This is a sweeping chronicle of African American history stretching from Britain's 1763 victory in the Seven Years' War to the election of Thomas Jefferson as president in 1800. While American slavery is usually identified with antebellum cotton plantations, history professor Douglas Egerton shows that on the eve of the Revolution it encompassed everything from wading in the South Carolina rice fields to carting goods around Manhattan or serving the households of Boston's elite. Egerton evokes the drama of slaves, freed blacks, and white reformers fighting to make the young nation fulfill its republican slogans, and his narrative brims with portraits of forgotten African American activists and rebels.
"The monumental accomplishments of Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington seem trivial in comparison to what many of their African American contemporaries achieved. Seizing the unprecedented opportunities presented by the Revolutionary War, thousands of enslaved Americans—including slaves owned by Jefferson and Washington—made their own declarations of independence and undertook the arduous and perilous journey from slave to freedom. Now, for the first time, the scores of recent investigations of black participation in the American Revolution have been synthesized into an elegant and seamless narrative. In Death or Liberty—a title taken not from Patrick Henry but from a participant in Gabriel's Rebellion in 1800—Douglas Egerton shows that African Americans not only extracted the most liberty from the Revolutionary experience but also paid the highest price for it."—Woody Holton