Cover: The Two Princes of Calabar: An Eighteenth-Century Atlantic Odyssey, from Harvard University PressCover: The Two Princes of Calabar in PAPERBACK

The Two Princes of Calabar

An Eighteenth-Century Atlantic Odyssey

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$23.00 • £20.95 • €20.95

ISBN 9780674032057

Publication Date: 02/28/2009


208 pages

2 maps


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In his brief, informative and wide-ranging account, Mr. Sparks uses the two princes’ capture and release as a prism through which to view the religion, commerce, literature and roguery of the time, on both sides of the ocean. It helps to be reminded that nothing in the past is quite so simple—so black and white—as moralists might like it to be.—Stuart Ferguson, Wall Street Journal

The Two Princes of Calabar is an excellent brief study of late 18th-century West African slaving culture, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, British Methodism and the efforts of religious British to abolish the slave trade.—Robert Waters, The Times-Picayune

This deserves to be read by specialists and by general students of Atlantic history, not only because it underlines the brutality of slavery but also because it offers fascinating glimpses into the fluidity of identities in Atlantic history and into how, consciously or otherwise, Africans helped to promote British abolitionism.—David Richardson, Times Higher Education

While researching a topic in early Methodism, Sparks discovered letters by former slaves to Charles Wesley. The writers were brothers from an elite family in a slave-trading community on the Bight of Biafra. During a 1767 conflict with another slave-trading clan—an altercation abetted by English slave merchants—the two were seized by a slave-ship captain and launched on a seven-year struggle to get home… Seamlessly weaving great chunks of eighteenth-century documentation into the narrative, Sparks makes the brothers’ saga an absorbing true-life adventure.—Ray Olson, Booklist

Randy Sparks’s The Two Princes of Calabar is a great story. Great not only in that it is an extraordinary adventure that captures the drama, pathos, anguish, and ultimately the tragedy of the African slave trade, but also great in that it brings together all of the elements of the meeting of Africans, Europeans, and the Americans in the Atlantic.—Ira Berlin, author of Generations of Captivity

Randy Sparks’s Two Princes adds significantly to our growing knowledge of the complexity of human experiences of the Atlantic era, particularly those of people originating in Africa. This engagingly written study adds Ephraim Robin John and Ancona Robin John to the bare two dozen or so known individuals who managed, in spite of the silencing anonymity of enslavement in Africa, to leave records, in their own voices, of the often surprising stories of their lives.—Joseph Miller, T. Cary Johnson, Jr., Professor of History, University of Virginia

Randy Sparks has done a great service to Atlantic History. The Two Princes of Calabar effectively integrates African and Atlantic history into an engaging and enlightening narrative. He succeeds in making the life of the Niger Delta trading states accessible to the general reader and brings their deep and remarkably sophisticated relationships with Europe to light with great style.—John Thornton, author of Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World

This is a remarkable account of remarkable events. Of the millions of Africans ensnared by Atlantic slavery, a mere handful returned home. Randy Sparks’s vivid exposition is about two African princes, slaves and slave traders, who found their way back to Africa. It is a tumultuous story but given persuasive coherence by Sparks’s forensic researches and arresting prose. What he has produced is a finely-crafted miniature: a glimpse, via the lives of two men, into the broader contours of the enslaved Atlantic. The result is a literary treat which raises as many questions as it answers, and which provokes, instructs—and entertains.—James Walvin, Professor of History, University of York

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