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Extended Audio Sample Dark Places of the Earth: The Voyage of the Slave Ship Antelope, by Jonathan M. Bryant Click for printable size audiobook cover
0 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 5 0.00 (0 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Jonathan M. Bryant Narrator: Tom Zingarelli Publisher: Highbridge Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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In 1820, a suspicious vessel was spotted lingering off the coast of northern Florida, the Spanish slave ship Antelope. Since the United States had outlawed its own participation in the international slave trade more than a decade before, the ship’s almost 300 African captives were considered illegal cargo under American laws. But with slavery still a critical part of the American economy, it would eventually fall to the Supreme Court to determine whether or not they were slaves at all, and if so, what should be done with them.

Bryant describes the captives’ harrowing voyage through waters rife with pirates and governed by an array of international treaties. By the time the Antelope arrived in Savannah, Georgia, the puzzle of how to determine the captives’ fates was inextricably knotted. Set against the backdrop of a city in the grip of both the financial panic of 1819 and the lingering effects of an outbreak of yellow fever, Dark Places of the Earth vividly recounts the eight-year legal conflict that followed, during which time the Antelope’s human cargo were mercilessly put to work on the plantations of Georgia, even as their freedom remained in limbo.

When at long last the Supreme Court heard the case, Francis Scott Key, the legendary Georgetown lawyer and author of “The Star Spangled Banner,” represented the Antelope captives in an epic courtroom battle that identified the moral and legal implications of slavery for a generation. Four of the six justices who heard the case, including Chief Justice John Marshall, owned slaves. Despite this, Key insisted that “by the law of nature all men are free,” and that the captives should by natural law be given their freedom. This argument was rejected. The court failed Key, the captives, and decades of American history, siding with the rights of property over liberty and setting the course of American jurisprudence on these issues for the next thirty-five years. The institution of slavery was given new legal cover, and another brick was laid on the road to the Civil War.

The stakes of the Antelope case hinged on nothing less than the central American conflict of the nineteenth century. Both disquieting and enlightening, Dark Places of the Earth restores the Antelope to its rightful place as one of the most tragic, influential, and unjustly forgotten episodes in American legal history.

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Quotes & Awards

  • Dark Places of the Earth is a meticulously researched scholarly history that packs an emotional punch. Jonathan M. Bryant’s sensitive characterizations of the actors in his narrative―pirates, lawyers, politicians, judges, and slaves―are worthy of a novel.”

    Daniel Walker Howe, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848

  • “Detailed and fascinating account.…This is a superb examination of an obscure but important episode in the struggle against slavery.”

    Booklist (starred review)

  • “Bryant presents a broadened picture of the transatlantic slave trade while illuminating a legal battle with huge moral implications.”

    Library Journal

  • “A richly documented work that restores the Antelope to its central place in the long, grim history of the Atlantic slave trade.”

    Kirkus Reviews

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About the Author

Jonathan M. Bryant is professor of history at Georgia Southern University. He specializes in slavery, emancipation, and constitutional law. He lives in Statesboro, Georgia.

About the Narrator

A veteran voice artist, Tom Zingarelli has produced and narrated many audiobooks in the last several years. He has also recorded books for the Connecticut State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. His voice was featured on the popular PBS children’s television program Between the Lions and in the off-Broadway production of Ruthless, the Musical.