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In Deo Speramus – a fitting motto for a city of seafarers.

John Brown’s name appears on a list of members of the Sons of Liberty and he led the attack that burned the British schooner Gaspee in 1772 well in advance of the Declaration of Independence. He was jailed for his suspected offenses and the object of an armed naval mission to rescue him. During the Revolution he was involved in cannon manufacturing at the Hope Furnace in Scituate and in January of 1774 he was appointed to the Committee of Correspondence for Rhode Island. In 1775 John  Brown sold his 110 foot sloop, Katy, to the fledgling Rhode Island Navy, with which, fellow Gaspee raider Abraham Whipple harassed British ships in Narragansett Bay.  When the succeeding Continental Navy was formed, the Katy was the first ship, renamed the Providence.  Brown’s shipyards apparently also received contracts to provide some ship building for the Navy, at which some young men were apprenticed when they took part in the attack on the Gaspee. He’s also noted to have been running a fleet of privateer ships from Providence out along the East Coast during the Revolution.

Although the family was born baptists the youngest brother, Moses Brown, converted to being a quaker late in life, and – having already amassed his fortune through, in part, the slave trade – became an ardent abolitionist. Since this book was published and has received critical acclaim we are giving nothing away by telling you that he is the hero of this story. The true story is worth knowing and although this is more a work of journalism than history it serves as an introduction and a source for those who want to find out that the slave trade was not a bunch of Southerners bringing blacks here for the sole purpose of mistreating them – or of northerners all being the friend of the black man and his loving protector at all costs. The peculiar institution has, thank God, faded into history but that doesn’t mean that we don’t still need to understand why and how it happened and that can only be accomplished with the complete truth and you will find only half of it here.

Sons of Providence : the Brown brothers, the slave trade, and the American Revolution New York : Simon & Schuster, c 2006 Charles Rappleye Merchants Rhode Island Providence Biography, Brown family, Slavery Rhode Island Providence History Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. 400 p., [8] p. of plates : ill., maps ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [347]-377) and index.  Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

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 slavery. John is a profit-driven merchant running slave ships from his wharf on the Providence waterfront; his younger brother Moses is a fanatical idealist, a rabid Quaker hungry for his vision of reform who – with blood on his own hands – strikes out against the slavery.

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. The brothers’ dispute takes the reader from the 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 mines this time and place for selected details and introduces the reader to 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 his own demons and twisted sense of justice attempting to force his will on everyone; John as the capitalist, defiant of any effort to constrain economic liberty, willing to engage in any legal trade and allow those who did not wish to trade with him to trade elsewhere. The story of their collaboration and their conflict has a startlingly contemporary feel. And like any good story it tells us something about ourselves.


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