Slavery, Emancipation, and the American Revolution

Richard Bell
Richard Bell
University of Maryland

Dr. Richard Bell is Professor of History at the University of Maryland. He holds a PhD from Harvard University and has won more than a dozen teaching awards, including the University System of Maryland Board of Regents Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching. He has held major research fellowships at Yale, Cambridge, and the Library of Congress and is the recipient of the Andrew Carnegie Fellowship and the National Endowment of the Humanities Public Scholar award. Professor Bell is author of the new book Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and their Astonishing Odyssey Home, which was shortlisted for the George Washington Prize and the Harriet Tubman Prize. 

 

Overview

July 5, 2022, 4:00 pm

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By the eve of the American Revolution, slavery was a fact of life for hundreds of thousands of African Americans. As war broke out in 1775, any British official touring the colonies would have come across more than half a million enslaved people. But change was coming quickly, and the American Revolution would prove to be a transformative moment in African American history — a freedom war second only to the Civil War in significance. African Americans would throw themselves into the revolutionary war effort with more enthusiasm and with more at stake than did many white colonists.

The chaos of the conflict would bring many enslaved men new opportunities to declare their independence from slavery and by war’s end more than 6,000 fugitives from slavery had left revolutionary America, taking passage aboard British ships to parts of its empire where they would be legally free. Some ended up in Britain itself. Others ended up in the Bahamas or elsewhere in the British Caribbean. The majority sailed to Canada. While hundreds of thousands more remained enslaved in the United States, the evacuation of these 1,336 men, 914 women, and 750 children from New York City in 1783 was the largest and most significant act of emancipation in American history prior to the Civil War.

 

Recommended Reading:

Death or Liberty: African Americans and Revolutionary America, by Douglas R. Egerton

Liberty is Sweet: The Hidden History of the American Revolution, by Woody Holton

The Counter Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America, by Gerald Horne

The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution, by Robert G. Parkinson

1774: The Long Year of Revolution, by Mary Beth Norton

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

 

 

 

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