Want To Take A Sea Cruise?

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It appears that prison overcrowding is not exclusive to modern times after finishing the book “Bound With An Iron Chain”.  I was amazed at the dismal results of  death by hanging that was supposed to control crime in England in the 1700’s. Anthony Vader wrote a fascinating accounting of the 50,000 convicts that were shipped to the American colonies, between 1718 and 1775.  Complex social issues contributed to England deciding to use young America as a dumping ground for it’s most unsavory, but the foremost was cost. Just like today it was too expensive to house and feed the convict population. How else could the royals afford all those jewels?

Shipping them to our virgin shores was also very profitable for those in the convict business. Eventually it over took indentured servants as a cheap source of labor to help with building the infrastructure of colonial America. There was no way to police the convicts once they got here and many escaped only to return to crime in London.

The reasons for ending up on a ship bound for America could be as minor as stealing a hankie, a loaf of bread or poaching a chicken to feed a starving family, along with more serious minded criminals. After a time the bleak poverty and unemployment (prior to the industrial revolution) in merry old England made the risk worth it.

If they were unfortunate enough to survive the voyage (and many didn’t) they faced harrowing conditions after arriving in America. It wasn’t until we finally banned the importing of British convicts before our Revolutionary war, that England was forced to set up penal colonies in Australia. This is not history that was common knowledge which made it all the more interesting to me. If you like history you’ll like this well researched book. I wonder how many of our early ancestors came from British prison stock?
I also really enjoyed learning what inspired E.B. White to write the incomparable “Charlotte’s Web”. Michael Sims did an amazing job of detailing the idyllic, pastoral background that shaped Elwyn’s childhood and his deep love for animals and nature. He was raised in a close knit, middle class family and suffered from a young age with depression and anxiety that haunted him throughout his lifetime. Elwyn White had an impressive writing career at The New Yorker magazine, where he also met his wife who was an editor there.  They eventually settled into farm life in Maine that inspired the setting for all the wonderful characters created in “Charlotte’s Web” and had a devoted 48 year marriage.

His wonderful “Stuart Little” stories also became  classics but were released before he wrote the magical story of an unlikely friendship between a pig and a spider that held me and countless children spellbound. I enjoyed every page of this wonderful book by Michael Sims. Now, to find out how a woman ends up accused of murder from a lifeboat as I finish up “Lifeboat”. It will go well with our cold snap and my flannel sheets.

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5 responses »

  1. Two books to add to my reading “bucket list.” Excellent post. Isn’t it interesting that those who suffer from depression can create havens for the rest of us. I think they are able to understand human emotions at a much deeper level.

    • There is a book on that very subject about famous authors who all suffered from mental disorders called Touched With Fire. I don’t think it’s an accident that a lot of mental illness accompanies high IQ.

      • Excellent point. Our greatest poets, artists, writers went through difficult times…I give thanks for their gifts to the world. But it came at a cost.

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