Death of an Empire: The Rise and Murderous Fall of Salem, America's Richest City

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Macmillan, Aug 16, 2011 - History - 352 pages
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SALEM has long been notorious for the witch trials of 1692. But a hundred years later it was renowned for very different pursuits: vast wealth and worldwide trade. Now Death of an Empire tells the story of Salem's glory days in the age of sailing, and the murder that hastened its descent.

When America first became a nation, Salem was the richest city in the republic, led by a visionary merchant who still ranks as one of the wealthiest men in history. For decades, Salem connected America with the wider world, through a large fleet of tall ships and a pragmatic, egalitarian brand of commerce taht remains a model of enlightened international relations.

But America's emerging big cities and westward expansion began to erode Salem's national political importance just as its seafaring economy faltered in the face of tariffs and global depression. With Salem's standing as a world capital imperiled, two men, equally favored by fortune, struggled for its future: one, a progressive merchant-politician, tried to build new institutions and businesses, while the other, a reclusive crime lord, offered a demimonde of forbidden pleasures. The scandalous trial that followed signaled Salem's fall from national prominence, a fall that echoed around the world in the loss of friendly trade and in bloody reprisals against native peoples by the U.S. Navy.

Death of an Empire is an exciting tale of a remarkably rich era, shedding light on a little-known but fascinating period of Ameriacn history in which characters such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Quincy Adams, and Daniel Webster interact with the ambitious merchants and fearless mariners who made Salem famous around the world.


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User Review  - SalemAthenaeum - LibraryThing

The amazing story of Salem's rise and fall in the global sphere. Salem in the 1790's is a world capital, the richest city in the republic leading in maritime trade and run by the city's merchants. All ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - bogopea - LibraryThing

Interesting story of the glory days in the age of sailing in Salem and a murder of a prominent Captain that helped to hasten its demise. The commerce with people of the Indian Ocean was huge out of ... Read full review


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About the author (2011)

ROBERT BOOTH, a native of Marblehead, Massachusetts, grew up on salt water, racing sailboats and working as a lobsterman. He is an authority on historic architecture and maritime culture, having researched the histories of hundreds of houses and their occupants, from Nantucket to Maine. He helped to rescue America's last surviving Revolutionary War privateering base, which was moved from Marblehead to Derby Wharf in the Salem Maritime Historic Site, a federal park devoted to seafaring. He works as executive director of the Center for Clinical Social Work, a national advocacy and education association for members of the largest mental-health-care profession in the country. His guidebook Boston's Freedom Trail has stayed in print for nearly thirty years, and he writes about history for the online version of The Boston Globe. He is Curator Emeritus of the Pickering House (1664) of Salem and is a founding director of the online Salem History Society. He rides in Marblehead with his wife and children.

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