David Collins's Reviews > A People's History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence

A People's History of the American Revolution by Ray Raphael
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really liked it

Like most of the "People's History" catalog, Raphael's 2001 dive into the American Revolution is not an easy read, but it's an important one for anyone who knows that history is truly shaped by the masses and only focused through the actions of vanguards and élites. Major spoiler: Working people, women, and non-whites suffer a lot, and the aristocracy mostly benefits.

The legendary Sons of Liberty who planned and executed the Boston Tea Party were mostly upper- and middle-class Bostonians. They and the aristocrats in the Continental Congress and the officer corps, took major gambles to uphold certain principles of freedom and democracy. It took ten years for the gamble to pay off, during which time less fortunate folks in the colonies suffered various forms of privation, violence, and treachery. The People at Large, including millions of darker-skinned people, didn't get their share of the spoils. Freedom and democracy are much nicer if you have adequate food and shelter.

The chapters are arranged to explore the sufferings of:
1. Rank-and-File Rebels
2. Fighting Men and Boys
3. Women
4. Loyalists and Pacifists
5. Native Americans
6. African Americans
7. The Body of the People (this is more of a summary that ties the above together in an intersectional perspective)

Chapter 5 was the one I found most depressing, a relentless march through the many painful ways indigenous peoples got screwed out of their lands, liberties, and lives. Some of the screwing resulted from well-intentioned whites, whether on the Colonial or British side, forming alliances with the various nations and leading them into ruin. Divided loyalties brought the centuries-old Iroquois Confederation to a pitiful end. The closest thing to good news for natives is the one Raphael saves for last: The Catawba of South Carolina earned and received the respect of their white neighbors during and after the war. After about a generation of peaceful coexistence, the Catawba Nation faded away through a combination of not-so-benign neglect and white westward expansion chipping away at their territory.

If nothing else, read APHotAR for the impressive assemblage of primary sources—at-length excerpts of letters, journals, and memoirs from regular people in the revolutionary period.

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Reading Progress

February 20, 2019 – Started Reading
February 20, 2019 – Shelved
March 27, 2019 – Finished Reading

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