Black-tie dinner at Historic Mount Vernon honors best book on the founding era
Mount Vernon, VA, May 22, 2007 — The third annual $50,000 George Washington Book Prize, honoring the most important new book about America's founding era, was awarded at Mount Vernon on May 22 to Charles Rappleye for Sons of Providence: The Brown Brothers, The Slave Trade, and The American Revolution (Simon and Schuster, 2006). An award-winning journalist and independent scholar, Rappleye tells the story of John and Moses Brown, brothers who were partners in business, politics, and the founding of Brown University, yet who passionately opposed one another on one of the most divisive issues of the day—the slave trade.
"I wanted to do justice to a wonderful story and refresh our understanding of the dilemma posed by slavery in the early days of the Republic," said Rappleye. "It's very gratifying to think that, on the strength of this award, that story might reach a wider audience."
Presented to Rappleye at a black-tie dinner attended by some 200 dignitaries, including descendants of the Brown brothers and luminaries from the worlds of book publishing, politics, journalism, and academia, the George Washington Book Prize included a medal and $50,000—one of the most generous book awards in the United States, with a monetary prize greater than the Pulitzer Prize for History ($7,500) and the National Book Award ($10,000).
Complete with fireworks and candlelit tours of Washington's Mansion, the Mount Vernon event also celebrated the works of the two other finalists: Catherine Allgor's A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation (Holt, 2006) and François Furstenberg's In the Name of the Father: Washington's Legacy, Slavery and the Making of a Nation (Penguin, 2006). The finalists were selected by a jury of prominent American historians: Richard Bushman of Columbia University; Theodore J. Crackel of the University of Virginia; and Pauline Maier of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In their report on the winning entry, the jurors wrote that "Rappleye, a journalist, spotted the ideological polarity represented by Moses and John Brown and turned the greatest contradiction in the Revolutionary period into the history of two men: one a Baptist-turned-Quaker opponent of slavery and the other a passionate revolutionary who was a major actor in the slave trade. Rappleye's book shows how this contradiction was not a conflict between North and South but a battle waged in the North, within a state thought to be one of the most independent and liberal of any in the Union, and in fact within one family."
The winner was chosen by a panel of two representatives from each of the three institutions that created and sponsor the prize—Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York City, and the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association—plus historian Barbara Oberg of Princeton University.
"For more than 200 years, Americans have been engaged in an ongoing—and sometimes contentious—conversation about the meaning and significance of our founding era," said Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold director of Washington College's C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, which administers the prize. "The Washington Prize honors books that contribute fresh insights to that national conversation. Sons of Providence tells a tale few Americans know—yet one that, with its sibling rivalries and ancestral burdens, seems almost Shakespearean."
"Charles Rappleye's Sons of Providence tells a fascinating story from the Founding Era that speaks to our time," said James G. Basker, President of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. "His research is exhaustive, yet his writing is so clear and compelling that he makes history read like a novel."
Created in 2005, the George Washington Book Prize was awarded in its inaugural year to Ron Chernow for Alexander Hamilton and last year to Stacy Schiff for A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America.
About the Sponsors of the George Washington Book Prize
Washington College was founded in 1782, the first institution of higher learning established in the new republic. George Washington was not only a principal donor to the college, but also a member of its original governing board. He received an honorary degree from the college in June 1789, two months after assuming the presidency. The C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, founded in 2000, is an innovative center for the study of history, culture and politics, and fosters excellence in the art of written history through fellowships, prizes, and student programs.
Founded in 1994 by Richard Gilder and Lewis E. Lehrman, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History promotes the study and love of American history. Increasingly national and international in scope, the Institute targets audiences ranging from students to scholars to the general public. It helps create history-centered schools and academic research centers, organizes seminars and enrichment programs for educators, partners with school districts to implement Teaching American History grants, produces print and electronic publications and traveling exhibitions, and sponsors lectures by historians. The Institute also funds the Lincoln Prize and Frederick Douglass Book Prize and offers fellowships for scholars to work in history archives, including the Gilder Lehrman Collection.
With its new Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center, the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association has created the equivalent of a presidential library for George Washington. "We want to be the first place people think of when they have a question about George Washington," noted James Rees, Mount Vernon's Executive Director. "The George Washington Book Prize is an important component in our aggressive outreach program to historians, teachers, and students."
About Charles Rappleye
Charles Rappleye is a writer and editor who has specialized in the media, police, and organized crime. Rappleye grew up in New England, attended school in Wisconsin, and lives in Los Angeles. He spent most of the past decade as news editor at the LA Weekly, where he won awards as a columnist and for investigative journalism. This is his second book.