Answer: All of the enslaved people in Yorktown who had escaped to the British in hopes of freedom.
When the British forces under Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington and his French allies on October 19, 1781, the terms of capitulation included the following phrase
It is understood that any property obviously belonging to the inhabitants of these States, in the possession of the garrison, shall be subject to be reclaimed.
(Article IV, Articles of Capitulation; dated October 18, 1781. Source and Complete Text: Avalon Project-Yale Law School)
Thousands of escaped enslaved people had flocked to the British army during Cornwallis’s campaign in Virginia in what has been called the “largest slave rebellion in American history.”
They had come in the belief that the British would free them. Cornwallis had put them to work on the British defense works around the small tobacco port, and when disease started to spread and supplies ran low, Cornwallis forced hundreds of these people out of Yorktown. Many more died from epidemic diseases and the shelling of American and French artillery during the siege.
The African Americans in Yorktown included at least seventeen people who had left Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation with the British, as well as members of Thomas Jefferson’s enslaved community also captured earlier in 1781. They were all returned to bondage, along with thousands of others as Virginian slaveholders came to Yorktown to recover their “property.”
Among them was Isaac Granger Jefferson, a five-year-old boy who was returned to Monticello and later told his story.
The stories of some of the people “reclaimed” by Washington are told in my new book, IN THE SHADOW OF LIBERTY; The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives.
The Battle of Yorktown and role of African-American soldiers there –as well as the fate of the enslaved people in the besieged town — are featured in THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF AMERICA AT WAR: Untold Tales from Yorktown to Fallujah.
“A fascinating exploration of war and the myths of war. Kenneth C. Davis shows how interesting the truth can be.” –Evan Thomas, New York Times-bestselling author of Sea of Thunder and John Paul Jones
The first reviews are in for In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives. (Holt Books for Young Readers/Penguin Random House Audio, September 20, 2016)
[UPDATED October 10, 2016]
*Publishers Weekly in a *Starred Review:
“–delivers an eye-opening vision of ‘stubborn facts’ in American history…”
Read the complete Publishers Weekly review here.
*School Library Journal in a *Starred Review has called the book:
Read the complete School Library Journal review here.
*Booklist *Starred Review said:
“A valuable, broad perspective on slavery, paired with close-up views of individuals who benefited from it and those who endured it.” Booklist
Kirkus has called the book:
“An important and timely corrective.” Kirkus
In the Nonfiction Book of the Week, Horn Books says:
“Davis’s solid research (there are source notes and bibliographies for each chapter), accessible prose, and determination to make these stories known give young readers an important alternative to textbook representations of colonial life.”
In the Shadow of Liberty is now available from Holt Books for Young Readers and Penguin Random House Audio.
(Video edited and produced by Colin Davis; originally posted October 2011)
I found it (the world) was not round . . . but pear shaped, round where it has a nipple, for there it is taller, or as if one had a round ball and, on one side, it should be like a woman’s breast, and this nipple part is the highest and closest to Heaven.
–Christopher Columbus, Log of his third voyage (1498)
“In fourteen hundred and ninety-two/Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
We all remember that. But after that basic date, things get a little fuzzy. Here’s what they didn’t tell you–
*Most educated people knew that the world was not flat.
*Columbus never set foot in what would become America.
*Christopher Columbus made four voyages to the so-called New World. And his discoveries opened an astonishing era of exploration and exploitation. But his arrival marked the beginning of the end for tens of millions of Native Americans spread across two continents.
* On his third voyage, he wrote that the world was not round but pear shaped, like a woman’s breast. They did not tell us that in Geography class.
In 1892, the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Columbus inspired the composition of the original Pledge of Allegiance and a proclamation by President Benjamin Harrison describing Columbus as “the pioneer of progress and enlightenment.” (Source: Library of Congress, “American Memory: Today in History: October 12”)
That was the patriotic American can-do spirit behind the Columbian Exposition—also known as the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.
In 1934, the “progress and enlightenment” celebrated in the Columbus narrative was powerful enough to merit a federal holiday on October 12 – a reflection of the growing political clout of the Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic fraternal organization that fought discrimination against recently arrived immigrants, many of them Italian and Irish.
Once a hero. Now a villain. Cities and states around the country are changing the name of the holiday to “Indigenous People’s Day” or “Native American Day” to move this holiday away from a man whose treatment of the natives he encountered included barbaric punishments and forced labor. Seattle joined the move to swap Columbus Day
The story of “Isabella’s Pigs,” and the role of Queen Isabella in the making of the New World, is depicted in America’s Hidden History
President Harry S. Truman in the first-ever televised address from the White House (October 5, 1947).
As post-war Europe struggled to recover, Truman asked Americans to refrain from eating meat and eggs on different days to help stockpile food supplies. The effort was mostly symbolic and was a prelude to the far more ambitious Marshall Plan which had a much greater impact on post-World War II Europe.
The food-saving program which has just been presented to you has my wholehearted support. I am confident that it will have the support of every American.
The situation in Europe is grim and forbidding as winter approaches. Despite the vigorous efforts of the European people, their crops have suffered so badly from droughts, floods, and cold that the tragedy of hunger is a stark reality.
The nations of Western Europe will soon be scraping the bottom of the food barrel. They cannot get through the coming winter and spring without help–generous help-from the United States and from other countries which have food to spare.
I know every American feels in his heart that we must help to prevent starvation and distress among our fellow men in other countries…
It is simple and straightforward. It can be understood by all. Learn it–memorize it–keep it always in mind. Here it is: One: Use no meat on Tuesdays.
Two: Use no poultry or eggs on Thursdays.
Three: Save a slice of bread every day.
Four: Public eating places will serve bread and butter only on request.
Complete Text and Source: “Radio and Television Address Concluding a Program by the Citizens Food Committee,” October 5, 1947. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
Read more about Truman and the post war world in Don’t Know Much About the American Presidents, Don’t Know Much About History and The Hidden History of America At War.
This is a brief excerpt from the Audio edition of In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives (Available from Penguin Random House Audio)
On February 24, 1803 Chief Justice John Marshall delivered the unanimous opinion in Marbury v Madison.
Dust off your Civics books.
As the fight over Judge Garland as Antonin Scalia’s replacement on the Supreme Court absorbs the country, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to block any appointments by President Obama during his last year in office, it might help to look at history.
The simple fact is that the most consequential Supreme Court appointment in American history was made by a true “lame duck” President.
In its original sense, “lame duck” meant a president or other elected official whose successor had already been chosen.
On January 20, 1801, after it was certain that president John Adams would not return for a second term, Adams nominated his Secretary of State, John Marshall, to the post to replace ailing Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth.
At the time of this nomination, President Adams was a true “lame duck” president, soon to be replaced by Thomas Jefferson, following a drawn-out vote in the House of Representatives. It was clear that Jefferson’s party would control both the White House and the Senate. But Adams named Marshall, a staunch Federalist of his own party, who was confirmed on January 27, 1801, despite only six-weeks of legal training.
One of Marshall’s first and most significant decisions came in the 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison which established the power of federal courts to void acts of Congress in conflict with the Constitution.
It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. . . . Thus the particular phraseology of the constitution of the United States confirms and strengthens the principle, supposed to be essential to all written constitutions, that a law repugnant to the constitution is void. . . .
From Chief Justice Marshall’s decision in Marbury v. Madison
John Marshall went on to become the longest-serving and most influential chief justice in the history of the Supreme Court, hearing more than 1,000 cases and writing 519 decisions.
There have been more election year nominations, as discussed in this New York Times Op-Ed, “In Election Years, a History of Conforming Court Nominees.”
As John Adams himself said during the Boston Massacre Trial (1770)
“Facts are stubborn things.”
Presidential debate history can be instructive. Reviewing some of the memorable moments—and debate debacles—from these televised showdowns provides a worthy primer in “debatiquette:”
Lesson 1: Lay off the Lazy Shave and Get Some Sun
The slightly unshaven look may work for Don Draper on “Mad Men,” but it was not a plus for Richard Nixon, as he learned in his historic confrontation with John F. Kennedy in the first presidential debate in 1960. Nixon had just come from a hospital stay. He had lost weight in the hospital and his suit looked ill fitting. He had also injured a knee and had to lean on the podium. To make matters worse, Nixon was given a heavy pancake makeup called “Lazy-Shave” to conceal his five o-clock shadow, making him appear even more pale and haggard. Chicago’s legendary Mayor, Richard Daley, reportedly said, “My God they’ve embalmed him before he even died.”
Read more: “Eight Lessons for the Presidential Debates”
Mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of our courts.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Radio and Television Address to the American People on the Situation in Little Rock,” (September 24, 1957)
For a few minutes this evening I want to speak to you about the serious situation that has arisen in Little Rock. To make this talk I have come to the President’s office in the White House. I could have spoken from Rhode Island, where I have been staying recently, but I felt that, in speaking from the house of Lincoln, of Jackson and of Wilson, my words would better convey both the sadness I feel in the action I was compelled today to take and the firmness with which I intend to pursue this course until the orders of the Federal Court at Little Rock can be executed without unlawful interference.
In that city, under the leadership of demagogic extremists, disorderly mobs have deliberately prevented the carrying out of proper orders from a Federal Court. Local authorities have not eliminated that violent opposition and, under the law, I yesterday issued a Proclamation calling upon the mob to disperse.
This morning the mob again gathered in front of the Central High School of Little Rock, obviously for the purpose of again. preventing the carrying out of the Court’s order relating to the admission of Negro children to that school.
Whenever normal agencies prove inadequate to the task and it becomes necessary for the Executive Branch of the Federal Government to use its powers and authority to uphold Federal Courts, the President’s responsibility is inescapable.
In accordance with that responsibility, I have today issued an Executive Order directing the use of troops under Federal authority to aid in the execution of Federal law at Little Rock, Arkansas. This became necessary when my Proclamation of yesterday was not observed, and the obstruction of justice still continues.
Complete text and Source: Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Radio and Television Address to the American People on the Situation in Little Rock.,” September 24, 1957. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
(Revised post originally published on February 29, 2016)
Nearly 50 years ago, on July 28, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson established an 11-member National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. He was responding to a series of violent outbursts in predominantly black urban neighborhoods in such cities as Detroit and Newark. (New York Times account.)
On Feb. 29, 1968, President Johnson’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, later known as the Kerner Commission after its chairman, Governor Otto Kerner, Jr. of Illinois, issued a stark warning:
“Our Nation Is Moving Toward Two Societies, One Black, One White—Separate and Unequal”
The Committee Report went on to identify a set of “deeply held grievances” that it believed had led to the violence.
Although almost all cities had some sort of formal grievance mechanism for handling citizen complaints, this typically was regarded by Negroes as ineffective and was generally ignored.
Although specific grievances varied from city to city, at least 12 deeply held grievances can be identified and ranked into three levels of relative intensity:
First Level of Intensity
1. Police practices
2. Unemployment and underemployment
3. Inadequate housing
Second Level of Intensity
4. Inadequate education
5. Poor recreation facilities and programs
6. Ineffectiveness of the political structure and grievance mechanisms.
Third Level of Intensity
7. Disrespectful white attitudes
8. Discriminatory administration of justice
9. Inadequacy of federal programs
10. Inadequacy of municipal services
11. Discriminatory consumer and credit practices
12. Inadequate welfare programs
Source: “Our Nation is Moving Toward Two Societies, One Black, One White—Separate and Unequal”: Excerpts from the Kerner Report; American Social History Project / Center for Media and Learning (Graduate Center, CUNY)
and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (George Mason University).
Issued nearly half a century ago, the list of grievances reads as if it could have been written last week.
Read more about the unrest of the Civil Rights era in Don’t Know Much About® History. The crucial role of race in the American military is also treated in The Hidden History of America at War. And the long history of slavery is addressed in the forthcoming In the Shadow of Liberty (Sept. 20, 2016).
“By exploring the humanity of people held in bondage by early American presidents, Kenneth C. Davis once again turns American mythology into history. Read the book and be grateful.”— Marcus Rediker, author of The Slave Ship: A Human History
“The young woman was enslaved, but also privileged. She was part of the household of the nation’s first president. This powerful book tells her story, and others, which are surprising and have been unknown to most of us. They will give you insights into our American heritage that you may not have considered before. I hope In the Shadow of Liberty will be widely read. It is important and timely.”
—Joy Hakim, author, A History of US (Oxford University Press), Freedom: A History of US (Social Studies School Service), and The Story of Science (Smithsonian Books).