Reviewed by Kevin Farley, Collection Librarian for the Humanities
In Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution, noted British historian Simon Schama re-considers the seldom-studied effort of American and British anti-slavery advocates to free slaves before, during, and after the American Revolution. Schama's previous studies — including The Embarrassment of Riches (on the emergence of modern Western democracy, and its seminal contradictions, in seventeenth-century Holland), Citizens (a study of the French Revolution, and its idealistic, and not so idealistic, leaders), Rembrandt's Eyes (an exceptional reading of an artist whose works contributed to the invention of European "personality," or "individuality"), and the recent History of Britain (a scholarly trilogy, and the basis of a BBC/History Channel television series) — display the historian's style and approach as ironic, even satiric; a style that suggests the almost unbelievable nature of the affronts, so worthy of our ironic disbelief and satiric disappointment, that history commits against its unfortunates. Here, Schama describes the altruism, as well as the deceitful self-interest, of those who would help and hinder the American slaves caught in the paradoxes of the American declaration of freedom from British tyranny (Schama is particularly deft in describing the conflicts that Thomas Jefferson endured, and passed on, over slavery). British offers to accept and help free former slaves was tinged by self-interest, Schama notes, but also by extraordinary self-sacrifice, especially in the heroic efforts of the British abolitionist, Granville Sharp. In Schama's brilliant discussion, the personalities of this period, and the realities of slavery — its inescapable consequences — are memorably evoked.
This new publication is not yet available at VCU Libraries. Please look for it soon at Cabell Library.