Ill-Fated Frontier is at once a pioneer adventure and a compelling narrative of the frictions that emerged among entrepreneurial pioneers and their sixty slaves, Indians fighting to preserve their land, and Spanish colonials with their own agenda. Here is a turbulent and visceral portrait of the wild American frontier in 1789 that begins with an optimistic plan and ends with the body of one of the expedition’s leaders returning to New Jersey pickled in a barrel of rum.
What happened in between lies at the center of this fascinating account by Harvard historian Samuel A. Forman. It is a startling and frank portrait of an emerging United States that examines the dream of an inclusive American experience and its reality—a debate that continues today.
Imperious Revolutionary War antihero General David Forman contrives a huge land grant at Natchez, Spanish West Florida. Intending to create a plantation empire, he entrusts his naive young cousin Samuel S. Forman and experienced overseer Benajah Osman to drive the general’s sixty enslaved African Americans across 2,400 dangerous frontier miles. The general chooses the same grueling overland and river trek as had Dr. Antoine Saugrain, a disastrous choice for the Frenchman. Proceeding from home in New Jersey, the Americans face abolitionist women and Chief Little Turtle’s relentless warriors. Enslaved matriarch Ginnie and her fellow unwilling pioneers toe the narrow line between loyalty to the masters and the temptation of freedom. At the new territory, the Formans encounter suave Spanish colonials and a colorful horde of expat settlers, while the enslaved take on the herculean labors of building the future Cotton Kingdom. Lively, impeccably researched, and rich in details that have escaped the usual tales of American growth and enterprise, Ill-Fated Frontier shines new and entertaining light on what it means to be an American.
Samuel A. Forman is a historian and Harvard University faculty member. He was educated at the University of Pennsylvania in American history. Throughout his successful careers as physician, military officer, and businessman, he has published and lectured on historical topics that inform current issues. His definitive American Founder’s biography, Dr. Joseph Warren: The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of American Liberty, won the American Revolution Round Table of Philadelphia’s Book of the Year award. He was inducted into the Society of the Cincinnati as an honorary life member on the basis of his historical writings
Advance praise for Ill-Fated Frontier
“This excellent and highly original book is a major contribution to American history. It enlarges our understanding of slavery and the westward movement by the breadth of its research and the depth of its understanding. Readers will be surprised by the scale of slavery in northeastern states before the Revolution, by the magnitude of the westward migration, and by the experience of many Americans in bondage and freedom. It also enlarges our understanding of the values of a free society.” —David Hackett Fischer, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Washington’s Crossing, Liberty and Freedom, Albion's Seed, Champlain's Dream, Paul Revere's Ride, and many others