The starting point of this astonishing book is Herman Melville’s novella Benito Cereno. While teaching it in a university seminar, Greg Grandin discovered that Melville’s tale – unlike the much more celebrated Moby-Dick – is based on a true story. Grandin set out to learn more, and his extensive research uncovered such surprising facts that it’s no wonder he was at first doubtful about their authenticity. The Empire of Necessity provides a glimpse into the intersection of several worlds and informs what we know about slavery, mastery and rebellion.
In 1805 a relatively well-known New England captain, Amasa Delano, was sealing in the South Seas. He boarded the Tryal, a ship he believed to be in distress. After distributing food and water to those on board, he met Captain Benito Cerreño, at whose side stood Mori, an African servant.