Images of American slavery conjure up cotton plantations and African American slaves locked in bondage until the Civil War. Yet early on in the nineteenth century the state of slavery was very different, and the political vicissitudes of the young nation offered diverse possibilities to slaves. In the century's first two decades, the nation waged war against Britain, Spain, and various Indian tribes. Slaves played a role in the military operations, and the different sides viewed them as a potential source of manpower. While surprising numbers did assist the Americans, the wars created opportunities for slaves to find freedom among the Redcoats, the Spaniards, or the Indians. Author Gene Smith draws on a decade of original research and his curatorial work at the Fort Worth Museum in this fascinating and original narrative history. The way the young nation responded sealed the fate of slaves for the next half century until the Civil War. This drama sheds light on an extraordinary yet little known chapter in the dark saga of American history.
Long before the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the War of 1812 provided an opportunity for slaves to throw off their chains. In this crisply told story, Smith, a history professor at Texas Christian University, recreates the growing conflicts between the fledgling U.S., Great Britain, Spain, and various Native American groups, and shows how each tried to mobilize the free black and slave populations in the hopes of defeating the other. Many slaves saw this jostling for their loyalties as an avenue to freedom, and consequently joined armies or communities of Native Americans or mulattoes on the fringes of society. Drawing on myriad archival materials, Smith chronicles the stirring stories of individuals like Prince Whitten, who escaped slavery in South Carolina and fled with his family to Florida, where he gained freedom and a place in the Spanish colony. Yet the War of 1812 did not create these kinds of opportunities for all slaves, and Smith demonstrates that, for the most part, slaves fled or joined militias only when hospitable troops were in the area. Smith s first-rate study is a gripping tale of the evolution of race relations in early America. Maps, illus.