Revolution is the story of the American Revolution. While the American colonies challenge Britain for independence, American slavery is challenged from within, as men and women fight to define what the country will be. Initially, Colonial Commander George Washington refuses to allow black volunteers into his army. But when British forces promise freedom to slaves and indentured servants who will fight for England, he is forced to reconsider. When the War of Independence is won, the nation's Constitution codifies slavery and oppression as a national way of life. As the eighteenth century comes to a close, it is clear that the American establishment hopes to walk a dangerous tightrope between property rights and human rights, between slavery and freedom.
1730s - Venture Smith is captured in West Africa and sold to Robert Rumford of Rhode Island, making Smith one of 41,000 Africans brought to the colonies as slaves.
1759 - George Washington marries the wealthy widow Martha Dandridge Custis. Through his marriage, Washington increases his slaveholdings nine times over, adding 286 slaves to the thirty he already owns.
1765 - English Parliament passes the Stamp Act, and colonists protest violently in New York and Boston. That same year, Venture Smith buys himself out of slavery.
1773 - Venture Smith purchases his wife. Having already purchased the freedom of his children, his entire family is now free.
April 19, 1775 - The American Revolution begins twenty miles from Boston, Massachusetts. Nine black New Englanders fight alongside their white neighbors to stop the British troops.
Autumn 1775 - The British governor of Virginia offers freedom to any slave who will fight for the crown.
July 4, 1776 - The colonies publish a formal declaration of their independence from Britain. At the heart of their declaration lies the assertion that all men are created equal.
Early 1778 - With his troops dwindling due to desertion and disease, a reluctant but desperate General George Washington endorses a plan to raise a regiment of free blacks and slaves in Rhode Island.
1780 - Pennsylvania lawmakers rule that in keeping with the Revolution's principles of equality, all black children born in Pennsylvania from that year forward are to be freed at age twenty-eight.
October 17, 1781 - Twenty-two days after the siege at Yorktown begins, Cornwallis and the British surrender. Americans place guards all along the beach to prevent fugitive slaves from escaping with the British.
1783 - Massachusetts outlaws slavery entirely. Connecticut and Rhode Island soon follow with gradual emancipation acts.
1787 - The Constitution is drafted, preventing Congress from voting to end the African slave trade for a minimum of twenty years. Free states are required by law to return fugitives to the slave states, and slave states are permitted to count three fifths of their slave population in determining the number of representatives they send to Congress.
1799 - George Washington dies. His will stipulates that his slaves be freed upon his wife's death.
1805 - Venture Smith dies in Rhode Island. At the time of his death, he is one of more than 100,000 free black people living in the United States. There are still 800,000 slaves residing in the new nation.
Key Interviews (In Alphabetical Order)
David Blight, Professor, Black Studies Department, Amherst College
Thomas J. Davis, Professor of History, Arizona State University
John Ferling, Professor of History, State University of West Georgia
John Hope Franklin, John B. Duke Professor of History Emeritus, Duke University
Norrece T. Jones, Jr., Associate Professor of History, Virginia Commonwealth University
John P. Kaminski, Professor of History, University of Wisconsin
Rev. Jeffrey Leath, Pastor of Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, Philadelphia
General Colin L. Powell, Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
John Riley, Mount Vernon Historian
Fath Ruffins, Smithsonian Institution Historian
Margaret Washington, Associate Professor of History, Cornell University
Deborah Gray White, Professor of History, Rutgers University
Peter Wood, Professor of History, Duke University
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