Independence Lost:

Those of you who’ve been hanging out in the Margins for a while now know there are some types of history books that can be counted on to make me say “I want to read this”:

  • Books that tell a story we think we know from a radically different persepctive
  • Books that deal with people outside the mainstream of history
  • Books that tell a story I didn’t even know existed
  • Books–oh, well, you get the idea.

In Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution, historian Kathleen DuVal, author of The Native Ground, reminds us that the American Revolution was part of a larger global conflict involving France and Spain, and that Britain had 13 other colonies in North America and the Caribbean that were also affected by the war.

West Florida, which included much of what is now Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, had only recently become a British colony–part of the redistribution of imperial territories at the end of the Seven Years War– when the Continental Congress declared war on Britain. Located on the border between the British and Spanish empires, and a distant frontier for both, it was home to former French and Spanish citizens, British loyalists fleeing the disruptions of the revolution and well-organized Indian nations with their own agendas. The possibility of a Spanish invasion was real, and at least some of the colonists thought Spain was a better choice than Britain or France if push came to colonial shove.

DuVal considers how eight very different colonists–a second-generation African slave, a young Cajun with a deep-seated hatred of the British, leaders of the Creek and Chickasaw tribes and two British couples who chose different sides in the conflict–responded to the dangers and opportunities that the revolution brought to their doorsteps and the impact of those choices. While each of these characters stands in for a larger population, the complicated calculus of self-identity, self-interest and personal history that they use to make decisions about the world around them makes it clear that revolution and politics were always personal.

A big part of this review appeared previously in Shelf Awareness for Readers.

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