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Ship of Death - Smith, Billy G - Yale University Press

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Ship of Death

A Voyage That Changed the Atlantic World

  • Billy G. Smith
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Winner of the 2014 Norris and Carol Hundley Award given by the Pacific Coast Branch American Historical Association.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Hankey, a small British ship that circled the Atlantic in 1792 and 1793, transformed the history of the Atlantic world. This extraordinary book uncovers the long-forgotten story of the Hankey, from its altruistic beginnings to its disastrous end, and describes the ship’s fateful impact upon people from West Africa to Philadelphia, Haiti to London.   Billy G. Smith chased the story of the Hankey from archive to archive across several continents, and he now brings back to light a saga that continues to haunt the modern world. It began with a group of high-minded British colonists who planned to establish a colony free of slavery in West Africa. With the colony failing, the ship set sail for the Caribbean and then North America, carrying, as it turned out, mosquitoes infected with yellow fever. The resulting pandemic as the Hankey traveled from one port to the next was catastrophic. In the United States, tens of thousands died in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Charleston. The few survivors on the Hankey eventually limped back to London, hopes dashed and numbers decimated. Smith links the 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—and spins a riveting tale of unintended consequences and the legacy of slavery that will not die.

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 lives in Bozeman, MT.

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