Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Liberty or Death

Liberty or Death: The Surprising Story of Runaway Slaves who Sided with the British During the American Revolution
by Margaret Whitman Blair
published by National Geographic
64 pages

Publisher's Description:

Liberty or Death is the little-known story of the American Revolution told from the perspectives of the African-American slaves who fought on the side of the British Royal Army in exchange for a promise of freedom. Motivated by the 1775 proclamation by Virginia’s Royal Governor that any slaves who took up arms on his behalf would be granted their freedom, these men fought bravely for a losing cause. Many of the volunteers succumbed to battle wounds or smallpox, which ran rampant on the British ships on which they were quartered. After the successful Revolution, they emigrated to Canada and, ultimately to West Africa. Liberty or Death is the inspiring story of the forgotten freedom fighters of America’s Revolutionary War.

My Comments:

This is an interesting but too brief look at blacks who fought on both sides of the revolutionary war, and what happened to them after the war ended. Those who fought for the British were promised freedom and land, but many ended up with only misery and death in Nova Scotia or Sierra Leone. I'm thankful that the aftermath of the war was covered, since I was completely ignorant of it beforehand. I wanted more details about the lives and war experiences of the prominent black loyalists like ColonelTye, Thomas Peters, and Stephen Blucke.

The book design, with red and black text boxes and varying fonts, is very attractive. The color illustrations are good quality and add to the story. I especially appreciate the map on the end papers, which shows slave trade and emigration routes across the Atlantic.

The foreword by L. Douglas Wilder, the first black governor of Virginia, sets the tone for the rest of the book by pointing out the hypocrisy of slave owner Patrick Henry's celebrated "Liberty or Death" speech.

A timeline at the end is very handy, and the brief index includes the major names and topics covered in the text. The resource guide includes several related fiction and nonfiction titles for children and adults. There are also a few websites listed.

On a side note, one of the things I learned from the book is that the smallpox inoculations practiced at the time actually helped to save some lives. This is a different perspective from the horrific inoculation scenes that made me cringe during The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation Vol. 1: The Pox Party.

Your comments?


  1. This one is in my pile to read. I finished SPIES OF MISSISSIPPI recently and look forward to seeing what you think of that one. Also, I just got a copy of the new WIMPY KID which is a nonfiction book. It's the story of how WIMPY KID was made into a movie. Looks very good.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Ooo, the WIMPY KID MOVIE DIARY is on order here. I caught part of an interesting interview with the author the other day:
    You have to scroll down a ways to get to it.