The Many-Headed Hydra: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic

Long before the American Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man, a motely crew of sailors, slaves, pirates, labourers, market women, and indentured servants had ideas about freedom and equality that would for ever change history. The Many-Headed Hydra recounts their stories in a sweeping history of the role of the dispossessed in the making of the modern world.


  • “A landmark in the development of an Atlantic perspective on early American history. Ranging from Europe to Africa to the Caribbean and North America, it makes us think in new ways about the role of working people in the making of the modern world.”
  • “This is a marvelous book. Linebaugh and Rediker have done an extraordinary job of research into buried episodes and forgotten writings to recapture, with eloquence and literary flair, the lost history of resistance to capitalist conquest on both sides of the Atlantic.”
  • “More than just a vivid illustration of the gains involved in thinking beyond the boundaries between nation-states. Here, in incendiary form, are essential elements for a people’s history of our dynamic, transcultural present.”
  • The Many-Headed Hydra is a wonderful book. Its passion and commitment encourages its readers to think associatively, to make progressive connections”
  • “Scum of the maritime sort had their spell in the limelight with The Many-Headed Hydra. This compellting history of the ‘revolutionary Atlantic’ portrays pirates, sailors, dockers, sea-going whores and other dregs of the ocean and coast as briny rebels who resisted the global commercial order and even disrupted the slave trade for decades.”
  • “Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker, militantly libertarian academics, have written, in what they call this ‘black book of capitalism’, an account of trans-Atlantic social change since the seventeenth century, from the viewpoint of the underdog...The authors’ egalitarian bias may stimulate as much accumulation as Das Kapital.”


  • A Motley Crew in the American Revolution

    In recognition of American Independence Day, we present this adapted excerpt — on the important role played by multiracial seaport crowds in the American Revolution, and the counterrevolution that would foreclose their participation in the nation to come — from Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker's The Many-Headed Hydra: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic.

    In October 1765 a mob of sailors wearing blackface and masks, armed with clubs and cutlasses, visited the home of a wealthy Charleston merchant named Henry Laurens. Eighty strong and warm with drink and anger, they had come to protest the Stamp Act, recently passed by Parliament to raise tax revenues in the American colonies. Responding to the rumor that Laurens had stored in his home the stamped paper everyone would be forced to buy in order to conduct the business of daily life, they chanted, "Liberty, Liberty, & Stamp’d Paper," and demanded that he turn it over so that they could destroy it in an act of defiance. Laurens was rattled, as he later explained: they "not only menaced very loudly but now & then handled me pretty uncouthly." Finally convinced that Laurens did not have the paper, the men dispersed across the waterfront, shedding their disguises and straggling into the smoky taverns and bare boarding houses, onto the damp wharves and creaky ships. Their protest had consequences. Parliament, taken aback by colonial resistance, would soon repeal the Stamp Act. And in Charleston, one thing would lead to another, as another mob would meet in January 1766  to cry again for liberty. This time the protesters were African slaves, whose action caused greater fear and "vast trouble throughout the province." Armed patrols stalked the city’s streets for almost two weeks, but the tumult continued. Since Charleston’s harbor was crowded with ships, the seafarers were soon "in motion and commotion again," styling themselves, said a cynical Laurens, the "Protectors of Liberty." South Carolina Governor William Bull would later look back over the events of late 1765  and early 1766 and blame Charleston’s turmoil on "disorderly negroes, and more disorderly sailors."

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  • London screening of Ghosts of Amistad

    18 years after Steven Spielberg’s sentimental courtroom drama, Amistad, a new film based upon the 1839 slave-ship mutiny has been released. Directed by Tony Buba and based upon Marcus Rediker’s book The Amistad Rebellion: The Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom, it chronicles a trip made to Sierra Leone in May 2013 to visit the home villages of those who took part in the mutiny. The film is a fascinating account of the attempt to reconstruct the African origins of the rebellion and uses the knowledge of villagers, fishermen, and truck drivers to recover a lost history from below in the struggle against slavery.

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  • 12 Years a Slave: Verso’s essential reading list on slavery and race relations

    This month sees the UK cinema release of Steve McQueen’s brilliant and brutal new film, 12 Years a Slave. McQueen has been vocal in condemning cinema’s wariness in confronting the subjects of slavery and race, and his film has galvanized a new interest in the unspeakably ugly period in American history. 

    Based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 documentary, 12 Years a Slave takes an unflinching look at the story of a free black man from New York who is abducted and sold into slavery.

    Verso has long held a commitment to telling similar stories, and we now present a selection of books as the essential starting point for those looking to learn more about the roots, events and legacies of slavery and racial tensions in America and the world.

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Other books by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker