The Man Who Stole Himself: The Slave Odyssey Of Hans Jonathan

Hardcover | September 16, 2016

byGisli Palsson

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The island nation of Iceland is known for many things—majestic landscapes, volcanic eruptions, distinctive seafood—but racial diversity is not one of them. So the little-known story of Hans Jonathan, a free black man who lived and raised a family in early nineteenth-century Iceland, is improbable and compelling, the stuff of novels.
            In The Man Who Stole Himself, Gisli Palsson lays out the story of Hans Jonathan (also known as Hans Jónatan) in stunning detail. Born into slavery in St. Croix in 1784, Hans was taken as a slave to Denmark, where he eventually enlisted in the navy and fought on behalf of the country in the 1801 Battle of Copenhagen. After the war, he declared himself a free man, believing that he was due freedom not only because of his patriotic service, but because while slavery remained legal in the colonies, it was outlawed in Denmark itself. He thus became the subject of one of the most notorious slavery cases in European history, which he lost. Then Hans ran away—never to be heard from in Denmark again, his fate unknown for more than two hundred years. It’s now known that Hans fled to Iceland, where he became a merchant and peasant farmer, married, and raised two children. Today, he has become something of an Icelandic icon, claimed as a proud and daring ancestor both there and among his descendants in America.
            The Man Who Stole Himself brilliantly intertwines Hans Jonathan’s adventurous travels with a portrait of the Danish slave trade, legal arguments over slavery, and the state of nineteenth-century race relations in the Northern Atlantic world. Throughout the book, Palsson traces themes of imperial dreams, colonialism, human rights, and globalization, which all come together in the life of a single, remarkable man. Hans literally led a life like no other. His is the story of a man who had the temerity—the courage—to steal himself.

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The island nation of Iceland is known for many things—majestic landscapes, volcanic eruptions, distinctive seafood—but racial diversity is not one of them. So the little-known story of Hans Jonathan, a free black man who lived and raised a family in early nineteenth-century Iceland, is improbable and compelling, the stuff of novels.   ...

Gisli Palsson is professor of anthropology at the University of Iceland. He is the author, editor, or coeditor of many books.

other books by Gisli Palsson

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Kobo ebook|Jun 13 2013

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:264 pages, 9 × 6 × 1.2 inPublished:September 16, 2016Publisher:University of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022631328X

ISBN - 13:9780226313283

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Table of Contents

Prologue: A Man of Many Worlds

I           The Island of St. Croix
“A House Negro”
“The Mulatto Hans Jonathan”
“Said to Be the Secretary”
Among the Sugar Barons

II         Copenhagen
A Child near the Royal Palace
“He Wanted to Go to War”
The General’s Widow v. the Mulatto
The Verdict

III        Iceland
A Free Man
Mountain Guide
Factor, Farmer, Father
Farewell

IV        Descendants
The Jonathan Family
The Eirikssons of New England
Who Stole Whom?
The Lessons of History

Epilogue: Biographies

Timeline
Acknowledgments
Photo Catalog
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Editorial Reviews

“The Man Who Stole Himself is absorbing and captivating. Palsson engagingly assembles and thoughtfully narrates the biography of Hans Jonathan, who was born into slavery on St. Croix, came of age enslaved in Denmark, and claimed his freedom in Iceland. Palsson offers up a meditation on slavery and race—past and present—thoughtfully raising complex issues involving race, memory, and family. Palsson does not offer easy answers either; rather, he pushes readers to ponder through these issues on their own. A beautifully written and accessible book.”