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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

4.1 of 5 stars 4.10  ·  rating details  ·  169 ratings  ·  38 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, 605 pages
Published September 9th 2013 by W. W. Norton & Company
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(showing 1-30 of 1,006)
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Margaret Sankey
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Micealaya Moses
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
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
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!
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.
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.
An interesting perspective on the period and ideals, but felt a bit repetitive as it went along.
Dennis Waddy
Jul 06, 2014 Dennis Waddy is currently reading it
I enjoy reading about colonial and early national American history. It keeps me humble.
Christopher Klug
A very interesting book about what seems like a dry topic.
Mostly fascinating, at times dry. Probably hard to read if you're not a history buff - Taylor isn't shy about throwing out facts and figures. Not exactly "searing" as advertised.
Alan Taylor's Pulitzer Prize-winning study of Chesapeake runaways during the War of 1812 is a superb work of historical scholarship that examines the American slave system's contradictions, ironies, and inhumanity.

Full review to come.
Phil LeDuc
A very well-researched, well-written book about slavery in Virginia from 1772 to 1832. "The internal enemy" was the slaves themselves, as Taylor describes the fear of slave uprisings held by the slaveowners. The Revolution and the War of 1812 were times of special dread as hundreds of slaves fled to the protection of the British and in fact aided them in their raids along the shores of the Chesapeake.
Highly recommended.
Kenneth Flusche
Verry interesting history, a little dry and repetitive in places but ok read
Mills College Library
975.503 T2382 2013
Tim W. Brown
Really enjoyed the author's earlier The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies. In this book, there is a discrepancy between the historical scope stated in the title and the actual scope of the book, which mostly deals with the War of 1812, when numerous slaves living near the coast escaped to the British. This was presented in fine style, but 1812-1815 isn't 1772-1832.
George King
While reading this book I began to I root for the British in the War of 1812
Dan Petegorsky
I had to deduct a star from an otherwise fascinating read for the Audible edition's annoying narrator, who seems to have been under sedation for much of the performance, and who throughout the entire narrative mispronounces the name of one of the book's primary figures (British Admiral George Cockburn, whom he calls "Cock-burn" instead of "Co-burn").
Marla Glenn
Aug 23, 2014 Marla Glenn marked it as to-read
Shelves: history
have to take a break from this; will try later. good facts but they can get bogged down.
Mostly actually a history of race, white supremacy, slavery, and British military recruitment of Black slaves in the War of 1812, and how that contributed to the hardening of the slave system. Incredible research!
Comprehensive, clearly written, and detailed account of a very specific region and time period. Although by an academic and appropriate for academic reference, it is very accessible and lively.
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Pulitzer Prize wi...: First book: The Internal Enemy 1 5 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...
American Colonies: The Settling of North America The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies William Cooper's Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution Colonial America: A Very Short Introduction

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