Please join us for one or both of the following upcoming talks at the American Philosophical Society. All events are free, open to the public, and hosted on the Zoom platform.
1774: The Long Year of Revolution with Mary Beth Norton
Thursday, October 22, 6 pm ET
Co-hosted with the Carpenters' Company, this event will feature Mary Beth Norton on her new book 1774: The Long Year of Revolution. 1774 is the first to look at the critical “long year” of 1774 and the revolutionary change that took place from December 1773 to mid-April 1775, from the Boston Tea Party and the first Continental Congress to the Battles of Lexington and Concord. The book looks at the 16 months during which the traditional loyalists to King George III began their discordant “discussions” that led to their acceptance of the inevitability of war against the British Empire and to the clashes at Lexington and Concord in mid-April 1775.
Drawing extensively on pamphlets, newspapers, and personal correspondence, Norton reconstructs colonial political discourse as it happened, showing the vigorous campaign mounted by conservatives criticizing congressional actions. But by then it was too late. In early 1775, governors throughout the colonies informed colonial officials in London that they were unable to thwart the increasing power of the committees and their allied provincial congresses. Although the Declaration of Independence would not be formally adopted until July 1776, Americans, even before the outbreak of war in April 1775, had in effect “declared independence” by obeying the decrees of their new provincial governments rather than colonial officials.
Mary Beth Norton (APS 2010) is the author of five books and co-editor of several others. Her textbook, A People and a Nation, a survey of U.S. history written with five other authors, has been published in ten editions and has sold more than 500,000 copies. Norton is the Mary Donlon Alger Professor Emerita of American History at Cornell University.
The World That Fear Made: Slave Revolts and Conspiracy Scares in Early America with Jason Sharples
Thursday, October 29th, 1 pm ET
From the Stono Rebellion in 1739 to the Haitian Revolution of 1791 to Nat Turner's Rebellion in 1831, slave insurrections have been understood as emblematic rejections of enslavement, the most powerful and, perhaps, the only way for slaves to successfully challenge the brutal system they endured. In The World That Fear Made, Jason T. Sharples orients the mirror to those in power who were preoccupied with their exposure to insurrection. Because enslavers in British North America and the Caribbean methodically terrorized slaves and anticipated just vengeance, colonial officials consolidated their regime around the dread of rebellion. As Sharples shows through a comprehensive data set, colonial officials launched investigations into dubious rumors of planned revolts twice as often as actual slave uprisings occurred. In most of these cases, magistrates believed they had discovered plans for insurrection, coordinated by a network of enslaved men, just in time to avert the uprising. Their crackdowns, known as conspiracy scares, could last for weeks and involve hundreds of suspects. They sometimes brought the execution or banishment of dozens of slaves at a time, and loss and heartbreak many times over.
Mining archival records, Sharples shows how colonists from New York to Barbados tortured slaves to solicit confessions of baroque plots that were strikingly consistent across places and periods. Informants claimed that conspirators took direction from foreign agents; timed alleged rebellions for a holiday such as Easter; planned to set fires that would make it easier to ambush white people in the confusion; and coordinated the uprising with European or Native American invasion forces. Yet, as Sharples demonstrates, these scripted accounts rarely resembled what enslaved rebels actually did when they took up arms. Ultimately, he argues, conspiracy scares locked colonists and slaves into a cycle of terror that bound American society together through shared racial fear.
Jason Sharples is an Associate Professor of History at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL. He teaches courses on colonial America, the American Revolution, comparative slavery and abolition in the Americas, and conspiracy theories in the United States. His research has brought him to archives in the Caribbean, Europe, and around the United States, including the David Library of the American Revolution. The World That Fear Made: Slave Revolts and Conspiracy Scares in Early America appeared from the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2020.