The 1776 American Revolution remains central to America’s image as a nation that fought for and achieved its independence and liberty from a jaundiced English imperial power. However, as many historians have noted, the issue of slavery in this period remains one of several glaring contradictions. Moreover, the narrative of the revolution frequently depends on the historical account provided many of the nation’s founding fathers. Cassandra Pybus’ Epic Journeys of Freedom: Runaway Slaves of the American Revolution and Their Quest for Global Liberty explores the revolution from the perspective of escaped slaves who (with the help of spurned imperial power England) abandoned slavery colonial America for uncertain freedom abroad.
Pybus’ work presents the revolution from a slave perspective, one that reflects poorly on men such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. British promises of freedom, led many slaves to abandon their plantations and farms at great risk. In addition to undermining the American economy, these runaways also aided the British war efforts in various ways from intelligence to artisanal work. The Crown’s officials made great attempts to secure their safe passage from the colonies to England even violating the spirit of the Treaty of Paris. Though free upon their arrival in England, London drove many into abject poverty. Increased visibility among the English led officials and English abolitionists set up committees for their welfare. Eventually, a movement developed to send former slaves to establish Freetown, Sierra Leone. Alternately, several freedmen had ended up in prison, eventually becoming part of England’s plan to establish a penal colony in what would become modern day Australia. Pybus tracks both group's experiences.
In each setting, the freedmen and women were besieged by poor planning, hostile or ambivalent indigenous peoples, incompetent leadership, and harsh weather. Though each “colony” differed in its structure, former slaves often found themselves at odds with the leadership put into place by the British crown. Threats of starvation emerged regularly. In South Wales, the freedmen were treated harshly. Similarly in Freetown, religious differences and the arrogance of white leaders undermined intra-colonial relations such that the colony persisted in permanent conflict. Ultimately, the black settlers’ views on liberty were as radical as those of the American Revolution, leading English Abolitionist William Wilberforce view them like “Jacobins as if they had been trained and educated in Paris.” (202) If a handful of freedmen and women did gain liberty, the vast majority did not.