Epic Journeys of Freedom: Runaway Slaves of the American Revolution and Their Global Quest for Liberty [NOOK Book]


Cassandra Pybus adds greatly to the work of [previous] scholars by insisting that slaves stand at the center of their own history . . . Her 'biographies' of flight expose the dangers that escape entailed and the courage it took to risk all for freedom. Only by measuring those dangers can the exhilaration of success be comprehended and the unspeakable misery of failure be appreciated.--Ira Berlin, from the Foreword

During the American ...
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Epic Journeys of Freedom: Runaway Slaves of the American Revolution and Their Global Quest for Liberty

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Cassandra Pybus adds greatly to the work of [previous] scholars by insisting that slaves stand at the center of their own history . . . Her 'biographies' of flight expose the dangers that escape entailed and the courage it took to risk all for freedom. Only by measuring those dangers can the exhilaration of success be comprehended and the unspeakable misery of failure be appreciated.--Ira Berlin, from the Foreword

During the American Revolution, thousands of slaves fled their masters to find freedom with the British. Epic Journeys of Freedom is the astounding story of these runaways and the lives they made on four continents. Having emancipated themselves, with the rhetoric about the inalienable rights of free men ringing in their ears, these men and women struggled tenaciously to make liberty a reality in their own lives.

This alternative narrative of freedom fought for and won is uniquely compelling; historian Cassandra Pybus's groundbreaking research has uncovered individual stories of runaways who left America to forge difficult new lives in far-flung corners of the British Empire. Harry, for example, one of George Washington's slaves, escaped from Mount Vernon in 1776, was evacuated to Nova Scotia in 1783, and eventually relocated to Sierra Leone in West Africa with his wife and three children. Ralph Henry, who ran away from the Virginia firebrand Patrick Henry in 1776, took a similar path to precarious freedom in Sierra Leone, while others, such as John Moseley and John Randall, were evacuated with the British forces to England. Stranded in England without skills or patronage during a period of high unemployment, they were among thousands of newly freed poor blacks who struggled just to survive. While some were relocated to Sierra Leone, others, like Moseley and Randall, found themselves transported to the distant penal colony of Botany Bay, in Australia.

Epic Journeys of Freedom, written in the best tradition of history from the bottom up, is a fascinating insight into the meaning of liberty; it will change forever the way we think about the American Revolution.

From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
During the Revolutionary War, thousands of black slaves served with, and sought refuge from, the British forces in hope of attaining freedom-among them escapees from the plantations of George Washington and Patrick Henry. Australian historian Pybus follows the path some of these former slaves took to London and then "into two bizarre colonial experiments that began in 1787: the Province of Freedom in Sierra Leone on the west coast of Africa, and the penal settlement of Botany Bay on the east coast of Australia." Readers familiar with the American perspective (the escape North, the Liberian settlement) will experience a kaleidoscopic shift through the lens of British history. Pybus's prose is weighted by her "diligent excavation in vast Revolutionary-era archival materials, both American and British." But the ships' logs, muster lists and parish records as well as the newspapers, memoirs and journals she's ploughed through in her successful attempt "to recover the lives of individuals" constitute a significant contribution to contemporary studies of the Black Atlantic. Dauntingly full of minutiae, Pybus's text is made more accessible to the ordinary reader through a biographical appendix that provides brief sketches of the "significant black refugees." (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This gripping and enlightening book traces the steps of 32 fugitive slaves who fled their American colonial masters at the onset of the American Revolution and sought refuge from the British. Pybus (history, Univ. of Tasmania; The Woman Who Walked to Russia) explains in vivid and eloquent prose how these fugitives struggled for civil and human rights before, during, and after their escapes. Upon arriving in England, some ex-slaves remained in London and strove for a better life for themselves and their families there. Some were unfairly tried for petty crimes and sentenced to banishment to the experimental penal colony established in Australia at Botany Bay, where they faced conditions reminiscent of their slavery in America. Others were exiled to Freetown in West Africa, where they once again struggled for independence. Unfortunately, there are occasional gaps in these stories, but the periodic lack of detail is justifiable owing to the paucity of reliable primary sources available. This is still an impressive and extremely important work. Readers will obtain a much greater understanding of an aspect of the American Revolution that finally gets some much-deserved scholarship. Highly recommended for all libraries.-Douglas King, Univ. of South Carolina, Thomas Cooper Lib., Columbia Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Slaves flee the Founding Fathers in search of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When members of the Continental Congress drafted the Declaration of Independence, they failed to mention that it applied only to white, land-owning men. They also failed to realize the effect their patriotic rhetoric would have on a far more egregiously oppressed people: their own slaves. Australian historian Pybus (The Woman Who Walked to Russia, 2003, etc.) discusses how the ideals of the Revolution filled the hearts and minds of slaves throughout the country and prompted them to embark on their own quest for liberty. Ironically, it was the British who gave them their first, best opportunity by promising to emancipate slaves who helped subdue the rebellious Americans. The British defeat, however, muddied the road to freedom. Americans sought to reclaim their "chattel," but the Brits salvaged their wounded pride by claiming the moral high ground and liberating as many slaves as possible. Pybus explores the arduous, twisting route these freed people took by focusing on a small group of runaways that included Harry, one of George Washington's slaves. After the group found Nova Scotia and London inhospitable, they sought liberty within the confines of two experimental (and not particularly successful) colonies set up by the British in Sierra Leone and New South Wales. Throughout their exodus, religion sustained the runaways as they developed a fusion of Christian gospel and spirited, spontaneous exclamations of faith that recalled ancient African rituals. The narrative flow suffers occasionally from too intense a focus on the intimate details of the slaves' daily lives to the detriment of theiroverarching quest for liberty and the role the American Revolution played in it. Nevertheless, Pybus injects much-needed humanity into an impersonal cache of historical documents by meticulously recounting the struggles and ultimate fate of individuals like Harry. Impeccable research and occasionally brilliant insight make this journey well worth the trip.
From the Publisher
"Through her meticulous research and an engaging narrative, Pybus provides a superb collective biography of those slaves during the American Revolution who dared to pursue their dreams of freedom. This book would be an appropriate addition to either African-American History or Revolutionary War collections."—Clark E. Heath (AASL) Southfield Lathrup High School, Lathrup Village, MI

"This book shines because of Ms. Cassandra Pybus’s stellar research. Her description of the upheaval surrounding the American Revolution is sound . . . Cassandra Pybus’s book adds much needed historical documentation to a group of people who have largely been forgotten by history. Every school and public library should own a copy of this book."—Christina Maria Beaird (PLA), Plainfield Public Library District, Plainfield, IL

"An impressive and extremely important work."
-Library Journal, starred review

"A significant contribution to contemporary studies of the Black Atlantic."
-Publishers Weekly

"What a gripping narrative . . . [and] an awesome achievement."--Alfred F. Young, author of The Shoemaker and the Tea Party

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807055182
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 2/1/2006
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 766,906
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Cassandra Pybus holds the Australian Research Council Chair of History at the University of Tasmania. An award-winning author who has written ten books, she is a frequent Fulbright professor and international fellow at American universities.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Liberty or death 3
Ch. 2 Crossing over to freedom's shore 21
Ch. 3 Marching to catastrophe 37
Ch. 4 Fleeing the founding fathers 57
Ch. 5 Starving in the streets of London 75
Ch. 6 Bound for Australia's fatal shore 89
Ch. 7 Relief for London's black poor 103
Ch. 8 Recalcitrant convicts in New South Wales 123
Ch. 9 The province of freedom in Sierra Leone 139
Ch. 10 At the end of the world in New South Wales 157
Ch. 11 Promises unfulfilled in Sierra Leone 169
Ch. 12 In bondage to this tyrannous crew 183
Epilogue 203
App Biographies of significant black refugees
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