Coming in March 2020: Voyage of Mercy

I’ve been pleased with the enthusiastic response to my announcement in 2019 of my upcoming book, Voyage of Mercy: The USS Jamestown, the Irish Famine, and the Remarkable Story of America’s First Humanitarian Mission, to be published in March by St. Martin’s Press.

Voyage of Mercy, my seventh book, recounts for the first time the remarkable and unprecedented relief effort by the government and citizens of the United States to assist Ireland during the terrible famine year of 1847. It’s remarkable because the mission undertaken by Captain Robert Bennet Forbes and the crew of the USS Jamestown to deliver tons of donated food to Ireland was just the first step in a monumental effort that involved contributions from citizens of virtually every community in the United States, and the official imprimatur of the U.S. government.

It’s unprecedented because it’s the first time the United States — or any nation for that matter — extended its hand to a foreign neighbor in such a broad and all-encompassing way for purely humanitarian reasons. Prior to 1847, the bulk of interaction between nations consisted mainly of warfare and other hostilities, mixed with occasional trade; the entire concept of international charity existed neither in the moral consciousness nor as part of the political strategy of monarchs, elected leaders, or diplomatic professionals. If anything, such a philanthropic gesture toward a foreign nation would likely have been viewed as a sign of national weakness. The Jamestown mission and the American people change that view.

As I say in my author’s note, Voyage of Mercy is a story about hope, generosity, and soaring goodwill against a backdrop of wretched and nearly unfathomable despair — one nation’s struggle to survive, and another’s effort to provide a lifeline. You’ll learn much about the Irish famine in the book, including its profound influence on Ireland and in Irish-British relations, as well as how the American relief effort in 1847 cemented the strong alliance between Ireland and the U.S. to this day.

That Americans from across the U.S. contributed to Irish relief was extraordinary enough, but it was the nature of most of their donations that was most impressive. While many people sent small amounts of money, the vast majority planted, cultivated, and harvested the crops and then shipped food that normally would have been reserved for their families.

The Jamestown voyage and the subsequent outpouring of charitable relief captured hearts and minds on both sides of the Atlantic. The events of 1847 inspired, and served as a blueprint for, hundreds of American charitable relief efforts since; philanthropic endeavors that have established the United States as the leader in international aid, and enabled it to assist millions of people around the world victimized by famine, war, and catastrophic natural disasters.

More than 5,000 ships left Ireland during the great potato famine in the late 1840s, transporting the starving and 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, whose voyage inspired thousands of Americans to offer additional relief to Ireland.