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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Book Review: The Ghost Ship of Brooklyn

The Ghost Ship of Brooklyn: An Untold Story of the American Revolution.  By Robert P. Watson.  (Da Capo Press., August 31, 2017.  Pp. 256).   

The history of the American Revolution is a field that has been thoroughly plowed, on multiple occasions, by historians of every generation.  To find a unique parcel of this fascinating era of history that hasn’t already been cultivated is a chore to say the least.  Robert Watson’s The Ghost Ship of Brooklyn is one of those rare instances when a historian stumbles upon this rare piece of uncharted land. 

Watson’s book is focused almost exclusively on a British prisoner of war ship called the HMS Jersey.  On this boat, thousands of American prisoners of war (or those accused of disloyalty to the British crown) were confined in the dark, wet and disease-ridden hull of the Jersey. Food was scarce while sanitation was almost completely absent.  Watson points out how such conditions led to a death toll that rivaled that of combat fatalities during the war.

Due to these intolerable conditions, the Jersey developed a reputation throughout the American colonies (more specifically throughout New York).  In fact, the ship became a symbol of British tyranny and oppression, which galvanized the American rebels to support the cause of independence. 

The depth of Watson’s research is clearly evident in the book.  He regularly references the first-hand accounts of American colonists who had experienced confinement on the Jersey.  In addition, Watson relies on the records of the British themselves, who kept a detailed account of all prisoners incarcerated.  Watson’s attention to these sources adds credence to his claim that British prisoner ships did just as much (if not more) to bolster the cause of American independence as events like the Boston Massacre. 

The book’s prose has a pleasant flow that is easy for the reader to follow though the depth of Watson’s research may prove daunting for some (the book does, at times, repeat itself).  Watson presents the history in an entertaining manner, which makes the book feel more like an engaging story than a textbook.  Watson’s ability to frame the history in a compelling narrative will increase the appeal of this work to not only history enthusiasts but to a broader readership.

Overall, I found The Ghost Ship of Brooklyn to be an enjoyable and enlightening read.  Its unique contribution to the history of the American Revolution should not go overlooked.  My overall grade: B+

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