A new book shows how the slave trade turned Jacobins into mercenaries
The Empire of Necessity:
Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World
by Greg Grandin
$30.00 List Price
These days the island of Más Afuera—five hundred miles west of Santiago, Chile—may be known only as the place Jonathan Franzen went to spread the ashes of David Foster Wallace, as recounted in a 2011 essay in the New Yorker. But in March 1800, Amasa Delano, a ship's captain from New England, arrived there hoping to fill his holds with sealskins. Sealing, like whaling, was a profitable new industry in the early nineteenth century, and Delano had already failed at whaling. He wasn't the only one with such dreams. When Delano arrived at Más Afuera, there were fourteen other ships anchored around the island.
While seals were lucrative, elephant seals—also known as sea elephants—lived on the same island, and were hunted and taken for their oil. Sea elephants were enormous but not much of a threat to their human predators.
At times, rousing them from their slumber took more effort than dispatching them. When bulls did lift themselves up to protect their cows, their blubber-rich skin undulated in great waves up and down their bodies. . . . The animals being "soft and fat" and the lances "being sharp and long," the men would perforate their prey in "a dozen places." . . . Pierced in multiple places like Saint Sebastian, the creature begins to gush "fountains of blood, spouting to a considerable distance."
This sounds horrible, of course. When I reached this description in The Empire of Necessity, I felt overwhelming pity for the sea elephants and disgust for the sealers. But once I finished the book, I reconsidered my reactions. Not because I was wrong to