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Delano, A. 1817. "Particulars of the Capture of the Spanish Ship Tryal, at the island of St. Maria; with the Documents relating to that affair," in A Narrative of Voyages and Travels in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres: Comprising Three Voyages Round the World; Together with a Voyage of Survey and Discovery, in the Pacific Ocean and Oriental Islands. By Amasa Delano. Boston, 1817. Pages 318–353.


Herman Melville used the incident narrated in Amasa Delano’s 1817 memoir A Narrative of Voyages and Travels as the basis for the story “Benito Cereno,” published in 3 installments in Putnam’s Monthly Magazine (October-December 1855). Melville’s story changed some names and details, and added rich descriptions and moral reflections, while dramatizing Captain Delano’s experience of offering aid to a ship in distress before discovering the situation was not what was first apprehended. Melville had similarly fictionalized a “found” document in writing the novel Israel Potter earlier that same year, but “Benito Cereno” gives a much darker picture of human relations, though in some ways not as dark as the full relation of Captain Delano suggests.

Melville’s use of this episode from Delano’s Narrative was noted by a contemporary reviewer in the New York Evening Post, October 9, 1855. It was rediscovered in 1928 by Harold Scudder, “Melville’s Benito Cereno and Captain Delano’s Voyages.” PMLA 43, June 1928, 502-32, and has been the subject of numerous examinations since. Delano’s chapter was republished in Five sea captains: Amasa, Delano, Edmund Fanning, Richard Cleveland, George Coggeshall, Joshua Slocum: Their own accounts of voyages under sail, edited by Walter Magnes Teller (New York: Atheneum, 1960), and is reprinted in the critical appendix of the Northwestern-Newberry edition of The Piazza Tales (Evanston & Chicago, 1987). The text of Melville’s “Benito Cereno” is available online from Project Gutenberg, Wikisource, and The Electronic Scholarly Publishing Project.

A map and some explanatory notes have been added.