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tv   Donald Johnson Occupied America  CSPAN  September 10, 2021 10:33pm-11:42pm EDT

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>> good evening everyone we are delighted to have you with us and from the center for digital history at the washington library. were glad to see you back in this new year to spend your evening with us. tonight i'm excited because we have an opportunity to explore the challenges, opportunities
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of that space under british military rule in the american revolution. before we get to that and our distinguished guests i want to encourage you all to join us january 27 we'll have a special symposium entitled leadership for a more perfect union. this is a symposium with a partnership with the brookings institute talking about serious issues facing the country at this time and for the way forward to be joined by figures from government and philanthropy including : powell in current associate justice of the supreme court justice sotomayor or. check us out there you can register for the free event we encourage you to join us in these important discussions with that forward to seeing you there.
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we also went to help encourage you to support mount vernon and that comes with a cost if you are able and have the means to do so we appreciate you throwing a few clams our way by going to mount and clicking the donate button. let's talk about tonight's main topic. 1815 john adams wrote to thomas jefferson and argue that the revolution is in the heart and mind of the people that 15 years before drop of blood was spilled in lexington and concorde and argues the war of independence and the revolution were two different things but was it really cracks our guest this evening is the assistant professor at
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north dakota state university former washington library research fellow and author of a brand-new book occupied america british military rule and the experience of revolution published 2020 university of pennsylvania press if you'd like to purchase a copy of that will drop a link in the comments at this time it's my distinct privilege to welcome doctor johnson to the screen. >> it's a great honor thank you for joining us in my correct assuming you come to us from fargo? >> i am. >> what is the temperature. >> this morning it was 5 degrees. >> and you have a heated garage. >> yes. [laughter] thank you very much i am excited to talk with you about this book. i was fascinated by refining
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in your discussion of the experience people face during the occupation during the revolutionary war. and then the plight of women and those to pursue freedom what was missing from that conversation. >> specifically from the question of loyalist and patriots are the people who wouldn't have identified as either or both at various points throughout the war. there is a whole category called neutrals or the disaffected these people who at certain points side but the
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crown or the revolutionaries or neither. and i felt those types of people were not well served in the categorization of patriots on one side and loyalist on the other. that was a much more complicated story there has to be room for change over time for people's loyalties to be more complicated and inflected by their day-to-day existence. in terms of the women of enslaved people and native americans there has been a ton of history on that written in the last decade or so. but i hope that it takes the exceptional and the disenfranchised groups.
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but doesn't integrate their stories into a more coherent narrative with what everyone else is doing. so i was trying to get at ordinary people of different races, gender, background and how that ordinary experience of revolution shaped allegiance. >> i'm curious how our early ancestors being our predecessors as a historical profession shape the narrative early on? we could cut to the thinking of two categories patriots and loyalist the gray area is lost in between but early on people started to write histories of the war many determination shape the story through recently. >> two of the earliest historians were ones involved
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in the occupation themselves and ramsey writes the history of revolution in south carolina 1785 and warren publishes her amount on —- multivolume in the first decade of the 19th century. ramsey himself prisoner of four and occupied charleston and lauren was witness to a lot of the trials and tribulations. they would have known from their personal experience and the ambiguities in the allegiance from there period but it was in their interest as the ruling elite after the war not to cast the struggle of self like that it is like
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the adams quote that you opened with i am butchering it but the revolution was complete that everyone had turned against the british will before the war so it was in their interest to create this narrative of a patriotic revolutionary congress and then to be on the side bad it's interesting going back through with an eye towards how they define political allegiance is how very few
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loyalist many times the people they name are notorious people like joseph galloway were those in philadelphia those who already fled the united states arouse this group of the loyalist with an actual definition and then to bend over backwards to those that strayed from the patriot path. >> do you sense they are doing that because there is intensive reconciliation and the 13 colonies? >> it is one of the things the higher profile founding fathers john jay and alexander
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hamilton make the argument you can't alienate the's people who sided with the crown early in the war because they are contributing a good deal to society. they have money , expertise, the tools that people need to build a nation. so if you have the strict and those that served in the crown dance spoke in support of the crown that is a loyalist. and a quarter of the population at least. >> i will take the opportunity
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in the second half of the program to ask her questions in the comments of facebook and twitter or youtube. you mentioned so what do we get from these urban spaces. >> first records are more likely to survive. and in greater concentration with that hinterland so where do i put sources and that which existed and survived quicksand second the places where occupation was the most intense and has the highest stakes in terms of intensity the british occupied elsewhere
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but at various points. with new york and pennsylvania and those that are controlled by the british ordinary people may go months or weeks without seeing a single british soldier whereas cities where people but then they move much more quickly with a greater intensity. the cities were crucial to the plan both sides. for the british it was to take the cities and to conciliate
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from the surrounding countryside and if there was anywhere welcoming to the british army likely with much more cosmopolitan much more transient and before the revolution and newport rhode island with the council of the higher citizens of a proclamation of greeting. and those that welcome the chance to get back to business but over the course of the war they realized to realize that
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the empire was a place to go back to. >> what struck me about your book in the immediate months of the war and they are the occupying force and how do people respond to them when this occurs in 75 and 76? >> people didn't know what to make of them. there were these groups the citizens that form themselves into committee and council and militia and resistance organizations starting in april 1775 and the six
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cities in each capitals of their respective companies and in order to have the legitimacy of proper government revolutionaries make moves to secure those places
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back to the crown and attacking less government what does that process look like? and with those collaborators is a word in the process. the collaborator is a great word and i use it in the sense that historians of the german occupation of france almost everybody living under occupation to some degree or another. but the british immediately retake these cities with new york and newport. and philadelphia. and they start distributing loyalty else.
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and they get people to sign a loyalty oath. and with these little slips of paper and in duplicate and those that signs them to renounce any loyalties and then to defend the crowns interest in that have suspect loyalties of fight for them. and of that acceptance and then they hold out the
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prospect of returning to the kings piece which is reconnecting to the old british empire with access to trade routes and with the ability to sue and reclaim property and death and all of these connections to the british empire. for a lot of people especially in urban centers these are people a lot of them make their living based on transatlantic trade and dependent on the british empire for the livelihood. so those that signed on that they would get their lives back essentially. >> how successful were the british in the best sense in
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their life to restore civil government? maybe we can look at new york city and savannah which are two of the critical places where these experiments are taking place. and that is the way that they succeed in new york the british invade late summer 1776 of long island manhattan island and staten island which we now think of as the boroughs of new york city and the surrounding areas but never penetrate deeper into the country. so it is a no man's land in between british occupied new york. because of this they are unwilling to restore full
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civil governments to the areas that they occupy. there is military government led by the commanding general of the army. and then the commandant itself responsible for keeping order on the streets. and a group of 1 billion former officials and andrew elliott. and with the chief of police or chief magistrate and he is responsible for the civilian apparatus and with those military offenders and in
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lodging for the poor and those who cannot afford it based on professional loyalty with adherence to the crown. for the traders and revolutionaries. and to adhere to them coming into the city. and street cleaners and clerks and rent collectors and so forth. so there is a weird civilian administration but it never has the full force of law as long as it is only backed by the military there is the idea it could end at any time.
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and then the examples of boston and newport and philadelphia and loyalist to collaborate and help the british and that faring poorly and even where the british do bring back the royal governor and conquer the entire province of georgia and then to call the colonial assembly back into session in 1780 in savannah and later charleston they attempt to do the same thing that is their best hope
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and it does work for about a year but it into north carolina and then it kind of goes away you get revolutionary guerrilla forces in the backcountry and the feuds between people of different allegiances and even though he tries his best in that situation is never able to retain the power he had previously. even where civil government is put in power while the war is raging the military is the ultimate be all and all. >> they try to take the various cities at least holding some of them.
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not heading towards yorktown so how the people you spoke of earlier in the middle ground hedging their bets of how to survive how are they reinventing themselves in the process? >> it is ingenious as you keep her in new york city runs this arbitrage stand with continental currency where she opens her house to prisoners of war from the continental army and houses take their rent in continental dollars which a lot of would not do then ask the military authorities for a pass to go outside of the lines into new
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jersey uses that currency to buy a bunch of food, comes back into new york and sells it three or four times the price she paid in your british currency and pockets the difference so a lot of people were working these angles and schemes to enrich themselves and in her case she actually breaks her way free from an abusive husband she can throw out of the house and break free from because the new source of power and income but for other people they are more fundamentally reinventing themselves like an enslaved carpenter and was born on a plantation outside of charleston south carolina he is trained as a carpenter.
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and with the british lines offering freedom to the enslaved people those revolutionaries that are willing to serve in the army and serve in the british regiment as the auxiliary worker is a grant and then escaping to new york where he marries another freeze slave working as a man servant. and then reinvents himself even with the british and in nova scotia in a pre- black community there are tons of people like this that her totally changing their circumstance through the occupation. >> it's easy to write about
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the guys like that because george washington of course that these are we don't see or write about you are tracking across large spaces where defined these individuals? >> a lot of that was digging through people's papers and to see what they had. one of the reasons going back to the beginning of the conversation to hide the extent of their activities during the occupation. one of the stories i found most fascinating and a diehard loyalist even though captain
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benjamin wrote a series of letters to him in the battle of rhode island. and she writes these letters saying i hope the continental army burns and how if i see you again your marched to the streets as prisoner for. but then she hides that in october 1779 takes the bundle and hands them to a friend of hers and says hi these and how long after i am dead and she continues to operate this boardinghouse with her husband well into the 17 nineties and the legendary washington connection where washington stays at this house when it
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comes to newport in the 17 nineties and that's a blanket they say washington slipped on his kept there but they don't find these papers of years until 1845 or 1850 when her grandchildren go through the attic. grandma was a loyalist. so that is hunting for the stories that much more challenging and rewarding when you find them. >> that's amazing and also a good example. >> also how the occupation put stress on individuals and families we make a joke about being cold this winter i was outside the other day when i
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was reading book and a wonderful discussion the stress the occupation puts on the landscape. >> and with those resources these places are not set up for an influx of population philadelphia had 25000 people during peacetime and that was spoken from the countryside and took an incredible amount food and fuel to keep these people alive in the british
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army comes in with 35000 troops and in newport rhode island they come in with 8000 that almost doubles living on the island and by the end of the first year of the occupation of rhode island they cut down every single tree on the island and they began to tear down fences and outbuildings and then they go raid the connecticut coast for lumbar. so with prices for food and shelter. there are tons of complaints even from well off people in new york city that prices for rent are skyhigh.
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a lot of this has to do with the fire the beginning of the occupation but is everywhere the british go because they need to be housed and fed and sheltered that get priority over the population and in a lot of places. on those going hungry and freezing to death on the streets so we know by climate science the second half of the h century the accounts of people freezing to death and actually burning animal fat to try to survive. the price of regular brown bread goes up by about five
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times and then to protect these populations there are dire straits for people living in these towns. >> 's to what extent can they restart commerce with savanna or a little more control? charleston? could they resupplied themselves and put back into place a market economy. >> in a sense, yes and no they can bring and what we thought of as luxury so for example the merchants who the day after the british starts writing so me send me
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silverware or ceramics and those that people have not been able to get at the outbreak of the imperial crisis. a lot of these goods that are selling very cheaply just because there has been a supply buildup in england during the intervening period and there is a lot of demand. if you are in the market so occupy new york might be your place. but you cannot connect these food supplies that kept the cities going on a day to day basis the british army goes so
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far to japan from ireland with spoils on the way with dried green coal to heat fires and it just never really works. >> please get your questions in a then the rest of the evening we can pose questions as they come to mind so you mentioned the fact the experience of occupation whatever trappings of loyalty they fell just by virtue of experience can you tell us more about that process is that all that once some people decided enough is enough or is that a slow burn so they
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decided they would not go into exile in the united states? >> i compare it to muscle memory a lot of these people with the utmost loyalty to the crown at the beginning of the occupation and because of the hardships and the strain the british army puts on these communities they are forced to break the law and order to survive. so the rid the family of rhode island that has branches in boston and new york is constantly smuggling food and resources to one another across enemy lines. one brother in revolutionary newport one in occupied new york one in boston constantly
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writing to each other and sending each other food and money and other things illicitly and under the nose of the british the thing happens in the south neighbors and friends and relatives not out of ideological reasons but practical reasons and vice versa those that are keeping ties survey having to constantly undermine these governments these occupation regimes it erodes their authority and the idea that the kingpin actually rations a king's forces can actually
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meet the needs of the population that doesn't necessarily turn people into revolutionaries that gets the alienation from government that did not necessarily happen before the war. >> that makes a lot of sense. >> i do want to know you did teach two classes today so thank you for being here. went to close my portion by asking what do you tell your students is the most important thing that to know about the occupation or even better? what surprised you most about this project when you are researching it? >> really it was the amount of good faith people putting into make society work.
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and when the military comes it is a catchall or a dire situation because this category between patriot loyalist they get a bad rap a lot of these people held strong political opinions but they don't necessarily have the luxury of acting on them and one of the best sources i found was from a woman in new york he was a daughter of a quaker merchant and poetry
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ways program for this area with romantic couplets of revolutionary he rose and then she marries a british soldier moving to british canada. and that kind of disconnect is fascinating to me it doesn't mean she didn't hold deep beliefs, obviously she did but and then what happens with these revolutionary upheavals. >> . >> thank you for talking with me now talk to the audience. a question of the transition of capital cities from places of philly to harrisburg and adams is asking to what extent is the occupation of the cities.
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>> and never thought of it that way the traditional narrative is east versus west frontier versus establishment philly to harrisburg savanna to atlanta or places like that but occupation may not have something to do with it as well. i'm not sure on the timing so will have to send that to someone who may no better but that's interesting. >> there is your research topic. [laughter] >> . >> you could argue so norfolk
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for genia is occupied in the beginning of the war and basically burned by patriot leaders to prevent its use as a base by governor dunmore. and those chesapeake towns are too small to worry about. it's one of the reasons in the book as well is not a coincidence boston newport philadelphia where the biggest in colonial north america and strategically and in williamsburg yorktown or
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jamestown to be on the map from the imperial standpoint and yorktown gets occupied but really only circumstantially when cornwallis has an escape back to york so again, not economically to the land of trade. >> the next question marks that whether or not any of the cities occupied by the british of what you would regard as a failure? what are some common themes? >> they all fail in the end so the british actually want to negotiate for peace there is a
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movement even after the battle of yorktown and there is a directive by the ministry to keep it as the american gibraltar or a trading outpost to which the british can keep some of their clout in north america and have a strategic hold out that the populations turn against the british. and even those that about the british rule with the occupation of new york they are exhausted and tired and
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ready to make peace with the revolutionary government and with that cantankerous loyalist the population here will follow you if you tried to hold it as an american gibraltar in north america. and they have to give it up because the population can turn against them so i think the common theme is they just collapse after british military defeat. >> about what lessons did the british learn and that they say the applied lessons in boston to new york and also
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with the course of the war that system in new york is replicated in charleston and i believe then newport and then charleston former attorney general simpson creates a really elaborate plan for different districts and tendencies of police and the ideological indoctrination of the population. but again, never really takes hold and not necessarily these officials it is the military
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officers who are unwilling to put conciliation in front of military victory. >> went as a means to entice people to one side or the other? so one of the things in the occupied south of south carolina and georgia the british sees a large number of enslaved people and invade georgia and south carolina and they dole these out and those who return their loyalty to reclaim their property and even for some people who stuck with the crown even before the
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occupation with former revolutionaries and the enslaved people to do it they will during this period alternately new york and charleston have the power to take away or agitate to sees the material and goods there is a lot of using people's property people's wealth as a way to entice or punish them alternatively. >> and how the british managed to occupy during the war quick. >> it depends on the region and most of the places i am looking at they didn't go in
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that much further than the territory of the actual city from boston they never really control beyond the auspices of the city itself and in philadelphia as well and what we look at as the inner suburbs but the lines are pretty narrow. and in the south it's a little more all-encompassing. they occupy georgia up to augusta they occupied south carolina with the frontier settlement so at certain points so it's varied from
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place to place full-size claim the regions around for about 100 miles another direction and where no man land where the militias that were loyal to the revolutionaries fight for control and neither side had a clear advantage. >> we have a question coming in among the citizens of want to build on what you just said because i'm wondering when the rebel and british armies were contesting so to what extent did that lead to people with one government or the other?
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>> there's a certain amount of people who are willing to side with whichever side was stronger and more ready to win the war and those between family members in the now is the time to jump ship coming to the revolutionary side maybe in a couple months if we win the battle we should switch to the crown. and side swapping. >> but there is also militantly anti- both sides and to draw the comparison to the english civil war with
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both the loyalist and the parliamentary forces and you see that more in the carolinas or georgia those beyond the mountains and those that just want to defend their settlements and to attack pretty much anyone who comes through their region there's definitely disaffection there's so what is comparable. yes and no what i tried to do is draw the common thread and in each city there is an arc. this was the beginning of the
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end and then this period of deprivation and hardship of military rule and violence a lot of military and the british army there is assault and rape and murder and all kinds of violence in the cities so there are in some cities that carolinians and
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allow me blacks to have more liberties and their use to and with those cultural differences like that but they are all of common experiences. >> we have one final question and that between benjamin franklin and a concrete example of a revolutionary family. and with those effects of occupation postwar. what does it mean for those who have been divided or in exile? what lasting effects does it have on their lives? >> and the grimly family that
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i mentioned early half of them and that then nova scotia in both sides prosper and continue to correspond and that one side can come back under penalty of execution. so with benjamin franklin's son so that does hangover a lot of people but in a certain way to sweep it under the rug and forget it there was that
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permissiveness to forget that complexity and the nuances of the wartime experience in one of the examples in the department of the treasury of the thompson and jefferson administrations at a diehard loyalist to occupy philadelphia and marry the daughter of a prominent loyalist family and then to profiteer off the occupation to sell goods to the british west indies to the caribbean and philadelphia but one of these people to switch sides at the right time and they get
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word the british are ready to evacuate and week before the british leave to sign an open loyalty to the revolutionary state of pennsylvania and he writes his contact in your keys basically breaking contact with them and rights to become the most perfect american. and then he is able to make a career in politics in the early republic and the confederation of the 1780s and serves in the treasury department and this comes up every now and again when he runs for office and in public view but it's almost treated as a useful and discretion they say you can't blame him for that he was only 20 it was more on —- war so any part of
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that is everyone had something like that they did during the war so the critics are never able to get any traction because there is forgive and forget mentalities. >> i really haven't read much of his life before so what is he doing? >> that is a great concrete example of ways that people are reinventing themselves during the war. >> in looking at the records that you can see the portions are just ripped out from the occupation but it's
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interesting to see the way people reshape their lives. >> it is fantastic if we are able to travel again i really enjoyed our time together thank you and our audience thank you for tuning in to all of you out there and to sam slater and jeanette patrick working behind the scenes of their meat on —- magic i hope to see you soon.
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>> with the near times publication of 1619 a series of essays by black journalist redefining 177076 through 1619 and they survived on the shores of virginia. it goes on to say the
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revolutionary war was to defend slavery and then to redefine america as systemically races and a very dire picture of the country and makes the false claims and the direct legacy for the shadow slavery and jim crow and since the messenger here was black without the counter narrative should be authored by black.
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we did not want to offer a point to point day or rebuttal that offer an aspirational alternative narrative that acknowledges slavery was underreported and poorly examined but the conclusions that we reached articulated in 1619 so the proof of scholars, journalist different ideological stripes and so we are third the's essays to establish the fact 1776 is the birthday of america and the values of our founders is the foundation upon which blacks were able to survive slavery
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with an attitude of self-determination. we felt it was important for this book to be written to have an alternative vision about the plight of blacks we should never be defined by slavery or jim crow. we are more than that. for joining us i am the director of the center for jefferson studies at monticello. it is my pleasure to introduce our guest author discussing his book the complete victory a saratoga on —- in the american revolution published


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