IF WE MUST DIE
SHIPBOARD INSURRECTIONS IN THE ERA OF THE ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE
ABOUT THE BOOK
If We Must Die is the first book to focus on slave resistance that occurred
aboard ships—at anchor, along the African coast, during the Middle
Passage, and beyond. Challenging the presumption that such resistance
was infrequent and insignificant, Eric Robert Taylor demonstrates
conclusively that shipboard insurrections affected slave traders every step
of the way throughout the trade's long history. The uprisings helped to
define, limit, and ultimately end the traffic in African slaves, and they stand
as important predecessors to the many revolts that subsequently occurred
in the plantation societies of the Americas.
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 onboard. 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 slaves.
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.