US Slaves Fought Against America’s Independence?

While promoting his new book, a professor explains why slaves fought alongside the British: because fighting for the Colonies meant supporting their owners.

A depiction of enslaved African Americans dancing to the banjo during the 1780s
A depiction of enslaved African Americans dancing to the banjo during the 1780s Wikimedia Commons

Did Colonists Fear England’s Moves Against Black Bondage?

A professor of history and African American studies has written a book that challenges the conventional narrative about American independence and should broaden the discussion of the July 4 holiday. But based on the limited attention it has received, likely won’t.

Gerald Horne, who holds the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston, contends that the traditional story promoted by government, schools and media is actually spin.

Elias Isquith of Salon likened Horne’s “The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America” to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ best-selling look at the reparations issue in the Atlantic.

Isquith wrote on May 30, “As penetrating as Coates’ essay may be, a new book from University of Houston professor Gerald Horne would have our revision of our own history stretch back even further — to the very founding itself. In ‘The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America,’ Horne marshals considerable research to paint a picture of a U.S. that wasn’t founded on liberty, with slavery as an uncomfortable and aberrant remnant of a pre-Enlightenment past, but rather was founded on slavery — as a defense of slavery — with the language of liberty and equality used as window dressing. If he’s right, in other words, then the traditional narrative of the creation of the U.S. is almost completely wrong. . . . “

Horne isn’t surprised by the lack of media attention. He told Journal-isms by telephone Monday that the reaction was “typical of [what is accorded] most authors.” He also said, “This is not a very progressive country. We create myths that are very soothing to many.” Asked why even his local media in Texas had not reported on his book, Horne said that given the political climate in the state, “I’m happy not to be indicted or murdered.”

Horne did appear on Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now!” on Friday. He explained there, “We should understand that July 4th, 1776, in many ways, represents a counterrevolution. That is to say that what helped to prompt July 4th, 1776, was the perception amongst European settlers on the North American mainland that London was moving rapidly towards abolition. This perception was prompted by Somerset’s case, a case decided in London in June 1772 which seemed to suggest that abolition, which not only was going to be ratified in London itself, was going to cross the Atlantic and basically sweep through the mainland, thereby jeopardizing numerous fortunes, not only based upon slavery, but the slave trade. That’s the short answer. . . .”

In the Somerset case, a British court ruled that it was illegal for James Somerset, a slave, to have been taken forcibly to the colonies. 

At another point on “Democracy Now!”, Horne said, “It’s well known that more Africans fought alongside of the Redcoats, fought alongside of the Redcoats — than fought with the settlers. And this is understandable, because if you think about it for more than a nanosecond, it makes little sense for slaves to fight alongside slave masters so that slave masters could then deepen the persecution of the enslaved and, indeed, as happened after 1776, bring more Africans to the mainland, bring more Africans to Cuba, bring more Africans to Brazil, for their profit.”

Co-hosts Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez played a soundbite of President Obama from last year’s Fourth of July commemoration, praising “this improbable experiment in democracy.”