The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832

Alan Taylor (Author)
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Description

Frederick Douglass recalled that slaves living along Chesapeake Bay longingly viewed sailing ships as "freedom's swift-winged angels." In 1813 those angels appeared in the bay as British warships coming to punish the Americans for declaring war on the empire. Over many nights, hundreds of slaves paddled out to the warships seeking protection for their families from the ravages of slavery. The runaways pressured the British admirals into becoming liberators. As guides, pilots, sailors, and marines, the former slaves used their intimate knowledge of the countryside to transform the war. They enabled the British to escalate their onshore attacks and to capture and burn Washington, D.C. Tidewater masters had long dreaded their slaves as "an internal enemy." By mobilizing that enemy, the war ignited the deepest fears of Chesapeake slaveholders. It also alienated Virginians from a national government that had neglected their defense. Instead they turned south, their interests aligning more and more with their section. In 1820 Thomas Jefferson observed of sectionalism: "Like a firebell in the night [it] awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once the knell of the union." The notes of alarm in Jefferson's comment speak of the fear aroused by the recent crisis over slavery in his home state. His vision of a cataclysm to come proved prescient. Jefferson's startling observation registered a turn in the nation's course, a pivot from the national purpose of the founding toward the threat of disunion. Drawn from new sources, Alan Taylor's riveting narrative re-creates the events that inspired black Virginians, haunted slaveholders, and set the nation on a new and dangerous course.

Product Details

Price
$18.95  $17.43
Publisher
W. W. Norton & Company
Publish Date
September 02, 2014
Pages
605
Dimensions
5.5 X 1.2 X 8.1 inches | 1.05 pounds
Language
English
Type
Paperback
EAN/UPC
9780393349733

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About the Author

Alan Taylor has been a journalist for over 30 years. He was deputy and managing editor at the Scotsman, and for the last 15 years has been Writer-at-Large for the Sunday Herald. He has contributed to numerous publications, including The TLS, The New Yorker and The Melbourne Age, and edited three acclaimed anthologies - The Assassin's Cloak (2000), The Secret Annexe (2004) and The Country Dairies (2009).

Reviews

An extraordinary story [told] in vivid prose and compelling detail. Taylor . . . has important things to say about slavery, about war, and about America.--James Oakes
One of the greatest works of American history I have ever read. . . . This elegantly written and carefully researched volume shatters a good deal of received wisdom.--Stephen L. Carter
Alan Taylor has added a remarkable chapter to American history, showing how the actions of black Virginians in the War of 1812 remade the nation's politics in ways that profoundly influenced the racialized lead-up to the Civil War. Taylor's meticulous research and crystal-clear prose make this essential reading for anyone seeking new insights into a troubled American past.--Elizabeth A. Fenn, author of Pox Americana
A comprehensive, scholarly work, made accessible by Taylor's skill as a storyteller.--Kel Munger