Dennis Malone Carter, Decatur Boarding the Tripolitan Gunboat, 1878
US Navy Museum
Following up a wonderful collaboration with Johns Hopkins University Press on
True Yankees: The South Seas and the Discovery of American Identity, I am delighted to work with JHUP again to publish “Eastward of Good Hope”: Early America in a Dangerous World (forthcoming 2019). A preview:
In the autumn of 1806, American newspapers were filled with the horrific news of the loss of the ship Essex. This was not the famous, ill-fated barque that had been “stove by a whale” in 1820, later transformed into an American icon through the pen of Herman Melville. The reports of this Essex, a merchant ship out of Salem, Massachusetts, was, in fact, more lurid and terrifying:
News is received here that Captain Joseph Orne in the ship Essex had arrived at Mocha, with $60,000 to purchase coffee, and that Mahomet Ikle, commander of an armed ship, persuaded him to trade at Hadidido, and to take on board 30 of his Arabs to help navigate her thither while his vessel kept her company; that on the approach of night, and at a concerted signal, the Arabs attacked the crew of the Essex, . . . and that the result was the slaughter of Captain Orne, and all his men,. . . The headless corpse of Capt. Orne and the mutilated remains of a merchant floated on shore and were decently buried. It was soon after ascertained that the
faithless Mahomet was a notorious pirate of that country.
It would have been difficult for Americans in the early republic to escape this tragedy and the thousands of similar reports from around the globe that depicted the world beyond their shores in such dire terms. News of similar assaults on their countrymen aboard the Boston off Nootka Sound in 1803, the Putnam in 1805, and the Friendship off Sumatra in 1831, the murders of Captain James Cook in 1779 and the men of the US Exploring Expedition in the South Seas in the 1830s, the loss of explorers and traders Joseph Ingraham and the mysterious disappearances of the US Navy sloop Wasp (9 October 1814) and countless other Yankee vessels, the loss of men such as Samuel Shaw and William Henry Low to “tropical fever” assaulted American readers. Even before stepping onto a global stage in the 1780s, Americans had imagined the world as disordered and dangerous, hobbled by tyranny and oppression or steeped in chaos and anarchy, often deadly, always uncertain, unpredictable, and unstable, and their encounters after independence reinforced their assumptions. As historians assert, “seasons of misery” confronted early Americans in their “barbarous years” and particularly in distant lands among “dangerous neighbors.” This vision of the world, more than anything else, shaped Americans’ ideas of their place in the world. It has been a view shared by Puritans who carried a reformist sense of “a city upon a hill” to American shores, Yankee voyagers who freighted a mission of bringing order to a world that they found “in a constant state of flux” in the early republic, and the many Americans today alarmed by the torrent of news of foreign wars, terrorism, massacres, and refugee crises.