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Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution Hardcover – 8 Sep 2005

4.7 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: BBC Books; 1st edition edition (8 Sept. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0563487097
  • ISBN-13: 978-0563487098
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 4.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 636,816 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Simon Schama is historical royalty. With a lucrative and encompassing deal with the BBC, the ability to cover vast tracts of narrative history and an undoubted command of English he has worked on some of the most interesting projects in documentary history. But this has come at a cost.
Schama's critics have lambasted his descent into popular history, especially his work on the History of Britain. This book can be seen as an academic riposte to those critics. It is in the traditional vein of Schama - sharp, inquiring and totally different to anything he has published before. The ability of the man to write on the golden age of the Dutch Republic, a history of Britain, the French Revolution and art in Western Europe demonstrates the plurality and depth of his interests.
This new work is an altogether bolder departure. It covers a grey and controversial period of history around the American war of independence. In dealing with two countries that have still not resolved their ingrained race relation problems, and confronting the issue of slavery, Schama makes a bold and brave attempt to understand the roots of problems, and uncovers the startling role played by the black slaves in the War of Independence.
While the Founding Fathers were proclaiming the inherent liberty of the freeborn man from the bondage of English tyranny, many themselves were the owners of slaves. The hypocrisy was all too evident for some of the more thoughtful, such as Franklin's proclaimed abhorrence for the practice. But others so no such contradiction in not extending the principles to black people, reserving such universal freedoms for the whites of the continent.
Sensing the potential for creating and utilizing a decisive fifth column, the British promised the blacks liberty.
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Format: Hardcover
There appears to be two kinds of political history: that which is hidden from us completely by the special interests, and that which can be dug up and exposed when it is "safe". Rough Crossings by Simon Shama is of the latter, and will stir up a storm of indignation when it is published in the USA in 2006.
Starting even before the Revolutionary War, so-called American Patriots and the "founding fathers" exhibited the same kind of special interest/self interest that schoolchildren today are taught is beneath public service. Patrick (Give me liberty or give me death!) Henry could not for the life of him understand why he should free his own slaves. Thomas Jefferson's first declaration of independence in 1775 cited the British government's rumored incitement of Negroes to rise up for their freedom as one of the prime movers of the colonies to break free of the tyranny of England.
He was proven right in that tens of thousands of slaves ran away to fight on the British side, against the colonists. The "Patriots" killed every runaway they could find before they got to the English ships. (The same was to occur in 1812, when the British and the Americans clashed again)
The British, who of course taught the Americans everything they knew about slavery in the first place, had only recently begun to abhor it. Using the courts, English activists were able to obtain the freedom of people who were being captured in England to be shipped off to sugar plantations. The British public, caught up in this humanitarian, headline-making campaign, was offended by the tyranny of the Americans, just as the Americans were offended by the tyranny of the British in things like taxation. The result was armed conflict.
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Format: Hardcover
The names of Granville Sharp, and John Clarkson are not well known like that of Wilberforce but they are the heroes in the story of how blacks who fought for Britain against its rebel colonies were rewarded. Escaped slaves who fought alongside the Redcoats were not treated well but some found their way to cold and barren resettlement in Nova Scotia. Others finished up on the streets of London. Sharp would get a writ of Habeus Corpus to stop a slave owner reclaiming his property. He encouraged blacks to return together to Africa founding what is now Sierra Leone. Clarkson, brother of the man who researched slaving for Wilberforce, was a naval officer with first hand experience of the triangular trade. Converted like John Newton to an Evangelical faith he went to Nova Scotia and hired a fleet of ships to sail about 1000 settlers to the new enterprise in West Africa. He was a true Moses for these people. They has a rough crossing and a hard time from the English company ruling the land. Loved by the blacks, Clarkson was sacked by the company from his post as governory.

This is a story to move you to tears. It is one not without some pride if you are British, but shame if you are American. I have often wondered, if i had lived in America in 1776, whose side wouldIi have been on. If you were black the question is a no-brainer.

Sharma can be a bit too detailed for the casual reader but he writes well and with surprising sympathy for the Evangelical Christianity which characterised the blacks and those whites who struggled long and hard for their liberty.
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