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Liberty is Sweet: A Conversation with Woody Holton

Encyclopedia Virginia is thrilled to welcome Woody Holton for a virtual conversation about his much-anticipated new book Liberty is Sweet: The Hidden History of the American Revolution on Friday, October 29, at 12 PM.

In this sweeping reassessment of the American Revolution, Holton shows how the founders were influenced by overlooked Americans—women, Native Americans, African Americans, and religious dissenters. Using more than a thousand eyewitness accounts, Liberty Is Sweet explores countless connections between the Patriots of 1776 and other Americans whose passion for freedom often brought them into conflict with the Founding Fathers.

It promises to be an exciting conversation, particularly as Holton has been enmeshed in an ongoing debate about the role of slavery in the American Revolution. In a July op-ed in the Washington Post, Holton argued that Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation was a seminal event on the road to revolution. According to Holton:

Whites’ fury at the British for casting their lot with enslaved people drove many to the fateful step of endorsing independence. In his rough draft of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson listed 25 grievances against George III but devoted three times as many words to one of those grievances as to any other. This was his claim that the king had first imposed enslaved Africans on White Americans and was now encouraging those same enslaved people “to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them.”

A group of six prominent historians, including Carol Berkin, Joseph Ellis, and Gordon Wood fired back with their own assessment that by the time of Dunmore’s proclamation, “Virginia, like most of the other colonies, had already radically moved toward virtual independence from British authority. … It was Parliament’s extraordinary series of Coercive Acts punishing the colony of Massachusetts for the December 1773 Boston Tea Party that clinched the case for eventual independence.”

To buttress his claim that “the informal alliance between enslaved African Americans and British imperial officials infuriated white colonists and helped push them toward independence,” Holton is tweeting a quote a day—every day for seventy-six days—of a white American denouncing Britain’s cooperation with African Americans. Rarely has Revolutionary history made such waves.

We’re looking forward to a fascinating conversation. Mark your calendar for OCTOBER 29 and REGISTER HERE.

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