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In this biography, the acclaimed author of Sons of Providence, winner of the 2007 George Washington Book Prize, recovers an immensely important part of the founding drama of the country in the story of Robert Morris, the man who financed Washington's armies and the American Revolution. Morris started life in the colonies as an apprentice in a counting house. By the time of the Revolution he was a rich man, a commercial and social leader in Philadelphia. He organized a clandestine trading network to arm the American rebels, joined the Second Continental Congress, and financed George Washington's two crucial victories--Valley Forge and the culminating battle at Yorktown that defeated Cornwallis and ended the war. The leader of a faction that included Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and Washington, Morris ran the executive branches of the revolutionary government for years. He was a man of prodigious energy and adroit management skills and was the most successful businessman on the continent. He laid the foundation for public credit and free capital markets that helped make America a global economic leader. But he incurred powerful enemies who considered his wealth and influence a danger to public "virtue" in a democratic society. After public service, he gambled on land speculations that went bad, and landed in debtors prison, where George Washington, his loyal friend, visited him. This once wealthy and powerful man ended his life in modest circumstances, but Rappleye restores his place as a patriot and an immensely important founding father.
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 reader from the sweltering decks of the slave ships to the taverns and town halls of the colonies and shows just how close America came to ending slavery eighty years before the conflagration of civil war. This dual biography is drawn from voluminous family papers and other primary sources and is a dramatic story of an epic struggle for primacy between two very different brothers. It also provides a fresh and panoramic view of the founding era. Samuel Adams and Nathanael Greene take turns here, as do Stephen Hopkins, Rhode Island's great revolutionary leader and theorist, and his brother Esek, first commodore of the United States Navy. We meet the Philadelphia abolitionists Anthony Benezet and James Pemberton, and Providence printer John Carter, one of the pioneers of the American press. For all the chronicles of America's primary patriarch, none documents, as this book does, George Washington's sole public performance in opposition to the slave trade. Charles Rappleye brings the skills of an investigative journalist to mine this time and place for vivid detail and introduce the reader to fascinating new characters from the members of our founding generation. Raised in a culture of freedom and self-expression, Moses and John devoted their lives to the pursuit of their own visions of individual liberty. In so doing, each emerges as an American archetype -- Moses as the social reformer, driven by conscience and dedicated to an enlightened sense of justice; John as the unfettered capitalist, defiant of any effort to constrain his will. The story of their collaboration and their conflict has a startlingly contemporary feel. And like any good yarn, the story of the Browns tells us something about ourselves.
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