Prince Hall, a black veteran of the American Revolution, was insulted and disappointed but probably not surprised when white officials refused his offer of help. He had volunteered a troop of 700 Boston area blacks to help quell a rebellion of western Massachusetts farmers led by Daniel Shays during the economic turmoil in the uncertain period following independence. Many African Americans had fought for America's liberty and their own in the Revolution, but their place in the new nation was unresolved. As slavery was abolished in the North, free blacks gained greater opportunities, but still faced a long struggle against limits to their freedom, against discrimination, and against southern slavery. The lives of these men and women are vividly described in In Hope of Liberty, spanning the 200 years and eight generations from the colonial slave trade to the Civil War.
In this marvelously peopled history, James and Lois Horton introduce us to a rich cast of characters. There are familiar historical figures such as Crispus Attucks, a leader of the Boston Massacre and one of the first casualties of the American Revolution; Sojourner Truth, former slave and eloquent antislavery and women's rights activist whose own family had been broken by slavery when her son became a wedding present for her owner's daughter; and Prince Whipple, George Washington's aide, easily recognizable in the portrait of Washington crossing the Delaware River. And there are the countless men and women who struggled to lead their daily lives with courage and dignity: Zilpha Elaw, a visionary revivalist who preached before crowds of thousands; David James Peck, the first black to graduate from an American medical school in 1848; Paul Cuffe, a successful seafaring merchant who became an ardent supporter of the black African colonization movement; and Nancy Prince, at eighteen the effective head of a scattered household of four siblings, each boarded in different homes, who at twenty-five was formally presented to the Russian court.
In a seamless narrative weaving together all these stories and more, the Hortons describe the complex networks, both formal and informal, that made up free black society, from the black churches, which provided a sense of community and served as a training ground for black leaders and political action, to the countless newspapers which spoke eloquently of their aspirations for blacks and played an active role in the antislavery movement, to the informal networks which allowed far-flung families to maintain contact, and which provided support and aid to needy members of the free black community and to fugitives from the South. Finally, they describe the vital role of the black family, the cornerstone of this variegated and tightly knit community
In Hope of Liberty brilliantly illuminates the free black communities of the antebellum North as they struggled to reconcile conflicting cultural identities and to work for social change in an atmosphere of racial injustice. As the black community today still struggles with many of the same problems, this insightful history reminds us how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go.
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About the Authors:
James Oliver Horton is the Benjamin Banneker Professor of American Studies and History at the George Washington University, directs the African-American Communities Project at the Smithsonian Institution, and is the author of Free People of Color: Inside the African American Community. Lois E. Horton is Professor of Sociology and American Studies at George Mason University and the co-author of Black Bostonians: Family Life and Community Struggles in the Antebellum North.
"James and Lois Horton have used superb scholarship to pierce the mists shrouding the first generations of blacks on these shores and have delivered a sharp portrait of some of the earliest and strongest Americans. This is a profound work of the utmost importance to anyone who wants to
understand the United States and her people."--Roger Wilkins, Clarence J. Robinson Professor of History and American Culture, George Mason University
"This is really a fascinating study. On one level, it is a superb synthesis of three decades of scholarship on Northern Blacks in slavery and freedom. If that were all the book was, it would be a valuable contribution to the field. However, the Hortons take their study much further, pulling
together material from many disciplines to illuminate the lives of Northern men and women of color. We have the chance, however briefly, to enter into the lives of these people, and see through their eyes their struggle to be free, to achieve personal fulfillment, to be part of a community, and to
carve out for themselves and their children a place in a society that was never reconciled to their presence."--Julie Winch, History Department, University of Massachusetts, Boston
"In Hope of Liberty is a stunning achievement of research, insight, and an inclusive historical vision. The Hortons give us the free black experience from 1700 to the Civil War in what will become the standard, synthetic work on the subject. Told with an artful combination of irony, economy,
and original description of people and events, this story of the origin and persistence of black communities richly demonstrates how much black history belongs in the central narrative of American history. This book will surprise and enlighten a broad readership."--David W. Blight, Associate
Professor of History, Amherst College
"This important book is first-rate and tells great stories of the first group of free African Americans, people known and unknown, who struggled mightily to bridge cultures. It reads very well, and it covers both a large chronology, from the colonial period into the Civil War, and a large
area, the North of the United States. In Hope of Liberty is destined to take its place among a pantheon of illustrious works on race relations."--Orville Vernon Burton, Professor of History and Sociology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
"In Hope of Liberty presents an excellent examination of northern free black life from the early arrivals in the transatlantic slave trade to the coming of the Civil War. The studies of various individuals and of the roles of family, church, and antislavery activities demonstrate the
accomplishments of blacks in circumstances of racial injustice. This is an important contribution to the study of black and American history."--Stanley L. Engerman, Professor of Economics and History, University of Rochester
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