The Black Joke: The True Story of One Ship's Battle Against the Slave Trade (Hardcover)
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The most feared ship in Britain’s West Africa Squadron, His Majesty’s brig Black Joke was one of a handful of ships tasked with patrolling the western coast of Africa in an effort to end hundreds of years of global slave trading. Sailing after the spectacular fall of Napoleon in France, yet before the rise of Queen Victoria’s England, Black Joke was first a slaving vessel itself, and one with a lightning-fast reputation; only a lucky capture in 1827 allowed it to be repurposed by the Royal Navy to catch its former compatriots. Over the next five years, the ship’s diverse crew and dedicated commanders would capture more ships and liberate more enslaved people than any other in the Squadron.
Now, author A.E. Rooks chronicles the adventures on this ship and its crew in a brilliant, lively narrative of the history of Britain’s suppression efforts. As Britain slowly attempted to snuff out the transatlantic slave trade by way of treaty and negotiation, enforcing these policies fell to the Black Joke and those that sailed with it as they battled slavers, weather disasters, and interpersonal drama among captains and crew that reverberated across oceans. In this history of the daring feats of a single ship, the abolition of the international slave trade is revealed as an inexplicably extended exercise involving tense negotiations between many national powers, both colonizers and formerly colonized, that would stretch on for decades longer than it should have.
Harrowing and heartbreaking, The Black Joke is a crucial and deeply compelling work of history, both as a reckoning with slavery and abolition and as a lesson about the power of political will—or the lack thereof.
“Adds global and historical context to the travesties and tragedies that took place along the coast of West Africa in the 1800s ... Rooks introduces a cast of ambitious commanders, insensitive rulers and policymakers, heroic ship captains, beleaguered sailors and heartless enslavers. Rooks greatly enlarges the context of the Black Joke’s legendary four-year run, delving into the maritime, economic and political issues of the day.”
"Full of action and heroism."
“In this beautifully written book, Rooks paints an exciting portrait of the exploits of [the Black Joke] and its crew ... a recommended read."
—Library Journal, STARRED review
“Well worth a close look. A tale skillfully teased out of the vaults and made vivid by an artful narrative.”
“An accessible history… Rooks succeeds in capturing the human dimensions of the story. This is an enlightening take on a lesser-known aspect of the fight to end slavery.”
"A.E. Rooks' dynamic narrative expertly uncovers and examines the high stakes and political intricacies of Britain’s attempt to abolish the global slave trade ... This engrossing and meticulously researched account of The Black Joke is essential reading."
—Samantha Seiple, author of Louisa on the Frontlines