Peter's War


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A New England Slave Boy and the American Revolution

Joyce Lee Malcolm

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A riveting narrative of a New England slave boy caught up in the American Revolution

A boy named Peter, born to a slave in Massachusetts in 1763, was sold nineteen months later to a childless white couple there. This book recounts the fascinating history of how the American Revolution came to Peter's small town, how he joined the revolutionary army at the age of twelve, and how he participated in the battles of Bunker Hill and Yorktown and witnessed the surrender at Saratoga.

Joyce Lee Malcolm describes Peter’s home life in rural New England, which became increasingly unhappy as he grew aware of racial differences and prejudices. She then relates how he and other blacks, slave and free, joined the war to achieve their own independence. Malcolm juxtaposes Peter’s life in the patriot armies with that of the life of Titus, a New Jersey slave who fled to the British in 1775 and reemerged as a feared guerrilla leader.

A remarkable feat of investigation, Peter’s biography illuminates many themes in American history: race relations in New England, the prelude to and military history of the Revolutionary War, and the varied experience of black soldiers who fought on both sides.

Joyce Lee Malcolm is professor of law at George Mason University School of Law. She lives in Alexandria, VA.

“From the fogs of war and hidden records, Joyce Lee Malcolm has retrieved this amazing story of slavery and freedom in the midst of the American Revolution. With graceful, old-fashioned narrative style, Malcolm tells the story of Peter, an African American youth whose footprints traversed many battlefronts of the Revolution. Peter's voice is elusive, but his life left many traces. He saw and fought the war, returned to his Massachusetts home, lived and worked as a farmer, and died far too young. This book is a marvelous example of what can be learned from heretofore unknown people, and a beautifully-told tale about the ugliest underside of American history.”—David W. Blight, author of A Slave No More: Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation

“In this deeply researched and generously wrought book, Joyce Lee Malcolm penetrates the past’s shadows and helps us recover the life of an American boy relegated to obscurity—until now.”—Wilfred M. McClay, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga


"A well-written and important contribution to our understanding of the black experience during the Revolution."—Edward Rugemer, Yale University

"In clear, engaging language, Malcolm reconstructs the surroundings, relationships and political atmosphere of the Revolution. . . . Malcolm seamlessly captures the intersection of personal, political and military strategy. History buffs will revel in Peter's never-before-told story, which makes a vivid addition to Revolutionary War literature."—Kirkus Reviews

"[An] artful blend of microhistory and a smooth synthesis of literature on the revolutionary era. . . . Peter's War is a graceful, old-fashioned narrative and a pleasure to read. [Experts] will find the literary craft refreshing, and students may find themselves drawn into the revolutionary world."—Walter L. Sargent, The Journal of American History

"The true value of this book is the way that it retells a familiar story from a fresh persepective. . . . This is an engagingly written narrative, and Malcolm recreates the war in vivid detail.  The book deserves a large popular audience." —Margaret Abruzzo, Journal of British Studies

"All that we know, or can guess, is in this fascinating book." —Tim Clark, Yankee Magazine
ISBN: 9780300168068
Publication Date: November 30, 2010
272 pages, 5 13/16 x 9
4 b/w illus.