Book Excerpt from Peter’s War

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Peters War


Heath Robbins

When historian and constitutional scholar Joyce Lee Malcolm first discovered a 1765 bill of sale for a 19-month-old slave boy, she put it aside, says Tim Clark, who reviews Malcolm’s book, Peter’s War: A New England Slave Boy and the American Revolution in the July/august 2009 Yankee Magazine. But Malcolm pursued Peter’s story and, though not a word of his was ever found written down, she chronicles his march into America’s history from Bunker Hill to Saratoga to Yorktown.

From Peter’s War (Yale University Press; $28):
Peter was enrolled in Captain Samuel Farrar’s company, Colonel Jonathan Reed’s regiment. Farrar was a Lincoln man and had served as a lieutenant in William Smith’s minuteman company. On September 29 Farrar reported to Lincoln’s Colonel Eleazer Brooks that the fourteen men in his company were ready for their assignment.

Their company was officially detached from Brooks’s command and, like the Lincoln men already in arms, were sent to reinforce General Gate’s army “at the Northward.” It would mean a march of nearly two hundred miles.

Peter was once again with men he had served with before and had known all his life, including Joshua Brooks, Jupiter’s owner, now the company’s sergeant, and Joseph Mason, Jr., its corporal. After months of comfort in a snug house with regular meals, he was immediately faced with the familiar hardships of life in the American military — exhaustion, huger, discomfort, and a mixture of fear and excitement.

Still, for a boy unhappy at home, it was a relief to be among men who accepted and valued him. And he might get a chance to see his father. As they converged on New York State they joined fifty-two other militia units rushing to reinforce the Continentals in a great confrontation that would, had they but known it, be the turning point in the war.

Read more: Review by Tim Clark


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