MURFY'S MEN by Gerald Green


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The Revolutionary War story of the all-black First Rhode Island Regiment--led by white, Irish, 20-year-old Ensign Malachi Desmond Murfy--and of their honorable soldiering in the Battle of Rhode Island. Green starts off with voodoo rites on the eve of battle, but most of the book is a long flashback to the last three years of Murfy's young life. We follow him from King's College (agitating for freedom with Alexander Hamilton) to cabin-boyhood on a slave-ship (the result of being caught in flagrante delicto by an angry father), where he must fend off rape attempts by foul sailors. Then it's on to Old Calabar on the Slave Coast, where Murfy falls in love with callipygous Kwamina but must save himself from beheading through sex with a native chief's fat wife. Then back to sea with a ship full of slaves and mutinous sailors: Murfy frees the slaves to fight the mutineers, and these freedmen--to be known as ""Murfy's niggers""--will later wind up in that Rhode Island regiment. Back in America at last, Murfy is hired by Jewish slaver Reb Simon in Newport, becomes the steward for two more voyages (and is soon known as ""the Good Slaver""), gets rich, spies for the Continental Army, joins Washington at desertion-plagued Valley Forge, and realizes the need for a regiment of freed slaves. So he recruits them, steals into Newport, finds his long-ago love (who has passed through great suffering), and gets information by means of a black dressed as a beautiful girl singer (who seduces a British officer). Then, at the Battle of Rhode Island, the regiment holds out against the massed Hessians, routing them from Barrington Hill after 36 hours. And finally Murfy marries true-love Betsy (they'll raise his son by the dead Kwamina) while the regiment is disbanded, some of its men almost forced back to slavery when their former owners try to repossess them. A few effective scenes--but mostly this is Green at his least knowledgeable or sincere: a stereotyped, commercialized history lesson, severely undercut in seriousness by gratuitous, satirical sex scenes.

Pub Date: April 27th, 1981
Publisher: Seaview--dist. by Harper & Row