This discussion and book signing will take place at the Abbot Public Library, 235 Pleasant St., Marblehead.
Death of an Empire is the true story of Salem after 1815, when it was the richest place, per capita, in America, with 200 tall ships and fabulously lucrative trading relationships with the Orient. Among the characters are the young (obscure) Nathaniel Hawthorne, Joseph Lee and Judge Joseph Story (natives of Marblehead), Story’s sisters and their husbands the White brothers, Nathaniel Bowditch, and various merchants, mariners, and denizens of Salem’s underworld. The protagonist is Stephen White, a progressive young merchant and civic leader who sought to transform Salem into a prosperous modern city; his nemesis was Dick Crowninshield, the brilliant but twisted son of the region’s most successful industrialist.
Booth’s book presents the realities of maritime commerce as both a huge money-maker for the owners and an often-fatal calling for the sailors. It shows how Salem’s approach toward overseas peoples — peaceful, respectful, constructive — led to several decades of harmonious relations between Americans and the East, including Islamic peoples. By 1819, in the face of a worldwide depression, Salem merchant shippers were hard-pressed to maintain their global empire, and resorted to trade with new markets and in new products, much longer and more dangerous voyages, and the use of opium as a medium of exchange. Salem’s empire of commerce collapsed at the end of the decade, with murderous double disasters — one in a genocidal attack at Sumatra and one at home as Stephen White and Dick Crowninshield were brought together in the infamous White Murder of April, 1830. Death of an Empire is the first non-witchcraft-related narrative history of Salem to appear in several decades.
Robert Booth is a native and resident of Marblehead, author of the guidebook Boston’s Freedom Trail and a chapter in Salem: Place, Myth, and Memory. He is a co-founder of the online Salem History Society, curator emeritus of the Pickering House of Salem, and the gentleman who has been doing the Marblehead house research and codfish signs for 35 years. He is also a featured author at the Salem Literary Festival in September.
Most readers know Salem only for the city's notorious witch trials. But years later it became a very different city, one that produced America's first millionaire (still one of history's 75 wealthiest men) and boasted a maritime trade that made it the country's richest city.