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The Counter-Revolution of 1776

The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America

Gerald Horne
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 363
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qg0bm
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  • Book Info
    The Counter-Revolution of 1776
    Book Description:

    The successful 1776 revolt against British rule in North America has been hailed almost universally as a great step forward for humanity. But the Africans then residing in the colonies overwhelmingly sided with London. In this trailblazing book, Gerald Horne complements his earlier celebratedNegro Comrades of the Crown, by showing that in the prelude to 1776, the abolition of slavery seemed all but inevitable in London, delighting Africans as much as it outraged slaveholders, and sparking the colonial revolt. In the prelude to 1776, more and more Africans were joining the British military, and anti-slavery sentiments were deepening throughout Britain. And in the Caribbean, rebellious Africans were chasing Europeans to the mainland. Unlike their counterparts in London, the European colonists overwhelmingly associated enslaved Africans with subversion and hostility to the status quo. For European colonists, the major threat to security in North America was a foreign invasion combined with an insurrection of the enslaved. And as 1776 approached, London-imposed abolition throughout the colonies was a very real and threatening possibility - a possibility the founding fathers feared could bring the slave rebellions of Jamaica and Antigua to the thirteen colonies. To forestall it, they went to war. The so-called Revolutionary War, Horne writes, was in large part a counter-revolution, a conservative movement that the founding fathers fought in order to preserve their liberty to enslave others - and which today takes the form of a racialized conservatism and a persistent racism targeting the descendants of the enslaved.The Counter-Revolution of 1776drives us to a radical new understanding of the traditional heroic creation myth of the United States.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-7497-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    It was just past ten in the morning on 22 June 1772 in a London courtroom. And the presiding magistrate, Lord Mansfield, had just made a ruling that suggested that slavery, the blight that had ensnared so many, would no longer obtain, at least not in England. A few nights later, a boisterous group of Africans, numbering in the hundreds, gathered for a festive celebration; strikingly, none defined as “white” were allowed—though they toasted Lord Mansfield, the first Scot to become a powerful lawyer, legislator, politician, and judge, with unbounded enthusiasm.¹

    Others were not so elated, particularly in Virginia,...

  5. 1 Rebellious Africans: How Caribbean Slavery Came to the Mainland
    (pp. 23-42)

    The news from Barbados was frightening.

    In 1676, a Londoner reported breathlessly about the “bloody tragedy intended against His Majesty’s subjects” there at the hands of “the Heathen, the Negroes”; fortunately, it was said, the conspiracy was “miraculously discovered eight days before the intended murder” was planned.¹ An orgy of beheadings and immolations of Africans—particularly those designated as “Coromantee or Gold Coast Negro”—ensued, but this bloodshed was insufficient to wash away fearful apprehension about what could befall this small island. For the Africans not only sought to eliminate the European settlement and establish their own polity in its...

  6. 2 Free Trade in Africans? Did the Glorious Revolution Unleash the Slave Trade?
    (pp. 43-62)

    The “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 was not so glorious for Africa and the Africans. The year 1688 was also a setback for Catholic rule in London, though the Bill of Rights that emerged makes understandable why this conflict has been seen widely as a step forward generally for Europeans. As for Africans, there is little need to hedge about its deadliness (though the blow absorbed by Catholics suggested that London would have to rely more heavily on armed Africans). The compelled retreat of monarchy and the strengthening of the rising class of merchants—already buoyed by the wealth generated in...

  7. 3 Revolt! Africans Conspire with the French and Spanish
    (pp. 63-87)

    Early in the morning of a moonlit day on 6 April 1712, fires also illuminated the sky in lower Manhattan. What had happened was that a few dozen determined Africans armed with guns, hatchets, knives, and other purloined weapons gathered in an orchard at the rear of a house in the city’s East Ward, burst into an outhouse, set ablaze that building, and then ambushed the settlers who rushed to extinguish the fire. Preferring death to capture, a number of the rebels fled to the countryside and committed suicide before they could be detained, while others were arrested (approximately seventy)...

  8. 4 Building a “White” Pro-Slavery Wall: The Construction of Georgia
    (pp. 88-109)

    The drum was pounding and the words were flowing with like insistency.

    It was November 1733 in St. Augustine in Spanish Florida, which had long since gained a justified reputation as a scourge of colonies to the north—notably, the Carolinas, from which the enslaved were fleeing in ever growing numbers southward, where they often wound up in Madrid’s military, eager to inflict mayhem on their former captors. But now an edict was being read to pulsating rhythms thought to be favored by Africans—it just so happened that Carolina ships with Africans aboard were in the harbor—which proclaimed...

  9. 5 The Stono Uprising: Will the Africans Become Masters and the Europeans Slaves?
    (pp. 110-135)

    What was known as Stono’s Revolt—a mass uprising of enslaved Africans in September 1739 in South Carolina that led to the massacre of dozens of settlers—took place at a time of rising tension with Spain and increased restiveness by Africans, suggesting that the newest firewall that was Georgia was proving to be quite porous. The authorities thought that what instigated this frightful upsurge was the repeated proclamations issued at St. Augustine by His Catholic Majesty promising freedom to all Africans who deserted from the north.¹ Perhaps if the massacres had been confined to the fiery border between Carolina...

  10. 6 Arson, Murders, Poisonings, Shipboard Insurrections: The Fruits of the Accelerating Slave Trade
    (pp. 136-160)

    If the threat to mainland colonies presented by the de facto African-Spanish alliance would have been contained on the Carolina-Georgia-Florida border, it may have been possible to downplay the existential threat to British North America.

    However, just as London and Madrid were crossing swords in the area just north of St. Augustine—and beyond—a series of damaging fires in New York in 1741 raised the specter of taking this conflict into New England, Canada, and beyond, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the British Crown.¹ As an investigation announced tremblingly, there was a “wicked and dangerous conspiracy” “set on foot”...

  11. 7 The Biggest Losers: Africans and the Seven Years’ War
    (pp. 161-183)

    The beginning of what has been called the Seven Years’ War in 1756 (also denoted as the French and Indian War) between London and mainland settlers on the one hand (with some indigenes and Africans) and the usual antagonists (European foes, the indigenous, and Africans) on the other hand was a continuation of what had become a decades-long conflict.¹ For our purposes here,² what is critically important is the impact of this conflict on the tangled issues of slavery and the slave trade and the growth of secessionist sentiment. In short, this war led to Madrid being ousted from Florida...

  12. 8 From Havana to Newport, Slavery Transformed: Settlers Rebel against London
    (pp. 184-208)

    By 1762, London had been at war for six years with France—but also Austria and Russia—and had suffered draining losses, worsened by mainlander desertions, mutinies, and general dissent, though the conflict in North America was, to a certain extent, for their benefit. During this time, Spain had been far from neutral, as its privateers preyed upon vessels sailing from New York to Jamaica in particular—then Madrid chose to throw in its lot formally with the eventual losers and joined their ranks.¹

    The moral, political, and economic impact of the resultant fall of Havana in 1762 to British...

  13. 9 Abolition in London: Somerset’s Case and the North American Aftermath
    (pp. 209-233)

    As things turned out, June 1772 was not only on a level with July 1776 as a determinant of the future of British North America but, in a sense, was a necessary stepping-stone to the latter, better recognized date. Slaveholders had long felt uncomfortable in London, objecting to disapproval there of their brutal floggings of their Africans and the perceived laggardness in retrieving runaways. As Somerset’s case dragged on, more antipathy to slavery was engendered in the British isles, further outraging colonists who had normalized this form of property as any other, like a steed or a parrot. When the...

  14. 10 The Counter-Revolution of 1776
    (pp. 234-252)

    Lord Dunmore’s proclamation effectively barred any possibility of rebel reconciliation with London. As one subsequent analyst put it, “the people rose in revolt at the idea of an army composed” of Africans, “many fresh from the wilds of Africa” tromping through North America. The “reign of terror” this augured did “arouse the entire colony as nothing else could have done” and, in so many words, “forced war.”¹ In response to this controversial edict, Virginia militarized further, forming thirty-two new volunteer companies and embarking irrevocably on the road to revolt.² Even the Duke of Manchester in May 1776 conceded that the...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 253-334)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 335-348)
  17. ABOUT THE AUTHOR
    (pp. 349-349)