Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group
Death of an Empire

Death of an Empire

The Rise and Murderous Fall of Salem, America's Richest City

Robert Booth

Thomas Dunne Books




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.


August 1814

Two years into America's war with England, Salem was suffering. Death and loss stalked the famous seaport, transforming the once bustling waterfront into a forlorn landscape of empty wharves...


Praise for Death of an Empire

“The Death of an Empire is a masterfully told story of greed, recklessness, murder, and the precipitous decline of Salem, one of young America's greatest ports. It is a chilling tale and an excellent history, which is as fascinating as it is shocking.” —Eric Jay Dolin, author of Fur, Fortune, and Empire and Leviathan

“Beautifully written and impeccably researched, The Death of an Empire details not only the death rattle of one of our country's most important world ports but the growing pains of an emerging nation. Robert Booth has spun a stranger than fiction family saga set in my favorite city, a tale that will hold the reader enthralled.” —Brunonia Barry, author of The Lace Reader

“A fascinating exploration of the dark side of Salem's maritime history, which includes drug peddling, slave trading and murder. The mercantile glory so often contrasted with the shame of Salem's witch trials is here shown to be as equally underpinned as that dark episode by hypocrisy, ruthlessness and greed.” —Frances Hill, author of A Delusion of Satan

“A complex and well-researched yarn, Death of an Empire chronicles the little-known history of this relatively brief period of wealth and good fortune for a Massachusetts seafaring center, along with its economic downfall amid the rise of industrialization in the United States. It also recounts a lethal conspiracy and scandal that robbed Salem of whatever remaining luster was left after the city's golden age. Booth, a local historian - and sometime lobsterman - grew up in Marblehead and knows the territory of which he writes with authority.” —The Boston Globe

“Booth has reconstructed in astonishing detail not only the Salem of Hawthorne, Joseph Story, and Daniel Webster but also true Heart of Darkness moments from all corners of the globe.” —Booklist

“This is a readable, even gripping account of the consequences of the economic decline of a once proud city. Recommended for fans of accessible history and historical true crime.” —Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Robert Booth

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.

Robert Booth

Vicki Horton Booth

Robert Booth

From the Publisher

Thomas Dunne Books

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