When we think about the American Revolution, I suspect that most of us picture men in powdered wigs and waistcoats trading quips about taxation and tea in between firing volleys at faceless, vile Redcoats.
I’ve sought to puncture the idea that the Revolution was a phenomenon of elites from Boston, New-York and Philadelphia, widening the view to include all of the colonies, and to include people from many walks of life. We’ve seen apprentices and craftsmen, professional soldiers and merchant sailors, farmers and housewives, all struggling with the same questions of loyalty versus rebellion, and deciding whether to choose involvement over avoidance.
I’ve also examined the Revolution from the standpoint of people whose ancestors were here before Europeans came to these shores, and who now had to decide how to respond to the conflict that had erupted between rival factions of the new arrivals. I’ve only touched on the experience of those brought here against their will as slaves, but who often had to weigh the same concerns and worries as their masters.
It is past time that I give a fuller consideration to the story of slaves and freedmen in the Revolutionary era.
In The Freedman, I hope to broaden our view of the Revolution not just to a wider geographical area, but to a wider set of participants. Calabar was brought to North-Carolina as a boy and sold to a plantation owner, where he learned the intricacies of indigo production, fell in love, and started a family.
Abruptly released from bondage, he must find his way in a society that has no place for him, but which is itself struggling with the threat of British domination. Reeling from his personal grief, and drawn into the chaos of the Revolution, Calabar knows that the wrong moves will cost him his freedom — and that of the nation.
This was in many ways the most difficult book I’ve written yet — between the heartbreaking details of the treatment of slaves and freedmen I learned about in my research, and the long, difficult journey that Calabar had to take through that setting, it affected me deeply — but in the end, I think it was a success. I am looking forward to sharing it with you.