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The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom

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On June 28, 1839, the Spanish slave schooner Amistad set sail from Havana on a routine delivery of human cargo. On a moonless night, after four days at sea, the captive Africans rose up, killed the captain, and seized control of the ship. They attempted to sail to a safe port, but were captured by the U.S. Navy and thrown into jail in Connecticut. Their legal battle for freedom eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, where their cause was argued by former president John Quincy Adams. In a landmark ruling, ...

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The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom

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Overview

On June 28, 1839, the Spanish slave schooner Amistad set sail from Havana on a routine delivery of human cargo. On a moonless night, after four days at sea, the captive Africans rose up, killed the captain, and seized control of the ship. They attempted to sail to a safe port, but were captured by the U.S. Navy and thrown into jail in Connecticut. Their legal battle for freedom eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, where their cause was argued by former president John Quincy Adams. In a landmark ruling, they were freed and eventually returned to Africa. The rebellion became one of the best-known events in the history of American slavery, celebrated as a triumph of the legal system in films and books, all reflecting the elite perspective of the judges, politicians, and abolitionists involved in the case. In this powerful and highly original account, Marcus Rediker reclaims the rebellion for its true proponents: the African rebels who risked death to stake a claim for freedom.
 
Using newly discovered evidence, Rediker reframes the story to show how a small group of courageous men fought and won an epic battle against Spanish and American slaveholders and their governments. He reaches back to Africa to find the rebels’ roots, narrates their cataclysmic transatlantic journey, and unfolds a prison story of great drama and emotion. Featuring vividly drawn portraits of the Africans, their captors, and their abolitionist allies, he shows how the rebels captured the popular imagination and helped to inspire and build a movement that was part of a grand global struggle between slavery and freedom. The actions aboard the Amistad that July night and in the days and months that followed were pivotal events in American and Atlantic history, but not for the reasons we have always thought.
 
The successful Amistad rebellion changed the very nature of the struggle against slavery. As a handful of self-emancipated Africans steered their own course to freedom, they opened a way for millions to follow. This stunning book honors their achievement. 

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Historian Rediker (The Slave Ship) focuses on the individual captives in this ambitious retelling of the famous 1839 Amistad uprising. He relies on numerous articles about and interviews with rebellion leader Cinqué and his fellow captives to detail their abduction, voyage, and stateside imprisonment. Their trial brings out prominent legislators, including Roger S. Baldwin and former president John Quincy Adams, as well as political activists like Lewis Tappan, turning the already sensational upheaval aboard the slave ship Amistad into a national spectacle of antebellum America. Rediker renders the struggle of progressive newspapersto portray, in both word and image, the refugees as romantic heroes, while proslavery outlets labeled them “beastly” pirates. He also describes the Africans’ and Americans’ mutual attempts to understand one another’s language and customs, in order to better communicate throughout the hearings. As the Supreme Court solidified its position on the captives’ fate, the reader feels America further split in its own attitudes on slavery. Following the verdict, Rediker trails the freed captives as they tour the country and return to their native homelands, while the effects of the court’s landmark ruling reverberate throughout the nation. Spectacularly researched and fluidly composed, this latest study offers some much needed perspective on a critical yet oft-overlooked event in America’s history. Agent: Sandra Dijkstra. (Nov.)
Library Journal
The 1839 Amistad slave rebellion is well known, but George Washington Book Prize-winner Rediker uses newly discovered information to tell the story anew, giving greater depth to the Africans' background and highlighting individuals, whether rebel, captor, or abolitionist.
Kirkus Reviews
Rigorous account of a slave-ship rebellion that altered American and African societies. In The Slave Ship (2007), Rediker (History/Univ. of Pittsburgh) provided a macro view of the ugly business of transporting slaves. Here, he examines what happened on one ship, the Amistad. The 1839 rebellion on the Amistad was one of the few successful uprisings while a slave ship was under sail. The story unfolds from the bottom up, as Rediker pieces together the lives of several dozen men and women forcibly captured in what is now Sierra Leone. Other books about the rebellion focus on what occurred after the slaves broke their shackles and committed high-seas murder (off the coast of Cuba) before eventually being arrested near Long Island, N.Y. The jailing of the slaves and legal proceedings constituted the obvious, easy story to tell. Rediker, however, dug deeply to document the personal histories of the rebellious slaves. When captured, none of the slaves could speak or understand the English language. A lengthy search in the United States for an interpreter broke the logjam to some extent, allowing at least a partial narrative to be written during the 1840s and in later generations. Rediker does not ignore the Supreme Court decision in the convoluted case of international law as applied to murder on the high seas; the decision, given the biased backgrounds of quite a few Supreme Court justices, seemed almost miraculous at the time, and the slaves headed home to Sierra Leone. A first-rate example of history told from the bottom up.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670025046
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 11/8/2012
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.07 (d)

Meet the Author

Marcus Rediker is a professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of The Slave Ship: A Human History, winner of the George Washington Book Prize and the Merle Curti Award,  and (with Peter Linebaugh) The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailor, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic.

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Table of Contents

Introduction Voices 1

1 Origins 13

2 Rebellion 64

3 Movement 96

4 Jail 122

5 "Mendi" 152

6 Freedom 184

Conclusion Reverberations 224

Acknowledgments 239

Notes 245

Index 277

Illustration Sources and Credits 287

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 21, 2012

    Insightful History of A World-Changing Event

    This new history of the Amistad uprising shines in particular with its focus on the lives of the rebellion's leaders. The historical and cultural context of the captives' African homelands and cultures is explored in detail, as are the personalities and motivations of the Amistad rebels.

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