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

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2014-01-14
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books

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From the acclaimed author of Fordlandia, the story of a remarkable slave rebellion that illuminates America's struggle with slavery and freedom during the Age of Revolution and beyond

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. Having earlier seized control of the vessel and slaughtered most of the crew, they were staging an elaborate ruse, acting as if they were humble servants. When Delano, an idealistic, anti-slavery republican, finally realized the deception, he responded with explosive violence.

Drawing on research on four continents, The Empire of Necessity explores the multiple forces that culminated in this extraordinary event—an event that already inspired Herman Melville's masterpiece Benito Cereno. Now historian Greg Grandin, with the gripping storytelling that was praised in Fordlandia, uses the dramatic happenings of that day to map a new transnational history of slavery in the Americas, 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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