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True Yankees

, 280 pages

26 halftones

December 2016



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True Yankees

The South Seas and the Discovery of American Identity

Honorable Mention, U.S. Maritime History, John Lyman Book Awards


With American independence came the freedom to sail anywhere in the world under a new flag. During the years between the Treaty of Paris and the Treaty of Wangxi, Americans first voyaged past the Cape of Good Hope, reaching the ports of Algiers and the bazaars of Arabia, the markets of India and the beaches of Sumatra, the villages of Cochin, China, and the factories of Canton. Their South Seas voyages of commerce and discovery introduced the infant nation to the world and the world to what the Chinese, Turks, and others dubbed the "new people."

Drawing on private journals, letters, ships’ logs, memoirs, and newspaper accounts, Dane A. Morrison's True Yankees traces America’s earliest encounters on a global stage through the exhilarating experiences of five Yankee seafarers. Merchant Samuel Shaw spent a decade scouring the marts of China and India for goods that would captivate the imaginations of his countrymen. Mariner Amasa Delano toured much of the Pacific hunting seals. Explorer Edmund Fanning circumnavigated the globe, touching at various Pacific and Indian Ocean ports of call. In 1829, twenty-year-old Harriett Low reluctantly accompanied her merchant uncle and ailing aunt to Macao, where she recorded trenchant observations of expatriate life. And sea captain Robert Bennet Forbes’s last sojourn in Canton coincided with the eruption of the First Opium War.

How did these bold voyagers approach and do business with the people in the region, whose physical appearance, practices, and culture seemed so strange? And how did native men and women—not to mention the European traders who were in direct competition with the Americans—regard these upstarts who had fought off British rule? The accounts of these adventurous travelers reveal how they and hundreds of other mariners and expatriates influenced the ways in which Americans defined themselves, thereby creating a genuinely brash national character—the "true Yankee." Readers who love history and stories of exploration on the high seas will devour this gripping tale.

Dane A. Morrison is a professor of early American history at Salem State University. He is the author of A Praying People: Massachusett Acculturation and the Failure of the Puritan Mission, 1600–1690 and the coeditor of Salem: Place, Myth and Memory and the World History Encyclopedia, volumes 11–13: The Age of Global Contact.

"Although part of US cultural and economic history, the role of long-distance sea trade in developing the nation's character and global outlook in the early national period has not been discussed until now. The book is informative and entertaining, a rare combination. Highly recommended."

"Often gripping and always engaging. True Yankees makes a very real and highly insightful contribution to our understanding of early America's place within the Pacific world."

"An excellent book contributing valuable information on America's early story. Anyone interested in the birth of our nation and how we entered into the world of commerce will find this a detailed resource."

"An insightful, well-documented, and immensely significant work for the field of early American history. True Yankees is an excellent and highly important study."

"A valuable contribution to our understanding of America’s early encounters with the world."

"Educational, interesting, cleverly organized, and easy to read. Morrison presents an aspect of American seafaring and trading history that is commonly overlooked, yet still very significant."

"Morrison discerns the beginnings of an American identity in an earlier period of American history by focusing more on the sea than the land through the maritime expansion outwards of the post-Revolutionary and ante-bellum early United States republic. What helps to give the book pace and human engagement is the way in which it is largely based around the lives and travels of a number of key individuals representing different periods and dimensions of what it meant to be what the book's title terms a 'true Yankee.'"

"Morrison's book is important and impressive. Its point is accurate and significant. It is a work of skillful research, analysis and vision, as well as one that tells an under-appreciated story."

"What did it mean to be an independent nation? For New Englanders after the revolution, the answer to that question often lay not on their own shores but in the far-flung waters of the South Seas—in the commodity-rich ports of Canton, Calcutta and Cape Town, and in the oceans in between.  As Dane Morrison shows in this important new book, the China Trade was where seafaring Yankees learned how precious their hard-won independence was, where they took the first steps toward having that independence accepted by others, and where they discovered what it meant to be Americans."

" True Yankees offers a fresh, insightful, and fascinating perspective on how America’s early voyages of commerce and discovery to the exotic South Seas helped the new nation forge its identity and establish itself on the international stage. This is a book well worth reading."

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