The Diligent:
A Voyage Through the African Slave Trade

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The Diligent: A Voyage Through the African Slave Trade
by Robert Harms


Book Description
In The Diligent, historian Robert Harms uses an entirely new approach to uncover the complex workings of the slave trade. Drawing upon the recently discovered private journal of First Lieutenant Robert Durand, Harms re-creates the macabre journey of a French slave ship and interweaves it with the remarkable dramas of its route. The result is an astonishingly detailed look at the voyage of a single slave ship that sheds new light on the slave trade and how it shaped morality, politics, and economics on three continents.
The Diligent began her journey in Brittany in 1731, and Harms follows her along the African coast where her goods were traded for slaves, to Martinique where her captives were sold to work on sugar plantations. Harms brings to life a world in which slavery was a commerce carried out without qualms. He shows the gruesome details of daily life aboard a slave ship, as well as French merchants wrangling with their government for the right to traffic in slaves, African kings waging epic wars for control of European slave trading posts, and representatives of European governments negotiating the complicated politics of the Guinea coast to ensure a stead supply of labor for their countries' colonies. The Diligent is filled with rich stories that explain how the slave trade worked on all levels, from geopolitics to the rigging of ships.

About the Author
Robert Harms is Professor of History at Yale University. He is the author of two books about Africa, River of Wealth, River of Sorrow and Games Against Nature. He lives in Guilford, Connecticut.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly
Yale historian Harms (Games Against Nature) explores the global scope of an odious industry by tracking the slave ship Diligent, which sailed from Vannes, France, in 1731. Using First Lieut. Robert Durand's journal, Harms fleshes out the multinational web of trade relationships and transactions, both legal and illegal: European countries competing for profits; government-sanctioned monopolies giving way to private enterprise; African rulers vying for their share of the profits. The Diligent's cargo of 256 Africans was destined for Martinique's plantation industries, and the profit-and-loss ledger was the lieutenant's primary concern, writes Harris: "Durand mentioned the African captives only twice during the entire sixty-six days of the middle passage, and then only to record deaths." Paradoxically, given the nature of his business, Durand complained when having to leave a hostage in Elmina after a Bordeaux slaver abducted several African merchants, that such deceit made it difficult for "honest men" like himself to conduct trade.

Most of the book offers observations based on Durand's journal rather than a patchwork of quotes from it. His reflections blend with other surviving accounts to reconstruct the events of the voyage, and copious footnotes document the extensive research Harms has done to tell the story. By fixing the French ship within the context of its 18th-century world, Harms explores part of a multilayered story "how the slave trade operated in certain places at a certain time. during a crucial period of economic and political transformation." In doing so, he extends our understanding of the Atlantic slave trade by shedding light on new aspects of its tragic history. 65 illustrations, many by Durand. (Jan. 15)Forecast: The middle passage has been a subject of interest in recent years; this should refocus attention on it and achieve good sales. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal
The author of two books on Africa, Harms follows the course of the French-owned slave ship The Diligent on its voyage in 1731 from Vannes, France, down the West African coast, and finally to Martinique, where almost 250 surviving captive Africans were sold. Harms used the private journal of the slaver's first lieutenant, Robert Durand, and combed the records worldwide to depict slave trading as it touched three continents. He takes the reader deep inside the politics, society, and economy of France, several West African peoples, Martinique, and more, showing how local interest determined the ways different people engaged in or became caught in the slave trade. It is a chilling history of the cold-bloodedness of people calculating their own profit trading in human cargo. Harms brings the many characters in the tale to light, finding no heroes among the merchants, outfitters, sailors, African chieftains, French sugar planters, and others involved in the trade. In detailing one voyage, he forces us to consider the enormity of the more than 40,000 voyages undertaken by slave ships voyages that forever changed the world. History as it should be written. Randall M. Miller, Saint Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist
Harms, a history professor, uses the personal journal of Robert Durand, a 26-year-old sailor on his first voyage with a slave ship, to recount the 15-month journey of the Diligent and the slave-trading enterprise of European powers in the 1700s. In 1731, the Diligent traveled from Vannes, France, to West Africa and European sugar plantations in the Caribbean, taking 256 captives to slavery. Harms supplements Durand's journal with archival information on the interconnections between the local economies of Europe at a time when slave trading was opened to private interests lured by the lucrative prospects. Durand's journal offers incredible detail about a slave ship operation and the transformation of a young man losing his innocence and witnessing great human tragedy. Harms provides historical context, recounting the warfare among African nations that fed the insatiable need for slaves for the colonies in the Americas and the international intrigue that took place among the competing European nations. This is compelling reading that will appeal to history buffs and those interested in how Africans were transported to the Americas. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Wall Street Journal
"An excellent work."

Raleigh News & Observer
"A beautifully written, meticulously researched, compelling narrative that reveals the greed, brutality, and inhumanity of the Atlantic slave trade."

Library Journal
"History as it should be written."

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