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

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

Alan Taylor

Language: English

Pages: 624

ISBN: 039334973X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for History

"Impressively researched and beautifully crafted…a brilliant account of slavery in Virginia during and after the Revolution." ―Mark M. Smith, Wall Street Journal

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. 35 illustrations; 4 maps

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American seaports or the new British colony of Sierra Leone, on the west coast of Africa. In 1815 the Nova Scotians similarly responded to the new surge of black refugees from America. Whenever any refugee transgressed, the press and public cast the culprit as the face of an entire race. In 1817, when a house caught fire, the authorities blamed a young black servant, so a Halifax newspaper warned against employing any refugees: “no kindness, comfort, or hospitality, can insure their integrity,”

During the long inert periods of relative security, tension slowly accumulated in the minds of white men until it erupted into alarm over something a slave said. In 1802 in Williamsburg a slave insulted a white man in the street, which led a witness to conclude “that an insurrection was in agitation.” Surely only an impending revolt could embolden a slave to express such insolence. Terrifying rumors spread of covert, mass meetings to elect commanders, stash stolen arms, and mobilize a widespread

West Indian colonists, who opposed the slave trade ban and other measures to ameliorate slavery. The planters already rued the empire’s decision in 1795 to establish eight regiments of black troops to defend the islands. Stretched thin fighting the French in Europe, the British could not afford to send more white troops to die of tropical diseases in the West Indies. Turning to slave soldiers, the British promised equal treatment, uniforms, and pay with white troops. In 1807 the imperial

at the county level would tempt seizure by slave rebels. When in doubt, Virginians dispersed authority and weapons, to the detriment, however, of their ability to resist invasion.13 The militia also suffered from class tensions because the prosperous could evade service by hiring substitutes. In June 1812, Joseph C. Cabell served in the State Senate when drafted in his home county for service at sickly Norfolk. A friend in the U.S. army, Isaac A. Coles, joked that he would join Cabell “on the

endued with power; and her arm nerved with supernatural strength.” The Council of State discharged her husband from militia duty to return home, thereby restoring gendered order to his household.48 During 1814, Barbour sought more militia from the interior to defend the Tidewater, provoking greater protests from the Piedmont. The Caroline County magistrates insisted that their slaves had “uttered threats” and committed “in one instance an outrage,” when they heard that the local militia had been

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