Thursday, February 20, 2014

Slave or Free in the Age of Liberty

Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World. / Greg Grandin. Published by Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2014.

Weaving together two seemingly disparate sources of historical evidence, from archives with that from literature and social commentary, the book describes a history of slavery in Latin America from the point of view of the "Alabaster-skinned New Englander", Amasas Delano, from the family of the future American president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The aftermath of a revolt aboard the slave ship Tryal off the coast of Chile leaves only its master, no crew, and only the cargo of slaves aboard. Ship master Delano in passing by had noticed its distress and went to its aid with food and water. Not a slave trader but a professed anti-slaver and seal hunter, Delano boards the Tryal, offering provisions he judged would be helpful. It is later that he learns of the uprising and then paradoxically turns on the rebels, obliterating the aims of their mutiny and his philanthropic gesture.

The complexity of an economic and social system is described through the writer’s ruse, showing how it played out from the point of view of an outsider. Grandin makes use of Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno, a little-known novel published about 1850, about the mutinied captain of the Tryal, as well as accounts in Delano’s biographical A Narrative of Voyages and Travels in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, published in 1817.

Slavery in South America pre-dated slavery in the United States by almost 200 years; it was common for Spanish mercenaries to bring slaves to the Americas since the 1540s. See page 7, Introduction.

See more books from the collections of the Los Angeles Maritime Museum Research Library online in the catalog at

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