The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom

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The riveting account of the slave ship rebellion told for the first time from the slaves’ perspective

The slave ship Amistad set sail from Havana on July 2, 1839, on a routine delivery of human cargo. A few days into its voyage, the fifty-three African captives aboard would seize control and steer a new course—one that took them to freedom and ultimately into history.

Though the Amistad rebellion has been celebrated in films and books, its ...

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The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom

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Overview

The riveting account of the slave ship rebellion told for the first time from the slaves’ perspective

The slave ship Amistad set sail from Havana on July 2, 1839, on a routine delivery of human cargo. A few days into its voyage, the fifty-three African captives aboard would seize control and steer a new course—one that took them to freedom and ultimately into history.

Though the Amistad rebellion has been celebrated in films and books, its story has largely been told through the eyes of white abolitionists, with the Supreme Court victory by the Africans as the ultimate triumph. Now, Marcus Rediker’s captivating new history turns the lens on the Africans themselves. Using the story of their horrific plight back to the roots of their shared culture a continent away, he reframes the Amistad story as a crucial moment in the great chain of resistance stretching from the earliest slave revolts through the civil rights struggles of the twentieth century.

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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.
From the Publisher
“Gripping...Superb...As Marcus Rediker’s new book reminds us, the place of the [Amistad] rebellion in popular memory hasn’t always been secure.”—The Nation

“The great strength of this work—aside from rediker’s vivd style as a writer and meticulous research—is that he brings the Amistad Africans back to center stage where they have often been pushed to the side.”—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Vividly drawn…this stunning book honors the achievement of the captive Africans who fought for—and won—their freedom.”—The Philadelphia Tribune

“Spectacularly researched and fluidly composed, this latest study offers some much needed perspective on a critical yet often overlooked event in America’s history.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A totally enthralling account of the Amistad rebellion and its place in the broader American story of revolt against a great threat to liberty."--Booklist (starred review)

"A first-rate example of history told from the bottom up."—Kirkus (starred review)

"Rediker takes a fresh approach to the Amistad rebellion by focusing on the Africans who revolted rather than on the American political and judicial response, which takes the central place in most previous works."—Library Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670025046
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • 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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  • 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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