Friday, April 17, 2015

Janet Polasky

Janet Polasky is the author of Revolutions without Borders: The Call to Liberty in the Atlantic World.

From her Q & A ay the Yale University Press blog:

Yale University Press: What was the inspiration for your book?

Janet Polasky: Years, actually decades ago, as an undergraduate studying in London, I discovered a misfiled letter from Thomas Paine in the Public Records Office. That letter introduced me to unlikely alliances among London mechanics, Parisian lawyers, and abolitionists from Philadelphia—eighteenth-century revolutionaries I had never met before. I have been running into Paine’s itinerant friends ever since, negotiating with Barbary pirates to free hostages, distributing shoes to French armies on behalf of English radicals, spearheading an insurrection in Saint Domingue to free the slaves with funds gathered in London and Charleston, and sliding down bed sheets to escape a hanging in Dublin.

The revolutionaries I encountered in the archives, men and women, black and white, ignored borders. Their international struggles for universal human rights do not fit neatly into national histories. So, why, I wondered, do historians divide this revolution into self-contained national stories? Actually, I think I know. That’s where we get our stories of founding fathers.

YUP: Who are some of those border crossers?

JP: Thomas Jefferson’s next-door neighbor was one. A Tuscan merchant who enthusiastically adopted the American revolutionary cause as his own, Filippo Mazzei later served as the Polish king’s emissary in revolutionary Paris. Or Anna Falconbridge, whose journal describes the settlement of black loyalists from America in Sierra Leone—to her mind, “a premature, hare-brained, and ill-digested scheme.” Joel Barlow, the Connecticut poet turned entrepreneur distributed shoes to French soldiers on behalf of London radicals, and negotiated with Barbary pirates for the release of hostages. Or there was Vincent Ogé who, frustrated by laborious, equivocating French debates over slavery, sailed back to Saint Domingue to lead an insurrection demanding rights for all people “without regard to race.” He was joined by veterans of the American Revolution.

The Dutch Patriot Gerrit Paape, who set out from Amsterdam with just a sleep sack and two false passports, asked the wife he left behind, what could be more enticing than to join revolutions all over Europe that....[read on]
--Marshal Zeeringue