Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, The Slave Trade, and The American Revolution
While reading the book, “Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution”, I was impressed with how the author made you feel like you were there. It gave me a whole different perspective to a period of time that I only knew from history textbooks that lists events in black and white. This historic text and novel gives the reader a chance to understand how many individuals of the time were divided by using two brothers from the same family to detail the story. The book let you know what their thoughts were on the issues of slavery and taxation without being biased as to one side or the other. In my opinion it give a good honest look on how people felt during a very important time in American history, the colonial times.The book is a biography of John and Moses Brown from Rhode Island. Their family is well know from the Providence Banking, Brown University and the import and export business that included slave trading. The book chronicles John as the business man going into the family business, while Moses was impassioned after his wife’s death with the American Revolution. All of the family wanted liberty, but Moses was against slavery and was very vocal about it. He later went on to learn of Quakerism and abolitionism. Later Moses began opposing the family business which in turn upset the family. Moses only had the reinforcement of his younger brother Nicolas to help with his crusade. The book gave accurate dates and details for that period that gave a secure sense of correctness that some historical novels tend to change or leave out for reader effect.One event that played into the novel quite well was the federal Slave Trade Act of 1794 that prohibited ships destined to transport slaves to any foreign country from arriving in American Ports. It was in 1789 that Moses organized an abolitionists group in Providence that was instrumental in getting that act to pass. John Brown, who believed it wasn’t right to deny trade that was permitted by all the European nations at the time, was the first Rhode Islander that was convicted under that legislation. He lost his slave ship because of this and it had a great financial set back for the family along with the internal conflicts this caused on the family.The book spans the period of history in the family from the time of John’s birth in 1736 to Moses’ death in 1836. The brothers were partners in their family business and together were responsible for founding Brown University. During the course of their lives they joined in together in many things including the struggle with England and they attended together many meetings of the Sons of Liberty. John did have a rebel side at one point he raided a British revenue cutter. But when it came to slavery and the right to have slaves the family could never see Moses’ side. There were no argument that could make the family give up what they thought were their god given rights. Moses was the abolitionist and John defended the slave trade braking the laws that were written to stop the institution of slavery.In reading the book I liked how it would take you into every arena that involved slavery. From taverns and town halls to slave ships giving the reader a sense of being there. The author notes that Americans really didn’t know how close slavery was to being abolished at least eighty years before the Civil War. I really didn’t think too much about the story being written about Rhode Island until the very end. After reading I realized that my concept of slavery was just from the Civil War era. In my mind slavery was only a southern issue.The issues that are brought up shows problems America is still working with to some degree I believe even today. As capitalist we struggle to balance the delicate weights of religion along with business and politics, Rappleye showed this clearly. All three issues deal with “ways of life” for many individuals. The author gives the main characters a human picture that helped to give the reader the ability to grasp what each had to say about regarding their issues.The sources that were used came from mainly from family papers along with primary sources. Charles Rappleye being a journalist and editor gave the book life that other writers have not achieved when writing about history. Not only did he discuss the brothers and their family he also included many others that were instrumental during that time. He talks of Samuel Adams, Nathaniel Greene and Stephen Hopkins, Rhode Island’s great theorist and revolutionary leader. Hopkins’s brother Esek was the first commodore of the United States Navy. Rappleye also talks of George Washington’s public opposition to the slave trade, something I did not know.Reading on Charles Rappleye biography I noticed he was originally from New England and thought that is perhaps where the passion in his novel comes from. I really enjoyed the book and would highly recommend it to a wide audience. It was difficult to read at times, but the reader must keep in mind history can’t be read for pleasure. You have to slow down a little to grasp the huge volume of information history books store in their pages. With the history book written as well as Rappleye’s book it should help to draw readers, new and old, in opening up their eyes to Americas past.
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