The Black Joke: The True Story of One Ship’s Battle Against the Slave Trade

Scribner. Jan. 2022. 400p. ISBN 9781982128265. $28. HIST
In 1807, the British prohibited the transatlantic slave trade in the British Empire and established the West African Squadron (WAS) to patrol the African coast and seize vessels transporting enslaved people. In her first book, Rooks discusses the career of the Black Joke, an American-built slaving ship captured by the British and pressed into service for the WAS. Prized for its speed and agility, between 1827 and 1832 this small ship, with a crew of approximately 50 men, captured dozens of slaving ships and freed thousands of enslaved people, making it one of the most successful WAS ships. Rooks demonstrates how the Black Joke reflected Britain’s bifurcated position in the world: a guarantor of morality yet indifferent to profits made from slavery. In this beautifully written book, Rooks paints an exciting portrait of the exploits of this ship and its crew. The author pays careful attention to the multiracial crews of British ships, giving special attention to the Kroomen, members of a tribe from Liberia, valued for their sailing and onboard skills.
VERDICT Rooks’s sensitive treatment of enslaved people and the crew of the Black Joke makes this a recommended read for those interested in slavery studies and British or West African history.
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