Notes from The Many-Headed Hydra – Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic

P. 36 Sir Walter Ralegh “developed a historical interpretation of Hercules.. Helped to establish kingship, or political sovereignty, and commerce, under the dominance of a particular ethnic group, the Greeks. He served as a model for the exploration, trade, conquest and plantation of English mercantilism: indeed a cult of Hercules suffused English ruling-class culture in the 17th century.” Some Ralegh noted “apply his works historically to their own conceits”

P. 44 “An Act of Parliament of 1600 made it possible for big shareholders in the fens to suppress the common rights that stood in the way of their drainage schemes… King James organized hundred in the draining and enclosure of parts of Somerset in the early 17th century, turning a commoning economy of fishing, fowling, reed cutting, and peat digging into a capitalist economy of sheep raising…. The ‘battle of the fens’ began in 1605 between capital owners such as Lord Chief Justice Popham (“covetous and bloodie Popham”) and the fowlers, fenmen and commoners. The terms of battle ranged from murder, sabotage and village burning on the one hand to protracted litigation, pampleteering and the advanced science of hydraulics on the other.. Sporadic outbursts of opposition…. Often led by women, attacked workmen, ditches, dikes and tools in Hatfield, on the Isle of Axholme, and elsewhere in the late 1620s and 1630s.”

P. 64 “In 1607 ‘Captain Dorothy’ led 37 women wielding knives and throwing stones against the enclosures of Kirky Malzeard in the North Riding of Yorkshire… Armed women also spearheaded food riots, in 1595 seizing food corn at Wye, in 1605 marching on the Medway ports to prevent the export of grain, and in 1608 going so far as to broad grain ships in Southampton to keep their cargo from being shopped away. During the Western Rising (1629-31) women again led food riots, this time in Berkshire and Essex.”

P. 65 Thomas Edward’s Gangreana describes his “combat against the ‘three bodied Monster Geryon, and the three headed Cerberus,” and “that Hydra also, ready to rise up in their place”.

P. 72 “an extraordinary text about a woman named Francis, a “blackymore maide” who, as a member of a radical religious congregation in Bristol during the 1640s provided leadership especially to the women of the congregation. The text was written by a church elder, Edward Tertill, which means that ours cannot be a simple story.. She was black: he was white. She was a woman: he was a man. She was a sister in the congregation; he was an elder of the church.. Helps to illuminate the dynamics of race, class, and gender in the English Revolution and to show how the radical voices were ultimately silenced. The outcome of the English Revolution might have been dramatically altered: the commons might have been preserved: values other than those of market society and commodity production might have triumphed: work might not have been seen as the condition of human salvation; patriarchy in the family might not have been saved, nor the labor of women devalued; torture and terror might not have survived in the law and its practice; popular assemblies might have proliferated and become open; mutual subsistence rather than individual accumulation might have become the basis of economic activity; and divisions between master and slave might have been abolished.”

P. 82 Francis “asks a sister in the congregation to carry her message to the whole assembly, not to “loose ye glory of God in their families, neighbourhoods or places where God casts them.” She recognises that a neighbourhood may be international, a notion of shipmates, a family of oceanic passages. Francis understands community without propinquity. .. She would have known about slavery and the struggle against slavery. On May Day 1638, for instance, the first African slave rebellion in English history took place in Providence Island. From the wharves, Francis would have brought Atlantic news to her congregation.. We do not know where Francis lived before Bristol.”

P. 112 “On July 7, 1647, a Neopolitan fisherman named Masaniello led a protest by the market women, carters, porters, sailors, fishermen, weavers, silk winders, and all the other poor, or lazzaroni, of the second- or third-largest city in Europe.. Producers rural and urban discovered that the Spanish viceroy had levied a new gabelle, or tax, on the city’s fabled fruit (Goethe believed that the Neapolitans had invented lemonade)… the price of bread fell to rates consistent with a moral economy… Although it lasted only 10 days, the revolt of Naples in July 1647 marked the first time tha the proletariat of any European vity seized power and governed alone… English merchants had recently eclipsed their Italian counterparts in Levant shipping and now sent as many as 120 ships and 3,000 sailors to Naples each year, with attendant desertions and turnovers. Sailors were a major source of information about the the revolt.. In 1649 T.B. published a play entitled The Rebellion of Naples”.

P. 116 “If the Masaniello revolt and the Putney Debates of 1647 represented a high point of revolutionary possibility, the downfall began in 1649…execution of the King and ..

“The execution by firing squad of Robert Lockyer, a soldier, on April 27, originated in the grumblings of unpaid soldiers against what they called the ‘cutthroat expedition’ to Ireland, which escalated into mutiny at Bishopsgate in April … Cromwell, fearing a general rising of ‘discontented persons, servants reformadoes, beggars’ rode to Bishopsgate with Fairfax to lead the suppression of the mutiny, .. When the moment of execution came, Lockyer disdained a blindfold and appealed to his executioners, brother soldiers, to put down their guns. They refused, fire and killed him. Thousands, wearing green (the colour of the Levellers and of Thomas Rainsborough) thronged the streets of London at his funeral.”

P. 150 “The expansion of the merchant shipping industry and the Royal Navy during the third quarter of the 17th century posed an enduring dilemma for the maritime state: how to mobilize, organize, maintain and reproduce the sailoring proletariat in a situation of labor scarcity and limited state resources … one result was a fitful but protracted war among rulers, planners, merchants, captains, naval officers, sailors, and other urban workers over the value and purposes of maritime labor. Since conditions aboard ship were harsh and wages often two or three years in arrears, sailors mutinied, deserted, rioted, and altogether resister naval service… the state used violence and terror to man its ships and to man them cheaply.. For sailors, the press-gang represented slavery and death: three out of four pressed men died within two years, with only one in five of the dead expiring in battle. Those lucky enough to survive could not expect to be paid, as it was not uncommon, writes John Ehrman.. For a seaman to be owed a decade’s wages”.

P. 151 “Even though the Navigation Act of 1651 stipulated that three fourths of the crew importing English goods were to be English or Irish… English ships continued to be worked by African, Briton, quashee, Irish and American (not to mention Dutch, Portugese and lascar ) sailors. Ruskin was therefore correct in saying, “The nails that fasten together the planks of the boar’s cow are the rivets of the fellowship of the world.” .. William Petty “Whereas the Employment of other Men is confined to their own Country, that of Seamen is free to the whole world.”

P. 154 “The multilinguality and Atlantic experience common to many Africans was demonstrated by a back man in the Comoros ISlands of the Indian Ocean in 1694, who greeted pirate Captain Henry Avery, the ‘maritime Robin Hood’, in English. The man, as it happened, had lived in Bethnal Green, London.”

p. 228 [In America] “Multiracial mobs helped win numerous victories for the revolutionary movement, especially, as we have seen against impressment. .. In 1765, “Sailors, boys, and Negroes to the number of above Five Hundred” rioted against impressment in Newport, Rogode Island, and in 1767 a mob of “Whites & Blacks all arm’d” attacked Captain Jeremiah Morgan in a press riot in Norfolk… the motley crew led a broad array of people into resistance against the Stamp Act, which taxed the colonists by requiring stamps for the sale and use of various commodities… Boston’s mob took angry action agains the propoerty of stamp distributor Andrew Oliver of August 14, 1765, then 12 days later turned an even fiercer wrath against the house and refined belongings of Thomas Hutchinson, who cried out at the crowd, ‘You are so many Masaniellos!”

P. 232 “I found myself surrounded by a motley crew of wretches, with tethered farments and pallid visages,” wrote Thomas Bring as he began his imprisonment in 1782 anoard the notorious hulk Jersey, a British man-of-war serving as a prison ship in the East River of New York… Amid the hunger, thirst, rot, gore, terror, and violence, and the deaths of seven or eight thousand of their fellow inmates during the war, the prisoners organised themselves according to egalitarian, collectivist, revolutionary principles. What had once functioned as ‘articles’ among seamen and pirates now became ‘a Code of By-Laws… for their own regulation and government.” Equal before the rats, the smallpox, and the guard’s cutlass, they practiced democracy, working to distribute food and clothing fairly, to provide medical care, to bury their dead. On one ship a common sailor spoke between decks on Sundays to honor those who died ‘in vindication of the rights of Man.” A captain who looked back with surprise on the self-organization of the prisoners remarked that the seamen were “of that class.. Who are not easily controlled, and usually not the most ardent supporters of good order.” But the sailors drew on the traditions of hydrarchy as they implemented the order of the day: they governed themselves.”

P. 246 The failure of the motley crew to find a place in the new American nation forced it into broader, more creative forms of identification. One of the phrases often used to capture the unity of the age of revolution was ‘citizen of the world’. J. Philmore described himself this way, as did others, including Thomas Paine. The real citizens of the world, of course, were the sailors and slaves who instructed… the middle- and upper-class revolutionaries. This multiethnic proletariat was ‘cosmopolitan’ in the original meaning of the world. Reminded that he had been sentenced to exile, Dioegenes, the slave philosopher of antiquity, responded by saying that he sentenced his hudges to stay home… The Irshman Oliver Goldsmith published in 1762 a gentle critique of nationalism entitled Citizen of the World featuring characters such as a sailor with a wooden leg and a ragged woman ballad singer… James Howell, historian of the Masaniello Revolt, wrote in the 17th century that ‘every ground may be one’s country – for by birth each man is in this world a cosmopolitan’.

P. 250 “Blake’s ‘Satanic Mills’ were the Albion Mills, the first London steam-powered factory.. Erected in 1791, this flour mill had been burned to the ground that same year, as part of the anonymous, direct resistance to the industrial revolution.”

P. 272 “Edward and Catherine Despard reached London in the spring of 1790,… found a country where workers had embraced the cause of abolition. Seven hundred and 69 Sheffield cutlers had petition Parliament in 1789 against the efforts of the pro-slavery lobby. “The cutlery wares made by the freemen .. being sent in considerable quantities to the Coast of Africa, and dis[sed of, in part, as the price of Slaves – your Petitioners may be supposed to be prejudiced in their interests if the said trade in Slaves should be abolished. But your petitioners having always understood that the natives of Africa” – and here they would have remembered Olaudah Equano’s talks with them as he lectured on the abolition circuit- “ have the greatest aversion to foreign Salvery. Claiming to “consider the case of the nations of Africa as their own”, and putting principle before material interest, the cutlers took an unusual public stand against slavery, something no English workers had done in almost a century and a half. Joseph Mather, the poetic annalist of proletarian Sheffield, sand,

As negroes inVirginia,

In Maryland or Guinea,

Like them I must continue – 

To be both bought and sold.

While negro ships are filling

I ne’er can save one shilling,

And must, which is more killing,

A pauper die when old.”

Sheffield was a steel town, manufacturing the sickles and scythes of harvest, the scissors and razors of the export markets, and the pike, implement of the people’s war. The secretary of the workers’ organisation, the Sheffield Constitutional Society (formed in 1791), explained its purpose: “To enlighten the people, to show the people the reason, the ground of all their complaints and sudderings, when a man works for 13 or 14 hours of the day, the week through, and is not able to maintain his family; that is what I understand of it; to show the people the ground of this; why they were not able.” The Constitutional Society also declared itself against slavery, much like the London Corresponding SOciety, which.. Was founded early in 1792 is discussions of ‘having all things in common’ and committed to equality among all, whether ‘back or white, high low low, rich or poor.”

P. 292 “ In the modern era, jubilee was employed by the English revolutionaries of the 1640s, including James Nayler and the early Quakers and Gerard Winstanley and the Diggers, as a means of resisting both expropriation and slavery. It remained a living idea after the revolution, to be carried forward by John Milton, John Bunyan and James Jarrington (Ocean).. In 1782 Thomas Spence wrote “The Jubilee Hymn”… born in 1750 in Newcastle. Growing up on the waterfront as one of 19 children… young Spence joined the congregation of John Glas, a Presbyterian schismatic who followed the tenets of the primitive Christian as he understood them.. The bourgeoisie was then seeking to seel of lease 89 acres of the town common, a plan thwarted by the commoners, who pulled down the lessee’s house and drove his cattled away. Inspired by the victory, Spence in 1775 wrote a lecture that he delivered before the Newcastle Philosophical Society, wherein he proposed the abolition of private property.”

P. 302 “the Spa Field Riots in England were led by Spenceans and waged by canal diggers, porters, coal and ballast heavers, soldiers, sailors, dockworkers and factory workers. Among the leaders was Thomas Preston, a Spencean who had travelled to the West Indies”

P. 305 Lord Byron’s maiden speech in the House of Lords (on February 27, 1812, when he was 24) was on a bill providing the death penalty for Luddites: “You call these men a mob,” he said, “desperate, dangerous and ignorant, and seem to think that the only way to quiet the ‘bellua multorum capitum’ is to lop off a few of its superfluous heads.’ He reminded the peers that those heads were capable of thought. Moreover, “it is the mob that labour in your fields and serve in your houses – that man your navy, and recruit you army – that have enabled you to defy the world, and can also defy you when neglect and calamity have driven them to despair.”

P. 311 “By the end of the Napoleonic Wars, roughly a quarter of the Royal Navy was black, and the proportion was probably only a little smaller in both the English and American merchant shipping industries. John Jea, born in Calabar before being enslaved to a New Yorker, was himself working as a ship’s cook aboard the Isces of Liverpool when it was captured by the French in 1810. The black cook was so common as to become a stereotype in nautical fiction, reaching its apogee in Frederick Marryat’s Mr Midshipman Easy (1836). This figure, who was as important to pan-African communication in the age of sail as the sleeping-car powerer would be in the age of rail, carried the news of jubilee.”

P. 321 [Robert] “Wedderburn’s conception of the proletariat arose from the experiences of a life spent in the port cities of Kingston and London. James Kelley would write in 1838 that in Wedderburn’s native Jamaica ‘sailors and Negroes are ever on the most amicable terms.’// Everyone knew Tom Molyneux, the black American sailor and heavyweight boxing champion. Othellor was performed by African American sailors in Dartmoor Prison in 1814.”

P. 332 “The emphasis in modern labour history on the white, male, skilled, waged, nationalist, propertied artisan/citizen or industrial worker has hidden the history of the Atlantic proletariat of the 17th, 18th and early 19th century. The proletariat was not a monster, it was not a unified cultural class, and it was not a race. This class was anonymous, nameless… was self0active, creative; it was – and is – alive, it is onamove.”

P. 338 Thomas Hardy “On March 8, 1792, he wrote to the Reverend Thomas Bryant of Sheffield, ‘Hearing from Gustavus Vassa that you are a zealous friend for the Abolition of that accursed traffic denominated the Slave TRade I inferred from that that you was a friend to feedom on the broad basis of the Rights of Man for I am pretty perswaded that no Man who is an advocate from principle for liberty for a Black Man but will strenuously promote and support the rights of a White Man & vice versa.” Equiano opened for Hardy the doors to the steel and cutley workers of SHeffield. The Reverend Bryant led a congregation that would soon be labelled the ‘Tom Paine Methodists’ and many of its members were up in arms. In June 1791, 6,000 acres of land in Sheffield and its vicinity had been enclosed by an act of Parliament. The commoners, the colliers and the cutlers reacted in fury, releasing prisoners and burning a magistrate’s barn.. Jonathan Watkinson and the masters of the Culters Company calculated their compensation and decreed that 13 knives henceforth be counted to the dozen, since among the 12 ‘there might be a waste’… The people sang in protest:

The offspring of tyranny, baseness and pride,

Our rights hath invaded and almost destroyed,

May that man be banished who villainy screens:

Or sides with big W__n and his thirteens…

But justice repulsed him and set us all free,

Like bond-slaves of old in the year jubilee,

May those be transported or sent for marines

That works for the big W–n at his thirteens.”

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