The Slaves' Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812 (Hardcover)

Choosing Sides in the War of 1812

By Gene Allen Smith

Palgrave MacMillan, 9780230342088, 257pp.

Publication Date: January 22, 2013



Images of American slavery conjure up cotton plantations and African American slaves locked in bondage until the Civil War. Yet early on in the nineteenth century the state of slavery was very different, and the political vicissitudes of the young nation offered diverse possibilities to slaves. In the century's first two decades, the nation waged war against Britain, Spain, and various Indian tribes. Slaves played a role in the military operations, and the different sides viewed them as a potential source of manpower. While surprising numbers did assist the Americans, the wars created opportunities for slaves to find freedom among the Redcoats, the Spaniards, or the Indians. Author Gene Smith draws on a decade of original research and his curatorial work at the Fort Worth Museum in this fascinating and original narrative history. The way the young nation responded sealed the fate of slaves for the next half century until the Civil War. This drama sheds light on an extraordinary yet little known chapter in the dark saga of American history.

About the Author

Gene Allen Smith is a professor of History and the director of the Center for Texas Studies at TCU in Fort Worth, Texas. The author of numerous books, he is also the curator of History at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. Smith has received research awards from TCU and Montana State University-Billings, as well as fellowships from the Henry E. Huntington Library, the Virginia Historical Society, the US Department of the Navy, the US Military Academy at West Point, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He lives in Fort Worth, Texas.

Praise For The Slaves' Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812

“Impressively researched.”–The Christian Science Monitor


“Thoroughly researched…fills in some much-needed background to the complicated relations that…mixed racism, fear and anger on one side with a unquenchable yearning for freedom on the other.”—The Washington Times

“Engrossing…Smith’s exhaustive research reveals that black sailors played a significant if unheralded role in virtually all of the U.S. Navy’s successes…an important, lucid, often startling work of scholarship.”—The Dallas Morning News

“Smith’s long years of research and wide knowledge of this conflict has enabled him to focus on some of the remarkable stories of men and their families…illustrates clearly the plight of American slaves as they desperately struggled to gain their freedom and the lies, deception and deviousness their owners used to deny it.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Crisply told...Smith’s first-rate study is a gripping tale of the evolution of race relations in early America.”—Publishers Weekly

"The history of black servicemen long antedates the Civil War. In the Anglo-American War of 1812, both sides recruited black Americans as soldiers; the British offered freedom to American slaves who would fight for them. Gene Allen Smith's account, scrupulously researched in both British and U.S. sources, sheds new light on many aspects of that conflict, including the little-known 'Patriot War' in Florida. Personal narratives of heroic individuals add to the story a sense of immediacy. Scholars, military history buffs, and students of the black experience will all find a reading of interest here."--Daniel Walker Howe, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848.

“Gene Smith's new book sheds considerable light on the role of blacks, slave and free alike, during the War of 1812.  This is essential reading for all students of the war as well as for anyone interested in American race relations or U.S. military history.”--Don Hickey, author of The War of 1812

"In The Slaves' Gamble, Gene Allen Smith richly details the lives of enslaved people struggling for freedom through an array of strategies in a complex war.  Thoroughly researched and wide-ranging, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian frontier, and from the sunny Caribbean to dank Dartmoor Prison, this superb book illuminates the plight, courage, and resourcefulness of African Americans in the early republic."--Alan Taylor, author of The Civil War of 1812

"Gene Allen Smith captures with scholarly thoroughness the dilemma of patriotism that enslaved African-Americans struggled with during the War of 1812 and the range of their responses."--Elizabeth Dowling Taylor, author of A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons