The Slave’s Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812

Gene Allen Smith, Author
Gene Allen Smith. Palgrave Macmillan, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-0-230-34208-8
Ebook - 272 pages - 978-1-137-31008-8
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Long before the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the War of 1812 provided an opportunity for slaves to throw off their chains. In this crisply told story, Smith, a history professor at Texas Christian University, recreates the growing conflicts between the fledgling U.S., Great Britain, Spain, and various Native American groups, and shows how each “tried to mobilize the free black and slave populations in the hopes of defeating the other.” Many slaves saw this jostling for their loyalties as “an avenue to freedom,” and consequently joined armies or communities of Native Americans or mulattoes on the fringes of society. Drawing on myriad archival materials, Smith chronicles the stirring stories of individuals like Prince Whitten, who escaped slavery in South Carolina and fled with his family to Florida, where he gained freedom and a place in the Spanish colony. Yet the War of 1812 did not create these kinds of opportunities for all slaves, and Smith demonstrates that, for the most part, slaves fled or joined militias only when hospitable troops were in the area. Smith’s first-rate study is a gripping tale of the evolution of race relations in early America. Maps, illus. Agent: Michael Hamilburg, Mitchell J. Hamilburg Agency. (Jan.)
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