The Captain and "the Cannibal": An Epic Story of Exploration, Kidnapping, and the Broadway Stage (New Directions in Narrative History)

The Captain and "the Cannibal": An Epic Story of Exploration, Kidnapping, and the Broadway Stage (New Directions in Narrative History)

James Fairhead

Language: English

Pages: 392


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Sailing in uncharted waters of the Pacific in 1830, Captain Benjamin Morrell of Connecticut became the first outsider to encounter the inhabitants of a small island off New Guinea. The contact quickly turned violent, fatal cannons were fired, and Morrell abducted young Dako, a hostage so shocked by the white complexions of his kidnappers that he believed he had been captured by the dead. This gripping book unveils for the first time the strange odyssey the two men shared in ensuing years. The account is uniquely told, as much from the captive’s perspective as from the American’s.
Upon returning to New York, Morrell exhibited Dako as a “cannibal” in wildly popular shows performed on Broadway and along the east coast. The proceeds helped fund a return voyage to the South Pacific—the captain hoping to establish trade with Dako’s assistance, and Dako seizing his chance to return home with the only person who knew where his island was. Supported by rich, newly found archives, this wide-ranging volume traces the voyage to its extraordinary ends and en route decrypts Morrell’s ambiguous character, the mythic qualities of Dako’s life, and the two men’s infusion into American literature—as Melville’s Queequeg, for example, and in Poe’s Pym. The encounters confound indigenous peoples and Americans alike as both puzzle over what it is to be truly human and alive.





















and impressively armed brig. This was a freighter Snow could trust, and he readily agreed to load her with the most valuable cargo he could find. Babcock sent word back to Lintin Harbor for Morrell to sail upriver posthaste to take it on. Sailing up the Pearl River was not a cheap or easy exercise. First Morrell had to purchase the permits to trade from the Chinese custom-house. Next he had to pay a ship’s pilot sixty dollars to conduct the Margaret Oakley to anchorage in Canton’s Whampoa

receive any such information. A work of history is always provisional. One of the reasons for writing a work of this nature is the hope that it may bring to light further evidence and surprises. Bibliographical Note As this book relates not only to the odysseys of Dako and Morrell, but also tells the story of the people who narrated them, and how these narrations themselves influenced unfolding events, the text itself serves as an explanatory note for several of its key sources. The narratives

accounts identify him as “Tupi” (Jennifer Blythe pers. comm.). Uneapa people often have two names. That Dako was the firstborn (oldest son without older sister) is discerned from the respect paid to him, and his being in line to inherit his father’s position (A. Morrell 1833: 205, Jacobs 1844). Tumbucu status was inherited in Uneapa (Blythe pers. comm.), contrasting with Kove society; see, e.g., Chowning 1987b. On island agriculture and livelihood, see, e.g., Blythe 1978. On internal and external

of his recently returned mother when Abby gave birth to a new baby son, whom the Morrells named John Burritt. She had only just made it back in time. Her mother had also brought bad news to the dockside: the only father that Abby knew, her stepfather, Burritt Keeler, had recently succumbed to tuberculosis, or “consumption,” which was then taking a fifth of all New Yorkers to their graves. But the Antarctic’s return was not just a family affair. It made news citywide. Splashed across the

appetite in both countries for stories of new global discovery. In the Britain, the book rekindled the story of “Massacre Island,” which again became a news item published widely across British newspapers. The narrative was also reviewed at length and with much admiration in the leading literary magazine, the Monthly Review, and copies were ordered by the recently formed Royal Geographical Society. In France, the response was even more enthusiastic. Albert Étienne de Montémont honored it with an

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