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.