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Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slavesby Adam Hochschild
Synopses & Reviews
From the author of the prize-winning King Leopold's Ghost comes a taut, thrilling account of the first grass-roots human rights campaign, which freed hundreds of thousands of slaves around the world.
In 1787, twelve men gathered in a London printing shop to pursue a seemingly impossible goal: ending slavery in the largest empire on earth. Along the way, they would pioneer most of the tools citizen activists still rely on today, from wall posters and mass mailings to boycotts and lapel pins. This talented group combined a hatred of injustice with uncanny skill in promoting their cause. Within five years, more than 300,000 Britons were refusing to eat the chief slave-grown product, sugar; London's smart set was sporting antislavery badges created by Josiah Wedgwood; and the House of Commons had passed the first law banning the slave trade.
However, the House of Lords, where slavery backers were more powerful, voted down the bill. But the crusade refused to die, fueled by remarkable figures like Olaudah Equiano, a brilliant ex-slave who enthralled audiences throughout the British Isles; John Newton, the former slave ship captain who wrote Amazing Grace; Granville Sharp, an eccentric musician and self-taught lawyer; and Thomas Clarkson, a fiery organizer who repeatedly crisscrossed Britain on horseback, devoting his life to the cause. He and his fellow activists brought slavery in the British Empire to an end in the 1830s, long before it died in the United States. The only survivor of the printing shop meeting half a century earlier, Clarkson lived to see the day when a slave whip and chains were formally buried in a Jamaican churchyard.
Like Hochschild's classic King Leopold's Ghost, Bury the Chains abounds in atmosphere, high drama, and nuanced portraits of unsung heroes and colorful villains. Again Hochschild gives a little-celebrated historical watershed its due at last.
"'Men from England bought and sold me,/ Paid my price in paltry gold;/ But, though theirs they have enroll'd me,/ Minds are never to be sold.' So went 'The Negro's Complaint' by noted 18th-century poet William Cowper — written, says Hochschild, as an op-ed piece would be today, to spread the message of England's fledgling movement to abolish the slave trade. Hochschild, whose last book, King Leopold's Ghost, was a stunning account of the ravages perpetrated by Belgium on the Congo, turns to a more edifying but no less amazing tale: the rich, complex history of a movement that began with just 12 angry men meeting in a printer's shop in London in 1787 and, within a century, had led to the virtual disappearance of slavery. The men who met in James Phillips's print shop included Quakers, Evangelical Anglicans and a young Cambridge graduate who had had an epiphany about the evils of slavery while on the road to London. The last, Thomas Clarkson, became an indefatigable organizer, carrying out the first modern-style investigation into human rights abuses. Granville Sharp was an eccentric but socially respected man of progressive ideas who dreamed of founding a colony of free blacks in Africa. Within a short time these men and their colleagues had created a mass movement that included the first boycott, in which hundreds of thousands of Britons, chiefly women, refused to buy slave-made sugar from the Caribbean; petitions from all over the country flooded into Parliament; and a mass-produced drawing of a slaver's lower deck, showing where the slaves were densely crowded for the middle passage, became the first iconic image of human oppression. Hochschild tells of this campaign with verve, style and humor, but without preaching or moralizing, letting the horrific facts of slavery in the Caribbean (far more brutal than in the American South) speak for themselves. And he refuses to make saints out of the activists; while highlighting bravery in the face of death threats and physical violence by promoters of slavery, the author equally points out their foibles and failings, and the often ironic unintended consequences of their actions. Along the way, Hochschild illuminates how Britain's economy was dependent upon the slave trade, why England's civil society was particularly hospitable to a movement to abolish that trade, and the impact on the movement of the French Revolution and the particularly bloody slave uprising in French St. Domingue (today's Haiti). It's a brilliantly told tale, at once horrifying and pleasurable to read. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Georges Borchardt. (Jan. 7)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[T]he nonprofessional history buff will benefit from this concise and readable summary of their accomplishments." Library Journal
"One of Hochschild's great strengths...is his ability to get inside the 18th-century mind and show how our ancestors' assumptions parallel our own....A chronicle of a rare and radiant victory by our better angels." Kirkus Reviews
"Extraordinary...One quickly runs out of superlatives when praising this book." Gerard DeGroot, Christian Science Monitor
"Bury the Chains is by far the most readable and rounded account we have of British antislavery, a campaign that, as the author rightly claims, helped to change the world and can be seen as a prototype of the modern social justice movement." Robin Blackburn, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"A thrilling, substantive, and oftentimes raw work of narrative history. In its own fashion, it furthers the abolitionists' crucial work of lifting our moral blindness." Maureen Corrigan, National Public Radio's Fresh Air
"[D]isturbing and fascinating..." The New Yorker
"Hochschild...brings drama and incredible research to this thrilling look at the little-celebrated abolition movement in Britain and its reverberations throughout modern democracies." Booklist
"Among its many gifts, Hochschild's book offers a powerfully written narrative...and, most important, a tale of the victory of right over wrong that even the most determined historical revisionists will be unable to deny." Philadelphia Inquirer
"Mesmerizing and enriching... With the narrative dexterity of a novelist, Hochschild makes vivid the moral fervor, courage and perseverance that were essential for victory..." Baltimore Sun
"A riveting history of the first civil rights crusade....This rich and textured book, destined to become a classic, should be widely read and made available in every public library." Portland Oregonian
From the author of the widely acclaimed King Leopold's Ghost comes the taut, gripping account of one of the most brilliantly organized social justice campaigns in history — the fight to free the slaves of the British Empire. In early 1787, twelve men — a printer, a lawyer, a clergyman, and others united by their hatred of slavery — came together in a London printing shop and began the world's first grass-roots movement, battling for the rights of people on another continent. Masterfully stoking public opinion, the movement's leaders pioneered a variety of techniques that have been adopted by citizens' movements ever since, from consumer boycotts to wall posters and lapel buttons to celebrity endorsements. A deft chronicle of this groundbreaking antislavery crusade and its powerful enemies, Bury the Chains gives a little-celebrated human rights watershed its due at last.
Like the author's classic "King Leopold's Ghost," this new work abounds in atmosphere, high drama, and nuanced portraits of epic antislavery crusaders, heroes, and villains in Britain.
About the Author
Adam Hochschild is the author of King Leopold's Ghost and Half the Way Home, among other works. He is a former commentator on NPR's All Things Considered and a cofounder of the magazine Mother Jones. Hochschild teaches writing at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.
Table of Contents
CONTENTS Introduction: Twelve Men in a Printing Shop 1 PART I: WORLD OF BONDAGE 1. Many Golden Dreams 11 2. Atlantic Wanderer 30 3. Intoxicated with Liberty 41 4. King Sugar 54 5. A Tale of Two Ships 69 PART II: FROM TINDER TO FLAME 6. A Moral Steam Engine 85 7. The First Emancipation 98 8. I Questioned Whether I Should Even Get Out of It Alive” 106 9. Am I Not a Man and a Brother? 122 10. A Place Beyond the Seas 143 11. Ramsay Is Dead—I Have Killed Him” 152 PART III: A WHOLE NATION CRYING WITH ONE VOICE” 12. An Eighteenth-Century Book Tour 167 13. The Blood-Sweetened Beverage 181 14. Promised Land 199 15. The Sweets of Liberty 213 16. High Noon in Parliament 226 PART IV: WAR AND REVOLUTION 17. Bleak Decade 241 18. At the Foot of Vesuvius 256 19. Redcoats Graveyard 280 20. These Gilded Africans” 288 PART V: BURY THE CHAINS 21. A Side Wind 299 22. Am I Not a Woman and a Sister? 309 23. Come, Shout oer the Grave” 333 Epilogue: To Feel a Just Indignation” 355 Appendix: Where was Equiano Born? 369 Source Notes 373 Bibliography 409 Acknowledgments 428 Index 432
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