One sharp stern struggle and the slaves of centuries are free.


If we must die : shipboard insurrections in the era of the Atlantic slave trade      Eric Robert Taylor  Slave insurrections History  Baton Rouge : Louisiana State University Press, c 2006 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xvi, 266 p. : ill., map ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 241-258) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG

Although many scholars have analyzed specific incidents of shipboard slave revolts or examined them within one particular area or period, Eric Robert Taylor is the first historian to consider the impact of these rebellions over the course of the entire slave trade. Taylor’s findings boldly challenge the prevailing thesis that such resistance was infrequent or insignificant. He proves conclusively that shipboard insurrections affected slave traders every step of the way—at anchor, along the African coast, during the Middle Passage, and off the coast of the Americas. The uprisings, he contends, helped limit and ultimately end the traffic in enslaved Africans and served as crucial predecessors to the many revolts that occurred subsequently on plantations throughout the Americas.

In If We Must Die, Taylor presents evidence of nearly five hundred shipboard rebellions, often in amazing detail. He shows that slaves used whatever they could get their hands on to wage attacks, which frequently occurred at night or during scheduled routines such as meals. Women and children sometimes played pivotal roles because of their privileged positions or unusual mobility on board. One key element in a successful plot was surprise. Most revolts were crushed quickly, but others raged on for hours, days, or weeks. Occasionally the Africans captured the vessel and returned themselves to freedom. Taylor explores a thorough range of issues, including aid from other ships, punishment of slave rebels, and treatment of sailors captured by the Africans.

Insurrections on board, he finds, commonly shared similar characteristics regardless of the slaves’ or captors’ region or nation of origin. His scrutiny of a second wave of shipboard revolts that occurred during the domestic and international slave trade within the Americas suggests that the tactics employed in transatlantic voyage insurrections were passed on to later generations of enslaved Africans.

If We Must Die enlarges the historical view of slave resistance, revealing a continuum of rebellions that spanned the Atlantic as well as the centuries. Shipboard insurrections formed a surprisingly influential and successful part of that continuum, and their history can no longer be overlooked.

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