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12 1  Edward Nicolls and the Problem of War and Slavery in the Age of Revolution On June 1,1812,President James Madison called on Congress to declare war.1 His message recounted a decade of alleged American grievances suffered at the hands of Great Britain, including impressment, blockades, the Ordersin -Council, and the renewal of Indian warfare on the western frontier. The House of Representatives passed the bill within three days. The Senate narrowly fell in line on June 17, and the next day Madison signed the declaration. Situated squarely within the Age of Revolution, the War of 1812 began at a critical juncture for slavery in NorthAmerica and the broaderAtlantic world. Consequently racial politics shaped the course of “Mr. Madison’s War.” This was most acute in the Southeast, where the radical anti-slavery thoughts and actions of Colonel Edward Nicolls of the Royal Marines added an extra dynamic to the war. The Challenge to American Slavery White Americans emerged from the American Revolution deeply proud of their relatively egalitarian political culture.2 The young nation was awash with rhetoric and imagery that celebrated republican ideals, though in reality only white male property owners enjoyed full citizenship. Initially the revolutionary era appeared to offer hope for American slaves. The slave community had felt their strength during the conflict, particularly through the service of black soldiers, slave flight, and the promise that“all men are created equal.”The spread of Afro-Christianity further strengthened African American communities and the universality of their struggle.3 Likewise, northern states commenced policies of gradual emancipation, and it appeared that the  13 Edward Nicolls and the Problem of War and Slavery in the Age of Revolution institution of slavery was on borrowed time in the South. Thus many slaves thought they too would soon enjoy the universal benefits of the Age of Revolution that were sweeping the western world. However, the intersection of a number of developments conspired against the slaves and dramatically altered the history of North America. At the turn of the nineteenth century, slavery was given a new lease on life with the emergence of cotton as a profitable staple crop, mostly grown in the vast expanses of the Louisiana Purchase.4 White southerners and their slaves rapidly moved into the interior of South Carolina and Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana and transformed the area into a vibrant and profitable slave society. In the new century slavery was as central to the southern economy as ever.5 This was due to the profitability of cotton combined with the growth of the lucrative internal slave trade, the emergence of a sugar industry along the Gulf Coast, and the persistence of plantation slavery in the Chesapeake and Lowcountry.However,American slavery was expanding into direct contact with the Spanish Floridas and into a region where the environment and strong Indian tribes meant that the institution frequently operated on unstable ground. The 1791 Haitian Revolution,which from the point of view of white southerners was a horrifically violent racial nightmare, provided a vivid example of what could happen when slaves and people of color claimed the inheritance of the Age of Revolution as their very own.6 The example of Haiti, knowledge of which spread like wildfire fire throughout slave communities across the Western Hemisphere, led to a major upsurge in resistance that lasted well into the nineteenth century.7 What emboldened slaves terrified white slaveholders,who became even more suspicious of the behavior of their slaves. White anxiety and black hope were further heightened in 1800 by Gabriel’s rebellion and in 1811 by the German Coast uprising, both of which were viewed through the lens of the Haitian Revolution.8 These domestic political and economic changes, combined with international events, most prominently the Haitian Revolution, redefined American slavery. The institution became more southern, more polarizing, and more rigidly policed.9 While the American abolitionist movement—centered in the North—was only in its early stages and was dwarfed by its British counterpart ,the emergence of an internal and white dissenting voice was nonetheless important. Prior to this period, with few exceptions, white Americans universally accepted slavery. Now a largely southern institution confronted both growing white disapproval and the specter of increasingly rebellious slaves just as white and black settlement was expanding into an unstable frontier region. The result of the internal and external challenges to slavery The Maroons of Prospect Bluff and Their Quest for Freedom in the Atlantic World 14...


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