The American Revolution is unlike any popular movement in world history. First, it is among the few popular insurrections where moderate forces were able to calm more radical elements in society for the betterment of the people and the country. Second, it was also one of the few to actually succeed.
Yet in the multicultural classroom of today, minority and immigrant students often feel a profound disconnect with the War of Independence. This is due to the way it is traditionally presented–a pageant of battles, victories, crowned heads of Europe, slaveowning bigwigs in Virginia and Puritan hotheads in Massachusetts. Notice something missing? Everybody else. What about African Americans, women, immigrant groups, children, and Native Americans…don’t they have a place in this story? It’s no wonder that today’s student sees our history as remote, elitist and irrelevant.
Thomas Fleming, the author of 1997’s Liberty! The American Revolution, makes an important contribution to this discussion with 2006’s Everybody’s Revolution. Fleming’s first book for young readers is an essential text for the multicultural classroom. Perhaps for the first time, Fleming highlights other heroes of the Revolution–many with names and skin tones familiar to your students.
Like many students, Fleming begins his work with anecdotes of his struggles with American history. He, too, did not see a place for his people, the Irish, in this story mostly told through the eyes of wealthy men of mostly English ancestry. According to Fleming, the United States was not a homogenous nation in 1776–immigrants, blacks, women, Native Americans all lived in an often uneasy mix. It is this mix he attempts to portray in this work.
Fleming’s research has shed light not only to those men and women who fought our country’s struggle, but also on the complex cultural makeup of the United States as a whole. From Scots-Irish like Patrick Henry, to French Huguenots like John Jay, to Germans such as Thomas Herkimer and Peter Muhlenberg, Italians like Francesco Vigo, Jews like Haym Solomon and even Spanish like Bernardo de Galvaez, Fleming shows the motley mix of peoples that all joined in the struggle for independence.
African Americans, both slave and free, are covered in their own fight for freedom, both for themselves and for their country. Women, and especially young people, are also profiled with extraordinary acts of courage. Along with familiar faces such as Crispus Attucks, Peter Salem and Molly Pitcher are characters even more compelling. Some of these include James Armistead, who spied on the British while posing as their slave, Sybil Ludington, who staged a daring midnight ride to warn the citizens of Danbury, Connecticut of a British attack, and the mysterious “Agent 13”, a New York woman who acted as a spy for the Americans while posing as a society lady.
One of the areas that is probably the weakest is Fleming’s treatment of Native Americans. This is not entirely his fault. Most Native American nations simply did not join the American cause for fear of losing more land to colonial settlement. The British had always provided a protective alternative. Most of the individual native leaders, such as Joseph Brant, fought for the British side. The Oneida and Tuscarora nations, as well as the Stockbridge nation in Massachusetts, did join the Revolution, but it is not entirely clear why. We do know that the Oneida/Tuscarora secession from the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) confederacy basically destroyed them as a viable force in North America.
In all, however, Everybody’s Revolution is a necessary addition to any American history classroom, especially in schools with large minority and immigrant populations. The great thing about this country is that immigrants can adopt American history as their own. Unlike other countries, that often shun immigrants as outsiders to their “glorious past,” the assimilation process of U.S. public education requires immigrant students to buy into the ideals and myths of American society. Much of this process involves the absorption of American history.
With Fleming’s work, this process can continue into the 21st century. The American Revolution is truly EVERYBODY’S revolution.