Inspired by a little-known historical fact—that American slaves fought alongside the British in the Revolutionary War—this epic novel tells of a Mount Vernon slave who joins a Loyalist black regiment charged with defeating his former master on the battlefield.
The year is 1773. A new slave arrives at George Washington’s Virginia estate and is given the name Caesar. But the war for independence will soon bring a turn of events neither master nor slave could have predicted. Within months they will be fighting on opposite sides: Washington as commander of the Continental Army, Caesar as a soldier in the legendary Loyalist corps made up of former slaves. In this captivating tour de force brimming with spectacular battle scenes and gripping historical detail, Caesar’s perilous rise through the British ranks is deftly interwoven with the story of Washington’s war years, leading to the day when they come face-to-face again—this time in uniform.
"Compelling. [Cameron] humanizes the general and presents him as a modest but self-confident gentlemen farmer who acknowledges his limitations as readily as he embraces his duty. … Meticulously accurate in its historical detail." —Publishers Weekly
A Note About Washington and Caesar From the Author:
Viewed strictly by numbers, the American Revolution was the largest slave revolt in modern history. I have been a student of the revolution for many years, and yet I was shocked when I realized this. Thousands of black men took up arms and fought for their freedom and for King George the Third. Thousands more supported the army as waggoners and labor. Many of George Washington’s slaves ran to the British.
Why do we never hear this story?
Throughout the war, black families sought the protection of the British army, and at the very end, despite having lost the war, the British government tried to honor their promises to these people by giving emancipation papers to every black refugee. Many of these freed men and women were shipped to Canada for resettlement, and many more remained as free people in New York. Some of the Black Loyalists went and founded the Crown Colony of Sierra Leone.
When I set out to tell this story, I decided to present it through the eyes of one young Yoruba man taken in Africa and sold to Washington through Jamaica. Caesar (or Cesi) is a slave at the outset of the American Revolution. His adventure, based on the lives and military records of hundreds of freed black soldiers, will take him from the servitude and hopelessness of Washington’s Dismal Swamp project to the battlefields of the American War, and beyond, into freedom. My fictional Caesar is based on two historical men; Colonel Tye, a New Jersey slave who raised a black regiment, and Peter Hughes, a Virginia slave who escaped to lead a black provincial company.
George Washington was an autocrat and a slave owner. There is no escaping this fact and yet he steadfastly refused to ‘throw off the yoke of congress’ and dominate his new country through the military. Instead, he patiently worked to subordinate the military authority to the civil, and at the end of the war legend states he refused the crown of North America offered by his officers. His steady guidance set the United States on a path that went well away from the patterns of military domination and tyranny that have marked the end of so many other democratic revolutions before and since. Equally, it is clear that his views on slavery changed during the war. What factors changed him? What events led the Virginia land speculator to become the founder of a great nation?
I grew up knowing that mythical Washington was great. Yet the most cursory review of Washington’s record makes his mythological quality difficult to understand across the centuries. If he won the Revolution, he lost a lot of battles on the way, and even in mythology he comes to us as a somewhat humorless figure. Yet his staff loved him like a God, and his men followed him though one hell after another. In fact, I found him a fascinating man, greater than the myth allows us to see. He alone, I think, held together the colonies and the army, understood the Fabian strategy required to win the war, carried the weight of the French alliance through the devotion of the young Marquis de Lafayette. Without him, I suspect the result of the Revolution would have been utterly different. And only he had the power, the confidence, and the integrity to make the choices that resulted in a stable country with the rule of law.
But how did he get there? I think he was changed by the war, that command and the exercise of the authority he had dreamed of in his youth proved to him the value of democracy. And I think he learned that all men were equal in more ways than he had expected.
In these two stories lie the historical underpinnings of the novel Washington and Caesar. Each of them, the master and the slave, goes through the fire of war and emerges from the forge a different, and better, man.