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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, The Slave Trade and the American Revolution » User review

Remarkable book chronicling the issues surrounding the slave trade.

  • Dec 2, 2008
The tiny State of Rhode Island certainly played a significant role during the American Revolution. Few recall that when Roger Williams established Rhode Island in 1644 it was for all practical purposes the first practicing democratic state since the fall of Athens.  Rhode Islanders were an exceptionally independent lot.  The burning of the two masted British schooner "Gaspee" in June of 1772 by a group of leading citizens of the colony essentially struck the first blow in the nations quest for independence.  In "Sons of Providence:  The Brown Brothers, The Slave Trade and the American Revolution" author Charles Rappleye recalls the historic events that were unfolding in Rhode Island in those years and focuses on two brothers, John and Moses Brown, who would find themselves on opposite sides of so many of the important questions of their day.  It is a compelling story.

Until recently I never realized how important the issue of the slave trade was as the nations march toward independence proceeded. It seems slavery was a highly emotional issue even in the 1770's and 1780's. John and Moses Brown along with brothers James and Nicholas were members of one of the most prominent families in colonial Providence. The Brown family was involved in all manner of commerce and in 1765 they made the decision to enter the slave trade.  And so it was that they outfitted a ship they christened "Sally" to make the voyage.  In "Sons of Providence" you will discover why the slave trade was such a controversial and dirty business.  If you have never read about the conditions that existed on these ships then you are sure to be horrified.  It turns out that roughly half the slaves that were picked up on the West Coast of Africa died during the return voyage.

In any event, in the years following the "Sally" debacle John Brown and his brother Moses would pursue entirely different paths.  John was first and foremost a businessman and lobbied for laws and policies favorable to the merchant class.  For the rest of his life John Brown would continue to oppose any measures that would outlaw slavery and restict commerce in any way.  Moses Brown on the other hand would renounce his Baptist heritage (his great grandfather Chad Brown was the first pastor of the First Baptist Church in America) and become a Quaker.  Quakers were among the earliest and most vocal opponents of slavery and the simple Quaker lifestyle held much appeal for Moses Brown.  Moses Brown would divest himself of much of his fortune and become one of the leading abolitionists of his day.  Although John and Moses Brown would continue to collaborate on a number of projects over the next quarter century they would nonetheless find themselves on opposite sides of any number of important issues.

In his extraordinary book "John Adams" author David McCullough garners much of his source material from the voluminous letters between John and Abigail Adams.  Likewise, much of the material for "Sons of Providence" appears to be culled from letters between John and Moses Brown. As such this book provides tremendous insight into the thought processes of those on both sides of so many of the important issues of that era.  "Sons of Providence" is exceptionally well-written and meticulously researched. This is a must read for history buffs and a great choice for general readers as well.   Highly recommended!
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Paul Tognetti ()
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I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more
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About this book


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 specter of more than half a million Africans enslaved throughout the colonies. John is a profit-driven robber baron running slave galleys from his wharf on the Providence waterfront; his younger brother Moses is an idealist, a conscientious Quaker hungry for social reform who -- with blood on his own hands -- strikes out against the hypocrisy of slavery in a land of liberty.

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 and broke the laws written to stop it. The brothers' dispute takes the ...

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ISBN-10: 0743266870
ISBN-13: 978-0743266871
Author: Charles Rappleye
Genre: History, Nonfiction
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Date Published: May 9, 2006
Format: Hardover
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