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Rough Crossings

Ratings: 8.00/10from 3 users.

Rough CrossingsSimon Schama tells the fascinating story of the African-American slaves who chose to fight for Britain - and their freedom - in the American Revolutionary War.

With gripping, powerfully vivid story-telling, Simon Schama follows the escaped blacks into the fires of the war, and into freezing, inhospitable Nova Scotia where many who had served the Crown were betrayed in their promises to receive land at the war's end.

Their fate became entwined with British abolitionists: inspirational figures such as Granville Sharp, the flute-playing father-figure of slave freedom, and John Clarkson, the 'Moses' of this great exodus, who accompanied the blacks on their final rough crossing to Africa, where they hoped that freedom would finally greet them.

Rough Crossings is the astonishing story of the struggle to freedom by thousands of African-American slaves who fled the plantations to fight behind British lines in the American War of Independence.

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27 Comments / User Reviews

  1. E. L. Harris

    The enslavement of African-Americans was the worse kind of slavery that ever existed! Yes! Yes! There was all sorts of slavery that took place throughout history, but never of the sort that the rejects of Europe exacted against people of African descent!

  2. E. L. Harris

    This is a great effort regarding the intersection of African, American and British history! More about this can be read in Lawrence Hill's book Somebody Knows my name. As usual there is always some comment made by some white racist to extol the works of whites at the expense of Africans. Let me just say that Africa was a great civilization before Europe was even thought about. Europe was a plot of filth, lingering in the middle ages of backwardness and disease! AFrica was a full of developed countries. AFrican professors taught in Greek Universities! There is tons of Greek lit that states these facts, but knowledge about Africa is so enslaved and colonized until whites believe all the lies about Africa and themselves! You are not that great! You are not that smart and you are not better than any other human beings God put on this earth! Get over yourselves! Learn the truth! Africans were the first to work with iron and all sorts of metals, Africans did more than erect some carvings. Moreover, i am stating emphatically, that SLAVERY was wrong on so many levels! Even in this film the white men were worthless drunks! People of African descent did all of the work, and whites all over the world, who did nothing but murder, rape and ravish and rob every other race of people, benefited! Read Gulliver's Travels, J. Swift, a white man, talks about the immorality and Amorality of whites!

  3. Matt van den Ham

    The interesting thing I find about Britain's history is that they are a fairly small country in population but they've managed to infiltrate and conquer half of the globe, most of the time with out the use of blunt force (use of any army). They don't attack the armies head on, they attack crops, resources, knock out military points, spread propaganda, fear mongering and insight battles between the locals. Their goal is create as much chaos and anarchy as possible and render the country defenceless, disoriented and the population scattered and in need of support. This is where the English step in and 'offer' the solution with cultural obligations. I guess you could say they are master extortionists rather than great warriors.

    However, even though their history is brutal and merciless, they also deserve some recognition for their effort at democracy and equality, and they definitely deserve recognition as innovators and engineers, but in the same stroke the Romans deserve a lot of recognition as well.

  4. madscirat

    According to Wikipedia Peters died of malaria. The documentary seems to imply he was executed.

  5. seoulman

    the British knew about slavery all to well, they had it perfected in their own countries by their own people, blood and race. A SERF , born into slavery ! this practice went on in England for hundreds of years! wasn't until the black plague hit that the black death wiped out over half of Briton and then merchants, rich land owners needed serfs, but there went enough to go around, so they offered to pay them , or risk losing them as they were running in droves.. welcome the middleclass..
    this was until around the 1500 hundreds, the similar times when the slave trade started. the british were the first to set it up on Africa. and the ones who ended it.. The British were racist, capitalist brutal people.
    sure they act all the gentleman today.. but their history.. GOD HELP US!

  6. qzqzqz

    the brits were not portrayed as the saviors(do..gooders) in this case,it was the nieve notions of of the captain that the older brother used to get him to move slaves to his new venture....letting him believe in the freedom issue helped to get them all to go...extraordinary events brought about by that one lie..schama says lifes not like hollywood (quite right for the docu)but it would make a very good film indeed, truth is odder than fiction...on a flipant note...i see tom cruise and morgan freeman in the main roles

  7. Abjective

    I got to say it, that the negro preacher in this documentary does look like Jeffrey from Fresh Prince. lol

  8. Abjective

    America has an obsession with greed. Their historic slave trade is a true testament to the obesity crisis they are suffering now. The Africaans built America and provided the wealth they currently enjoy. Even now the American negro are suffering from poverty, exclusions, and long jail terms. I have to admit though that the native Indians got it the worst, from several millions in the 1500s to several thousands in 2011. Thats what i call genocide in its true essence. God bless America. Hey!

    There is some? evidence to? show that a hand full of slaves were free to a certain extent. The Brits were a little more morally just with their slaves compared to the the American slave masters. The African slave trade was a tragic era. Slavery happens even today in many forms in many different countries. In India theres child slavery in the thousands and some western corporates try to exploit that. Theres also people traficking. People are even trafficked to the UK if the the price is right.

    1. Matt van den Ham

      Africans didn't build this country, that's reaching, and you have an extremely negative perception of how this country was founded. Yes Africans deserve a ton of recognition for everything they've contributed and it's really sad that people were treated so harshly back then, but this master/slave ideology will always be around as long as man have the desire to win and conquer others is around. If you don't think slavery still exist in north america, you are blind. You can remove the whip and the physical punishment, but psychological and intellectual dominance is still there. Most people are still controlled by fear to x degree, and fear is one of the roots of racism imo.

  9. Andy King

    Slavery goes way back before the English even tasted sugar let alone bought slaves to work the land where it was grown. The Portuguese, who had colonies in Africa used slaves to work their land, there was a lot of wheeling and dealing going on at that time and the Portuguese who at that time was a very strong superpower started to ship the black population to south America for slave labour, hence they speak Portuguese in Brazil and not Spanish. Brazil had more slaves around that time that any other country.
    As the sea lanes opened up more countries got involved, most people were after a fast buck and that's how the slave trade started in the Carribean because the ships had to stop on their way to Brazil for suplies and because the English held most of the land there for sugar plantations, they also got into the slave trade. Every country that colonised Africa all those hundreds of years ago all had their part to play in the slave trade. Suprisingly though the American were the last to get into the trade and the last country to abolish it.

  10. Ramus

    Did you watch and listen to the documentary. Please point to the part where it states the British were innocent. Perhaps John Clarkson (thats the guy that was trying to help the blacks btw) should not have bothered then. Perhaps Simon Schama should not have bothered bringing this story to light. Why would anyone want to change the world when there are people like you that see everything through hate filled spectacles. "Slavery was horrible". No shit Sherlock.

  11. Peteszy

    Well done, but left much out and left it quite bias. I have a BA in history with concentration in African American History. The Brits were not such innocents themselves, as this video seems to imply, lol. And Africa was hardly a free place for blacks. The incidences of Africans capturing African slaves was begun by the Portuguese, and many many Africans were slaves well before they came to America. Its a good video, slavery was horrible. But it seems slanted to the Brit POV.

    1. Guest

      Yes. The 1st who engaged into slavey were from the Iberic peninsulea. (Portugese & Spanish). Because they were the 1st in South America. They considered it as a tool for a tournament.

      Not even bright enough to think about the tomorrows, they simply plunder at will. Look at what they've got left in now days!
      Instead of tying perpetual knots.
      They really deserve their sewer pipe countries.

      And still in our days, there are countries that show the very same behavior. Documentaries teach a lot!
      Race, religion, language never been the real reason of any abuse.
      Only a misguiding and false pretention to acquite what belong someone else, what someone 'been working to acquite.

      Most homosapiens are lazy individual who are just unfit to produce anything for survival.

    2. r b

      A sewer pipe looks like the kind of place you were brought up in, Pierre, you piece of thrash. I'm going to reply to you just because your comment pissed me off, but you really don't deserve any enlightement if you haven't been able to figure out how history works for yourself. You seem like the typical empty brained a**hole who despises the Taliban brutality in war but is blinded to the big power's drone aircraft massacres. Neither Spanish nor Portuguese started the slave trade, slavery being a common business throughout human history. In the modern times, all european powers set up their own, and no country can be proud of theirs. What the European settlers did in North America was plain and simple genocide, and they were fairly successful, whereas the "lazy" Spanish could not complete the mission and left millions of locals alive, which amounts of most of South American population nowadays. Not to mention the African "adventures" of Belgium, England or France, for instance, which still today have devastating effects on the ex colonies. If you want to start comparing the different slave systems set up by the European powers you should know better the subject, and you should certainly not be proud of whatever s*** hole you come from.

  12. Karl


    Point blank would you rather be a slave then or now?

    Learn from history and realize that you live a very priviledge life.

  13. karliah

    lol comment above. I kinda agree but man your so dramatic. I actually did a ten page essay on what your talking about for school once but the teacher failed it. it was amusing how to added fashion in there, im so obsessed with fashion, being a makeup artist but i dont see it as something that chains me down, its something that adds colour to your life and makes you more appealing. Did your mother never teach you that beauty is your duty my dear

  14. ez2b12

    Yes slavery does still exist. It is infact alive and prospering right here in the US. We are slaves that do not see our shackles, or know our masters. A few of us have actually escaped, though we now live on the outside looking in. We try to tell our brothers, "Hey brother, you are in shackles and I will now give you the name of your masters so that you may break free!" But he just scoffs at us or stares blankly with little understanding.

    Still he is my brother and I will now name his masters for him: religion, patriotism, the pharmaceutical industry, cigarettes-alchol-and street drugs, pop culture, fashion, social status, government, petroleum products, and last but not least the uppper 1 percent that control all the other masters. It is a simple thing to free yourself all you have to do is see your master and know his name.

    Unfortunately until the majority of us free ourselves you will only join us few that are on the outside looking in, and probaly not yet as free as we would like to think ourselves. But at least from time to time we can turn our backs for a moment and see the wild, feel the wind, press soft green grass under our toes.

    Now you know the names of our masters, I hope you will think about this and help your brother when possible. Perhaps you already are, I do not pretend to know you. If so welcome and thankyou, if not- what are you waiting for? Infact we do not yet now the names of all the masters so pitch in, help us identify them. And once we have we will scream thier names in unison, one by one freeing all our brothers and sisters. Then we will gather at the rivers edge to remember the faces of our fathers.

  15. Lizzy

    Everyone certainly has their own perspective of what happened in History. All the struggles, battles fought, experiences of oppression, and dreams of freedom were well worth it though I think. From what I understand though, slavery is still exists today in many forms, and I just hope that the day will come in which we can truly say that we are honestly free...just my opinion.

  16. Stephen Sharpe

    Ron I said province not city...try to read accuratly what I wrote please.And no where did I say blacks were treated the same..I said other minorities were treated badly.Make no mistake blacks were trated very poorly.

  17. Sadie The Celt

    oh dear! sorry I didn't mean 'Jonestown'! - yikes thats a 'faux pas' for sure! FREETOWN! i meant FREETOWN sorry

  18. Sadie The Celt

    Gosh! - I didn't expect this documentary to move me the way it did! - I felt anger, shame, sorrow and relief - oh yes and I had a little cry too!
    Its a piece of History that I knew nothing about, and yet it fitted around, and complimented everything I knew about the Abolition if the Slave trade - and the work of William Wilberforce.
    What I didnt know is that the British called upon the Black Slaves of America to help them fight a Civil War against America (?), and promised them their freedom and some land in Nova Scotia (Canada) afterwards. What the Blacks ended up with, however, was little more than barren wasteland, and a lifetime of pocerty and servitude ahead.
    John Clarkesons' job was to 're-locate' these Blacks to South Africa - he was commisioned the task by the Sierra Leone Company, whose motives were all about MONEY - ie to set up a profitable trading post, thus satisfying their shareholders.
    John Clarkeson had the unenviable task of persuading the 'Nova Scotians' to go with him to South Africa, and find a better life. Naturally they were wary - as they had been sold into slavery and had been on boats before - tied and manacled and travelling in utter squalor.
    What Clarkeson achieved was nothing short of miraculous, and yet because the British thought he had 'gone native' with his strong support for the new colonies right, that they dismissed himn fron his post after just 18months.
    Yet John Clarkeson must always be remembered as the person who FIRST brought the emancipation of Black People - because he gave the right to vote to the people of Jonestown.
    A wonderful documentary - THANK YOU VLATKO!

  19. Lele

    hey isn't the preacher Jeffrey from the Fresh Prince?

  20. shellski

    So the guys wearing the wigs have to be homosexual - and thus all king therewith - come on - only a fag would be willing to put that silly thing on their heads - wow

  21. Stephen Sharpe

    Just a few points from someone who lives in Nova Scotia.I agree that Black Loyalists in some instances were given poor lands to settle by the English.So were lots of white settlers of the same era.Lands so poor that farming was impossiable and they turned to fishing.Not only blacks paid rent.Not only blacks were in "serivce". To call the people in power in Nova Scotia in 1791 as "Nova Scotian" is simply misleading.

    Those in power were English.English settlement of Nova Scotia only begain in 1749 with the founding of Halifax and the English held sway in the province long after 1791.Mr.Schama our friend with the lovely English accent fails to mention such details.He portrays Nova Scotia as some cold windswept uninhabital area.In truth it is the warmest province in Canada.Grapes and peaches are grown here.He says that blacks walked hundreds of miles to get to Halifax.

    Black settlements were not hundreds of miles away from Halifax, the province isn't hundreds of miles in length or breadth.Were blacks treated poorly.Yes of course they were as were the Scottish and Irish settlers of the same period.How many Black Nova Scotians today would like to move to Sierra Leone? I'd say exactly zero.

    I do agree that blacks were treated very badly by the English in that time period but then again who weren't treated badly by them?China, India, West Indies, Australia and on and on. I think Mr. Schama could have saved us all a lot of time by just saying the English were a bunch of greedy power hungry b@#$%&*^ and have dome with it. A poor effort all around.

  22. Keith

    Wow, that was excellent. So well done, and poignantly presented.