The Slaves' Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812

The Slaves' Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812

by Gene Allen Smith
     
 

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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… See more details below

Overview


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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. Agent: Michael Hamilburg, Mitchell J. Hamilburg Agency. (Jan.)
From the Publisher

“Impressively researched.”–The Christian Science Monitor

 

“Thoroughly researched…fills in some much-needed background to the complicated relations that…mixed racism, fear and anger on one side with a unquenchable yearning for freedom on the other.”—The Washington Times

“Engrossing…Smith’s exhaustive research reveals that black sailors played a significant if unheralded role in virtually all of the U.S. Navy’s successes…an important, lucid, often startling work of scholarship.”—The Dallas Morning News

“Smith’s long years of research and wide knowledge of this conflict has enabled him to focus on some of the remarkable stories of men and their families…illustrates clearly the plight of American slaves as they desperately struggled to gain their freedom and the lies, deception and deviousness their owners used to deny it.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Crisply told...Smith’s first-rate study is a gripping tale of the evolution of race relations in early America.”—Publishers Weekly

"The history of black servicemen long antedates the Civil War. In the Anglo-American War of 1812, both sides recruited black Americans as soldiers; the British offered freedom to American slaves who would fight for them. Gene Allen Smith's account, scrupulously researched in both British and U.S. sources, sheds new light on many aspects of that conflict, including the little-known 'Patriot War' in Florida. Personal narratives of heroic individuals add to the story a sense of immediacy. Scholars, military history buffs, and students of the black experience will all find a reading of interest here."--Daniel Walker Howe, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848.

“Gene Smith's new book sheds considerable light on the role of blacks, slave and free alike, during the War of 1812.  This is essential reading for all students of the war as well as for anyone interested in American race relations or U.S. military history.”--Don Hickey, author of The War of 1812

"In The Slaves' Gamble, Gene Allen Smith richly details the lives of enslaved people struggling for freedom through an array of strategies in a complex war.  Thoroughly researched and wide-ranging, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian frontier, and from the sunny Caribbean to dank Dartmoor Prison, this superb book illuminates the plight, courage, and resourcefulness of African Americans in the early republic."--Alan Taylor, author of The Civil War of 1812

"Gene Allen Smith captures with scholarly thoroughness the dilemma of patriotism that enslaved African-Americans struggled with during the War of 1812 and the range of their responses."--Elizabeth Dowling Taylor, author of A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons

Library Journal
Newly minted Americans fought several wars—most significantly, the War of 1812—and slaves often joined in. But just as often they used war as a way to secure freedom by siding with the Redcoats, the Spaniards, or the Indians. History professor Smith is also a curator at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.
Kirkus Reviews
Smith (History/Texas Christian Univ.; Thomas ap Catesby Jones: Commodore of Manifest Destiny, 2000, etc.) explains the War of 1812 from the viewpoint of the slaves who served both sides in the hope of attaining their freedom. There were also many free blacks who, for the most part, joined the American side in order to fortify their cities. Although whites were loath to give them guns, those few that gained commissions fought in battles that changed the course of the war. The author shows the important roles that all blacks, not necessarily just slaves, played in the war. The slaves gambled their lives in escaping to join the British; recapture would bring horrific punishment. Smith's long years of research and wide knowledge of this conflict has enabled him to focus on some of the remarkable stories of men and their families who fled to the English side. The British, fighting Napoleon at the same time, hoped to supplement their meager forces with slaves, who were promised freedom to serve as soldiers and valuable guides. Any slave who made it to British property was guaranteed freedom. Of 5,000 escaped slaves, only 500 became soldiers, but the records show they were fearless fighters and served in almost every theater of the war, from Canada and Michigan to the Chesapeake Bay. The author holds no great love for Andrew Jackson, who promised freedom and monetary and land rewards to slaves who joined the American forces--he had no intention of honoring that promise. Smith illustrates clearly the plight of American slaves as they desperately struggled to gain their freedom and the lies, deception and deviousness their owners used to deny it.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780230342088
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
01/22/2013
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
1,379,635
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.20(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“Smith’s long years of research and wide knowledge of this conflict has enabled him to focus on some of the remarkable stories of men and their families…illustrates clearly the plight of American slaves as they desperately struggled to gain their freedom and the lies, deception and deviousness their owners used to deny it.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Crisply told...Smith’s first-rate study is a gripping tale of the evolution of race relations in early America.”—Publishers Weekly

"The history of black servicemen long antedates the Civil War. In the Anglo-American War of 1812, both sides recruited black Americans as soldiers; the British offered freedom to American slaves who would fight for them. Gene Allen Smith's account, scrupulously researched in both British and U.S. sources, sheds new light on many aspects of that conflict, including the little-known 'Patriot War' in Florida. Personal narratives of heroic individuals add to the story a sense of immediacy. Scholars, military history buffs, and students of the black experience will all find a reading of interest here."—Daniel Walker Howe, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848.

“Gene Smith's new book sheds considerable light on the role of blacks, slave and free alike, during the War of 1812.  This is essential reading for all students of the war as well as for anyone interested in American race relations or U.S. military history.”—Don Hickey, author of The War of 1812

"In The Slaves' Gamble, Gene Allen Smith richly details the lives of enslaved people struggling for freedom through an array of strategies in a complex war.  Thoroughly researched and wide-ranging, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian frontier, and from the sunny Caribbean to dank Dartmoor Prison, this superb book illuminates the plight, courage, and resourcefulness of African Americans in the early republic."—Alan Taylor, author of The Civil War of 1812

"Gene Allen Smith captures with scholarly thoroughness the dilemma of patriotism that enslaved African-Americans struggled with during the War of 1812 and the range of their responses."—Elizabeth Dowling Taylor, author of A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons

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