Simon Schama discusses his book Rough Crossings, which turns on a single huge question: if you were black in America at the start of the Revolutionary War, whom would you want to win? Tens of thousands gave their answer, voting with their feet for Britain and King George. In response to a declaration by the Governor of Virginia that any rebel-owned slave who escaped and served the King would be emancipated, tens of thousands of slaves, Americans who clung to the sentimental notion of British freedom, escaped from farms, plantations, and cities to try to reach the British camp. This mass movement lasted as long as the war did, and a military strategy originally designed to break the plantations of the American South had unleashed the greatest uprising in American history. Schama details the odyssey of the escaped blacks through the fires of war and the terror of potential recapture at the war’s end, into inhospitable Nova Scotia, where thousands who had served the Crown were betrayed, and, in a little-known hegira of the slave epic, shipped across the broad, stormy ocean to Sierra Leone.
BIO: Simon Schama
Simon Schama is University Professor of Art History and History. He taught history at Cambridge (1966-76), Oxford (1976-1980) and art history and history at Harvard (1980-1993) before coming to Columbia. He has also taught at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and has delivered the George Macaulay Trevelyan Lectures at Cambridge, the Tanner Lectures and the Finzi-Contini Lecture at Yale on the epic tradition in English history. Last fall he delivered the Andrew Mellon Lectures on the Visual Arts at the National Gallery in Washington on “Really Old Masters: Late Style from Titian to de Kooning”. His books have been translated into fifteen languages and include Patriots and Libeators: Revolution and Government in the Netherlands 1780-1813 (1977); Two Rothschilds and the Land of Israel (1979) , The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age; (1987) Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (1989), Landscape and Memory (1995); Rembrandt’s Eyes (1999); the History of Britain trilogy (2000-2002); Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution (2006), and The Power of Art (2007). In 1991 he published the twinned novellas, Dead Certainties: Unwarranted Speculations.