Ordinarily when we think of the Founding Fathers (Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Adams) we picture powdered wigs and quill pens–not experimental farmers examining handfuls of manure with glee. Andrea Wulf’s, Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation, offers us this new lens with which to view the founding generation. Through their opinions on agriculture and their vision for a nation composed of independent farmers, the Founding Fathers perceived brimming gardens and fertile fields as symbols of America’s prosperity and future potential.
What does the story of the American Revolution look like from the “edge” of empire? How did the various groups and peoples of the Gulf Coast perceive and experience this uncertain period of shifting borders and changing political allegiances? Kathleen Duval’s, Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution, offers a different look at the American Revolution from this unfamiliar territory. When we broaden our geographic perspective, a global war emerges where the European powers of Spain, France, and Great Britain were vying for territory on the North American continent throughout the last half of the eighteenth century. By weaving together the narrative threads of eight representative characters whose individual choices and motives all differed, Duval challenges the traditional tale of rebel versus loyalist, American liberties versus British liberties.
In 1774 a popular insurgency, led by “ordinary Americans” and organized into local committees of safety, was sweeping the Thirteen Colonies. Basing their authority in the Articles of Association, an act passed by the First Continental Congress to enforce a boycott on British goods, these committees of safety helped propel revolution with their own notions of an American ideology and resistance. In American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People, T.H. Breen traces the rise of these networks of everyday patriots who used social pressure at the local level to create a shared American sense of purpose.
In Peter Thompson’s, Rum Punch and Revolution: Taverngoing and Public Life in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia, taverns and public houses function simultaneously as private-public spaces where people of “mixed” backgrounds could mingle, drink, and eat together. (In this case, mixed does not include slaves, apprentices or Native Americas, who were excluded by law from taverns.) This openness in early tavern culture fostered an environment where men and women of varying social rank would gather and participate in a shared political and social discourse. The following excerpt highlights the changing culture surrounding taverns and political life on the eve of the Revolution as delegates to the First Continental Congress gathered at the City Tavern in 1775.
In the summer of 1778 George Washington authorized the formation of a secret chain of agents known as the Culper Ring. Operating in British-occupied New York, this spy ring gathered and shared military intelligence on the British Army’s tactical operations using a coded language and a disappearing ink dubbed the ‘sympathetic stain.’ Those involved in the Culper Ring did so at great personal risk to their lives and honor–covertly traveling through occupied territory and swearing oaths of allegiance to the king–all the while passing information to Washington.
The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas opens with the 1776 Battle of Sullivan’s Island where Patriot forces successfully defended the Charleston Harbor and concludes with the British victory at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in 1781. While these two events bookend this military history, the meat of the work is a battle-by-battle march through the skirmishes and battles of the Southern Campaign, culminating at Guilford Courthouse. The author, John Buchanan, examines not only the battlefield strategy and tactical decisions made in the Carolina back country, but also the personalities and military careers of the major characters of Daniel Morgan, Nathanael Greene, Francis Marion, Sir Henry Clinton, Lord Cornwallis, and Banastre Tarleton.
With its emerging abolition movement, Philadelphia was an appealing locale for runaway slaves, free blacks, and Caribbean refuges in the decades before and after the Revolutionary War. In the city, free blacks worked to establish their own independent churches, form abolition and resettlement societies, and to secure their own livelihoods against a backdrop of growing white hostility into the nineteenth century. Gary Nash’s, Forging Freedom: The Formation of Philadelphia’s Black Community, 1720-1840, details this period in African American history as generations of free blacks pursued a secure and dignified existence based on self-employment and an intricate system of self-support
Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence, by Alan Gilbert, brings a critical eye to the contradiction that while white American colonists were fighting for liberty and independence, thousands of black men and women were enslaved in the thirteen colonies. The book shows how the promise of freedom drew the enlistment and service of both free and enslaved blacks into the Continental Army and the British Army throughout the Revolutionary War. Through extensive documentary research, Gilbert raises significantly the number of African Americans known to have fought for either side as either free or enslaved men.
The year 1776 typically conjures up images of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and Gen. Washington crossing the Delaware. Yet, this week's featured book provides us with another view. West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776, by Claudio Saunt, examines events in North America outside of the rebelling thirteen American colonies including land speculation west of the Appalachians and Russian and Spanish excursions on the West Coast. In shifting our perspective, Saunt reveals the implications that these global events of 1776 had for the future development of the United States.
In the first excerpt, we learn about an ambitious, yet illegal under British law, land scheme to settle a “fourteenth colony.” The second excerpt introduces how the settlement of Spanish missions in California and Russian fur trading posts in Alaska landed a Kumeyaay Indian named Diego in jail.
American history tends to remember loyalists in the American Revolution simply as the defeated. Yet, Maya Jasanoff's book, Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World, shows us that while the victorious patriots were busy building a new country, loyalists refugees were helping to settle an empire. Those loyalists that chose to leave America after the war looked to Britain for help and the burgeoning empire facilitated their resettlement on a global scale. Jasanoff weaves the ups and downs of ten major characters as they endure the war and eventually seek asylum from Nova Scotia to Jamaica, Sierra Leone to India. The following excerpt features the two minor characters of Jacob Bailey and Louisa Wells and illustrates an exiled loyalist experience and what it meant to be an American colonist returning to the Great Britain after defeat.