Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700-1750

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Overview

The common seaman and the pirate in the age of sail are romantic historical figures who occupy a special place in the popular culture of the modern age. And yet in many ways, these daring men remain little known to us. Like most other poor working people of the past, they left few first-hand accounts of their lives. But their lives are not beyond recovery. In this book, Marcus Rediker uses a huge array of historical sources (court records, diaries, travel accounts, and many others) to reconstruct the social cultural world of the Anglo-American seamen and pirates who sailed the seas in the first half of the eighteenth century. Rediker tours the sailor's North Atlantic, following seamen and their ships along the pulsing routes of trade and into rowdy port towns. He recreates life along the waterfront, where seafaring men from around the world crowded into the sailortown and its brothels, alehouses, street brawls, and city jail. His study explores the natural terror that inevitably shaped the existence of those who plied the forbidding oceans of the globe in small, brittle wooden vessels. It also treats the man-made terror--the harsh discipline, brutal floggings, and grisly hangings--that was a central fact of life at sea. Rediker surveys the commonplaces of the maritime world: the monotonous rounds of daily labor, the negotiations of wage contracts, and the bawdy singing, dancing, and tale telling that were a part of every voyage. He also analyzes the dramatic moments of the sailor's existence, as Jack Tar battled wind and water during a slashing storm, as he stood by his "brother tars" in a mutiny or a stike, and as he risked his neck by joining a band of outlaws beneath the Jolly Roger, the notorious pirate flag. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea focuses upon the seaman's experience in order to illuminate larger historical issues such as the rise of capitalism, the genesis the free wage labor, and the growth of an international working class. These epic themes were intimately bound up with everyday hopes and fears of the common seamen.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...an excellent up-from-the-lower deck study of deepwater sailors in the eighteenth century...the best working-class history I've read in years." Robert Schaeffer, In These Times

"...No one interested in the history of the 18th century can afford to ignore this book." Christopher Hill

"...A fresh and powerful analysis of the 18th century maritime world." Gary Nash

"...the style is lucid, the tone is assured, the documentation professional and economical. And the book is brought to a triumphant conclusion with two superb chapters on the seaman as the 'Spirit of Rebellion' and as a pirate...What distinguishes Rediker's work is his unwavering and unsentimental focus on the seaman's labour and experience in his cramped wooden world." E.P. Thompson, The Guardian

"...a book that undoubtedly will have an enduring value. Every student of early eighteenth-century maritime affairs should read Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea." John D. Byrn, Jr., The Eighteenth Century

"...luminous study of a neglected segment of colonial society." Robert M. Calhoon, Historical Journal of Massachusetts

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521303422
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/1987
  • Pages: 340
  • Product dimensions: 5.43 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Table of Contents

List of illustrations; Acknowledgments; Abbreviations; Introduction; 1. The seaman as man of the world: a tour of the North Atlantic, c. 1740; 2. The seaman as collective worker: the labor process at sea; 3. The seaman as wage laborer: the search for ready money; 4. The seaman as plain dealer: language and culture at sea; 5. The seaman as the 'spirit of rebellion': authority, violence, and labor discipline; 6. The seaman as pirate: plunder and social banditry at sea; Conclusion: the seaman as worker of the world; Appendices; Index.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2001

    More than Meets the Eye

    At first glance this book appears to be another history book dedicated to a narrowly defined, arcane subject. It is not. You are shown a view of life at sea in the eighteenth century from the ordinary worker's point of view, a view that might be your own in similar circumstances, which are in some ways not too different from those that confronted laborers even into the 20th century. Under such conditions, is it not conceivable that you -- whether you are a stockbroker, a doctor, a carpenter, or a waitress -- might strike (a term whose meaning here was invented by 18th century mariners), mutiny, or even ... go 'on the account' as a pirate? This book isn't just about 18th century life at sea ... it's about labor relations and human nature. It's vividly presented, amply researched, and fascinating!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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