Skip to Main Content (Press Enter) Toggle side nav

Washington and Caesar

Best Seller
Washington and Caesar by Christian Cameron
Dec 30, 2003 | ISBN 9780440334774

Available from:

  • Dec 30, 2003 | ISBN 9780440334774

    Available from:

Product Details


"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

Author Q&A

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.

Christian Cameron
May, 2003

Get the latest updates from Christian Cameron
And go from well-read to best read with book recs, deals and more in your inbox every week.
And go from well-read to best read with book recs, deals and more in your inbox every week.
By clicking SIGN UP, I acknowledge that I have read and agree to Penguin Random House’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.
Something awesome is on its way.
Back to Top