Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution

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Simon and Schuster, Oct 31, 2006 - History - 416 pages
In 1774, as the new world simmered with tensions that would lead to the violent birth of a new nation, two Rhode Island brothers were heading toward their own war over the issue that haunts America to this day: slavery.

Set against a colonial backdrop teeming with radicals and reactionaries, visionaries, spies, and salty sea captains, Sons of Providence is the biography of John and Moses Brown, two classic American archetypes bound by blood yet divided by the specter of more than half a million Africans enslaved throughout the colonies. John is a profit-driven robber baron running slave galleys from his wharf on the Providence waterfront; his younger brother Moses is an idealist, a conscientious Quaker hungry for social reform who -- with blood on his own hands -- strikes out against the hypocrisy of slavery in a land of liberty.

Their story spans a century, from John's birth in 1736, through the Revolution, to Moses' death in 1836. The brothers were partners in business and politics and in founding the university that bears their name. They joined in the struggle against England, attending secret sessions of the Sons of Liberty and, in John's case, leading a midnight pirate raid against a British revenue cutter. But for the Browns as for the nation, the institution of slavery was the one question that admitted no middle ground. Moses became an early abolitionist while John defended the slave trade and broke the laws written to stop it. The brothers' dispute takes the reader from the sweltering decks of the slave ships to the taverns and town halls of the colonies and shows just how close America came to ending slavery eighty years before the conflagration of civil war.

This dual biography is drawn from voluminous family papers and other primary sources and is a dramatic story of an epic struggle for primacy between two very different brothers. It also provides a fresh and panoramic view of the founding era. Samuel Adams and Nathanael Greene take turns here, as do Stephen Hopkins, Rhode Island's great revolutionary leader and theorist, and his brother Esek, first commodore of the United States Navy. We meet the Philadelphia abolitionists Anthony Benezet and James Pemberton, and Providence printer John Carter, one of the pioneers of the American press. For all the chronicles of America's primary patriarch, none documents, as this book does, George Washington's sole public performance in opposition to the slave trade.

Charles Rappleye brings the skills of an investigative journalist to mine this time and place for vivid detail and introduce the reader to fascinating new characters from the members of our founding generation. Raised in a culture of freedom and self-expression, Moses and John devoted their lives to the pursuit of their own visions of individual liberty. In so doing, each emerges as an American archetype -- Moses as the social reformer, driven by conscience and dedicated to an enlightened sense of justice; John as the unfettered capitalist, defiant of any effort to constrain his will. The story of their collaboration and their conflict has a startlingly contemporary feel. And like any good yarn, the story of the Browns tells us something about ourselves.
 

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User Review  - WisteriaLeigh - LibraryThing

SONS OF PROVIDENCE, The Brown Brothers, The Slave Trade, and The American Revolution Charles Rappleye, Simon and Schuster Hardcover, 416 pages 0743266870. John and Moses Brown, two incongruous ... Read full review

Sons of Providence: the Brown brothers, the slave trade, and the American Revolution

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Journalist and editor Rappleye uses the story of two brothers, John and Moses Brown of Rhode Island-best known for having established Brown University-to illustrate America's struggle over slavery ... Read full review

Contents

Introduction
1
Brown Brothers Inc
29
The Sally
53
Success
75
The Gaspee
102
Anna
127
Capture and Release
150
Liberty 1775
169
Equal Rights
223
The Society
250
The New Republic
272
Moses Goes to Congress
294
Prosecutions
301
John Goes to Congress
313
Legacies
332
Notes on Sources
347

John at War
195
Liberty 1782
215
Acknowledgments
379
Copyright

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About the author (2006)

Charles Rappleye is an award-winning investigative journalist and editor. He has written extensively on media, law enforcement, and organized crime. The author of Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution; Robert Morris: Financier of the American Revolution; and Herbert Hoover in the White House: The Ordeal of the Presidency, he lives in Los Angeles.

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