Inside Info

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Mass Maritime Academy (MMA) developed hands-on program on Molasses Flood for high school students

Massachusetts Maritime Academy (MMA) developed an innovative and exciting hands-on program related to the Great Boston Molasses and used my book, Dark Tide, for high school students participating in the program. (Keep reading below to see an article about my preparation for the program and an exciting discovery.)

MMA cadets aboard the USS Nantucket, which was docked in Boston Harbor in 1919, were first on the rescue scene when the molasses tank collapsed.

I was honored to visit MMA this summer and meet with 46 high school students who participated in the pilot program — and what a great time! Students from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Maryland, California, Florida, Germany, and Puerto Rico filled me in on how they examined the flood through the lens of various MMA programs of study: Emergency Management; Marine Safety, Science, and Environmental Protection; Marine Engineering; Marine Transportation; Facilities Engineering; and International Maritime Business.

The students were highly engaged and asked great questions. Photos here show some of the work they performed, as well as the group picture with me and the “graduation ceremonies” following successful completion of the program. I can’t say enough about MMA’s efforts to make this a success.

You can read an excellent newspaper story on the program here and continue reading below for a link to my related blog.

AirOps Photo Collage

MMA examined the disaster through the lens of six of the seven Academy majors, including: the Marine Safety, Science, and Environmental Protection Department; the Emergency Management Department; the Marine Engineering Department and Facilities Engineering Department; the Marine Transportation Department; and the International Maritime Business Department.

High-achieving high school students participating in MMA’s Sea, Science, and Leadership Program (SSLP) July 31-August 3 were the first to experience this amazing program.

I’m shown here with MMA President Rear Admiral Francis X. McDonald (United States Maritime Service); at the MMA sign with Nancy Franks, program coordinator extraordinaire; “piloting” a molasses steamer through choppy waters in the MMA Ship’s Bridge Simulator; and working with white gloves to examine the scrapbook that contains original reports from 1919 compiled by the commanding officer of the Nantucket. There’s also a view of the school’s Emergency Operations Training Center, where students will learn to develop tactical and strategic decision-making skills utilizing simulated emergency scenarios.

Incidentally, the scrapbook is a rich primary source that I didn’t know existed until my visit! It goes to show that even when you’ve done exhaustive research on a topic, there is always more to be found. I think you’ll enjoy my blog entry that talks a little more about the scrapbook “find,” the constant revelations that history unveils, and the rescue efforts by the cadets on the day of the disaster.

Thanks again to Mass. Maritime Academy – a great institution of higher learning with a long tradition of service and excellence since its founding in 1891! MMA’s decision to focus on the molasses flood and to use Dark Tide as a resource allows me to continue my focus on bringing history and good writing to students across the board.


I hope to see you at one of my events soon!

My fall 2022 schedule is filling up fast with some great events on tap! You can find out more information about these by visiting my Events page.

If you’d like to schedule an event, simply email me at

Among them:

  • I’m thrilled that the “Bridgewater (MA) Area One Book One Community” program has selected Voyage of Mercy as its choice! I’ll be at the East Bridgewater Public Library on October 22.
  • I’m honored that The Roxbury Latin School has invited me to deliver the keynote address for its Founder’s Day celebration on November 3. The topic will be immigration and Boston’s North End.
  • I’m looking forward to my appearance at the Whitman Public Library on November 5 to discuss Voyage of Mercy
  • “Voyage” will also be the topic on November 13 when I visit the Shrewsbury (MA) Public Library
  • I’ll be making a return trip to The Woodstock Academy in Woodstock, CT on November 17 to discuss Voyage of Mercy with students, faculty, and community members.

The best way to get details and keep up with my appearances is to visit the Events page on this website.

Wakefield, Bridgewater, Roxbury Latin School, Shrewsbury Public Library, Woodstock, and Whitman


Dining Room Signings

We’re approaching that time of year – let me know if you need a “dining room” signing

If you’re unable to attend one of my presentations (check here for upcoming dates), a “Puleo dining room signing” might be for you.

With Christmas and the holidays approaching, let me know if you’d like an inscribed or autographed book for a friend or loved one (or as a gift to yourself!). Email me at to find out how to get your copy.

I’ve done this many times for readers and it has worked out well. I just need a little lead time to fulfill your request. Thanks, as always, for your support.

New Book Announcement

I’m thrilled to announce that there will be a “Puleo Book 8!” I reached an agreement with St. Martin’s Press to publish my next book (it’s still a little too early to disclose the topic.). This will be my third consecutive book with St. Martin’s (American Treasures and Voyage of Mercy were the first two), and I’m excited to work with this great team. I’m hard at work doing research now and I’ll have more information soon.



A great visit with Canadian readers!

Meet Sean Polreis and Andrea Book, residents of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, who invited me to lunch at L’Osteria Italian restaurant (one of my faves!) in the North End during their recent trip to Boston.

Sean and Andrea love the city of Boston and are also loyal Puleo readers, for which I’m very grateful (their interest in the city first led them to my book, A City So Grand). So, I was honored when they reached out and asked if we could get together! Boston is basically their second home; they enjoy the city’s theater, food, culture, history, and “walkability.” And they are HUGE Boston sports fans.

Those of you who have followed me here and elsewhere know how much I enjoy connecting with readers. My thanks to Sean and Andrea for giving me another opportunity to do so!


Excerpts from Voyage of Mercy


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Enjoy these excerpts from Voyage of Mercy I’ve included two excerpts from Voyage of Mercy here that I think you’ll enjoy. The first, a longer excerpt, was published in “The History Reader,” the St. Martins Press website devoted to history topics. It focuses on Father Theobald Mathew, who worked hard in Ireland on behalf of victims. The second short excerpt describes the beginning of the USS Jamestown voyage to Ireland under the command of Captain Robert Bennet Forbes.

Voyage of Mercy: “The Distress is Universal”

Posted on March 17, 2020, by Stephen Puleo

Ireland, 1846. Father Theobald Mathew implores assistant secretary at the British Treasury, Charles Trevelyan, to provide aid to Ireland as the potato blight ruins crops across the country. Read on for an excerpt from Voyage of Mercy. December 16, 1846, city of Cork, County Cork

When night finally came, a bone-weary Father Theobald Mathew dipped the nib of his pen into the ink and scratched the full measure of his despondency onto the page.

He aimed for precision with his writing, but he also needed to modulate his description of a truly appalling situation. Bold, direct words were necessary, but overly inflammatory language would raise skeptical eyebrows in London, damage his credibility, and, most importantly, put thousands of additional lives at risk. This was his fifth letter since August to Charles Trevelyan, assistant secretary at the British Treasury responsible for famine relief efforts, each more desperate than the last. Now, just days before Christmas, Mathew wrote with renewed urgency, hoping that his reputation for directness and honesty, and as a champion for the poor, would convince Trevelyan of his veracity.

“I am grieved to be obliged to tell you that the distress is universal,” he lamented at the outset of his letter. “Men, women, and children are gradually wasting away.” It was not the first time Father Mathew had underlined passages to emphasize the urgency of his message, and it would not be the last. Reviewing his opening words, he debated whether he had succumbed to the very temptation he sought to avoid—the use of sensational rhetoric. In the end he decided to let the letter stand: he knew of no more accurate way to describe the heartbreak he witnessed each day. These imperiled citizens were not anonymous “famine victims” but people he knew and loved—neighbors, parishioners, followers, friends.

He would speak for them.

In some ways, these were the most frustrating and dispiriting hours for the fifty-six-year-old priest, sitting quietly at his desk, fighting exhaustion, his eyes straining by his lantern’s pallid light in the otherwise dark parlor, his desktop covered with ink-stained pages and the floor beneath him strewn with correspondence. Daytime hours were a blur, physically draining and mentally dispiriting—Mathew had just returned from several weeks’ work in different parts of Ireland, assessing the potato blight, organizing relief efforts, comforting the sick, ladling soup to the hungry, kneeling at their deathbeds and praying for their souls, presiding over their burials. Upon his return to Cork he discovered that his city and county were among the hardest hit by the famine; again his daytime hours were consumed with tending to those burning with fever or filling their stomachs with “cabbage leaves and turnip tops . . . to appease the cravings of hunger.” The night offered time to reflect, to be sure, but these were unwelcome and damnable hours, for it was while he sat alone in the darkness that the full tragedy of the widespread hunger, coupled with the futile sorrow that he could do little or nothing to stop it, pressed upon him like a great stone.

* * * * *

The destruction of the potato crop had occurred—or, rather, revealed itself—almost overnight. Mathew himself was one of the first to observe and report on the disaster. In late July, he was traveling from Cork to Dublin and saw fields of potato plants blooming “in all the luxuriance of an abundant harvest,” a sight that heartened him after widespread potato-crop failure a year earlier had resulted in severe food shortages, but not full-scale famine. But six days later, August 3, during his return trip to Cork, Mathew’s spirit was shattered when he “beheld, with sorrow, one wide waste of putrefying vegetation.” The blight, caused by a fungus that thrived and multiplied in Ireland’s damp climate, had reproduced with lightning speed. In many places along the road, “the wretched people were seated on the fences of their decaying gardens, wringing their hands and wailing bitterly against the destruction that had left them foodless.”

Four days later Mathew expressed the worst in a letter to Trevelyan: “The food of a whole nation has perished.” The Times of London concurred: “From the Giants Causeway to Cape Clear, from Limerick to Dublin, not a green field is to be seen.” Indeed, on September 2, the Times declared that “total annihilation” had befallen the Irish potato crop. At this point, more than one-third of the entire Irish population depended exclusively on the potato for food and as a cash crop, but among poor tenant farmers, the proportion was even higher; a strong potato crop was their only hope for sustenance, for nourishment, for life itself.

Even pre-famine, survival had been precarious in Ireland, as tenant farmers and peasants scratched out a living raising and selling potatoes, or perhaps traded a pig or a cow for other goods. Food shortages were a near-constant peril, and temporary migration was a lifeline for many Irish families engaged in agricultural work, particularly those from western counties; seasonal trips to the grain-growing areas of the eastern counties, and to England, were commonplace. In the first half of the nineteenth century, seasonal migrants, often accompanied by their livestock, walked along Ireland’s dusty roadways in search of work and food.

Now such searches proved more and more futile.

Since Mathew’s August letter, the downward spiral had progressed with alarming speed. Now, he wrote to Trevelyan, more than 5,000 “half-starved wretched beings from the country” were begging on the streets of Cork city; “when utterly exhausted, they crawl to the work- houses to die.” He estimated that more than a hundred people a week were dying in his parish. And because of the frightful calamity that had swept the countryside, where food was all but nonexistent, thousands of peasants straggled into the city in search of something to eat, further straining scarce resources. Ten to twelve people a day died from starvation in the village of Crookhaven, where the community organized a collection to purchase a public bier upon which to place the bodies of those whose families could not afford coffins. Mathew was filled with dread, not only for the current state of affairs, but for the unknown depth of the abyss that lurked ahead.

“This country is in an awful position,” he stressed to Trevelyan, “and no one can tell what the result will be.”

The USS Jamestown en route to Ireland – March 1847

Sheets of cold rain lashed the decks of the USS Jamestown and gale-force winds battered the three-masted American sloop of war through the swells of the North Atlantic. Captain Robert Bennet Forbes barked orders as his energetic but inexperienced crew scrambled to haul up the mainsail, a daunting task on this moonless night of raging seas, on April 2, 1847. Weak light leaked from deck lanterns, but beyond the ship’s raised prow and forward riggings, the darkness was total — “black as Erebus,” as Forbes described it in the captain’s log, referring to the mythological netherworld that serves as the passageway to Hades.

For the sixth straight day since leaving the Charlestown Navy Yard, the ship and its crew were pounded by miserable weather as they fought their way toward Ireland. Snow, sleet, hail, and cold rendered all ropes “stiff as crowbars . . . and the men also,” and wind and waves left the Jamestown, despite her solid oak frame, “bounding like an antelope” and unable to carry as much sail as Forbes wished. Dense wet fog rendered visibility to near zero. Snow slickened the ship’s decks, crew members lurched with seasickness, ice floes hampered passage, and worst of all, the Jamestown leaked badly, at times taking on as much as ten inches of water an hour. Most of the water poured through the rudder case in the wardroom when the sea rose aft or the ship settled. Crew members were forced to pump often and, finally, bore holes in the wardroom deck to allow water to run off into the hold.

As midnight approached, the wind howled and every rope froze “as hard and stiff as January,” but Forbes, a Bostonian who in his forty-two years had savored much joy and endured deep sorrow, remained unflappable in the captain’s chair, determined to reach his destination ahead of schedule, and resolute in the righteousness of his mission.