I’ve previously lamented (here and here) the lack of attention paid to the War of 1812. A more specific historiographical gap concerns the role of African Americans during the war.
At least two scholars (and hopefully more) are addressing that deficiency. Gene Smith, professor of history at TCU, has a new book out on slavery during the War of 1812. Based solely on the description, The Slaves’ Gamble: Choosing Sides in the War of 1812 looks to be an important resource:
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.
I haven’t read Smith’s book, but I ordered it today.
While he does not yet have a book out, Nathaniel Millett’s work has already drawn attention. His recent article in the Fall 2012 issue of the Tennessee Historical Quarterly is a good example.* Entitled “Slavery and the War of 1812,” it argues that “the timing of the War of 1812 and the conflict’s position within the revolutionary Atlantic world meant that slavery and race shaped the war far more than historians have previously understood” (199).
Both historians have challenged their colleagues in the field to pay more attention to this component of the War of 1812; hopefully, it will prove beneficial in helping us remember more than January 8th and the burning of Washington.
* Smith also has an article, entitled “‘Sons of Freedom’: African Americans Fighting the War of 1812,” in the same THQ issue.