Sunday, December 15, 2013

Billy G. Smith's "Ship of Death"

Billy G. Smith is Distinguished Professor of Letters and Science in the History Department of Montana State University, where he has won every major teaching and research award offered. He is the author or editor of eight books and dozens of articles.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Ship of Death: A Voyage That Changed the Atlantic World, and reported the following:
Ship of Death excerpt from page 99:
‘Since our arrival on this island,’ he complained, ‘there has been hitherto, little or no order, no work done, everyone going whither he pleased and returning when he chose, whence the idleness and licentiousness of every description of persons have arisen to an intolerable height.’ Like John Smith in 1607 [leader of the first English colony in Virginia], Philip Beaver [half-pay British naval officer and self-appointed leader of the West-African colony on Bolama Island] decided to institute ‘the severest discipline. [. . .] The regulations of the British navy would become the basis of the new discipline imposed in the colony. As the rains continued, so torrential that nobody could work outdoors, Beaver drew up strict regulations about nearly every aspect of life in the colony. [...] Every morning the pioneers were required to fill the water barrels from the island streams and hoist them on board ship. Unknown to the settlers, in the process they would also renew their supply of yellow fever-carrying mosquitoes each day.
Philip Beaver was a British naval officer and idealist who was one of the organizers of the short-lived attempt to found a West-African colony on land purchased from West Africans and using hired rather than enslaved African labor. As conditions worsened at the colony, he took control of the venture and was the last person to abandon it. Page 99 details a moment early in the colonial effort, while the Ship of Death as a whole relates how this group of 18th-century English abolitionists tried to found a colony free of slavery in the disease-rich environment which would lead Europeans to name Africa “the white man’s graveyard.” The Hankey, one of the ships that brought Englishmen and women to West African, carried the few survivors back to England in 1793 via the Caribbean and the east coast of the United States, unwittingly taking along yellow fever-carrying mosquitoes that created a pandemic in the Atlantic world. The book links this voyage and its deadly cargo to some of the most significant events of the era—the success of the Haitian slave revolution, Napoleon’s decision to sell the Louisiana Territory, a change in the geopolitical situation of the new United States.
Learn more about Ship of Death at the Yale University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Ship of Death.

--Marshal Zeringue