Welcome Marcus Rediker (MarcusRediker.com) (University of Pittsburgh)  and Host Nicholas Guyatt  (University of York) (The Nation)

The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom

Marcus Rediker’s new book, The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom, revisits one of the most stirring episodes in American history: the revolt aboard the Cuban schooner Amistad in July 1839, during which a small group of enslaved Africans seized control of the vessel and tried to sail home. Tricked by one of their former captors, whom they had relied upon to steer the ship, they drifted northwards instead of eastwards – all the way to Long Island, where they were apprehended by the U.S. Navy at the end of August. The Africans were taken to a jail in Connecticut and spent the next year-and-a-half challenging the U.S. legal system to secure their freedom – and at last to win their passage home.

As Prof. Rediker notes in his introduction, the story of the Amistad Africans has ebbed and flowed in American popular culture. These days, most of us know about them through Steven Spielberg’s 1997 film which featured Anthony Hopkins as the former U.S. president John Quincy Adams, who argued for the Africans’ freedom before the Supreme Court, and Djimon Hounsou as Cinqué, the iconic leader of the revolt. But while the movie revived public interest in the Amistad revolt, it told us very little about the fifty or so Africans who were at the heart of the story.

This is where The Amistad Rebellion breaks new ground. Prof. Rediker does a tremendous job of explaining where the Amistad Africans grew up, how they lived their early lives in West Africa, and how they became ensnared by the Atlantic slave system – a system which continued to devour innocent people even after Britain and the United States banned the foreign slave trade in 1807 and 1808. Prof. Rediker argues that we can only really understand the Amistad rebellion if we recover the beliefs and experiences of the Africans at the heart of the story. We need to recognize that, despite the involvement of antislavery leaders and a former President of the United States, these Africans were always the story’s true protagonists.

The book makes a major contribution by restoring African history to the tale of the Amistad, but it also makes some big claims about the significance of the rebellion for the struggles against slavery within the United States. For Prof. Rediker, the initial uprising was a form of ‘direct action’; the wave of public interest in the rebels ‘detonated a bomb in American popular culture.’ The Amistad rebellion might even have been the pivot that made possible a more radical form of abolitionism in the years before the Civil War: quoting from the book again, Cinqué and the other rebels came ‘to symbolize a revolutionary future,’ helping Americans to see that the end of slavery was within reach.

If you’ve already read the book, I’m sure you’ll have plenty of questions for Marcus. If you haven’t, you might want to read my long-ish review from The Nation last November.  I raised a few issues in this review that I’m hoping to ask Marcus about during the chat. But in the main I’ll try to hold off on my questions: I’m relying instead on you all to set the agenda and to quiz Marcus on his terrific book.

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

63 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Marcus Rediker, The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom”

BevW January 20th, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Marcus, Welcome to the Lake.

Nick, Welcome to the Lake and thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

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billdurbin January 20th, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Why did you change the time for this book salon?

BevW January 20th, 2013 at 1:58 pm
In response to billdurbin @ 2

All the Book Salons are 5:00pm – 7:00pm Eastern.

Nicholas Guyatt January 20th, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Hello everyone, greetings from snowy England. It’s a pleasure to be here this evening and to host this chat with Professor Marcus Rediker, who should be with us now or very shortly.

dakine01 January 20th, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Good afternoon Marcus and Nicholas and welcome to Firedoglake this afternoon.

Marcus, I have not had an opportunity to read your book but do have a couple of questions. First off, would you care to compare the story of how the Amistad slaves were captured with say the story Alex Haley told in Roots of the capture of his ancestor?

Why do you think it is so difficult for the stories like that of the Amistad to get into not only the popular culture but also into the history books?

Nicholas Guyatt January 20th, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Marcus, many thanks for agreeing to talk with us this evening. I’m going to kick things off with a question, and then we’ll see where the conversation goes.

Marcus Rediker January 20th, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Greetings, Nick.

soulestial January 20th, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Hi Marcus! This is Sowande from St. Louis! My neighbor told me you would be on the site so I thought I would check it out and say hi to you. — CONGRATS on the new book. With more conversations re-emerging on slavery more recently by way of popular culture (D’Jango, etc) , where do you think the Middle Passage fit in these conversations and what do you think rising scholars should keep in mind for the future on writing the history of the slave ship experience? — Thanks! SM

Nicholas Guyatt January 20th, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Oh, we have an early bird! Feel free to answer that one, Marcus. But here’s my question when you get the chance. Your last book was a terrific but mostly harrowing account of the Atlantic slave trade, and particularly of the slave ships that were at the core of that trade. This new book is also about a slave ship, but you’re writing about a period about forty years after the end of the previous books. (1839 versus 1800 or so, where you ended The Slave Ship.) Can you tell us how the two projects compared – and perhaps what had changed (and what hadn’t) between 1800 and 1839?

Marcus Rediker January 20th, 2013 at 2:06 pm

The Amistad Rebellion grew, as you say, Nick, out of a book I wrote entitled The Slave Ship: A Human History (Viking-Penguin, 2007). In years of research on that book I learned that it was extremely difficult to organize a successful slave revolt on any sort of slaving vessel. The ships themselves were designed to prevent it.

I wanted to figure out how the Amistad Africans did it. How, on a vessel gruesomely known for torture and terror, did this successful rebellion happen? I found that the key to understanding their victory was their African experience: who they were as Africans, what kind of knowledge they had, what kind of skills they had, how they thought about themselves, how they organized themselves. Apart from Sierra Leonean scholars Arthur Abraham and Iyunolu Folayan Osagie, very few who had written about the Amistad rebellion had taken interest in that part of the story. In my view, it is the key to everything.

Marcus Rediker January 20th, 2013 at 2:09 pm

It is true that much had changed between 1800 and 1839, primarily because the British government had abolished the slave trade, then made treaties with other countries and tried to limit the trade through naval policing, but the rise of the illegal trade meant that the social conditions of the trade had worsened by the latter date.

Nicholas Guyatt January 20th, 2013 at 2:09 pm
In response to Marcus Rediker @ 10

Thanks. If we come back to this topic: why do you think the African side of the story has remained in the shadows, at least in terms of American versions of the Amistad rebellion, for so long? Maybe you could also tell us how you think the story of the Amistad Africans has functioned in American popular culture: as you point out in the book, the drama was already on the New York stage barely a week after the Amistad’s rebels had made landfall in the US.

Peterr January 20th, 2013 at 2:10 pm
In response to Nicholas Guyatt @ 4

Somehow, it seems appropriate to have a trans-Atlantic chat for this book.

Marcus, the wealth of sources you consulted is stunning — local papers of the day, letters and diaries, etc. Which primary material most surprised you and caught you off guard, in terms of opening up the story for you?

BevW January 20th, 2013 at 2:10 pm
In response to billdurbin @ 2

As a technical note, there is a “Reply” button in the lower right hand of each comment. Pressing the “Reply” will pre-fill the commenter name and number you are replying to and helps for everyone in following the conversation.

(Note: If you’ve had to refresh your browser, Reply may not work correctly unless you wait for the page to complete loading)

Marcus Rediker January 20th, 2013 at 2:11 pm
In response to soulestial @ 8

Hi, Sowande! As you know well, the Middle Passage is one of the hardest topics in African American history to treat in both scholarly writing and popular culture.

But now be the time to break through. Not only do we have Django and Lincoln, there are many slavery-themed films on the way out:


soulestial January 20th, 2013 at 2:15 pm
In response to Marcus Rediker @ 15

Thanks! Your perspective and profound insight continues to remain an inspiration for many; including myself course….I will heed the advice to break through. All the best!

Marcus Rediker January 20th, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Nick and Peter,

I must confess, I was surprised by the quality and quality of sources to be found on the African side of the story. I can only conclude that the “history from above,” stressing the legal story, crowded out the alternative narrative.

In terms of specific sourecs, I found a number of letters by the teacher of the Amistad Africans, a young Yale undergraduate named Samuel Booth, written in the period when they were preparing to go home. In planning repatriation, it became important for abolitionists to draw on African knowledge of their homelands. Booth spent many hours a day with the Africans, teaching them English and conversing with them about who they were and where they had lived. His letters convey much information about their background: several of them had been weavers and many had lived in big cities. These letters had been written by a person who knew them better than anyone else.

Marcus Rediker January 20th, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Another important source was a letter, dated October 1852, written by a missionary, Hannah Moore, who had recently arrived at the Mende Mission, as it was called. An abolitionist friend of hers had requested an account of the Amistad Africans, which she was happy to provide after talking with the four or five who remained at the mission. This letter recounts the Africans’ own collective memory of the entire ordeal. It contained precious information to be found in no other historical document.

billdurbin January 20th, 2013 at 2:17 pm
In response to Marcus Rediker @ 15

Thanks so much for the link

Nicholas Guyatt January 20th, 2013 at 2:20 pm
In response to Marcus Rediker @ 18

Thanks, Marcus. One of the things that surprised me is that, in fact, there seemed to be a good deal of interest in the African origins and experiences of the Amistad captives at the time than has been evident in more recent treatments of the Amistad story. John Barber’s 1840 book, which I’m pretty sure one can get hold of on Google Books or archive.org (will try to figure out how to link to it in case anyone’s interested), is a really good example. In some ways, it seems that there was much more interest in this African angle in 1840-41 than, say, in the rediscovery of the Amistad story after WW2 or even in Spielberg’s film.

Phoenix Woman January 20th, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Welcome, gentlemen! We’re having a drought here in Minnesota — we’ll take any of the snow that you don’t want.

I first heard the name “Cinqué” in connection with the Patty Hearst kidnapping by the SLA, as the SLA’s co-founder, Donald DeFreeze, called himself “Field Marshal Cinque” (without the accent mark; he pronounced it “sink-you”). I find it fascinating that here was an example of persons taken to be slaves who actually managed to get back to their homelands.

I also see that apologists for slavery and/or racism are fond of claiming that Cinque himself was involved in the slave trade. Is this addressed in your book?

Marcus Rediker January 20th, 2013 at 2:22 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 5

The enslavement of the Amistad Africans reflected the basic patterns that characterized the entire Atlantic slave trade: some were war captives,some were kidnapped, some were sentenced to slavery for crime, some fell into debt and were sold.

Marcus Rediker January 20th, 2013 at 2:27 pm

That’s a good point, Nick. Many important sources about the African background were in sources well known and long used by scholars. The sad truth is, most people who wrote about the Amistad rebellion simply were not interested in the African side of the story.

Nicholas Guyatt January 20th, 2013 at 2:27 pm

For anyone who’s interested, you can read John Barber’s _History of the Amistad Captives_ at the link below. (And check out the really fascinating illustrations of the rebels.) If you already have Marcus’s book, he talks about Barber and this pamphlet at pp. 160-62.


Nicholas Guyatt January 20th, 2013 at 2:30 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 21

PW — I’m afraid UK snow wouldn’t fill you with much cheer if you’re from Minnesota. Accumulations of 2-6 cm (up to two inches!) are enough to bring the nation to a standstill.

Marcus talks about the accusations of Cinqué’s involvement in the slave trade in a LONG (and learned) endnote. But would love to have him tell you more about it.

Cynthia Kouril January 20th, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Please allow me to compliment you one the thoroughness of your account and the manner in which you told the story.

I felt like I was there in real time. It had that Ken Burn documentary feel with the small personal details and story told in their own words that makes it come alive.

Really, really well done. I have been raving about this book for weeks to anyone who will listen.

You may want to see if you can get this book put into the outside reading part of the NYS Social Studies Curriculum. There is a list of book that the HS students choose from to do reports and this is far more detailed than many of the books on the list.

Marcus Rediker January 20th, 2013 at 2:32 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 21

A number people involved in the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s took the name Cinque to honor a successful rebel, and others named children after him.

The pro-slavery New York Morning Herald began in 1839 to argue that Cinque was a slave trader and the idea has persisted to this day. On this subject I would refer you a very good article by Howard Jones in the Journal of American History (2000), which shows that there is no evidence to support the claim that Cinque was a slave trader.

My research supports the case made by Jones — no evidence.

DWBartoo January 20th, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Thank you both for joining us this evening, Marcus and Nicholas.

Having a bit of a problem connecting to FDL, so I look forward to reading what will, no doubt, be a most excellent Book Salon … whenever the dancing electrons allow me to successfully “refresh” and re-connect.


Peterr January 20th, 2013 at 2:34 pm
In response to Marcus Rediker @ 10

Marcus, I was struck throughout the narrative by the interplay of forces and motives of the various actors. In particular, I was greatly impressed by the way you were able to both describe in detail the actions of Cinque and the Mende, while recognizing the limits of being able to describe their motives. For instance, in writing of the “God palavers” and the funeral of Tua, you wrote “It is impossible to tell to what extent Christian language was a matter of belief and to what extent it was a matter of strategy.” That kind of honesty about the limits of your conclusions made the book very powerful.

I’m a pastor with a PhD (in worship, not history), and was entranced by the discussions of the religiously-motivated abolitionists.

Marcus Rediker January 20th, 2013 at 2:35 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 26

Thank you for the kind words, Cynthia. As it happens, my daughter is a public school teacher at Esperanza Middle School in Spanish Harlem, so perhaps she can help me get the book to the right people for use in the Social Studies curriculum.

Marcus Rediker January 20th, 2013 at 2:39 pm
In response to Peterr @ 29

Thank you, Peter. The phrase I used to describe the relationship between the American abolitionists and the Amistad Africans was “working misunderstanding.”

The relationship was cooperative but full of tension. This is not surprising because neither group knew anything about the other at the beginning of the encounter. They had to interact, feel their way, build trust. Religion of more than one kind was at the heart of the encounter.

Peterr January 20th, 2013 at 2:44 pm
In response to Marcus Rediker @ 31

I laughed my head off when I first read that phrase. It is spot-on, and captures the dynamic perfectly.

Nicholas Guyatt January 20th, 2013 at 2:47 pm
In response to Marcus Rediker @ 31

I thought that “working misunderstanding” beautifully captured the sincerity but also the difficulty of the relationships forged between white antislavery activists in (mostly) New England and the Amistad Africans. I got the impression, though, that the relationship between the parties became a little more strained during the months after the Supreme Court had declared that the Africans could return to Africa, and before their actual departure. This was another really interesting part of the book: the tour that the Africans made of many east-coast towns and cities, partly to raise money for a new evangelical mission to the Mende country in West Africa. (Where most of the rebels had lived before their capture.) If you get a chance, Marcus, could you say a bit more about the strains on this relationship — do you think it was inevitable that the Africans would eventually depart from the script that was being written for them by their American champions?

Peterr January 20th, 2013 at 2:48 pm

One little detail that I had never heard of before was the notion of visitors to a prison paying admission to the jailer. From the way in which you spoke of this, I got the sense that this was a common occurrence back then — but it certainly adds another layer of competing pressures to the role of a jailer. For instance, if one can drag out the legal proceedings, it improves your income.

Was this indeed common?

Marcus Rediker January 20th, 2013 at 2:49 pm
In response to Peterr @ 32

The Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano tells a story of a missionary who devoted a big piece of his life to translating the Bible into a Native American language spoken by a relatively small number of people. When he presented a copy to the local chief, the leader read it and said, “Father, that scratches,, it scratches hard. But it scratches where it doesn’t itch.” Another “working misunderstanding”!

Peterr January 20th, 2013 at 2:52 pm
In response to Marcus Rediker @ 35


Eugene Lowry, a retired professor of preaching, describes the task of preaching as moving the congregation “from itch to scratch”. To use his and the local chief’s metaphor, if you’re scratching where it doesn’t itch, you’re missing something.

Marcus Rediker January 20th, 2013 at 2:53 pm

I think you are right, Nick, that after the Supreme Court verdict, the tensions between the American abolitionists and the Amistad Africans increased. The latter knew that they needed to do and say certain things to keep the alliance together until they got back to Africa, whereupon they would be in a completely different geopolitical situation. I think the parting of ways was to a considerable extent inevitable.

Marcus Rediker January 20th, 2013 at 2:57 pm
In response to Peterr @ 34

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries most jailors were all about making money and did not care where they got it — from prisoners, their families, those in search of labor, etc. The Amistad African were a goldmine to the New Haven jailor, Stanton Pendleton. I’m sure he wanted their court case to drag on forever.

BevW January 20th, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Nick, was there any British reporting on the Amistad Rebellion and trial? Were there journalists sent to the US?

tuezday January 20th, 2013 at 3:07 pm

The server was misbehaving, hopefully everyone will come back.

Nicholas Guyatt January 20th, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Marcus, can I ask you about something I mentioned in my review? The Spielberg movie, for example, makes a strong case for the Amistad episode as a hammer blow against slavery in the US. But the legal strategy for the case — which was clearly the right one, in terms of how the Amistad Africans could win their freedom — was to play up the fact that the captives had been ILLEGALLY enslaved: they had been brought to Cuba from Africa in violation of international treaties. (As you point out — if they’d been born into slavery on Cuba, or brought to the island before those treaties went into effect, they would have been ‘legal’ slaves; and would surely have been returned to Cuba bu US authorities.)

So here’s the question: if even Roger Taney could vote to free the Amistad Africans — he was the Supreme Court justice who wrote the Dred Scott decision in 1857 denying blacks citizenship in the US — can we see their victory as a huge step forward in the antislavery movement? Or do we need to focus on the ‘direct action’ aspects you mention in the book — and the inspiration they provided to white and black radicals, rather than mainstream society?

Peterr January 20th, 2013 at 3:10 pm

I like the title of your concluding chapter: Reverberations.

I’m in Kansas City, and John Brown looms over our neighbors to the west in Kansas. I was not at all surprised to see the passing reference to his admiration of Cinque and the Amistad Africans.

In reading the book, I also found myself making connections with our contemporary conflicts, not over physical slavery but over the world of banking and finance. Some of the tactics of the Occupy movement, for instance, seem to parallel those of the abolitionists, including direct action efforts, and using the media to attempt to create a climate of discussion favorable to their cause.

Are there things in that last chapter that you’d care to expand on here? Where do you see the ripples of the Amistad Rebellion continuing to spread?

Marcus Rediker January 20th, 2013 at 3:11 pm
In response to BevW @ 39

Nick may know more, but yes there was interest and coverage in Britain, not least because abolitionist networks were truly transatlantic at this point.

The British abolitionist who played the biggest role in the Amistad case was the Irish abolitionist Richard Robert Madden, who was working as a diplomat in Havana, and went to New York to give a deposition on the illegality of the Cuban slave trade.

Nicholas Guyatt January 20th, 2013 at 3:13 pm
In response to BevW @ 39

Yes, the Amistad case made it into the British papers — and the British government (via its minister in Madrid) made strong representations to Spain demanding that the attempts to recapture the Amistad Africans be dropped. Part of the problem here is that the relationship between Cuba and Spain was a fraught one at this moment: Cuba was still a part of the Spanish empire, but Britain was leaning heavily on Spain to sign treaties outlawing the slave trade. So Spain signed up, but Cubans (who were trying to expand slavery) resented the rules. Hence many thousands of Africans were illegally shipped to Cuba from Africa every year in the 1830s, and Britain strongly suspected that Spain was looking the other way as the Cubans broke the law.

Marcus Rediker January 20th, 2013 at 3:18 pm

As you wrote in that excellent review, Nick, the peculiarities of the Amistad case permitted a narrow ruling that did not challenge the legal foundation of American slavery. As you suggest, I think the effect of the Amistad case lay in the black community and the most radical part of the abolitionist movement. Another effect was that it seems to have helped to integrate the movement as African Americans began to play a larger role in abolitionist organizations after 1840.

Nicholas Guyatt January 20th, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Generally the British antislavery movement was stronger and more ‘mainstream’ than the American one — though this was partly because Britain’s slaves were an ocean away from Britain in the Caribbean. So the problem of tackling slavery for Britons was principally an economic/humanitarian one — they didn’t have to live alongside freed slaves under the premise that “all men are created equal.” In the United States, the situation was very different. Not only was slavery increasingly lucrative in the first decades of the nineteenth century, with the cotton boom in particular, but the consequences of emancipation would be a mixed-race society, presumably living under conditions of political equality. (Bear in mind that in some southern states, such as South Carolina, the ratio of blacks to whites was around 50:50.) I do think it’s important when comparing British and American antislavery to keep this in mind. The dilemmas for American antislavery activists were considerably greater, I think. (Which is why so many activists thought that the best way to end slavery in America was to suggest that freed slaves be ‘returned’ to Africa.)

hackworth1 January 20th, 2013 at 3:21 pm

The historical accounts of Slavery, George Washington, The Revolutionary War, England, Lincoln and the Civil War point to Political Expedience as the Primary Motivator to End Slavery in the US. (I hear that the movie Lincoln presents a more humane story which puts Lincoln in a better light).

If Slavery were legal today, would Clarence Thomas go along with Scalia, Alito, Kennedy and Roberts in favor of it?

Marcus Rediker January 20th, 2013 at 3:22 pm
In response to Peterr @ 42

You might want to take a look at Adam Hochschild’s BURY THE CHAINS, where it is argued that abolition was the first modern social movement and the pioneer of all kinds of tactics that have remained central to reform to this day.

Peterr January 20th, 2013 at 3:25 pm
In response to Marcus Rediker @ 45

Did it not also feed the fears of the slaveholders in the South, encouraging them to see rebellion behind every tree? “Look what these slaves will do if we don’t terrorize them into submission. . .”

I am grateful you included not just descriptions of the artwork that was in the papers and elsewhere, but also included many of them in the book.

The disappearance of the Hewins panorama is a sad loss to history. I suspect — on absolutely no evidence save having known a number of less-than-wealthy artists — that that the 135 feet of canvas was probably recycled into new art as the Amistad story faded.

Marcus Rediker January 20th, 2013 at 3:26 pm
In response to hackworth1 @ 47

Political expediency was certainly a part of anti-slavery, but we must also give credit to both enslaved rebels and to the abolition movement (which are too often kept separate in my view).

Slavery is thriving in today’s global economy. The research and contemporary abolitionist Kevin Bales has suggested that there are 27-35 million people effectively enslaved today.

Nicholas Guyatt January 20th, 2013 at 3:29 pm
In response to hackworth1 @ 47

On the basis of the Amistad decision, I would suspect that most of today’s justices (including Scalia et al.) would have supported the freedom of the Amistad captives — because clearly they had been illegally enslaved by the Cubans. More generally, I’m not sure one could argue that the defence of slavery in America was solely a conservative obsession. The majority of liberals, even in the North, found it very hard to argue for the immediate abolition of slavery: precisely because they couldn’t find an easy solution to the social problems they envisaged after emancipation. The wonderful thing about the United States and its founding ideals — the part about “all men are created equal” — created numerous problems for those who knew slavery to be wrong, but also weren’t comfortable with blacks moving instantly from slavery to equality. Hence the popularity of plans to ‘colonize’ blacks in Africa, or of schemes that would emancipate blacks slowly (over many decades). Those plans were at least as popular with liberals as with conservatives!

Marcus Rediker January 20th, 2013 at 3:30 pm
In response to Peterr @ 49

Slaveowners were so terrified of revolt that they created “Negro Seamen Acts” beginning in 1822, to quarantine black sailors who might bring abolitionist pamphlets (like David Walker’s Appeal) and revolutionary ideas into Southern ports.

hackworth1 January 20th, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Slavery began to promulgate unforeseen familial dilemmas. As Slaveowners made babies with female slaves, the children frequently resembled their white fathers.

A father would sometimes see his child working for another slave owner. If he had the heart and the wherewithal, he would try to buy back his child.

Marcus Rediker January 20th, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Several of the abolitionist supporters of the Amistad Africans were terrified that after the Supreme Court ruling in their favor, they might choose to stay in America where they would surely, in their view, become paupers.

BevW January 20th, 2013 at 3:38 pm

How long did the Amistad Africans stay in America before leaving for Africa? Did they all return?

Nicholas Guyatt January 20th, 2013 at 3:38 pm

Marcus, can I ask you about the contemporary angle just a bit? The book is extremely careful to present its arguments in their proper historical context; and yet, on more than one occasion, I couldn’t help wondering if you saw contemporary resonances in the struggle. For example, you did a great job of describing just how carefully the rebels planned their uprising before they burst onto the deck of the Amistad — even if the decision-making here had its roots in African social and political customs, it’s a useful reminder that this event was not as spontaneous as we might imagine. And then there’s your use of “direct action” to describe it! Finally, those “working misunderstandings” seem to point towards the problems and opportunities of building political coalitions in support of justice, even when two sides don’t completely understand or agree with each other.

I don’t want to make the book sound like an activists’ manual, but could you maybe tease out some of this for us? Especially since many of your readers will probably feel quite inspired by the story you’ve woven?

hackworth1 January 20th, 2013 at 3:39 pm
In response to Marcus Rediker @ 50

Indeed. It is good and inportant to point this out.

India, China, Malasia, Africa, many parts of the Global South…

A specific example of old fashioned direct slavery:

Ten years ago I heard that some Hatians sell their teenaged children to Dominican Tobacco and Rum Barons for $100 per individual.

Marcus Rediker January 20th, 2013 at 3:41 pm
In response to BevW @ 55

The Amistad Africans stayed for about eight months after the Supreme Court verdict, during which time they and their abolitionist allies were trying to raise money for the return voyage (and for a Christian mission to Africa). Freedom for them meant returning to the lives they had led before enslavement.

Marcus Rediker January 20th, 2013 at 3:49 pm

I am grateful for that question, Nick, becuase all of my recent books have been enriched by activism against the death penalty. I learned that activists need to work with people on the front line of the struggle, in this case death row prisoners, which is exactly what abolitionists did in the Amistad case. I also learned that prisons and jails were and are places of learning.

Most of all I learned how to respect how people carry on a struggle under immensely difficult circumstances. As a Pakistani trade unionist working in the UK once said about revolts on slave ships, “If those people can find ways to fight back under those circumstances, surely we can do something!”

RevBev January 20th, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Have you also written about your work agst the death penalty? Sorry I do not know….

BevW January 20th, 2013 at 3:53 pm

As we come to the end of this Book Salon discussion,

Marcus, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and the real story of the Amistad Rebellion.

Nick, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Marcus’ website (MarcusRediker.com) and books

Nick’s website (University of York)

Thanks all, Have a great week.

If you would like to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

FDL Book Salon has a Facebook page too

hpschd January 20th, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Thanks all.

I just listened in on this one. I have the book from the library, but I’ve not read it yet. I will soon.

karenjj2 January 20th, 2013 at 4:00 pm

thank you for an interesting and informative salon.

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