Charles Rappleye: Wins $50,000 Washington Prize for Book on Slave Trade

Charles Rappleye, who was once an investigative journalist, has won the third annual $50,000 George Washington Book Prize for his biography "Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, the Slave Trade, and the American Revolution." It's the story of John and Moses Brown, brothers who founded Brown University but were dramatically opposed to each other on the business of slavery. It was a system that Rappleye describes in his book as "the most hazardous and the most lucrative business of the time."

The book, which sheds light on how controversial slavery was in this country long before the Civil War, covers 100 years, from the birth in 1736 of John Brown, a robber baron who ran slave ships from Providence, R.I., to the 1836 death of Moses, the younger brother, who with slave blood on his hands became an abolitionist.

"The book opens with the family's first venture in the trade, staged by patriarch James Brown the year John was born," the introduction to the book says. "Thirty years later, the brothers establish a personal stake in the trade when they stage their own voyage to Africa. It results in a human and financial disaster: after a journey attended by disease and shipboard rebellion, more than half the slaves perish, an ordeal illuminated by detailed notes from the captain's log."

It's after this experience that the brothers take their separate paths on the issue.

"It's a fascinating story," Rappleye said in an interview from the grounds of Mount Vernon, where he was awarded the prize at a black-tie dinner yesterday....

The George Washington Book Prize, created in 2005 and sponsored by Washington College, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, honors"books that contribute fresh insights to that national conversation about the years the country was founded." The award, with its $50,000 literary prize, is one of the most generous in the United States, organizers say....

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