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

4.09  ·  Rating Details ·  381 Ratings  ·  66 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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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
Oct 17, 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
Stan  Prager
Dec 12, 2016 Stan Prager rated it it was amazing
Review of: The Internal Enemy: Slavery and the War in Virginia 1772-1832, by Alan Taylor
by Stan Prager (2-9-16)

Every now and again I read a nonfiction book that fits neatly into the geography of multiple areas of scholarship that I have been pursuing, reinforcing previous ground covered, rounding out the sharp edges of probes made into unexplored territory, while bringing an original and entirely new perspective to certain corners of the terrain. Such is the case for the superlative Pulitzer pr
Jul 05, 2016 Judy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for History is an extensively researched and wonderfully readable history of slavery in Virginia focusing on the impact that slavery had in Virginia on events during the War of 1812. Slavery in Virginia was a two-edged sword. It provided needed labor for the cash crops upon which the Virginia economy was based while also creating both fear and loathing on every side. Taylor describes slave owners as living in a "cocoon of dread" for the day when their slave ...more
Apr 08, 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
May 14, 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
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
Zachary Bennett
Mar 05, 2017 Zachary Bennett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the follow-up to the Civil War of 1812, this time in Virginia. Great book on a topic that hasn't been covered enough--how Virginia transformed from flirting to end slavery after the Revolution, to how they became fiercely pro-slavery by 19th-cen. Book is really story of two people: Virginians trying to control the "internal enemy" and the story of slaves trying to win their freedom.

Slavery went from an outdated institution to a celebrated one after the Revolution. Rhetoric embracing equ
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
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
Taylor is a renowned historian of the late Revolutionary and early republic eras of US history. Hearing him speak at Howard University in 2014, he remarked about how he found a cache of letters from formerly enslaved people to their former Chesapeake owners in the early 1800s. He was surprised at the number of letters, with pointed rebukes of not only slavery but the characters of the owners, as well as kind words for children and loved ones left behind. Digging further, Taylor began to understa ...more
Sep 25, 2015 Aaron rated it really liked it
Shelves: pulitzer-winners
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
Feb 25, 2017 Andrew rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This was a good choice for Black History month. The book documents how slaves in Virginia sought to take advantage of the War of 1812 to free themselves by joining the British. At the same time, the slave holders feared a slave insurrection. We see the views from three sides, the slaves, the slave holders, and the British.

The reader also sees how the tension grew and attitudes hardened as a prelude to the Civil War. Meticulously documented.
Feb 25, 2017 Tamara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, history
It's enlightening to see how much conflict (culturally and personally/internally) there already was about slavery decades before the Civil War. Even slave owners weren't ignorant of the fact that it was abhorrent, but they ignored their consciences and chose their own enrichment. It's shocking to see how aware they were, and yet how easily they caused such extreme suffering for so many children, women, and men in order to pay their personal debts so they could live beyond their means.
Dec 17, 2016 Heep rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My appreciation of American history has been transformed after reading three books: this one, "The Warmth of Other Suns" and "The New Jim Crow". Together they paint a picture of a stark, racist core to the culture and politics that persists to the present. This book tells of the slave reaction to the War of 1812 and opportunities for emancipation by escape to the English. The focus is on Virginia where the Englsh naval incursions around the Chesepeake offered slaves with the best chances for fre ...more
Steve Hart
Dec 29, 2015 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
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
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
Nov 25, 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
Elizabeth  Higginbotham
I read the other Alan Taylor book about the Civil War of 1812, but the Internal Enemy has slavery at the Center. VA was the state with the largest number of enslaved people, but in the Tidewater area there was disease and other problems. As the Republicans pushed for the war against Britian, which takes place both along the Canada border and the Atlantic coast, the Chesapeake is very vulnerable because of the history of British freeing enslaved people during the Revolutionary war and the economi ...more
Sep 15, 2014 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
Courtney Umlauf
This was probably a bit too academic for me to listen to the audio version, though it was still interesting. Taylor focuses in on Virginia between 1772 and 1832, with a good bit of time spend on the War of 1812. The "Internal Enemy" here is the slave population of the US. As Jefferson said

...we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.

For slave owners, the enemy was their own property and they lived
Apr 22, 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
M. Patrick
Aug 06, 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
Aron Wagner
Aug 02, 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
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Pulitzer Prize wi...: First book: The Internal Enemy 1 8 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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