30.00 (Cloth)


In recent years, many historians have begun to subvert the still-dominant narrative (at least in the United States) of the American Revolution as an enterprise motivated exclusively or even principally by noble Liberal ideals. In his compelling and expansive work, Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence. Alan Gilbert makes the argument that fear of black emancipation and British encouragement of slave rebellion was just as strong a motivation as "taxation without representation" for the colonies' break with the mother country.

Gilbert's principle idea, that he returns to throughout the book, is the fascinating contrasts and interactions between what he terms "The Two Revolutions" at play in the the 1770s, i.e. the Patriot revolt against British rule and the "other" revolution, the struggle for emancipation carried out by American slaves, free blacks and their sympathizers. He deftly illustrates how the Patriots regularly undermined their own propaganda about Liberty and natural rights by protecting slavery as an institution and frequently weakened themselves militarily by refusing to raise badly needed black troops out of both fear and a perceived need to appease the southern slavocracy. In one particularly illuminating passage, he tells of South Carolinian Patriots who let their racism undermine their own cause by refusing to send troops to the Continental Army, preferring to keep them at home as slave-catchers.

On the British side, we see the profound irony of the world's greatest slave-trading empire promoting the arming and liberation of American slaves as a way to undermine the rebellious colonies, thereby greatly aiding the cause of black emancipation.

Some of Gilbert's best chapters deal with two fascinating and somewhat tragic figures he explores in-depth: the last Royal Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunsmore, and General Washington's ADC, John Laurens. He describes Dunsmore as a true visionary, not just the first but also one of the few British leaders to see the potential power in enlisting slaves on the British side. He formed the first all-black unit, The Royal Ethiopian Regiment, and advocated unsuccessfully throughout the war for the widespread use of regular black troops. Gilbert makes the point that, had Lord North's government followed his advice, the Patriot rebellion would likely have been over in short order and the problem of slavery in North America resolved eighty years early.

In his chapter on Colonel John Laurens, Gilbert draws a portrait of a man who stands out for his genuine, heartfelt commitment to the cause of human rights and freedom for all, not just for privileged white elites. Unlike most Patriots, Laurens "put his money where his mouth was," refusing his inheritance of a large number of slaves purely on principle. He also advocated raising a company of slaves and offering them their freedom, a proposal that was approved by the Continental Congress but blocked by the state government of South Carolina. Laurens was to die in the last days of the war and with him died a unique voice for abolition and universal liberty.

In addition to these prominent historical figures, Gilbert includes portraits of a wide variety of lesser-known personalities like Black Loyalists: Boston King, Colonel Tye, Stephen Blucke and especially John Peters, who led 1200 Black Loyalists from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone, where they mounted a radical experiment in democracy and self-governance.

Gilbert's work is a must-read and an essential addition to the library of anyone interested in the American Revolution, Loyalism or the African Diaspora.

Editor's Note: Thanks to Brian Carver for reviewing this book for the Spring 2016 issue of The Loyalist Gazette. Please see the review in the Spring 2013 issue, on pages 47 and 48, by Stephen Davidson UE. member of Nova Scotia Branch.

--Robert C. McBride UE.

About reviewer Brian Carver:

President of Nero Films Inc., Brian Carver is also the Founder and Executive Director of the Breakthroughs Film Festival, the only festival in Canada devoted to showcasing short films by New Generation women filmmakers. He is currently developing a short film based on the life of Black Loyalist, Richard Pierpoint, called To Rise Again, which will go into production in the fall of 2016.

Brian is originally from Tennessee and immigrated to Canada in 2008, becoming a Canadian citizen in 2014. He has a lifelong interest in the American Revolution and is a re-enactor in the King's Royal Regiment of New York (re-created). Brian lives in Toronto with his wife and daughter.
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Author:Carver, Brian
Publication:The Loyalist Gazette
Date:Mar 22, 2016
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