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Death Or Liberty: African Americans And Revolutionary America (Essay Sample)


Douglas Egerton's Death or Liberty: African Americans and Revolutionary America synthesize recent scholarship to give us a narrative and analysis of the variety of Black roles and experiences in the era of the Revolution, from 1763-1800. The book discusses the position of African Americans in the British Atlantic Empire in the years leading up to the Revolution, their roles in creating the rebellion, responding to and participating in the war, their hopes (and those of white allies) for abolishing slavery as part of creating the new Republic, the variety of ways in which they tried to realize their quest for liberty, and what happened in those struggles. You may observe that the trajectory of the book is to chronicle efforts and proposals to rise from slavery in hopes the revolution will be liberating for all, but then to watch the frustration of those hopes for the majority, while also noting some limited success in the North.
Most of the chapters begin with the story of an individual who in some way illustrates one major variety of African Americans' experience in a tumultuous era. Notice how each chapter has a subtitle in italics indicating the theme of the chapter, such as Chapter 3: The Transformation of Colonel Tye: Black Combatants and the War, or Chapter 4: Quok Walker's Suit: Emancipation in the North. Then notice how roughly 1 to 3 pages into the chapter a paragraph states the general purpose (or thesis) of the chapter, that paragraph always followed by a slash signaling a transition to the full unfolding of the theme. So in Chapter 3, you get the experience of blacks who fought on either side and in Chapter 4 you get legal action in the North including lawsuits and legislative action.
Thus each chapter gives you one set of experiences that demonstrate specifically how African Americans were actors in, as well as objects of, the drama of the revolution. While after reading the first 3 chapters one has seen the general thesis illustrated enough to convince one that the author has a good case, the other chapters give a richness and variety of experience in different times and places, acquainting one with particular people, actual human beings who appear in records, rather than just types or categories or classes. The net effect is to put ordinary and marginalized people back into the picture, not as abstractions but as living, breathing characters who may, if we listen to the fragments and echoes of their voices, enable us to have some hope of understanding a lost world of experience that has shaped our own
Your Assignment: Egerton says in concluding his epilogue to Death or Liberty, that it is too easy for us to dismiss the failures of the founders “by observing that their egalitarian ideals laid the basis for the eventual end of slavery. Gabriel, of course, knew better. He was sentenced to die by white men who had once been revolutionaries and still spoke in the language of natural rights. The failure of these men - and those throughout the new nation- to act in their lifetimes led not only to the deaths of Gabriel and his soldiers, but also allowed slavery to flourish for another half-century, and led to the deaths of approximately 600,000 young Americans in the four years after 1861.” (Egerton, 281)
Reviewing each chapter of Death or Liberty, what has Egerton has shown us in each chapter about the struggles of white and African Americans to gain Liberty from 1763 to 1800? In particular, how does he demonstrate (remember those thesis statements!) in each how African Americans actively pursued freedom, equality, and citizenship, and how and why they were disappointed? (It is advisable to carefully reread pages 11-14 in his Prologue which lay out what he is trying to show us.) Once you have discussed the essential elements of all those stories, think critically about his conclusion that the Revolution, because it betrayed the hopes of African Americans, was therefore not radical. Did not those “egalitarian ideals” at least help inculcate principles and aspirations that led to further changes?
You do not have to try to retell all the stories, but you do have to convince me that you have read the whole book. If you have only read 3-4 chapters, I can tell. If you have only read the first 1-3 pages of each chapter to get the gist of the story and the thesis statement, I can see that also. If you combine that with using something from the last page of each chapter, I can probably tell as well. I will grade your paper down accordingly.
This is probably going to take at minimum 8 pages double spaced in a 12 point font with ¾ inch margins all around and a standard amount of space between lines such as employed here in this paragraph. (In other words, double spacing does not mean 2.5) Please put your name, paper title, and date in a single line at the top of the first page. Do not give me a ‘works cited' page, because you are only using one book. Use parenthetical in-text citations, and use quotations sparingly (no more than 8), and increase the length of your paper accordingly. There is no maximum length.
The grammar, especially the tense, is not particularly rigorous. I often make grammatical mistakes when writing. I upload a previously written essay as a reference. I hope that the level of writing and grammar can be close to my own writing level (and not particularly bad. A but there is no native writing level)






Death or Liberty: African Americans and Revolutionary America

Egerton, in the first chapter, captures slavery in the British Atlantic Empire, where Equiano’s life through slavery has illustrated the difficulties that slaves faced. Survival of African Americans in 1763 was based on lies. For instance, in several instances, Equiano lies to avoid working in the fields and to even secure baptism. It is depicted that perhaps the lies had become part of him as a manner of keeping his soul and body together and even when free, he saw no need to speak the truth (Egerton 16). Equiano’s life through slavery symbolizes the slave life that Africans and African Americans went through in various locations, including the New England, Canada, and Rhodes Island. Even though a Black Code, a document that contained policies that governed the relationship between slaves and masters, had been drafted, masters still had absolute control over the slaves (Egerton 18).

Slave residences were either in or near urban centers where they were disproportionately owned by families that were wealthy. In various locations, they were subjected to various tasks with some working in the field whereas others worked in households. Occasions that would guarantee small amounts of liberty for slaves were rare and any attempts to weaken the supremacy of the masters over their slaves were a disappointment to the masters (Egerton 25). However, the changing attitudes of the society towards bondage changed the harshness of the Black Code that had granted masters absolute powers. In Philadelphia, the sin of slavery began spreading in the 1730s. Christianity is also postulated to have improved the slavery bondage; an aspect that masters also got worried about. In 1940, a rebellious group of slaves had revised a body of law that was termed as “Negro Act’’. Even though some aspects of rebellion had started, the chapter explores the vast challenges that slaves were subjected to in the British Colony. The slave labor was meant to enrich white masters.

In chapter two, the author explores slavery and the emergence of revolution. While Equiano’s adventure highlighted slavery life, the chapter captures Richard as a symbol of hope and fulfillment of the black American’s dreams during the early years of the revolution (Egerton 41). A voice that sought for justice was on the rise amidst patrols that were meant to halt the same. Gatherings by Africans with an objective of raising concerns about liberty was in close relation to the address of slavery that appeared in the Virginia Gazette, penned by Arthur Lee in early 1967 (Egerton 48). The concerns were objective at the declaration of freedom and the birth of rights for every human kind irrespective of race.

Majority of the slaves are reported to have quit working on plantations and whenever attempts to restore order were made, the rebels took refuge in barns. A battle that resulted in killings of some slaves and others getting wounded began as the whites wanted to gain control over the slaves. Also, to serve as lessons for others, some slaved were chopped off their heads (Egerton 50). An open discussion forum by slaves regarding freedom was triggered by the court rulings in James Somerset case. As the case ruling spread from ships to alleys, slaves had open discussions regarding the prospects of freedom. The ruling also raised lots of concerns for masters since the rebellion against the payment of taxes by individuals such as Samuel Martin had started. Africans in Chesapeake and Maryland had joined the moves to condemn human trafficking by 1771. In some other places such as Pennsylvania, there were no direct moves to kill the trade, but higher taxes were imposed to discourage human trafficking. In 1776, the ...

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