Death or Liberty

Death or Liberty : African Americans and Revolutionary America

3.94 (51 ratings by Goodreads)
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In Death or Liberty, Douglas R. Egerton offers a sweeping chronicle of African American history stretching from Britain's 1763 victory in the Seven Years' War to the election of slaveholder Thomas Jefferson as president in 1800. While American slavery is usually identified with the cotton plantations, Egerton shows that on the eve of the Revolution it encompassed everything from wading in the South Carolina rice fields to carting goods around Manhattan to serving the households of Boston's elite. More important, he recaptures the drama of slaves, freed blacks, and white reformers fighting to make the young nation fulfill its republican slogans. Although this struggle often unfolded in the corridors of power, Egerton pays special attention to what black Americans did for themselves in these decades, and his narrative brims with compelling portraits of forgotten figures such as Quok Walker, a Massachusetts runaway who took his master to court and thereby helped end slavery in that state; Absalom Jones, a Delaware house slave who bought his freedom and later formed the Free African Society; and Gabriel, a young Virginia artisan who was hanged for plotting to seize Richmond and hold James Monroe hostage. Egerton argues that the Founders lacked the courage to move decisively against slavery despite the real possibility of peaceful, if gradual, emancipation. Battling huge odds, African American activists and rebels succeeded in finding liberty-if never equality-only in northern states. Canvassing every colony and state, as well as incorporating the wider Atlantic world, Death or Liberty offers a lively and comprehensive account of black Americans and the Revolutionary era in America. "Now, for the first time, the scores of recent investigations of black participation in the American Revolution have been synthesized into an elegant and seamless narrative. In Death or Liberty...Douglas Egerton shows that African Americans not only extracted the most liberty from the Revolutionary experience but also paid the highest price for it." -Woody Holton, author of Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitutionshow more

Product details

  • Hardback | 352 pages
  • 164 x 236 x 34mm | 639.56g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195306694
  • 9780195306699
  • 1,341,869

Review quote

In this highly readable account Douglas Egerton weaves together the stories of black and white men and women in a seamless and deeply human telling of the American Revolutionary war. Even scholars familiar with the subject matter will find fresh and original insights on virtually every aspect of American Revolutionary history. * Sylvia R. Frey, author of Water from the Rock: Black Resistance in a Revolutionary Age * Slowly, American understanding of the vital Revolutionary era is becoming more open, subtle, and realistic. Douglas Egerton's suggestive book uses real lives to weave surprising new threads into this familiar old flag. * Peter H. Wood, author of Strange New Land: Africans in Colonial America * The monumental accomplishments of Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington seem trivial in comparison to what many of their African American contemporaries achieved. Seizing the unprecedented opportunities presented by the Revolutionary War, thousands of enslaved Americans * including slaves owned by Jefferson and Washington *show more

About Douglas R. Egerton

Douglas R. Egerton is Professor of History at LeMoyne College. His books include Gabriel's Rebellion: The Virginia Slave Conspiracies of 1800 and 1802 and He Shall Go Out Free: The Lives of Denmark more

Table of contents

Prologue: The Trials of William Lee: A Life in the Age of Revolution ; One: Equianos World: The British Atlantic Empire in 1763 ; Two: Richards Cup: Slavery and the Coming of the Revolution ; Three: The Transformation of Colonel Tye: Black Combatants and the War ; Four: Quok Walkers Suit: Emancipation in the North ; Five: Absaloms Meritorious Service: Antislavery in the Upper South ; Six: Captain Veseys Cargo: Continuity in the Carolinas and Caribbean ; Seven: Mum Bett Takes a Name: The Emergence of Free Black Communities ; Eight: Harry Washingtons Atlantic Crossings: The Migrations of Black Loyalists ; Nine: A Suspicion Only: Racism in the Early Republic ; Ten: Eli Whitneys Cotton Engine: The Expansion of Slavery ; Epilogue: General Gabriels Flag: Unsuccessful Coda to the American Revolutionshow more

Rating details

51 ratings
3.94 out of 5 stars
5 27% (14)
4 47% (24)
3 18% (9)
2 8% (4)
1 0% (0)
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