A revealing work of leftist revisionist history whose cast includes sailors, seamstresses, farmers, and a Founding Father or two.
Linebaugh (History/Univ. of Toledo) and Rediker’s (History/Univ. of Pittsburgh) sweeping account of the stateless poor of the 16th- and 17th-century Atlantic opens with a telling anecdote. In 1609, an English vessel was shipwrecked off the coast of Bermuda, where the survivors found not a hellish land of cannibals and devils (as the charts had promised) but an “Edenic land of perpetual spring and abundant food”—and where, for the first time ever, these children of post-Restoration England could be free. When, some months later, rescuers arrived, they had to chase these new noble savages out of the woods and haul them off to the Virginia colony by force. Such, the authors suggest, was often the case in the New World: the earliest crossings of the Atlantic Ocean were undertaken by men and women who had nothing to lose, the multiethnic dispossessed who struggled to make new lives at a remove from the emerging capitalist order of Europe (whose spokesmen in turn portrayed the resistant mob as a “hydra-headed monster” against which only a crowned Hercules could prevail). Linebaugh and Rediker document a series of little-known rebellions large and small—most fomented by sailors, who were accustomed to struggling with masters for food, pay, and work and who “brought to the ports a militant attitude toward arbitrary and excessive authority.” Though sometimes fashionably dense in the postmodern manner, Linebaugh and Rediker’s “hidden history” is in the main both accessible and persuasive, and not without its share of surprises—including a startling new view of the African-American revolutionary martyr Crispus Attucks, whose biography extends well beyond mere victim of the Boston Massacre.
An intriguing and welcome addition to the historical literature of the period.