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Modern Voices
Peter Wood on the evacuation of slaves in New York
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Q: Can you describe the evacuation of the slaves in New York?
Peter Wood

A: Imagine the situation you have in New York City at the end of the American Revolution in 1783, where literally thousands of African Americans who have made their choice to join the British have watched the British fail to win the war, have realized they've bet on the wrong side, and find themselves huddled with these defeated British forces in Manhattan.

The British are about to depart, they're going to take many of these people with them. Who's going to go, who's going to stay? What's my future if I'm in the group?

On the one hand, slave owners from the South are appearing daily saying, "He's mine, she's mine, they come with me." On the other hand, my future with the British is very uncertain. I may go to Nova Scotia, I may go to England, I may be sold into slavery in the West Indies. And even to get on a boat, I need a pass that's been signed and approved by the British, on the one hand, the victorious white Americans on the other. The same forces that five years ago were at war, I saw a possibility of siding with one or the other. Now those two have established a peace. I was not at the table when the peace was decided. My future is much less certain than theirs.
Peter Wood
Professor of History
Duke University

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