Pinot and Prose is a monthly column exploring great books and the drinks to enjoy them with. Why should food get all the fun?
Judith L. Van Buskirk’s Standing in Their Own Light, is a book about contradictions. It’s about a country that fought for “freedom” even as the rebelling British North American colonies retained legalized slavery . It’s about “Patriots” that wanted to fight a war, but did not want to do the fighting themselves and so sent the enslaved to fight for them. And it’s about a country that revels in the service of its veterans, even though it has often failed them since the beginning.
Standing in Their Own Light documents the service of the roughly 5,000 African Americans that fought in support of Congress in the American War of Independence. Through meticulous research of Continental Army muster roles and veterans’ pension applications, Van Buskirk excellently tells the story of a long forgotten portion of the Congressional forces. Perhaps most extraordinarily, she follows up with these men after the war is over, and we learn of their struggles in postwar early America.
Van Buskirk’s book is an important contribution to the scholarship surrounding the service of the Continental Army’s enlisted force. It joins Becoming Men of Some Consequence and A Proper Sense of Honor in expanding our knowledge of the army beyond just the more famous officers that commanded Congress’s soldiers. It belongs on the shelf of every serious student of the conflict.
SIDE NOTE: Taken with Becoming Men of Some Consequence, I think Standing in their Own Light suggests that more research is needed on the Federalist political leanings of former Continental Army enlisted soldiers. The connection between the officer corps and federalism has existed since the nation began, but Continental Army veterans as Federalist voters, and the party’s decline as those veterans aged, might merit study.
I wanted to pair Standing in the Own Light with a wine from Rhode Island in honor of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, but time constraints and Virginia’s draconian alcohol laws thwarted me. Instead, we are drinking a style of wine that would have been known to the soldiers that served in the 1st Rhode Island.
This is Blandy’sRainwater, it is a three-year-old fortified wine made from tinta negra grapes grown on the island of Madeira. Madeira wines were common throughout colonial North America because the process of fortification—well—fortified the wines for travel across the Atlantic ocean. With an alcohol content of 18% ABV, this is definitely a wine to enjoy in smaller glasses these days, even if in the 18th century they would have been more generous in their pours.
The wine is deliciously off dry, so it’s not too sweet. To me, it smells and tastes of hazelnut and burnt caramel (that’s a good thing in this case). Besides Standing in the Own Light, it would probably be best enjoyed right before or right after a meal. So raise a glass to the brave African Americans that fought for independence, and are finally getting their due thanks to Judith L. Van Buskirk’s efforts.