Death of an Empire
The Rise and Murderous Fall of Salem, Mass., America’s Richest City
by Robert Booth
In young America, Salem (Mass.) ruled over an empire of trade, sending out 200 tall ships each year to harvest the wealth of the world. In the process, it became the richest place in the United States; but decades of wealth and splendor ended abruptly in the 1820s.
High adventure, immense fortunes, drug trade, and murder-for-hire come together in Death of an Empire, the true story of the American center of incredibly lucrative commerce with the Indian Ocean ports of China, India, Arabia, Indonesia, Malaya, and Southeast Asia. Salem’s respect for other peoples, contrasting with European brutality, led to deep cross-cultural friendships, untold riches, great influence, and the emergence of a cast of unforgettable characters.
What happened? How and why did Salem lose everything?
Booth traces the heroic efforts of the shipping merchants to hold onto global trading supremacy while fighting off Congress and reinventing Salem as a modern city. The story ends in a struggle for Salem’s soul between two of its scions, one striving to create prosperity for all classes, the other reveling in crime and destruction. By 1823 Salem wavered between the poles of renewal and mayhem; when it fell, it fell hard, amid opium trading and genocide overseas, and, at home, the murder of a great merchant by members of his own family.
I wanted to write about Salem as the main character in a book about America and the world at that time.
Winner of the New England Society 2012 Award for History, from the New England Society in the City of New York.
This book, a Boston Sunday Globe top-ten best-seller (hardcover, nonfiction), received excellent reviews in newspapers and magazines.
“This is a readable, even gripping account of the consequences of the economic decline of a once proud city. Recommended for fans of accessible history and historical true crime.”
—Library Journal review by Stephen L. Hupp
“A stunning, remarkably bleak account of Salem’s precipitous plummeting from the height of wealth to rapid depopulation and escalating crime. Booth has reconstructed in astonishing detail not only the Salem of Hawthorne, Joseph Story, and Daniel Webster, but true Heart of Darkness moments from all corners of the globe.”
—Booklist review by Brian Odom
Mad For Glory
A Heart of Darkness in the War of 1812
by Robert Booth
What if a naval captain went rogue with an American battleship? What if an American diplomat took command of another country’s rebel movement? In the Pacific during the War of 1812, that’s exactly what happened—David Porter, captain of the battleship Essex, and Roberts Poinsett, consul to South America, memorably play out their roles in this true story of the origins of American imperialism and nation-building.
Reading like a geo-political thriller, the book shows Poinsett, once a spy, leading Chile’s fight to become an independent U.S.-aligned republic; at the same time, the renegade Porter is shown crossing the line from commander to cult-leader, using the Essex and her crew to pursue his own obsessions—plunder of the British whaling fleet, orgies and slaughter in Polynesia. The convergence of Porter and Poinsett finally plays out as a tragedy of missed opportunities and failed ideals, with disastrous consequences for Porter’s men, the Chilean republic, American interests, and the peoples of the Pacific.
Historian Robert Booth tells the intertwined story of Poinsett and Porter with accuracy, immediacy, and a broad vision of its meanings as a saga of war, a gripping epic of the sea and of nations and peoples, and a brilliant double portrait of two American archetypes.
The Women of Marblehead
A Women's History of Marblehead, Mass., in the 19th Century and of the Marblehead Female Humane Society and It's Activities from 1816 Forward
by Robert Booth
The Women of Marblehead is a feminist history of this north-of-Boston Massachusetts town in the 19th century—perhaps the only such history of a town ever written.
In the 1800s, Marblehead started out as a struggling seaport locked into a downward spiral of early death for its seafarers and abject poverty for its women and children. Education beyond nursery school was denied to girls; careers for women did not exist. Hundreds of Marblehead women and children suffered by the losses of men at sea and in war; most of them relied on charity to remain in the community, and many were consigned to the town’s Poor House. In 1816, recognizing the failure of the town fathers, the Female Humane Society was founded by women to help other women.
The cycle of poverty and loss was finally broken in the 1830s, as women pushed their way into the workforce. By the 1850s Marblehead had become a shoe manufacturing center, with many factories and more than a thousand women producing millions of shoes. Soon women were attending the new teacher’s college and were running high-speed production machinery. By the 1880s Marblehead women had organized a powerful temperance movement that dominated town politics and resulted in a woman being elected to the School Board in the 1880s—decades before the federal government gave women the rights of citizens.
Profusely illustrated, full of remarkable anecdotes and personal stories, The Women of Marblehead is a memorable history of female empowerment and the transformation of a community through the love and persistence of its women.