The Empire of Necessity Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2015-01-13
  • Publisher: Picador

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One morning in 1805, off a remote island in the South Pacific, Captain Amasa Delano, a New England seal hunter, climbed aboard a distressed Spanish ship carrying scores of West Africans he thought were slaves. They weren't. In fact, they were performing an elaborate ruse, having risen up earlier and slaughtered most of the crew and officers. When Delano, an idealistic, anti-slavery republican, finally realized the deception-that the men and women he thought were humble slaves were actually running the ship-he rallied his crew to respond with explosive violence.
Drawing on research on four continents, The Empire of Necessity is the untold history of this extraordinary event and its bloody aftermath. Delano's blindness that day has already inspired one masterpiece-Herman Melville's Benito Cereno. Now historian Greg Grandin returns to these dramatic events to paint an indelible portrait of a world in the throes of revolution, providing a new transnational history of slavery in the Americas-and capturing the clash of peoples, economies, and faiths that was the New World in the early 1800s.

Author Biography

Greg Grandin is the author of Fordlandia, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, as well as Empire’s Workshop and The Blood of Guatemala. A professor of history at New York University and a recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center, Grandin has served on the UN Truth Commission investigating the Guatemalan Civil War and has written for the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, New Statesman, and The New York Times.

Table of Contents



Introduction 1

Part I: Fast Fish

     1. Hawks Abroad      13

     2. More Liberty      22

     3. A Lion without a Crown      31

     4. Body and Soul      38

     5. A Conspiracy of Lifting and Throwing      49

Interlude: I Never Could Look at Death without a Shudder      54

Part II: A Loose Fish

     6. A Suitable Guide to Bliss      61

     7. The Levelling System      72

     8. South Sea Dreams      78

Interlude: Black Will Always Have Something Melancholy in It      91

Part III: The New Extreme

     9. The Skin Trade      97

     10. Falling Man      106

     11. The Crossing      112

     12. Diamonds on the Soles of Their Feet      117

Interlude: Heaven’s Sense      123

Part IV: Further

     13. Killing Seals      131

     14. Isolatos      142

     15. A Terrific Sovereignty      150

     16. Slavery Has Grades      160

Interlude: A Merry Repast      166

Part V: If God Wills

     17. Night of Power      171

     18. The Story of the San Juan      182

     19. Mohammed’s Cursed Sect      186

Interlude: Abominable, Contemptible Hayti      197

Part VI: Who Aint a Slave?

     20. Desperation      203

     21. Deception      211

     22. Retribution      219

     23. Conviction      224

Interlude: The Machinery of Civilization      234

Part VII: General Average

     24. Lima, or The Law of General Average      239

     25. The Lucky One      249

     26. Undistributed      254

Epilogue: Herman Melville’s America      265

A Note on Sources and Other Matters      275

Archives Consulted      293

Notes      297

Acknowledgments      343

Illustrations Credits      347

Index      349

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