Originally published in the anthology For Love and Liberty: Untold Love Stories of the American Revolution.
Heat Factor: Just a little bit warm
Character Chemistry: Surprisingly believable emotional connection considering the length
Plot: Two enslaved Black people choose opposite sides in the Revolution and find themselves thrown together in a British encampment
Overall: The depth in this short story was marvelous
I had been introduced to Elijah when I read Hamilton’s Battalion last year, and this short story hovered on the periphery of my consciousness thereafter, so I could periodically consider reading it now and again. I don’t know why I waited so long. This story is short and sweet and a tall drink of cold water.
It’s 1776. Elijah was separated from the rest of the Patriot army during a retreat, and just as he’s preparing to regroup with his fellow soldiers, he sees a Black woman being harassed by an English soldier. Does he come to her rescue? He might like to, but that’s not how it works, and things go south for Elijah quickly.
Kate has taken the British army up on its offer of freedom for slaves in exchange for serving the British cause. Usually she’s a servant in the British encampment, but when one English officer doesn’t accept “no” and follows her into the woods, she kills him. And Elijah is the perfect patsy when a few other English soldiers arrive on the scene.
Elijah and Kate are both slaves participating in the revolution in exchange for freedom, but they’re coming from completely different places, so this short story is able to succinctly and specifically highlight the significant problems in the American revolutionary ideals.
Kate was captured in Africa and sold into slavery in North Carolina, and she acknowledges that the Patriot army isn’t making any promises to free slaves – isn’t even offering freedom in exchange for service – so she sees absolutely no reason to fight on behalf of a government that she didn’t choose and that would see her enslaved for the rest of her life. Her life has been so difficult that she is focused on looking out for herself and her own interests, which is one reason it’s so easy for her to let Elijah take the fall for her murder of the British officer.
Elijah was born a slave in the Colonies, and he’s been owned by different men during his life. His current owner made him a deal – fight on the Patriot side on the owner’s behalf, and Elijah would be granted his freedom and some property. Elijah isn’t under any grand illusions – he readily acknowledges that Washington is a slave owner who doesn’t want Black men fighting under him, for example – but he sees the promise of freedom and equality for all and wants to fight for that for all people in his homeland.
Elijah is, when all is said and done, the sunshine to Kate’s grumpy. Their arguments about who’s on the right side primarily show that neither side was particularly good or promising for Black folks in early America. But Elijah never gives up on Kate, wanting only good things for her, and he never gives up on his dream that American ideals can succeed. Kate, on the other hand, is pessimistic in the extreme, eventually acknowledging that her choice to support the British cause is good for her, if not for all Black folks in the Colonies, and pushing Elijah (and other friends) away constantly to protect her independence, which has been the only thing she can rely on.
With a focus on emotional connection, this short story captures all the hope we associate with the American Revolution and all the warmth of an all-encompassing love, while still plainly calling out the hypocrisy of the Revolutionary cause.
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