Voyage of Mercy: The USS Jamestown, the Irish Famine, and the Remarkable Story of America's First Humanitarian Mission

Voyage of Mercy: The USS Jamestown, the Irish Famine, and the Remarkable Story of America's First Humanitarian Mission

by Stephen Puleo


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“Puleo has found a new way to tell the story with this well-researched and splendidly written chronicle of the Jamestown, its captain, and an Irish priest who ministered to the starving in Cork city…Puleo’s tale, despite the hardship to come, surely is a tribute to the better angels of America’s nature, and in that sense, it couldn’t be more timely.” The Wall Street Journal

The remarkable story of the mission that inspired a nation to donate massive relief to Ireland during the potato famine and began America's tradition of providing humanitarian aid around the world

More than 5,000 ships left Ireland during the great potato famine in the late 1840s, transporting the starving and the destitute away from their stricken homeland. The first vessel to sail in the other direction, to help the millions unable to escape, was the USS Jamestown, a converted warship, which left Boston in March 1847 loaded with precious food for Ireland.

In an unprecedented move by Congress, the warship had been placed in civilian hands, stripped of its guns, and committed to the peaceful delivery of food, clothing, and supplies in a mission that would launch America’s first full-blown humanitarian relief effort.

Captain Robert Bennet Forbes and the crew of the USS Jamestown embarked on a voyage that began a massive eighteen-month demonstration of soaring goodwill against the backdrop of unfathomable despair—one nation’s struggle to survive, and another’s effort to provide a lifeline. The Jamestown mission captured hearts and minds on both sides of the Atlantic, of the wealthy and the hardscrabble poor, of poets and politicians. Forbes’ undertaking inspired a nationwide outpouring of relief that was unprecedented in size and scope, the first instance of an entire nation extending a hand to a foreign neighbor for purely humanitarian reasons. It showed the world that national generosity and brotherhood were not signs of weakness, but displays of quiet strength and moral certitude.

In Voyage of Mercy, Stephen Puleo tells the incredible story of the famine, the Jamestown voyage, and the commitment of thousands of ordinary Americans to offer relief to Ireland, a groundswell that provided the collaborative blueprint for future relief efforts, and established the United States as the leader in international aid. The USS Jamestown’s heroic voyage showed how the ramifications of a single decision can be measured not in days, but in decades.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250200471
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/03/2020
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 17,309
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

STEPHEN PULEO is a historian, teacher, public speaker, and the author of several books, including Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919, American Treasures: The Secret Efforts to Save the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address, and The Caning: The Assault That Drove America to Civil War. A former award-winning newspaper reporter and contributor to American History magazine, the Boston Globe, and other publications, he holds a master's degree in history and has taught at the University of Massachusetts-Boston and Suffolk University. He and his wife, Kate, reside in the Boston area.

Customer Reviews

Voyage of Mercy: The USS Jamestown, the Irish Famine, and the Remarkable Story of America's First Humanitarian Mission 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Tangen 26 days ago
historical-setting, historical-research, historical-places-events, humanity, Ireland, family "Perhaps the most disgraceful aspect of the Famine was that in each of its six years there was probably enough food EXPORTED out of Ireland to sustain the nation, certainly enough to have saved the million who died (of starvation)." Edward Laxton With meticulous research, documentation, and presentation the author presents the conditions of that harsh winter of 1847-48 with no food, no heat, no roof, scant clothing or shoes, and precious little hope. In England, the politicians favored the merchants over humanity and conscience, and the papers did not see fit to inform the populace. In the US, first immigrant families and Irish Catholic congregations sent what they could followed by indignation and fundraising by the noted personalities of the day (such as Daniel Webster, President Polk, Herman Melville) who were instrumental in tackling this humanitarian crisis. Money was raised from New Orleans to Boston and from Chicago to Charleston. But least remembered was the personal donations of foodstuffs from farmers from the Mississippi to New England and the ship's Captain Forbes who sailed the Jamestown across the Atlantic in hazardous seas as quickly as he could. There is incredible detailing of the life histories of the major players and a whole lot more, but the undercurrent is the need by individuals in the US to do whatever they can whenever they feel that they can make a difference, regardless of nationality. I requested and received a free ebook copy from St Martin's Press via NetGalley. Thank you!
brf1948 26 days ago
I received a free electronic ARC copy of this history from Netgalley, Stephen Puleo, and St. Martin's Press - History. Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me. I have read this work of my own volition, and this review reflects my honest opinion of Voyage to Mercy. Stephen Puleo is an author on my must-read shelves - he brings history alive. Voyage of Mercy is the full story of the United States' first humanitarian mission - essentially the first humanitarian mission carried out by any country. And it is a history of the lives of two outstanding men - a Boston sea captain and lifelong sailor, Robert Bennet Forbes, and Catholic priest Theobald Mathew of Cork City, Ireland. These two men saved the lives of innumerable Irish men, women, and children, and opened the way for many others to carry on their work. In 1847 glib-tongued Bennet Forbes talked the American military into loaning him a 157 foot, three-decker warship, the Jamestown (we were at war with Mexico at Veracruz at the time, so this was a minor miracle) and removed 20 of the 22 guns on the mid-deck to make room for donated foodstuff and clothing for the starving masses in Ireland. And he collected, from towns and individuals and farmers up and down the eastern seaboard and the Mississippi River farms, 8,000 barrels of foodstuff and crates of warm clothing. Forbes captained the crew, and the rest of the crewmen were volunteers. They set sail for Cove, in county Cork on March 27, 1847. Despite some problems - green crew, leaks, bad weather - they made the Irish shore in just fifteen days and three hours. They were met by Father Mathew and a grateful, starving people. British help was too little, too late. Overlooking the fact that Ireland grew plenty in the way of grains and proteins to help themselves, their land had all been given over to British peers and was only rented to the farmers who husbanded it. All of those crops went immediately on harvest to England, to be sold on the world market. The potato crop was what the Irish ate, sold, traded for necessities and paid their rent on the land they farmed to their British landlords. With the partial failure of crops in 1846 and the complete failure of the potato crop in 1847, there were mass evictions, putting people out of their homes without warning. Over the winter of 1846-1847, the Irish population was dying in droves - of starvation, cholera, typhus, the 'fevers', and exposure. There were weeks just in Cove Town that Father Mathew buried as many as 300 souls. He fed, out of his home and his own pocket, as many as he could. And sadly, the western parts of Ireland and Scotland were in even worse shape than those coastal areas. And the US just kept giving. Soon there were shiploads of foods being received in many of the port cities of Ireland, to be dispersed inland, and there was mass migration, mostly to Canada and the US. Boston saw 37,000 Irish immigrants arrive in'47, many ill, diseased and virtually all impoverished. Boston at that time had a population of only 115,000 and was quickly overwhelmed. New York, as well as other Atlantic coastal areas, did what they could. The last 20% of this story is a showcase of the growth of humanitarian assistance - what works, what doesn't, and how to begin the wheels turning in the face of catastrophe. And that spirit of giving, of helping the downtrodden, still lives today. We need more Father Mathews to distribute the giving where it is needed
KristaS 26 days ago
Voyage of Mercy is a non fiction accounting of the humanitarian aid the US sent to Ireland during the famine in 1846. Mr. Puleo has poured through historical documents to bring us this bittersweet story. He introduces us to the key players, with plenty of background of who they were, why they took the actions they did, and we get a view of their lives. He has the facts and figures which he presents in a way that is interesting and furthers the story. Many English were surprised by the show Victoria when it revealed the story of the Irish famine, they had no idea that their country had treated Ireland so poorly or that so many died. All ages from young to old by the thousands, while England continued to demand exports. Many Americans can be proud of how our ancestors responded. The USS Jamestown was a retrofitted battleship on the first international humanitarian mission. People from across the US gave food, money, clothing and other supplies to be taken to Ireland in the hopes that it would relieve suffering. Up to this point, such action was seen as weak, but these people didn't care, they knew they lived in a bountiful land, and wanted to save lives. Thanks to #NetGalley for allowing me to review #VoyageofMercy and give my honest opinion, it was a very good book!!