Ship of Death

Ship of Death

By: Billy G. Smith

Ship of DeathSometimes is is the littlest thing that can have the biggest impact.  When you find something like this it is fascinating.  The book Ship of Death: A Voyage that Changed the Atlantic World tells the surprising tale of the impact that one ship, carrying one fever had on the world.  Billy G. Smith expertly ties together the complex story of the impact of yellow fever, that was single-handedly spread by one ship, known as the Hankey.  During a time when America had just won it’s independence, there was an abolitionist movement picking up momentum in England.  A group of English adventurers from different backgrounds and social statuses banded together and set sail for a small Island off the coast of Western Africa.  Their hopes were to show the world that slavery was not only immoral but that the African people were hard working and industrious, much more so when employed rather than enslaved.  They wanted to change the world.  Unbeknownst to them, they would do so but in a very different way than they could have ever imagined.

Little was known about the disease of Yellow Fever.  Nothing was known about how the disease was spread or contracted.  When these colonists started their adventure of creating a colony they made several fatal errors, which culminated in them contracting the fever and dying at an alarming rate.  The surviving colonists were desperate to get off of the island and back to England.  In doing so they loaded the ship with water from the island, and carted along with it mosquitoes that carried the dangerous disease.  Along with the circuitous voyage home, the Hankey made several other trips, each time depositing the dangerous fever and supplying the mosquitoes with a plethora of new hosts.  From the colony in Bolama all the way to the shores of the United States, in the port of Philadelphia one fever created a lasting impact on the world.

I had no idea until I started reading more about American history in other books that yellow fever played such an important role the protection and funding of our nation in its infancy.  Billy G. Smith offers us a detailed account in Ship of Death: A Voyage that Changed the Atlantic World of the path, the devastation and impact of the fever known as Yellow Jack.  The level of detail in this work is astounding.  At some points I found the book slow moving but that is almost a necessary evil in a book of this type.  If you are interested in historical books, tracing different people or events around the world, or just want to learn more about the world when we emerged as a nation this is a good book to pick up.