All Standing: The Remarkable Story of the Jeanie Johnston, The Legendary Irish Famine Ship

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Overview

More than one million immigrants fled the Irish famine for North America—and more than one hundred thousand of them perished aboard the “coffin ships” that crossed the Atlantic. But one small ship never lost a passenger.

All Standing recounts the remarkable tale of the Jeanie Johnston and her ingenious crew, whose eleven voyages are the stuff of legend. Why did these individuals succeed while so many others failed? And what new lives in America...

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All Standing: The Remarkable Story of the Jeanie Johnston, The Legendary Irish Famine Ship

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Overview

More than one million immigrants fled the Irish famine for North America—and more than one hundred thousand of them perished aboard the “coffin ships” that crossed the Atlantic. But one small ship never lost a passenger.

All Standing recounts the remarkable tale of the Jeanie Johnston and her ingenious crew, whose eleven voyages are the stuff of legend. Why did these individuals succeed while so many others failed? And what new lives in America were the ship’s passengers seeking?

In this deeply researched and powerfully told story, acclaimed author Kathryn Miles re-creates life aboard this amazing vessel, richly depicting the bravery and defiance of its shipwright, captain, and doctor—and one Irish family’s search for the American dream.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An enchanting and dedicated historian, Kathryn Miles takes us on a journey from lore to science and back again. By turns harrowing and heartwarming, All Standing salvages the treasure of a history lost at sea." — J.C. Hallman, author of The Devil is a Gentleman and Wm & H'ry and In Utopia

All Standing illuminates a dire period in history I knew little about. Through Kathryn Miles’ crisp writing and meticulous research, I gained understanding and insight into this humanitarian crisis, but also was felt as if I was a passenger on the harrowing trans-Atlantic crossing of the Jeanie Johnston. Bravo to the author for bringing the story to life and illuminating the best and worst of the people involved.” — Michael Tougias, author of A Storm Too Soon, Fatal Forecast, and Overboard!

"Well-researched and engagingly written, Kathryn Miles' All Standing is full of compelling characters—including the Jeanie Johnston herself. The ship becomes a beacon of hope in an age Miles paints with vigor as beset by famine, disease, political callousness and cruelty." —Ginger Strand, author of Killer on the Road and Inventing Niagara

"Kathryn Miles illuminates the true horror of the Irish Potato Famine in the way that only well written and thoroughly researched narrative history can, presenting the story in every instance through the eyes of the people who lived it, making it all the more palpable, the suffering and the glimmers of hope all the more immediate. This is a very well done book about one of the most brutal and shameful episodes in the past three hundred years of Western history." —James L. Nelson, author of With Fire and Sword: The Battle of Bunker Hill and the Beginning of the American Revolution

"Kathryn Miles illuminates the true horror of the Irish Potato Famine in the way that only well written and thoroughly researched narrative history can, presenting the story in every instance through the eyes of the people who lived it, making it all the more palpable, the suffering and the glimmers of hope all the more immediate. This is a very well done book about one of the most brutal and shameful episodes in the past three hundred years of Western history." —James L. Nelson, author of With Fire and Sword: The Battle of Bunker Hill and the Beginning of the American Revolution

“This is the story of the miraculous Jeanie Johnston, a ship that defied all odds crossing the Atlantic—but Kathryn Miles delves much deeper, weaving through it the larger stories of deadly sea-faring, rampant epidemic disease, and the disastrous, mass displacement of the Irish. With expert attention to detail and seamless writing, Miles takes you aboard the 'coffin ships' and into the lives of the shipbuilders, captains, maritime physicians, Irish refugees and those remarkable individuals who managed to survive.” —— Molly Caldwell Crosby, author of The Great Pearl Heist and The American Plague

"From moldering black potatoes in the fields of mid-19th Ireland, to hostile “Irish need not apply” signs cropping up across American cities, the story of the great potato blight is neither simple nor direct. Kathryn Miles makes this sweeping, often overwhelmingly sad story both lucid and accessible as she tells the tales of captivating characters, including Quebec shipbuilder John Munn, Irish ship surgeon Richard Blennerhassett, and Reillys, a beleaguered family of immigrants. Miles puts faces on one of history’s greatest calamities." —Wayne Curtis, author of And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails

"The author’s solid research and use of newly available material exposes the truth of the Potato Famine, the barbaric policies that exacerbated it and the incredible will of the Irish people." —Kirkus Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Having sailed on the recently recreated Jeanie Johnston, Miles, a professor of environmental writing at Unity College in Maine, is well-suited to tell the riveting tale of the only “coffin ship” to never lose a passenger during the great emigration from a famine-ravished Ireland in the mid-19th century. She relates the story of a man born on the Jeanie’s maiden voyage, and consequently named after the ship’s captain, medic, and entire crew: Nicholas Reilly (for very short). Interwoven with the story of Nicholas’s life in the U.S. (where he married, raised six kids, ran a business, and owned that holy grail of the American dream, “a house in the suburbs”) is a moving portrait of the Irish potato famine, a disaster exacerbated by logistical challenges plaguing relief efforts, religious schisms, and political tensions between the Crown and what was then a British colony. More than 100,000 immigrants perished during their attempts to escape their blighted homeland, and Miles pulls no punches in her portrayal of the waves of discrimination that crashed over those fortunate enough to survive the voyage. Nevertheless, Nicholas’s story and the flawless record of the Jeanie are morsels of hope amid the Great Hunger. Map. Agent: Wendy Strothman. (Jan. 8)
Library Journal
The Jeanie Johnston is credited with never losing a passenger in the years it carried Irish emigrants desperate to escape the potato famine and typhus epidemic in the 1840s and '50s. The ship is the central figure—indeed, almost a character—in this work in which Miles (environment writing, Unity Coll., Maine) describes the era of these so-called coffin ships, bringing together the stories of the shipbuilder, owner, crew, and passengers. Conditions on board are contrasted with those on other ships, revealing how the Jeanie Johnston's passengers had more space, better rations, and access to medical care. Although the term "passengers" implies a certain passivity, these travelers were expected to help clean the ship and cook their own food, despite severe weather and seasickness. Interspersed with the history of the famine and the ship is the story of Nicholas Johnston Reilly, born during the ship's maiden voyage, and his family's pursuit of the American dream. VERDICT The author makes good use of sources, and her details are vivid, but a minor quibble is the distracting tendency to summon thoughts or actions of historical figures even though not recorded (e.g., "[she] couldn't help but stare"). Recommended for readers of Irish and maritime history.—Megan H. Fraser, Univ. of California, Los Angeles, Libs.
Kirkus Reviews
Miles (Environmental Writing/Unity Coll.) builds her story around the Jeanie Johnston, the only ship fleeing the Irish Potato Famine with a 100 percent survival rate in its many Atlantic crossings. The author does not spare the British Empire in the death of over 1 million Irish. They may not have murdered them, but the export of grain out of the starving country, evictions, minimal relief, a providential attitude and the death traps that were called "coffin ships" were the direct result of British colonial policy. Miles shows the flicker of hope in the nightmare of emigration that was the Jeanie Johnston. Her captain, James Attridge, his crew and the ship's physician, Richard Blennerhassett, guided the purpose-built ship across the Atlantic Ocean determined to prevent cholera and typhus from decimating their passengers. They insisted on hygienic living, frequent walks on deck for passengers and weekly airing of bedding. The author's vivid description of the barbaric crowding on other ships during the two-month trip will make many readers wonder how anyone survived. The food, less than a pound of oatmeal per day, was barely enough to sustain life. Even those who survived the crossing met desperate conditions when they finally reached their destination, including a lack of work, quarantine and more disease. Miles provides a host of intriguing profiles of the many passengers--including Nicholas Reilly, who was born aboard the ship--as they left their home behind to seek a new life. The author's solid research and use of newly available material exposes the truth of the Potato Famine, the barbaric policies that exacerbated it and the incredible will of the Irish people.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451610154
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 1/14/2014
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 299,473
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.38 (h) x 0.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Kathryn Miles is a professor of environmental writing at Unity College. She is the author of Adventures With Ari and dozens of articles that have appeared in publications, including Alimentum, Best American Essays, Ecotone, Flyway, Meatpaper, and Terrain. She lives—and sails—in Belfast, Maine.

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Read an Excerpt

PROLOGUE

Fergus Falls, Minnesota

Friday, August 27, 1883

On most evenings, a steady stream of patrons crossed the Red River footbridge to have a drink at James K. O’Brien’s saloon. But not that night.

The Sullivan Troupe’s Irish Revue was in town for one night only, and everybody who was anybody already had a ticket. That meant business was slow at O’Brien’s Saloon in the Grand Hotel. All evening its lone bartender, Nicholas Reilly, stood at his post between the shelves of spirits and the glistening new bar, watching as residents of Fergus Falls paraded up Lincoln Avenue, dressed for the show in their Sunday best.

Two blocks away, Nicholas’s wife, Cecilia, tended to their two young children, William and Helen. Somewhere on a floor above him, Nicholas’s younger brother, Eugene, was settling into one of the small rooms O’Brien set aside for borders. It was a good night to be inside.

A steady and unexpectedly cold rain dotted the saloon windows and puddled in the street, but the townspeople seemed impervious. The Sullivan Troupe’s vaudeville act was the biggest event to visit the Red River Valley; no one worth his salt was willing to miss it, even if doing so meant ruining a taffeta dress. All of Fergus Falls, it seemed, had suddenly contracted a whopping case of Irish fever.

Twenty-five years had passed since the Great Hunger had claimed the lives of a million Irish people and forced a million more onto North America’s shores, forever marking the famine as one of the greatest human rights atrocities in recorded history. Since that time the United States had formed a complicated relationship with its new Irish brethren, based alternately on pity, curiosity, contempt, and, most often, a thorny combination of all three. The Sullivan Revue capitalized on that complexity, promising an evening of historic lectures, romantic ballads, and side-splitting satire.

Everyone was on their way to the show that night, and yet, oddly, Jim O’Brien—the saloon’s owner and Fergus Falls’ most prominent Irish resident—was nowhere to be found. His absence was inexplicable to most people in town, but not to the saloon’s young bartender. Nicholas was growing accustomed to O’Brien’s mysterious disappearances, although that didn’t make him overly comfortable with them. Truth be told, Nicholas wasn’t comfortable with much about his brother-in-law.

Since opening that summer, O’Brien’s Saloon had become the unofficial epicenter of town activity; on most nights, a never-ending chorus of shouted drink orders added to the din already created by well-used billiard tables and one of the only full-size pianos in town. Nicholas liked the frenetic pace required to keep up with all the activity, and the bar was doing well—that much was obvious every night when he emptied the cash register before crossing the street to join Cecilia in the cramped apartment they shared with Jim and his family. But even with the overflowing till, Nicholas was hard-pressed to account for the purchase of this massive brick hotel. And then there was the inexplicably large stack of money and whiskey bonds in the saloon’s brand-new safe, which was almost as enormous as Jim O’Brien himself.

Nicholas knew he would have to get to the bottom of these puzzles—and that the future of his family would no doubt be better without Jim O’Brien in it. But tonight his thoughts, like those of his fellow towns-people, were all about Ireland. As he watched people hurrying toward the theater, he cast his mind back to a place he never really knew.

Hardly any of the passersby bothered to look inside the saloon’s rain-smeared windows. Even fewer paused for a pint before heading to the show. That was really too bad. Had anyone stopped long enough to chat with the young man standing behind the bar, they would have been treated to a story worth far more than the admission being paid at Gray’s Hall.

Nicholas, after all, was more Irish than the Sullivans and O’Briens put together. However, as he was always quick to explain, he wasn’t really from there. Nicholas Reilly was born at sea, and he made a point of stating that fact on every document, governmental or otherwise, that asked for his place of birth. He also listed his legal name as Nicholas Johnston Reilly on such papers, but that was really just for convenience’s sake. His full name, he liked to say, was Nicholas Richard James Thomas William John Gabriel Carls Michael John Alexander Trabaret Archibald Cornelius Hugh Arthur Edward Johnston Reilly, so named for the owner, doctor, and crew of the Jeanie Johnston, the legendary famine ship on which Nicholas was born thirty years earlier.

That he was born on Easter Sunday, the very day the vessel was scheduled to embark from County Kerry on her first refugee voyage, was noteworthy enough. That he and his family survived the arduous journey that followed was nothing short of astounding. Mortality rates on the aptly named coffin ships could be as high as 70 percent.

Not so on the Jeanie Johnston. Beginning with the much publicized announcement of Nicholas’s birth, this little square-rigged barque was known far and wide as a charmed ship—the only coffin ship, in fact, to keep all of her passengers alive. And with each of her eleven successful trips to North America, the reputation of this vessel continued to grow. Soon it was said around the world that to sail aboard the Jeanie Johnston was to survive despite crushing odds.

Aboard the Jeanie Johnston, these odds would spur people like the Reillys and their crew to travel thousands of miles from home in search of a new beginning. These odds would demand that they risk their lives at every turn. More than once it would force them to flout naval law and invite arrest—or worse. And yet the sterling record of the barque and her occupants would stand, their mythology building with each subsequent year, eventually making them luminary figures in one of the most calamitous moments in history.

The epic story of survival on the Jeanie, and how Nicholas Richard James Thomas William John Gabriel Carls Michael John Alexander Trabaret Archibald Cornelius Hugh Arthur Edward Johnston Reilly came to be born on it, was a story so fantastic that not even the world-renowned Sullivan Troupe Irish Review dared tackle it. It would take over a century of study and discussion prompted by marine architects, naval historians, and the leaders of nations to tease out the story of Nicholas and his namesake vessel. In the intervening years, many refugees who sailed aboard would call the Jeanie miraculous and her builder, owner, and crew saviors. Historians would puzzle over why this ship—and this ship alone—managed to keep all of her passengers alive. Medical and nautical officials would study and eventually revolutionize sailing procedures as a result of her accomplishment. Critics would accuse the men most closely associated with the ship of capitalizing on misery, of exploiting those desperate to travel by charging astronomical passage fees, of being no better than human traffickers. They would speculate about the demons and guilt driving the vessel’s historic course. And yet, for all that, they would all agree on one crucial truth: the story of the Jeanie Johnston is indisputably the stuff of legend.

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Table of Contents

Cast of Characters xi

Prologue xiii

1 The Gathering Storm 1

2 A Great Hunger 8

3 Ships, Colonies, and Commerce 16

4 Dominion 22

5 Phoenix Rising 26

6 Ship's Fever 30

7 Discord on Downing Street 37

8 Visitations from a Vengeful God 44

9 A Course for Disaster 51

10 Pestilence and Plague 62

11 An Audacious Plan 66

12 Signing On 71

13 The People's Physician 77

14 Fare Thee Well 84

Silver Creek, Michigan, February 25, 1879 92

15 At Sea 96

16 Dead Reckoning 104

17 Quarantine 110

18 Passing Customs 114

Fergus Falls, Minnesota, May 1885 119

19 Adrift 122

20 Clearances 130

21 Crossing the Bar 138

22 No Irish Need Apply 144

23 Royal Visit 149

24 Steaming Ahead 155

25 Liberty? 158

Fergus Falls, Minnesota, August 26, 1885 162

26 The Rising Tide 166

27 Departures 177

28 Storm Season 182

Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 1886 187

29 That Deadly Angel 192

April 1900 202

30 Down with the Ship 204

31 The Final Test 208

Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 8, 1904 211

Epilogue 212

Notes 215

Acknowledgments 225

Index 227

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