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Mutiny and Maritime Radicalism in the Age of Revolution

A Global Survey

Table of Contents

1. “Introduction,” by Clare Anderson, Niklas Frykman, Lex Heerma van Voss, and Marcus Rediker
2. “The African Origins of the Amistad Rebellion, 1839,” by Marcus Rediker
3. “Orangism, Patriotism and Slavery in Curacao, 1795–1796,” by Karwan Fatah-Black
4. “International Radicalism, Local Solidarities: The 1797 British Naval Mutinies in Southern African Waters,” by Nicole Ulrich
5. “Connections between Mutinies in European Navies,” by Niklas Frykman
6. “‘Amok!’: Mutinies and Slaves on Dutch East Indiamen in the 1780s,” by Matthias van Rossum
7. “Maritime Radicalism and the Origins of the Age of Revolution,” by Chris Magra
8. “‘Lord of the Forecastle’: Serangs, Tindals, and Lascar Mutiny, c.1780–1860,” by Aaron Jaffer
9. “‘Those lads contrived a plan’: Attempts at Mutiny on Australian Bound Convict Vessels,” by Hamish Maxwell-Stewart
10. “Cutting Out and Taking Liberties: Australia’s Transported Convict Pirates, 1790–1829,” by Ian Duffield
11. “The Age of Revolution in the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal, and South China Sea: A Maritime Perspective,” by Clare Anderson
12. “‘All we have done, we have done for freedom’: The Creole Slave Ship Revolt (1841) and the Revolutionary Atlantic,” by Anita Rupprecht

Excerpt from the Introduction by Niklas Frykman, Clare Anderson, Lex Heerma van Voss, and Marcus Rediker;

The practice of mutiny is as old as warfare itself, but the concept and the word are of more recent provenance. Etymologically, mutiny derives from Latin motus (motion or movement), which spawned the French word émeute (riot) and the German word Meute (mob), which in turn gave rise to Meuterei, Dutch muiterij, French mutinerie, and soon thereafter English mutiny. The initial meaning of the word was diffuse, suggesting a general state of tumult, unruly discord, and social disturbance, but during the ferocious wars that tore apart the continent in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries mutiny affixed itself more specifically to the collective rebellions that erupted with growing frequency inside Europe’s hugely expanded armed forces. The Spanish army of Flanders, a massive force of 70,000 men, appears to have been especially afflicted, suffering no fewer than thirty-seven major mutinies between 1589 and 1607, many of them lasting for multiple years and involving between 3,000 and 4,000 soldiers each time.

Mutiny thus entered Europe’s military vocabulary at a time when nascent nation-states began to transform their armies from chaotic collections of drifters, forced recruits, feudal retainers, and paid mercenaries into the standardized, tightly organized, and highly hierarchical war-making machines of the modern era. As part of this military revolution, war-workers were de-skilled and turned into replaceable cogs through a program of extensive drilling based on the time-motion studies carried out by the Dutch military pioneers Maurice and William Louis of Nassau, subsequently refined and implemented with deadly success by the legendary Swedish warrior-king Gustavus Adolphus. At sea, the process of military standardization lagged behind by a few decades, but as European powers expanded their professional war-fleets in the second half of the seventeenth century they imposed naval articles of war to create the same strictly hierarchical form of organization that already had transformed their armies. All traces of collective decision-making, long a prominent element of North Atlantic maritime culture, were obliterated. The result was a micro-society that resembled tyranny in its purest form: “All that you are ordered to do is duty,” an old salt advised the landsman Ned Ward at the turn of the eighteenth century. “All that you refuse to do,” he continued, “is mutiny.”

The authoritarianism of the militarized work environment, which leaves no formal room for opposition short of all-out mutiny, explains in part why mutinous soldiers and sailors repeatedly have been in the most radically democratic, most militantly anti-imperialist vanguard of the great revolutionary movements that have thundered across the world in recent centuries: New Model Army mutineers at Putney in the mid-seventeenth century; sepoys at the start of the Indian Uprising in 1857; insurgent sailors at Kiel, which triggered the revolution that toppled the German Kaiser in 1918; seamen at Kronstadt who in 1921 challenged the increasingly authoritarian rule of the Bolsheviks; or, most recently, American GIs who with their mass refusals, marches, protests, and anti-officer violence (“fragging”) undermined the war effort in Vietnam during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Until recently, the scarcity of reliable data has made it seem nearly impossible to estimate the actual incidence of mutiny during the age of sail. The events themselves are notoriously underreported, shrouded in “a double conspiracy of silence” since no one involved had an interest in their involvement becoming known — for officers it might result in a career-ending stigma, for the mutineers themselves in a life-ending sentence. As a consequence we must assume that extant evidence represents only a small proportion of actual events. And yet, where quantifiable data has been uncovered and analyzed, the results have been perfectly astonishing. New work has revealed previously unknown mutinies and other forms of resistance in the Indian Ocean convict trade. Recent research in north Atlantic naval archives meanwhile suggests that at least a third of European warships experienced some form of collective rebellion during the 1790s. Perhaps even more impressively, the comprehensive Transatlantic Slave Trade Database demonstrates that approximately one in ten slave ships experienced a mutiny, some of them successful, most suppressed.

The essays collected here build on such work, demonstrating unambiguously that during the age of revolution (1760s-1840s) most sectors of the maritime industries — not just warships, but convict vessels, slave ships, and merchantmen, sailing in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans as well as the Caribbean, Andaman, and South China Seas — all experienced far higher levels of unrest than is usually recognized. The authors range across global contexts, exploring the actions of sailors, laborers, convicts, and slaves, offering a fresh, sea-centered way of seeing the confluence between space, agency, and political economy during this crucial period. They make clear that we must take seriously seaborne voyages as spaces for incubation and as vectors for diffusion of political radicalism. In this respect, the volume uses evidence of shipboard mutiny to rethink the relationship between sea and land, as well as to foreground the era’s multiple geographical centers and logics of resistance from below. We contend, in other words, that the radicalism of the age of revolution can best be viewed as a geographically connected process, and that the maritime world was central to its multiple eruptions and global character. And, in understanding the global and connected character of the age of revolution, as well as its maritime and subaltern dynamics, we seek to decenter Europe and North America in our analysis and also to rethink the era’s temporality, which, these essays suggest, stretches at least into the 1850s.