The Diligent: A Journey through the Worlds of the Slave Trade

Overview

The slave trade is one of the best known yet least understood processes in our history. The popular image of traders in slave ships going to Africa and rounding up slaves as if they were cattle is not only historically inaccurate, it also disguises the fact that the slave trade was a highly organized Atlantic-wide system that required close collaboration at the highest levels of government in Europe, Africa, and the New World. Using the private journal of First Lieutenant Robert Durand, and supplementing it with ...

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Overview

The slave trade is one of the best known yet least understood processes in our history. The popular image of traders in slave ships going to Africa and rounding up slaves as if they were cattle is not only historically inaccurate, it also disguises the fact that the slave trade was a highly organized Atlantic-wide system that required close collaboration at the highest levels of government in Europe, Africa, and the New World. Using the private journal of First Lieutenant Robert Durand, and supplementing it with a wealth of archival research, Yale historian Robert Harms re-creates in astonishing detail the voyage of the French slave ship The Diligent.We have histories of the slave trade, most recently Hugh Thomas's massive and authoritative The Slave Trade, but The Diligent is something entirely different: a deep bore into the economic, political, and moral worldviews of the participants on all sides of the trade, complete with a vivid dramatis personae. Nobody who reads this book will ever look at the slave trade in the same way again.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Yale historian Harms (Games Against Nature) explores the global scope of an odious industry by tracking the slave ship Diligent, which sailed from Vannes, France, in 1731. Using First Lieut. Robert Durand's journal, Harms fleshes out the multinational web of trade relationships and transactions, both legal and illegal: European countries competing for profits; government-sanctioned monopolies giving way to private enterprise; African rulers vying for their share of the profits. The Diligent's cargo of 256 Africans was destined for Martinique's plantation industries, and the profit-and-loss ledger was the lieutenant's primary concern, writes Harris: "Durand mentioned the African captives only twice during the entire sixty-six days of the middle passage, and then only to record deaths." Paradoxically, given the nature of his business, Durand complained when having to leave a hostage in Elmina after a Bordeaux slaver abducted several African merchants, that such deceit made it difficult for "honest men" like himself to conduct trade. Most of the book offers observations based on Durand's journal rather than a patchwork of quotes from it. His reflections blend with other surviving accounts to reconstruct the events of the voyage, and copious footnotes document the extensive research Harms has done to tell the story. By fixing the French ship within the context of its 18th-century world, Harms explores part of a multilayered story "how the slave trade operated in certain places at a certain time... during a crucial period of economic and political transformation." In doing so, he extends our understanding of the Atlantic slave trade by shedding light on new aspects of its tragic history. 65 illustrations, many by Durand. (Jan. 15) Forecast: The middle passage has been a subject of interest in recent years; this should refocus attention on it and achieve good sales. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The author of two books on Africa, Harms follows the course of the French-owned slave ship The Diligent on its voyage in 1731 from Vannes, France, down the West African coast, and finally to Martinique, where almost 250 surviving captive Africans were sold. Harms used the private journal of the slaver's first lieutenant, Robert Durand, and combed the records worldwide to depict slave trading as it touched three continents. He takes the reader deep inside the politics, society, and economy of France, several West African peoples, Martinique, and more, showing how local interest determined the ways different people engaged in or became caught in the slave trade. It is a chilling history of the cold-bloodedness of people calculating their own profit trading in human cargo. Harms brings the many characters in the tale to light, finding no heroes among the merchants, outfitters, sailors, African chieftains, French sugar planters, and others involved in the trade. In detailing one voyage, he forces us to consider the enormity of the more than 40,000 voyages undertaken by slave ships voyages that forever changed the world. History as it should be written. Randall M. Miller, Saint Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465028719
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 12/19/2001
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Pages: 496
  • Lexile: 1460L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.48 (h) x 1.54 (d)

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