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The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832
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The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832

4.09  ·  Rating Details  ·  297 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for History

This searing story of slavery and freedom in the Chesapeake by a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian reveals the pivot in the nation’s path between the founding and civil war.

Frederick Douglass recalled that slaves living along Chesapeake Bay longingly viewed sailing ships as "freedom’s swift-winged angels." In 1813 those angels ap
Hardcover, 624 pages
Published September 9th 2013 by W. W. Norton & Company
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(showing 1-30 of 1,462)
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Margaret Sankey
Nov 15, 2013 Margaret Sankey rated it it was amazing
Taylor begins with a familiar rundown of slaves escaping to the British during the American Revolution, and the paranoia this inspired among Virginians (especially as new land rules ended entail and primogeniture--increasing slave ownership by breaking up large holding while simultaneously sundering existing slave families). The narrative really takes off during the War of 1812, when Taylor teases out the means by which slave kin networks, often led by women, decided that young men should escape ...more
Scott Rhee
A leisurely summer stroll through the beautifully-maintained restored buildings and grounds of Colonial Williamsburg is a wonderful excursion back in time to an era on the cusp of revolution. Touring the Governor’s Palace, the Courthouse, and the taverns and churches that lined the main streets of the old village that was, at one point, our capital city is a glorious reminder of how far we have come as a nation.

Yet, even as we see the birth of our nation’s independence and the beginnings of the
Dec 02, 2013 Kidada rated it really liked it
White Virginians lived in fear that the people they enslaved would turn on them. They had reason to be afraid, not only of a violent uprising but also of the determination of enslaved people to escape bondage any way they could. Taylor opens a window onto enslaved people's resistance in Virginia during the War of 1812 and shows the processes by which several thousand enslaved people gained their freedom by siding with the British.
Nov 22, 2015 Miles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If your mental map of American history is like mine, it may jump rather directly from 1776 and 1787, Declaration and Constitution... to 1860 and the Civil War. The early 19th century sits there like a vast vague blob of things you and I should have remembered from high school... but probably don't.

What the heck really happened in America in the first half of the 19th century. Let's see. Uh. Westward Expansion? The Second Great Religious Awakening? A Bunch of Obscure Presidents? Bloody Kansas? H
Apr 19, 2014 Patricia rated it it was amazing
This book could have been a bit dense, were it not for the fact that the author used the personal history of a specific family in Virginia to illustrate the points of the bigger picture. So that, plus the fact that the bigger picture seems to me to be a really important (and, to my knowledge, overlooked) part of the story of the early years of the US, makes it a book well worth reading. The story of the black slaves of Virginia and their role in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 is fasci ...more
Mar 13, 2016 Jefferson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A Mostly Absorbing, Moving, and Harrowing History

The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia 1772-1832 (2013) by Alan Taylor focuses on "the social complexities of slavery" during the War of 1812 in Virginia, setting its historical narrative in a larger context ranging throughout the USA and British empire and from just before the American Revolution to Nat Turner's 1831 uprising. Taylor quotes many letters, diaries, and "war related or war generated documents" to bring to life the personali
Nov 30, 2015 Martin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Terrific contribution to American history, particularly when examining the lives of slaves. The book has a particular point of view, which I have greatly come to appreciate as I read more history. The author takes every opportunity to expose Thomas Jefferson’s racism in action, while he mostly acquits George Washington (even contextualizing his grandson’s financial/social inability to free his slave). Conversely, the author also takes every opportunity to state that the slaves were almost univer ...more
Robert Owen
“The Internal Enemy” is a masterful exploration of slavery’s evolving implications on the social, political and racial attitudes of Virginians in the sixty years following the Revolutionary War. At the time of the Revolution slavery was generally seen by the founding generation as a moribund practice with a limited economic future - a “necessary evil” whose existence was in irreconcilable conflict with the Enlightenment ideals of liberty and equality that inspired the revolution. Over the course ...more
Joseph Stieb
This book is an interesting blend of academic and popular history. Taylor puts forth a compelling argument, but it's not as well written or organized as American colonies. Nevertheless, I got a lot out of this in-depth study of slavery, war, and society in colonial Virginia. The book centers around the War of 1812, in which the British raided Virginian plantations and became a means for slaves to escape. There are some compelling parallels between Virginia's inability to protect itself during th ...more
Steve Hart
Jan 01, 2016 Steve Hart rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is fantastic. While starting out with largely a series of narrative vignettes about slavery in Virginia and how it changed after the US won its independence, the remainder of the book focused on the war of 1812. Viewing the war through the lens of slavey in Virginia, however, elucidated it in many interesting ways and the book framed the next 50 years of US history leading up to the civil war more coherently, convincingly and clearly then anything I had read before. While Dred Scott, t ...more
Dec 01, 2014 Joshua rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overall I enjoyed reading this book. I’m not sure that others interested in history for purely entertainment/leisure would find this a gripping read. Some parts of Taylor’s prose become extremely tedious as he dissects the generational inheritances of a plantation and the evolution of discipline and correction on that plantation (Corrottoman). Despite its title about 350 of 435 pages focus on the War of 1812, with an introductory and conclusion that brings in the period 1776-1812 and 1815-1832. ...more
Apr 27, 2015 Iain rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alan Taylor's "The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832" much like his book about the War of 1812 is wonderfully researched down to the personal level as you get to know the people masters and slaves in Virginia's slavery economy. As a modern reader it can be almost too much to fathom; the idea that most of the men who came up with some of the most eloquent words and actions in regard to freedom and one's right to it were Virginian slave owners. The arrogance of which the Virgi ...more
The ostensible topic here is very promising: the culture of fear promoted by slavery in time of war, when slaves might escape to the enemy (or be armed by them, or serve them as guides). The execution, however, left me cold with its shapelessness. The primary focus is on slaves around the shores of Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812, which afforded relatively widespread opportunities to escape to the British. As the dates in the subtitle hint, though, it sprawls around in all sorts of tangent ...more
May 27, 2014 Bertport rated it it was amazing
As the title suggests, this book deals with the question, what was the impact of slavery on the conduct of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 in Virginia? A short answer: the nation, and especially Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay watershed, were more vulnerable and less capable of fighting the British because of the institution of slavery. The revolution is passed over quickly, however; the War of 1812 is the real focus. The great denouement, the point of all the groundwork laid along the ...more
Oct 14, 2015 Aaron rated it really liked it
The perspective of The Internal Enemy is what I enjoyed most. The War of 1812 accounted for about half of this books contents. But since the author Alan Taylor was coming at this book with a viewpoint of focusing on slavery, its hypocrisy and wrongness, he gave a different take on the War of 1812 than most Americans typically hear. During the time period of the War of 1812, America was a land of slavery, Britain was not a land of slavery. Thus, how could an author writing a book against slavery ...more
Earl Grey Tea
The Internal Enemy focuses it's attention on a very narrow segment of the population, geographical area, and time period during American history. There was a lot of information that I learned concerning slavery, the treatment of slaves, the culture of the slaves and the slave owners, the reasons for wanting or not wanting to escape slavery, and the methods of running away.

Most of this book dealt with issue of run away slaves and their assistance to the British military during the War of 1812. It
M. Patrick
Aug 14, 2015 M. Patrick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 by Alan Taylor is an excellent discussion of the culture of slavery between the American Revolution and the Missouri Compromise. Taylor is one of the history scholars who can time travel the reader to the time he is describing. I came away knowing what a slave's life was like on a day by day basis. I discovered that the British did more for slaves in that time than any abolitionist, evangelical Christian group, or "Inalienable Rights" ad ...more
While not a topic I'm particularly interested in, I'm trying to read a lot of Pulitzer prize winners. And I did find this book surprisingly readable. It also described a historical event that isn't as widely discussed, the War of 1812. Unlike most slavery histories, this doesn't even touch on the Civil War, but focuses entirely on the time leading up to it. Even my mother, who is a huge history buff, was unaware that the British helped slaves escape by ship during the war. My only criticism is t ...more
Aug 04, 2014 wade rated it it was amazing
This is a very well written and researched book about slavery in Virginia between 1772 and 1832. The thesis is that during both the American Revolution and the War of 1812 our country was fighting not just the British but also had a secondary war going on with the slave population who were using the wars to escape to freedom and then generally helping the British during this period. Though written specifically about Virginia where the author lives and teaches I feel his findings are representat ...more
Jan 14, 2015 Mickey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Very informative and easy to read, this book gives a balanced view of Virginia during the years leading up to the War of 1812 and the war itself. It explains how the slave system helped weaken the United States against the British because a large number of slaves defected to the British and provided them insight into the terrain and the habits of their masters. I like how the author avoided painting the British as "the great white savior." He made it clear that a huge part of the British motivat ...more
Brad Hodges

"During the early nineteenth century, Virginians thought of blacks in two radically different ways. On the one hand, masters often felt secure with, and even protective of, particular slaves well known to them. But when thinking of all slaves collectively, the Virginians imagined a dreaded 'internal enemy' who might, at any moment, rebel in a midnight massacre to butcher white men, women, and children in their beds."

So writes Alan Taylor in his informative if repetitive The Internal Enemy: Slave
Erik Riker-Coleman
Jul 22, 2014 Erik Riker-Coleman rated it it was amazing
This book completely rules. The periodization suggested by the title is a bit misleading, as the book is focused very heavily on 1800-1815, primarily on the War of 1812. That said, it provides great Big Picture coverage while humanizing its subject via an amazing set of records from one Tidewater plantation--ironically, the records were mostly collected by the slaveowner in an effort to secure federal compensation for the slaves liberated by the British during the war.
Marianne Meyers
Apr 16, 2014 Marianne Meyers rated it it was amazing
What a fascinating read! It is always interesting to discover history that has been forgotten, especially when it is important. The author excels at being a responsible historian who can compile all the information into something readable and page-turning. While in the middle of my reading this book, it was announced that it had won the Pulitzer prize for 2014. Well done!
Ann Alton
I should preface this with the admission that I am not a history buff, not really. Just finding history more interesting than in high school (at 40+, suddenly 40 years is NOT a long time ago). I liked this book, it was interesting and informative, it helped me to learn more about the war of 1812 and the slavery during that time. I probably needed a dumbed down version, with a little less detail.
Aron Wagner
Sep 05, 2015 Aron Wagner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very academic, but still accessible, Taylor's history draws heavily on the stories and examples of individuals. My favorite story involved slaves who would escape to British ships, then come back to the plantations with a story of how they were "mistreated" by the British. The plantation owners, blinded by paternalism, would pat themselves on the back for being such kind and intelligent masters, and then be looking the other way as the original escapees absconded again, this time taking all thei ...more
The quickest read on the syllabus. Fun and interesting, with a satisfying thesis about how slaves turned the war in the Chesapeake for their own purposes. Don't be deceived by the subtitle, though: focuses almost exclusively on a few hundred slaves during the War of 1812.
Dave Pier
Aug 30, 2015 Dave Pier rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Establishes the War of 1812 as a key moment in the development of white southern fear of blacks as the "Internal Enemy"-- fear that developed into full-blown southern exceptionalism based on racial ideology. British actively recruited slaves as soldiers, and slaves were eager to join them, contrary to the myth of the passive, contented plantation dweller. Slow going in parts, owing to the historian's emphasis on thorough evidence. Well worth reading though.
Nov 26, 2014 David rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It was OK. A bit tedious in many spots, but it was worth learning about an interesting time in our history, and getting a better glimpse into attitudes towards slavery.
Mar 24, 2015 Jill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Living in the historical area, I found the history very interesting. The history of early capitalism that was dependent on the shockingly brutal conditions of slavery was documented and should be required reading. The effects of this shameful period in America are still being felt today and deserves more than lip service.
Casey Taylor
Jan 20, 2016 Casey Taylor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Less intriguing than "The Half Has Never Been Told," it still provides a unique glimpse into early American slavery by focusing on Virginia from the American Revolution to the War of 1812. The narrative drifts at times from an exclusive focus on slaves into a war narrative (thus 4 stars instead of 5), but compelling nonetheless. The simultaneous acknowledgment by white slave owners of slavery's evil but their complete unwillingness to end it not only boggles the mind but infuriates anyone with m ...more
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Pulitzer Prize wi...: First book: The Internal Enemy 1 7 Aug 08, 2014 10:54PM  
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Alan Shaw Taylor is a historian specializing in early American history. He is the author of a number of books about colonial America, the American Revolution, and the Early American Republic. He has won a Pulitzer Prize and the Bancroft Prize for his work.

Taylor graduated from Colby College, in Waterville, Maine, in 1977 and earned his Ph.D. from Brandeis University in 1986. Currently a professor
More about Alan Taylor...

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