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The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom Hardcover – November 8, 2012
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*Starred Review* Rediker (The Slave Ship, 2007) goes against the grain of most accounts of the Amistad rebellion, which feature heroic abolitionists and an American system that ultimately stood up for the freedom of the Africans who mutinied against their slave-catchers. In this impressive account, Rediker stays firmly focused on the African rebels themselves. In 1839, nearly three months into the journey to Cuba, the 53 captives took control of the ship and, with the help of a hostage navigator, attempted to sail it back to Africa. Recaptured off the shores of America, the rebels were jailed and caught up in a legal challenge to slavery that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Originally from various inland African nations, the men developed a kinship that sustained them through captivity, rebellion, incarceration, and the three-year campaign that eventually freed them. Led by Cinque, the Africans asserted their agency, learning English, drawing parallels between the American justice system and their own tribal councils, and working with abolitionists to plan their defense. Rediker details the dynamics of the relationships between the Amistad Africans, the abolitionists, and their slave-trading opposition, offering a totally enthralling account of the Amistad rebellion and its place in the broader American story of revolt against a great threat to liberty. --Vanessa Bush
“Gripping...Superb...As Marcus Rediker’s new book reminds us, the place of the [Amistad] rebellion in popular memory hasn’t always been secure.”--The Nation
“The great strength of this work—aside from rediker’s vivd style as a writer and meticulous research—is that he brings the Amistad Africans back to center stage where they have often been pushed to the side.”—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Vividly drawn…this stunning book honors the achievement of the captive Africans who fought for—and won—their freedom.”—The Philadelphia Tribune
“Spectacularly researched and fluidly composed, this latest study offers some much needed perspective on a critical yet often overlooked event in America’s history.”--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"A totally enthralling account of the Amistad rebellion and its place in the broader American story of revolt against a great threat to liberty."--Booklist (starred review)
"A first-rate example of history told from the bottom up."--Kirkus (starred review)
"Rediker takes a fresh approach to the Amistad rebellion by focusing on the Africans who revolted rather than on the American political and judicial response, which takes the central place in most previous works."--Library Journal
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Top customer reviews
Despite his own self criticism, I felt that Rediker demonstrated that even in the most desperate and cruel conditions, enslaved Africans managed to show some agency in their passive and futile resistance to the slave trade. In Amistad he shows just how far this resistance could go. Despite the fact that most of the main characters of the story were African and did not even speak English ( at least in the beginning) their struggle for freedom is a very American one.
We also learned more about the principals and the slavers (many of whom were the "folks back home" who reaped large profits in the trade of humans. All in all, a fine book that puts a hard time in our history in context. I'd recommend this book highly, and in fact - already have
In his new book, Professor Rediker tells the tragic story and history of the Amistad from another perspective, namely that of those rebels who fought for for their freedom. Ironically, the name "Amistad" means "friendship" in Spanish. But the Spanish who enslaved the tens of slaves on the ship were hardly the friends of those wretched souls who eventually rebelled against the ship's captain and the rest of the story need not be repeated here.
However, the second part of this fascinating book is more significant and thus more interesting, since it describes in great detail how the rebels adapted to the new life in New Haven, with the strong help offered by their abolitionist supporters and friends.
The anti-slavery movement, which started to be active to a greater degree during the 30s and 40s of the nineteenth century, decided on a mass propaganda campaign in order to free the slaves who were originally intended to be dropped as human cargo in Cuba, courtesy of the Spanish government. Sugar was the name of the game and Cuba hoped to become the main trading center of it. The island belonged to Spain and slave ships wre landing around 10000 Africans in Cuba every year.
Professor Rediker explains to what extent the legal procedures were focused on one main issue which was whether the slaves were legally or illegaly enslaved.
One of the main heroes in this book is Lewis Tappan, who had been a supporter of the abolitionists. He was a wealthy silk merchant and an evangelical Christian and zealous abolitionist whose committment of money, time and energy to the rebels was extraordinary from the moment he heard of the uprising. The judge, Andrew Judson, accepted that the Africans were enslaved illegally, however the final decision rested with the Supreme Court of the USA. Another lawyer, Roger S Baldwin, who descended from a powerful political Connecticut family, made the argument about the fact that the rebels arrived in the United States in "the actual condition of freedom" which they had legitimately won under arms.
Eventually, the rebels were released and after 1842 returned to Africa. One of the most moving episodes in the book is about the mother of one of the rebels, Burna, who threw herself at his feet, after she had not seen her son for more than three years. One missionary accompanying Burna wrote that he had never seen "before such an expression of nature's own feelings, unrestrained by art or refinement". After a considerable time, the mother began to sing a song of welcome, as she and her long-lost son joyously rubbed the palm of their right hands in the traditional way.
However, the missionaries who accompanied them on their way back were disappointed in them, since many of the rebels discarded many of the acquired American habits and ways of life. Some have even succumbed to licentiousness, meaning whoring and bigamy, and even those newspapers in the USA which supported the rebels began asking themselves many questions about the rebels' ways of life.
This book is a more than wonderful and engrossing history from below, which gives a spectacular account of everyday life of the rebels and the efforts invested in them to Americanize them.
There are chapters about the daily lives of the prisoners, their meetings with the abolitionists, what they ate, drank or talked about,the hellish conditions in which they were being held on the ship, the atmosphere outside the courtroom, the deeds of the activists who spared no effort to free the rebels,
the various speeches made by their lawyers, including that of John Quincy Adams, the American President, who "had some fun about the definition of piracy"-the issue which the prosecutors brought up in order to indict the rebels, and many more episodes which happened after their release as well as descriptions about the daily lives of the rebels' leader Cinque, whose message to his people was the death was preferable to slavery. There is a chapter on a play about the rebellion, which was performed at the Bowery theatre in New York, which opened six days after the rebels were brought ashore in Connecticut. The play was seen by thousands of New Yorkers, many of them workers, and was called one of the hits of the season. Based on new documents, this book is superb and will become a landmark in the historiography of slavery. It is also important because it is one example of the human spirit which defied and vanquished the evil forces. "A small band of multiethnic Africans aboard the "Amistad" succeeded against all odds", writes Professor Rediker. The odyssey of the captured slaves was unprecedented in the annals of New World slavery.