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Sealed with Blood
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Sealed with Blood
War, Sacrifice, and Memory in Revolutionary America

Sarah J. Purcell

288 pages | 6 x 9 | 15 illus.
Paper 2010 | ISBN 9780812221091 | $26.50s | Outside the Americas £19.99
Ebook editions are available from selected online vendors
A volume in the series Early American Studies

"A valuable contribution to our understanding of the relationship between the American revolution and national identity in the early republic."—Journal of the Early Republic

"Thoughtful and engaging. . . . Purcell's book effectively demonstrates the transformation in the political language and discourse surrounding wartime military sacrifice."—American Historical Review

"This book examines what Sarah J. Purcell calls the military memory of the War of American Independence in American life. . . . She convincingly contends that the experience of war from 1775 to 1783 and the selective memory of that experience figure largely in Americans' understanding of the nation they created. . . . A sophisticated exploration of the diverse uses to which dramatic war experiences could be put."—Military History

"Not only a significant contribution to the field; [Sealed with Blood] is also a good read."—North Carolina Historical Review

"A substantial contribution to the scholarship in early republic cultural and political history, and in many ways an exemplary study of public memory because of its wide vision, its attentiveness to context, and its careful delineation of change over time."—David Waldstreicher, author of In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes: The Making of American Nationalism, 1776-1820

The first martyr to the cause of American liberty was Major General Joseph Warren, a well-known political orator, physician, and president of the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts. Shot in the face at close range at Bunker Hill, Warren was at once transformed into a national hero, with his story appearing throughout the colonies in newspapers, songs, pamphlets, sermons, and even theater productions. His death, though shockingly violent, was not unlike tens of thousands of others, but his sacrifice came to mean something much more significant to the American public.

Sealed with Blood reveals how public memories and commemorations of Revolutionary War heroes, such as those for Warren, helped Americans form a common bond and create a new national identity. Drawing from extensive research on civic celebrations and commemorative literature in the half-century that followed the War for Independence, Sarah Purcell shows how people invoked memories of their participation in and sacrifices during the war when they wanted to shore up their political interests, make money, argue for racial equality, solidify their class status, or protect their personal reputations. Images were also used, especially those of martyred officers, as examples of glory and sacrifice for the sake of American political principles.

By the midnineteenth century, African Americans, women, and especially poor white veterans used memories of the Revolutionary War to articulate their own, more inclusive visions of the American nation and to try to enhance their social and political status. Black slaves made explicit the connection between military service and claims to freedom from bondage. Between 1775 and 1825, the very idea of the American nation itself was also democratized, as the role of "the people" in keeping the sacred memory of the Revolutionary War broadened.

Sarah J. Purcell teaches history at Grinnell College.

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