cover image Many-Headed Hydra CL

Many-Headed Hydra CL

Marcus Rediker, Peter Linebaugh. Beacon Press (MA), $30 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-8070-5006-4

Deriding the ""historic invisibility"" of their subjects--""the multiethnic class that was essential to the rise of capitalism and the modern, global economy""--Linebaugh (The London Hanged), professor of history at the University of Toledo, and Rediker (Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea), associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, reveal that throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, mobile workers of all sorts--maids, slaves, felons, pirates and indentured farm hands--formulated ideas about freedom and justice that would eventually find expression in the American Revolution. The moneymen thought of themselves as noble heirs to Hercules, ""symbol of power and order,"" and referred to the people they mobilized across continents as ""hydra,"" after Hercules's many-headed foe. During these early days of intercontinental commerce, there were many small rebellions, and Linebaugh and Rediker's book is especially valuable for its rich descriptions of the lesser-known revolts, including one by slaves in New Jersey who ""conspired to kill their masters,"" burn their property and make off with their horses in 1734, and another by Native American whalers who tried to torch Nantucket in 1738. The authors also describe the March 1736 ""Red String Conspiracy"": 40 to 50 Irish felons, who planned to burn Savannah, kill all the white men and escape with a band of Indians (the conspirators wore red string around the right wrist to identify themselves). Their plot was foiled but caused great unrest in Savannah. This book provides a unique window onto early modern capitalist history. The authors are to be commended not only for recovering the voices of obscure folk, but also for connecting them to the overarching themes of the age of revolution. 50 b&w illus. not seen by PW. (Oct.)