A boy named Peter, born to a slave in Massachusetts in 1763, was sold nineteen months later to a childless white couple there. This book recounts the fascinating history of how the American Revolution came to Peter's small town, how he joined the revolutionary army at the age of twelve, and how he participated in the battles of Bunker Hill and Yorktown and witnessed the surrender at Saratoga.
Joyce Lee Malcolm describes Peter’s home life in rural New England, which became increasingly unhappy as he grew aware of racial differences and prejudices. She then relates how he and other blacks, slave and free, joined the war to achieve their own independence. Malcolm juxtaposes Peter’s life in the patriot armies with that of the life of Titus, a New Jersey slave who fled to the British in 1775 and reemerged as a feared guerrilla leader.
A remarkable feat of investigation, Peter’s biography illuminates many themes in American history: race relations in New England, the prelude to and military history of the Revolutionary War, and the varied experience of black soldiers who fought on both sides.
Malcolm (law, George Mason Univ.) vividly recounts the Revolutionary War experiences of slaves such as Peter Nelson, who at age 12 enlisted in the Massachusetts militia and participated in some of the war's most famous battles. Malcolm's deep research, including into primary sources, sheds light on slaves' wartime involvement, chronicling the stories of men who bravely and willingly fought alongside free whites not knowing whether their efforts toward victory would result in their own eventual freedom. Malcolm describes in grim and poignant detail the vastly different wartime experiences of three slaves-Peter; his father, Jupiter; and unrelated Southern slave Titus, who joined the British army and engaged in guerrilla warfare against American slaves and their owners. Using the three slaves' stories as a narrative fulcrum, Malcolm provides a succinct but satisfying overview of the entire war. Major historical figures such as George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and John Adams play key roles in this narrative, but the author's focus is on the unknown and forgotten participants. She has assembled an engagingly written and incisive book, valuable to both scholars and informed general readers. Recommended for history collections in academic and large public libraries.