The Founders

Revered by many, reviled by some, the Founders remain a touchstone for contested ideas about who Americans are as a people and what the American experiment in self-government means today. Their brilliant writings continue to fascinate and inspire, revealing a complexity and dynamism that belies our tendency to want to fix them, and the republic they built, in stone.

For too long, African Americans have been left out of the story of the nation’s founding, their voices absent from the memory and celebration of the creation of the American republic. Black Writers of the Founding Era—by far the richest and most expansive anthology of its kind ever assembled—restores these voices. The writings gathered here reveal the complexity and dynamism of African American life and culture in the period and show how the principles of the American Revolution were seized upon and enlarged by Black Americans from the very beginning.

Here are writers both enslaved and free, loyalist and patriot, women and men, Northern and Southern: soldiers, seamen, and veterans; painters, poets, and preachers; cooks, hairdressers, farmers, and many more. Alongside such better known works as Phillis Wheatley’s poems and Benjamin Banneker’s mathematical and scientific puzzles are dozens of first-person narratives offering a variety of Black perspectives on the political events of the times. These bold and eloquent contributions to public debate about the meanings of the Revolution and the republican values that gave rise to it dramatize the many ways in which protest and activism have always been integral for Black Americans. Intimate diaries and letters, many never before published, tell more private stories, indelibly altering our understanding of the lived experience of this crucial time in our history.

A foreword by Annette Gordon-Reed and an introduction by James G. Basker, along with introductory headnotes and explanatory notes drawing on recent scholarship, illuminate these indispensable works. A 16-page color photo insert presents portraits of some of the writers and images of the original manuscripts, broadsides, and books in which their words are preserved.

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James G. Basker is President of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and Richard Gilder Professor of Literary History at Barnard College, Columbia University. He has written and edited many books including, for Library of America, American Antislavery Writings: Colonial Beginnings to Emancipation (2012).

Nicole Seary is Senior Editor and Director of Fellowship Programs at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

This Library of America series edition is printed on acid-free paper and features Smyth-sewn binding, a full cloth cover, and a ribbon marker.

Black Writers of the Founding Era is kept in print by gifts to the Guardians of American Letters Fund from The Berkley Family Foundation Foundation and from Elizabeth W. Smith. They also provided project support for the volume.

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