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Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution Paperback – 2 Apr 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (2 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099536072
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099536079
  • Product Dimensions: 12.5 x 3.4 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 455,932 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"This brilliant book by the leading historian of our times about a subject of great significance will delight professional historians and entrance the reading public. Rough Crossings succeeds in all respects. It is a 'tour de force' and a landmark in historical scholarship" (Times Higher Education Supplement)

"Schama's gift for plunging us into the very centre of the action, whether in Charleston, London or on the African coast, makes reading an exhilarating experience" (Daily Telegraph)

"Brilliant and deeply moving" (Observer)

"Schama has a remarkable ability to stare into the anonymous faces in the crowd and to pluck them from historical obscurity. Rough Crossings gives voice to people who have, until now, remained mere names on duty lists" (James Walvin)

"One only has to dip into Rough Crossings to appreciate the command of detail that lies behind his apparently effortless ability to come up with the right quotation or description" (Times Literary Supplement)

Book Description

The astonishing story of the struggle to freedom by thousands of African-American slaves in the American War of Independence

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Simon Schama's Rough Crossings tells the story of the American revolution, the resettlement of slaves and others loyal to the British after the war. It covers a period from the 1770's up to the the turn of the century with a final part, up to the mid nineteenth century, that explores the beginnings and endings of history. The narrative roams three continents with a cast of characters that includes the bad and the good.

As a black man, I came to this book to learn about the experience of the slaves from yet another perspective. However, the book is so well written, the story told with such great style that I was quickly shifted from my narrow perspective and was drawn fully into the complexities of the revolution and its making.

The germ of the making of the revolution is clearly revealed by Schama. The scheming, the wheeler dealings and deceit are all there. An early passage in the book states: "In the experience of both David George and Boston King (the best sources we have for the experience of blacks in the Revolutionary War), the British could appear as both benefactors and theives, hard-hearted and kind-hearted; yet there was never any question about the ultimate allegiance of these two."

But Rough Crossings is more than a histoy of the American revolution; Britian's response and the experience of slaves, it is also a political and geographical history. In other works, it is also about the formation of 'states'. Schama's outline of the makings of settlements in Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone is quite revealing of the politics of betrayal and brutishness that ensued. He clearly shows us life from the seedy to the pretentiousness of high civility.
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By Charles Vasey TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 11 Jun. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The story of Britain's treatment of the slaves of American Rebels (and indeed Loyalists) during the American War of Independence has usually been no more than a good excuse to annoy Americans draped in the flag of Liberty. Simon Schama goes into the practical effect of this strategy: the ex-slaves (and freedmen) whose stories are recounted who served in Britain's armies and navy and then moved to (variously) Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone. Their long travails then intermix with the struggle of the Abolitionists in the UK. At every stage malice and innocent folly combine on all sides to produce a rather sorry story of hope deferred. Schama is not content to summarise and to speed us on, instead we follow in detail a cast of hundreds as they struggle for freedom. The only uplifting point was that freedom was, for so many, the most desirable thing they had. A tale therefore for the philosophical and not the easily-depressed.
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Format: Paperback
Schama has written a very important historical account linking slavery, abolitionists, the American war of independence and leading to the founding of the city of Freetown in Sierraleone in a way and style not seen before. I grew up in The Gambia where I have often wondered as a child where some of the neighbourhood kids with foreign sounding (mostly Scot and English lastnames) names came from or how they got their names, looking just like me, but different names. They belonged to the Aku or Creole group who spoke a language akin to english, and had different manners; generally better educated, more western in demeanour than the rest of us and were generally civil servants, lawyers, doctors, priests etc. I would later come to know of their connection to Freetown and their connection to ex-slaves in the same way Liberia was, but the knowledge of how they came to Freetown was less known to me than the perhaps the americo-liberians.
Schama's Rough crossing, not only filled in the missing gaps, but was full of very important pieces of information about the populations and conditions of black people in London in the late 1700s, the involvement of the clackson brothers in the abolition movement. The account, although shows how important a role wilberfoce played in the London Abolition movement as the advocate in parliament, there were other instrumental figures who commiteed their whole lifes to the pursuits of shaping the English laws to improve the lifes of former slaves in England and the slave colonies. Schame explores extensively the American war of independence and the role of slaves in the fait of that war.
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Format: Paperback
No short review of Rough Crossings by Simon Schama could begin to do it justice. It is far too big a project, far too significant an achievement for any simple summary. It presents a momentous story, highly relevant to our own times, of partial emancipation for the enslaved. The book is not for the faint hearted. For a start there's almost five hundred pages of detailed historical narrative, several distinctly prickly characters to meet and many direct quotes from contemporary documents, complete with the writers' inconsistencies of spelling and grammar. And then there is the raw suffering that it describes. There is real human suffering here, real people who were wronged by others who perpetrated a crime for which they will remain forever unpunished. Balancing this, however, is optimism engendered by the idealism of those who campaigned and worked for freedom and justice, against the convenient populist bigotry of their time. But rising above all others are those whose personal histories are described. These are people who devoted their lives to the undoing of the wrongs that were done to them, who never lost faith in life's eventual ability to deliver justice, despite the repeated contradiction of experience. In the end, it's the enduring human spirit that seems to triumph, despite the lack of any obvious lasting victories. For all concerned, it's a struggle, has always been so and will probably remain so in the future.

Rough Crossings chronicles the politics, warfare, commerce and human experience surrounding the practical application of the campaign to abolish the slave trade. It was Gore Vidal who described several of the founding fathers of the United States as dedicated slave owners, eager to protect their investments.
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