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The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic [Paperback]

Peter Linebaugh , Marcus Rediker
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic 3.7 out of 5 stars (11)
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Book Description

Aug. 25 2001
Winner of the International Labor History Award Long before the American Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man, a motley crew of sailors, slaves, pirates, laborers, market women, and indentured servants had ideas about freedom and equality that would forever change history. The Many Headed-Hydra recounts their stories in a sweeping history of the role of the dispossessed in the making of the modern world. When an unprecedented expansion of trade and colonization in the early seventeenth century launched the first global economy, a vast, diverse, and landless workforce was born. These workers crossed national, ethnic, and racial boundaries, as they circulated around the Atlantic world on trade ships and slave ships, from England to Virginia, from Africa to Barbados, and from the Americas back to Europe. Marshaling an impressive range of original research from archives in the Americas and Europe, the authors show how ordinary working people led dozens of rebellions on both sides of the North Atlantic. The rulers of the day called the multiethnic rebels a 'hydra' and brutally suppressed their risings, yet some of their ideas fueled the age of revolution. Others, hidden from history and recovered here, have much to teach us about our common humanity.

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Globalism is nothing new, argue leftist historians Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker. Centuries ago, European trade concerns, such as the Dutch East Indies Company and the Virginia Company, sought to create an overseas empire owned by corporations, not governments. Backed by governments all the same, these companies found themselves opposed only by a congeries of revolutionary sailors, artisans, farmers, and smallholders, who formed a "many-headed hydra" of resistance.

Arguing that this history of resistance to globalism has been unjustly overlooked, Linebaugh and Rediker delineate key episodes. When, for instance, a group of English sailors and common laborers were shipwrecked on the island of Bermuda en route to America, they created their own communal government, which was so pleasant to them that they refused to be "rescued" and had to be removed to the colonies by force. Their ideological descendants later banded with runaway slaves and other discontents to form multi-ethnic, multilingual pirate navies that hindered the transatlantic traffic in metals, jewels, and captive humans. Some of the men and women involved in these pirate bands, this "Atlantic proletariat," put their skills at the service of the American Revolution, which, in the author's view, "ended in reaction as the Founding Fathers used race, nation, and citizenship to discipline, divide, and exclude the very sailors and slaves who had initiated and propelled the revolutionary movement." The fire of rebellion soon spread all the same, they note, to such places as Haiti, Ireland, France, even England, helped along by these peripatetic and unsung rebels.

Linebaugh and Rediker's book is provocative and often brilliant, opening windows onto little-known episodes in world history. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Deriding the "historic invisibility" of their subjectsA"the multiethnic class that was essential to the rise of capitalism and the modern, global economy"ALinebaugh (The London Hanged), professor of history at the University of Toledo, and Rediker (Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea), associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, reveal that throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, mobile workers of all sortsAmaids, slaves, felons, pirates and indentured farm handsAformulated ideas about freedom and justice that would eventually find expression in the American Revolution. The moneymen thought of themselves as noble heirs to Hercules, "symbol of power and order," and referred to the people they mobilized across continents as "hydra," after Hercules's many-headed foe. During these early days of intercontinental commerce, there were many small rebellions, and Linebaugh and Rediker's book is especially valuable for its rich descriptions of the lesser-known revolts, including one by slaves in New Jersey who "conspired to kill their masters," burn their property and make off with their horses in 1734, and another by Native American whalers who tried to torch Nantucket in 1738. The authors also describe the March 1736 "Red String Conspiracy": 40 to 50 Irish felons, who planned to burn Savannah, kill all the white men and escape with a band of Indians (the conspirators wore red string around the right wrist to identify themselves). Their plot was foiled but caused great unrest in Savannah. This book provides a unique window onto early modern capitalist history. The authors are to be commended not only for recovering the voices of obscure folk, but also for connecting them to the overarching themes of the age of revolution. 50 b&w illus. not seen by PW. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This book is a treasure of insights and connections which counterpoints the usual and self serving version of history told through the citation of famous people, famous places, and famous things. I was looking for for connections between the Leveller's Agreement of the People and the specifics of the US Constitution, between which stands approximatley 150 years. This book assisted my understanding of the linkages and dismissed many popularly presumed disconnections. The Many Headed Hydra in effect tells the stories of the common people, slaves, sailors, and exiled agitators for democracy and how the resistance to corporate and despotic governance was carried on through to the non violent seizure of the means of governance in rural Massachusetts by the farmers in 1774. It is really no wonder why this book won the the International Labor History Award. This book does not favor preconceived assumptions of the nature and history of democracy, nor of the posturing imposed as the official version of the history of the America or the United States. This stories within this book include resistance to the privatization of common lands in England, as well as to the usurptation of lands within the American continents, slavery in its several forms including impressment and chattel, the beginning of global imperialism as we know it today, and the establishment of maroon societies. Any education about current global events and issues is incomplete without the knowledge of the historical perspective and background reflected in The Many-Headed Hydra. Each chapter could easily be expanded into a separate book. It is an excellent piece of collaboration and scholarship
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5.0 out of 5 stars Empire Begins Oct. 12 2003
In 1741 at Hughson's, a waterfront tavern in New York City, a motley crew of men and women, members of what Linebaugh and Rediker call the Atlantic proletariat planned a rebellion against the New York ruling class. They included among others radical Irishmen and women, Africans slaves, the wretched refuse created by the enclosure of the commons, the plantation system and the slave trade. The rebellion was uncovered by the authorities, its leaders were tried convicted, lynched or broken on the wheel, or sent off to slave in plantations in the West Indies. Newspaper accounts of the time described vast crowds gathering from all over New York and elsewhere to view a peculiar, emblematic and perhaps even prophetic phenomenon. The lynched bodies of two leaders of the rebellion, Hughson, an Irishman, and John Gwin, an African, were left to rot as a warning. In death, the white's body turned black, and the black's turned white

According to the authors, this resistance in New York was not unusual. It was just one of many, many rebellions and uprisings in the Atlantic colonies by what the authors call the "hydrarchy," appropriating Francis Bacon's scurrilous metaphor of the many-headed hydra which he borrowed from the myth of Hercules and used to characterize dispossessed and extirpated peasantry of the Atlantic, a characterization used thereafter by the ruling class to describe those whom they enslaved to the exigencies of capitalism. As the authors say in their conclusion on pages 327-328: "In the preceding pages, we have examined the Herculean process of globalization and the challenges posed to it by the many headed hydra.
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4.0 out of 5 stars History from the bottom up Oct. 16 2001
The Many-Headed Hydra will appeal to readers interested in history "from the bottom up". Most histories look at the past from the viewpoint of kings, queens, priests, and others "at the top". In this book, instead of hearing from popes and potentates, we hear the voices of many speakers for and from the poor and forgotten, the working men and women of the English commons, the factories, the tall ships, and the plantations.
As the subtitle makes clear, this is mainly a history of sailors, slaves, and common people who are often ignored or downplayed in history books. The authors contend that these were the men and women mainly responsible for the rebellins and revolts and wars for independence fought in the Atlantic world from 1600 to 1800. In this book, the poeple who actually led the struggle, such as Crispus Attucks in the Boston Massacre, take center stage. The so-called leaders, from Cromwell to Jefferson, end up with supporting roles and sometimes even play the antagonists' part.
Although the authors write in a lively, engaging manner, some general readers may find the going tough at some points. Both of the authors are history professors, and they clearly feel strongly about what they've written. They don't use lots of specialized historical terms, but they do use many words specific to the periods they are considering. I think they could've helped a lot by including a glossary of some expressions hard to find without an unabridged dictionary. (There's only so much that one can guess from context.)
Also, general readers should approach this book as they would a good novel. For example, sometimes the authors mention people almost out of the blue, as if they'd already been introduced. In fact, they are participants from upcoming chapters.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Tremendously overrated
This is a deeply flawed book. It seeks to construct a radical reinterpretation of the early modern Atlantic world, one which privileges class conflict. Read more
Published on April 1 2003 by K. A. Shelton
5.0 out of 5 stars Sifting the Hidden Histories of the Trans-Atlantic Empire
An importand and relevant book. A must for globalization theorists, cultural studies, and america/s studies....
Published on April 2 2002 by Michael Benton
1.0 out of 5 stars BAd Book
I didn't like this book, it was garbage.
Published on Dec 21 2001
1.0 out of 5 stars Nothing out of the ordinary
This was just another example of a history book that didn't need to be written, except to torment history students.
Published on Dec 21 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful history of resistance to [wage] slavery
Peter Linebaugh, author of The London Hanged, and Marcus Rediker, author of Between the devil and the deep blue sea, have joined forces to produce this splendid history of the... Read more
Published on July 18 2001 by William Podmore
5.0 out of 5 stars History, and Current Affairs
When the World Trade Organization meets, we are used to seeing protests from people who think that the global economy is somehow wrong, that current capitalism is not the best way... Read more
Published on Feb. 12 2001 by R. Hardy
4.0 out of 5 stars An Ambitious Look at Atlantic Resistance
The Many-Headed Hydra is both the title of the book by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker a symbol for the proletariat masses resisting the growth of capitalism from the... Read more
Published on Jan. 31 2001 by Ricky Hunter
5.0 out of 5 stars The Revolutionary Underworld of the 17th and 18th Centuries
The Many-Headed Hydra by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker is a tour of the revolutionary underworld during a period of dramatic change--the 17th and 18th centuries in the... Read more
Published on Dec 22 2000 by Nick Pearson
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