Episode 016: Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832

The United States claimed victory in the War of 1812, but did you know that the British nearly won the war by promising freedom to escaped slaves in Virginia and Maryland?

In this episode, 2-time Pulitzer Prize winner Alan Taylor reveals how Virginia’s “Internal Enemy” almost cost the United States the War of 1812, its second war for independence.


About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Each episode features a conversation with an historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.

Episode Summary

TaylorIn this episode we converse with Alan Taylor, the Thomas Jefferson Chair of American History at the University of Virginia and 2-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for United States History, about slavery and war in Virginia between 1772 and 1832.

Using details from his book, The Internal Enemy, Alan will reveal who the Virginians’ “internal enemy” was, why they feared it, and how that “enemy” assisted the British Army during the War of 1812.

Alan will also lead us on an exploration of how the institution of slavery developed in Virginia and how Chesapeake slaves lived and worked between the late-18th and early-19th centuries.

What You’ll Discover

  • How Alan came to investigate slavery and war in Virginia
  • The resettlement of African American refugees in Nova Scotia after the War of 1812
  • How many African Americans escaped from the United States during the War of 1812
  • What the “Internal Enemy” was and why Virginians feared it
  • The demographics of Virginia in the early 19th century
  • Virginians’ attitudes towards slaves and the institution of slavery during the early 19th century
  • How slaves in Virginia lived, worked, and how their masters treated them
  • Why Lord Dunmore issued his Proclamation of 1775 and whether his actions achieved success
  • Information about entail: What it was and how it became entangled with slavery
  • Whether Virginia attempted to end slavery after the American Revolution
  • Why Great Britain decided to suppress the international slave trade after 1800
  • Why Great Britain formed African American military units in the West Indies
  • Examples of slave escape stories from the War of 1812
  • How Alan learned so much about the escaped slaves that appear throughout The Internal Enemy


Links to People, Places, and Publications


Time Warp PlainTime Warp Question

  • Does the legacy of slavery in Virginia, and elsewhere in the United States, contribute to our present-day race problems? If so, how?


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  • Nice episode Liz! It is nice to hear the historians speak of the time periods. I wish more people would tune in and get accurate information. Also, this is such an excellent resource for students. Keep up the good work!

    • Hi Monique,

      I am glad you enjoyed this episode with Alan Taylor. He is an amazing scholar.

      I appreciate your comments. Some day I hope to produce a podcast series or perhaps a second podcast aimed at students. However, right now I am focusing on producing the highest-quality episodes I can for Ben Franklin’s World.

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