Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Adults - Nonfiction
History knows her as the Palatine, initially a sailing ship, then a wreck, and later a fiery ghost. Her name and those of most passengers have been lost until now. For the first time, we finally learn a bit about fifteen emigrants who set sail in April 1738 aboard the Princess Augusta. The total number who left Rotterdam in the Netherlands is uncertain, this cargo ship carried around 300 men, women, and children. At least 240 of these died during the crossing of the Atlantic. Of her crew of sixteen, half succumbed, including one of the principal owners, Captain George Long, who, at twenty, was making his first Palatine run.
The Princess Augusta was bound for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the journey to their new homes should have taken three months for the German. Instead, those who survived reached the mouth of the Delaware River in December, only to discover the waterway was frozen shut. Unable to wait any longer to reach land, the ship headed north to Rhode Island, where she grounded and sank off Block Island. A year later, the first sighting of a full-rigged ship on fire occurred, but when rescuers reached the site, nothing was there except water – no survivors, no dead bodies, no wreckage. From time to time in the intervening years the ghost ship has reappeared.
The majority of emigrants came from the Palantinate, a region in Germany that bordered both sides of the Rhine River. One town in this area was Schwaigern, where the residents’ lives were controlled by the market, the palace, and the church. Inheritance laws, financial burdens, and the possibility of another war convinced many in the region to immigrate to the New World and many went to William Penn’s colony because he offered cheap acreage without heavy taxation or government interference. One man who decided to leave Schwaigern was Sebastian Dieter, who took with him his wife and three children. The first section of the book, “The Old World,” recounts what it took to leave their homeland and the trials they endured during the journey to the Netherlands and the wait to board a ship bound for America.
“The Voyage” recounts the crossing of the Atlantic. Farinelli skillfully weaves a horrific tale where greed, overcrowding, illness, poor provisions, delays, and storms impacted everyone aboard. Where details specifically about the Princess Augusta are available, she includes them. She fills in missing information with details of what other Palatine ships experienced. At the same time, she shares the questions that remain unanswered about this particular cruise – many of which are mysteries that will never be solved.
The third portion of the book, “The New Land,” focuses on what emigrants experienced once the ship arrived on the east coast of America, as well as what happened to the survivors of the Princess Augusta after she sank. “The Legend,” the fourth part, discusses some of the best-known sightings, John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem “The Palatine,” the stories of two female survivors who opted to remain on Block Island, and how the publicity of the ghost ship forever changed the island and the islanders’ way of life. The endnotes contain fascinating historical tidbits beyond identifying the source. The bibliography includes famous poems and stories inspired by the Palatine Legend, as well as primary and secondary source materials. There is also an index.
The Palatine Wreck is an invaluable addition to any collection dealing with maritime history and the immigrant experience. Part of the Seafaring America series, it delves deeper into the true story of the fateful journey, while clearly separating fact from fiction. For example, one persistent legend is that wreckers lured the Princess Augusta to her death and murdered the passengers, yet Farinelli’s research clearly shows this is not what happened. Her spellbinding account reads like a novel, but is totally non-fiction. The manner in which she recounts what occurred concisely demonstrates that the horror of the shipwreck was merely the final episode in a series of tragic events – some manmade, some no one could control. She immerses readers in the time period, ship life, and the emigrant experience, making this engrossing presentation difficult to put down.
Review Copyrighted ©2017 Cindy Vallar
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