William Wilberforce Makes His First Speech Against the Slave Trade, 1789

2024-05-13T19:22:17-05:00May 13, 2024|HH 2024|

William Wilberforce Makes His First Speech Against the Slave Trade, May 12, 1789

On this day in 1789, William Wilberforce rose to his feet in the House of Commons and began what would become his lifelong crusade to abolish the slave trade. An ambitious and gifted young orator, he had spent his first few years in Parliament arguing for peace with the revolting American colonies. After the ascension of his close friend, William Pitt, to the post of Prime Minister, both young men became the nexus of policy for Great Britain in the coming years. Elevated to such a position, Wilberforce’s philanthropist reputation and recent conversion to Christianity made him a prime choice for recruitment by the abolitionist movement.

William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806)

William Wilberforce (1759-1833)

While initially reluctant to remain in politics at all after his conversion, Wilberforce welcomed a surplus of evidence to be regularly presented at his home and office by various members of the movement, mostly churchmen who held a moral objection against the trade. Through their exhaustive and meticulous research, by the summer of 1789 Wilberforce had both facts and resolves fit for Parliament to vote upon.

The House of Commons as it appeared in the days of William Wilberforce

His speech was met by a great clamor of mockery and dissent—logged into the very minutes of its record—and would be shot down easily in the ensuing vote. Undeterred, William Wilberforce would then commit the next forty years of his life to seeing the great evil abolished, weathering personal woes and revolutionary upheaval, presenting his bill yearly with unchecked urgency.

Wilberforce Home and Museum, birthplace of William Wilberforce—Hull, Yorkshire, England

n remembering this, his first speech, it is remarkable to note the very politic reasoning he presented in length to win over his profiteering fellows, and also, his admittance that such was not his own driving motivation. He was compelled by a grieved conscience that such atrocities were being committed in the name of commerce and perpetrated by a Christian country, one that incited those they deemed their lessers to tear themselves apart for earthly gain.

Forty years is a long time. In the end God granted the victory and allowed its staunchest champion to live to see it. As cognizant of his opposition as the young and bold Wilberforce appeared in this first speech, one doubts he knew the full magnitude of labor that would be extracted from him. Today, we remember the day of small beginnings, as the book of Zechariah calls them, and how faithfulness waters and tends the Divine mission without expectancy of seeing victory in one’s lifetime. Such is the characteristic of holy patience.

Barbara Wilberforce (1759-1806), wife of William, about the time of their marriage

William Wilberforce Memorial in his birthplace of Kingston Upon Hull

Below are extracts of the lengthy first speech, taken down by newspaper men as there were no official, full-length Parliamentary records in those times:

When I consider the magnitude of the subject which I am to bring before the House, a subject in which the interests, not of this country nor of Europe alone, but of the whole world and of posterity are involved, and when I think at the same time on the weakness of the advocate who has undertaken this great cause; when these reflections press upon my mind, it is impossible for me not to feel both terrified and concerned at my own inadequacy to such a task.

But when I reflect, however, on the encouragement which I have had, through the whole course of a long and laborious examination of this question, and how much candor I have experienced, and how conviction has increased within my own mind, in proportion as I have advanced in my labors; when I reflect, especially, that however averse any gentleman may now be, yet we shall all be of one opinion in the end; when I turn myself to these thoughts, I take courage. I determine to forget all my other fears, and I march forward with a firmer step in the full assurance that my cause will bear me out, and that I shall be able to justify upon the clearest principles, every resolution in my hand, the avowed end of which is, the total abolition of the slave trade…

For my own part, so clearly am I convinced of the mischiefs inseparable from it, that I should hardly want any further evidence than my own mind would furnish, by the most simple deductions.

Facts, however, are now laid before the House.

A report has been made by His Majesty’s Privy Council, which, I trust, every gentleman has read, and which ascertains the slave trade to be just such in practice as we know, from theory, it must be. What should we suppose must naturally be the consequence of our carrying on a slave trade with Africa? With a country vast in its extent, not utterly barbarous, but civilized in a very small degree? Does any one suppose a slave trade would help their civilization? Is it not plain that she must suffer from it? That civilization must be checked; that her barbarous manners must be made more barbarous; and that the happiness of her millions of inhabitants must be prejudiced with her intercourse with Britain? Does not every one see that a slave trade, carried on around her coasts must carry violence and desolation to her very center?

That in a continent just emerging from barbarism, if a trade in men is established, if her men are all converted into goods, and become commodities that can be bartered, it follows they must be subject to ravage just as goods are; and this, too, at a period of civilization when there is no protecting legislature to defend this their only sort of property, in the same manner as the rights of property are maintained by the legislature of every civilized country.

…Having now disposed of the first part of this subject, I must speak of the transit of the slaves in the West Indies. This I confess, in my own opinion, is the most wretched part of the whole subject. So much misery condensed in so little room is more than the human imagination had ever before conceived.

I verily believe, therefore, if the wretchedness of any one of the many hundred negroes stowed in each ship could be brought before their view, and remain within the sight of the African merchant, that there is no one among them whose heart would bear it. Let any one imagine to himself six or seven hundred of these wretches chained two and two, surrounded with every object that is nauseous and disgusting, diseased, and struggling under every kind of wretchedness! How can we bear to think of such a scene as this? One would think it had been determined to heap on them all the varieties of bodily pain, for the purpose of blunting the feelings of the mind…

It is now to be remarked that all these causes of mortality among the slaves do undoubtedly admit of a remedy, and it is the abolition of the slave trade that will serve as this remedy. When the manager shall know that a fresh importation is not to be had from Africa, and that he cannot retrieve the deaths he occasions by any new purchases, humanity must be introduced; an improvement in the system of treating them will thus infallibly be effected, an assiduous care of their health and of their morals, marriage institutions, and many other things, as yet little thought of, will take place; because they will be absolutely necessary.

…Wherever the sun shines, let us go round the world with him, diffusing our beneficence; but let us not traffic, only that we may set kings against their subjects, subjects against their kings, sowing discord in every village, fear and terror in every family, setting millions of our fellow-creatures a-hunting each other for slaves, creating fairs and markets for human flesh, through one whole continent of the world, and, under the name of policy, concealing from ourselves all the baseness and iniquity of such a traffic…

I trust, therefore, I have shown that upon every ground the total abolition ought to take place. I have urged many things which are not my own leading motives for proposing it, since I have wished to show every description of gentlemen, and particularly the West India planters, who deserve every attention, that the abolition is politic upon their own principles also.

Policy, however, sir, is not my principle, and I am not ashamed to say it. There is a principle above everything that is political; and when I reflect on the command which says, “Thou shalt do no murder,” believing the authority to be Divine, how can I dare to set up any reasonings of my own against it? And, sir, when we think of eternity, and of the future consequences of all human conduct, what is there in this life that should make any man contradict the dictates of his conscience, the principles of justice, the laws of religion, and of God. Sir, the nature and all the circumstances of this trade are now laid open to us; we can no longer plead ignorance, we cannot evade it, it is now an object placed before us, we cannot pass it. We may spurn it, we may kick it out of our way, but we cannot turn aside so as to avoid seeing it; for it is brought now so directly before our eyes that this House must decide, and must justify to all the world, and to their own consciences, the rectitude of the grounds and principles of their decision.

Read the full speech here

The Sinking of RMS Lusitania, 1915

2024-05-07T13:48:17-05:00May 7, 2024|HH 2024|

The Sinking of RMS Lusitania,
May 7, 1915

The first year of the First World War was markedly contained in the neutral American mind. While Europe and her various colonies all became embroiled against each other in accordance with their allegiances, trade and transportation were still undertaken with surprising regularity across the Atlantic. And then, one day, not a full year into the conflict, a tragic outrage occurred that would forever change public opinion on the nature of the war.

The front page of the New York Times on Saturday, May 8, telling of the sinking of the RMS Lusitania and the great loss of life

In early May of 1915, the Royal Mail Steamer Lusitania—the fastest cruise liner of her day and carrying almost two thousand passengers—was traveling from New York to Liverpool, England. Steaming just off the southern coast of Ireland, the Lusitania was fired upon by the newest maritime threat of this brave new century: a German submarine. Upon being struck by the torpedo, the giant ship sank in under twenty minutes. Of the approximate 1,959 men, women, and children on board, 1,195 perished, including 123 neutral Americans.

Map showing submarine warfare zone around the United Kingdom, declared by Germany on February 18, 1915

Map showing the movements of RMS Lusitania and SM U-20 prior to the sinking of the former

The shock in America was great as news of the disaster spread. Many saw it as a blatant act of transgression against the conventions of war. Others pointed out that Germany had previously alerted all neutral passengers to the potential of their submarine attacks on British shipping. It was the risk of traveling on a cruise liner whose home port was at war. Germany considered the Lusitania to be British and therefore an “enemy ship”—despite her lack of military markings and her stated manifest of non-combatants.

A newspaper ad for the Lusitania and her intended journey, departing May 29, 1915…

…accompanied by a warning from the German Embassy to those considering passage that the route was within their stated warfare zone

The Lusitania was, however—unbeknownst to her human shield of passengers—carting a hidden cargo consisting of munitions and contraband destined for the British war effort. This fact was later used to reaffirm the targeted attack as ethical. The presence of incendiaries on board also quickened the sinking, as a second explosion quickly compounded the torpedo’s initial damage.

The last photograph of the RMS Lusitania, taken May 1, 1915

The horrors of war had always inflicted themselves most cruelly on the innocent, but the targeting of civilians on the Lusitania underscored the starkly changing moral parameters that would typify both world wars. Gone were the days of gentlemanly hostilities, and in were the years of vicious “total war” ruled by pragmatic concessions.

An illustration of the sinking of the Lusitania as it appeared in the London Illustrated News on May 15, 1915

But aboard the Lusitania, in the frantic moments before she sank to a watery grave, there was a great swell of the old spirit that had immortalized itself three years before aboard the doomed Titanic. Amongst the panic was love, sacrifice and honor.

An illustration of the sinking of the Lusitania highlighting the sailboat Wanderer which was nearby at the time and rescued around 200 passengers

In the ship’s nursery, Alfred Vanderbilt—heir to an American fortune and one of the world’s richest men—and famed playwright Carl Frohman, tied life jackets to little wicker baskets. These “Moses baskets”, as they were called, held a number of abandoned infants and were these gentlemen’s desperate attempt to save the babes from going down with the ship. The rising water indeed carried the baskets safely off, but none seemed to have survived the turbulence created as the ship sank to the bottom. The sea also claimed Vanderbilt and Frohman while at this noble work.

Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, Sr. (1877-1915)

Charles Frohman (1856-1915)

Joseph Parry and Leslie Morton belonged to the Lusitania’s deck crew. In the interminable hours adrift after the sinking, the both of them rescued over a hundred people from the ocean, hauling them aboard collapsible lifeboats.

The track of the Lusitania as it sank, leaving a wake of survivors and casualties behind

According to a Liverpool newspaper taken from firsthand accounts at the time:

When there were four people on Parry’s upturned boat they drifted towards a closed up collapsible lifeboat. They began to pull up the sides and began taking in more survivors. Parry was now joined by Able-seaman Leslie Morton….and they began hauling people in as fast as they could. Dazed, frightened, exhausted passengers littered the sea until it seemed the very waters were alive. Many of those rescued were dumped out again as soon as they were pulled in. They were dead. There was only room for the living. Soon the boat was full; another was spotted. Parry jumped on to it and started the whole thing again. Although many of the people they rescued died before they reached harbour, it is estimated that he and Morton picked up one hundred people from the water. On Saturday July 17, 1915, the Football Echo banished sport from its front page and printed Lord Mersey’s judgement at the end of the Lusitania enquiry. In this report the doings of Able-seaman Parry and Morton came to light. “Why didn’t you tell us about all this?” asked relatives at Aintree. “I was just doing what I had been taught to do,” answered Parry. He was not looking for medals, but he got one.

Both men were awarded the Silver Board of Trade Medal for Gallantry in Saving Lives at Sea. As the posted lookout for the Lusitania at the time of the attack, Morton always maintained that he saw two torpedoes heading towards her instead of the reported one.

German U-boats at dock in Kiel, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany on February 17, 1914—U-20, which fired the torpedo at the Lusitania, is second from the left on the front row

Parry, on the other hand, had another lasting narrative: among the hundred souls he hauled from the Atlantic was a young mother and her screaming baby. Out of sheer gratitude, while still shivering in the boat, the woman took off one of her baby’s booties and gave it to Parry to remind him of his heroism. He treasured the bootie, later writing the words “Lest We Forget Lusitania May 7, 1915” on the sole.

Enlistment poster calling for revenge for the Lusitania

War Propaganda poster showing the sinking Lusitania in the background

Despite the immense loss of lives, the blatant attack on civilians, and the duplicitous carrying of munitions aboard a passenger steamer, Lusitania’s tragedy would be replaced on front pages within the week. The war went on and new and horrifying developments were ever at the disposal of sensationalists. In September of the same year, 1915, the Germans announced that passenger ships would be sunk only with prior warning and appropriate safeguards for passengers.

Enlistment poster for Irish troops to avenge the Lusitania

British War Propaganda poster calling on recruits to avenge the Lusitania

However, the seeds of American animosity towards Germany were sown. Yet America would continue in her steadfast path of neutrality for two more years, despite outcry from those who held the deaths of the 123 Americans aboard as clear aggression. Germany would later resume its campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare in February 1917, after failing to take control of the seas at the Battle of Jutland the previous year.

British recruitment poster stating a summation of the inquiry into the Lusitania sinking, and closing with the call: “It is Your Duty to Take up the Sword of Justice to Avenge This Devil’s Work—Enlist To-day”

After Germany had been defeated in World War One, the Geneva Convention of 1906 on the treatment of civilians during wartime was renewed by the involved nations. By such conventions, the sinking of the Lusitania has been classified a joint crime, perpetrated by both Britain and Germany.

The Allied Air Force Begins Mercy Runs Over Holland, 1945

2024-04-29T12:08:50-05:00April 29, 2024|HH 2024|

The Allied Air Force Begins Mercy Runs
Over Holland, April 29, 1945

On April 29, 1945, the greatest mercy operation of the Second World War began, although initially it had all the marks of a suicide mission, the risks being enormous and likelihood of success scant.

Hatched in London, the idea was to utilize the allied air forces to feed the starving people of Holland. It was the last year of the war, and for five years previously, the Dutch had endured Nazi occupation as well as every deprivation of supplies and food that Germany herself faced as defeat grew inevitable. Those German soldiers occupying the Netherlands had been ordered to defend it to the last, and their measures to do so included mass flooding of agricultural land.

Members of the Veghel Resistance with troops of the United States 101st Airborne Division in Veghel, Netherlands, September 1944

Beyond being allies with the occupied Dutch, the air forces in particular owed them a great debt. Well over fifty percent of allied air crews were shot down during the war, and in Europe, those who managed to escape immediate capture were assisted in returning to England by the indomitable Dutch resistance. Such aid was not without chilling consequences if caught, and many Dutch families paid the ultimate price for the freedom of one downed airman.

Ground crew loading food supplies into slings for hoisting into the bomb bay of an Avro Lancaster for Operation Manna, Cambridgeshire, England

This mercy operation was close to foolhardy in both scale and dependence on the good faith of German soldiers. But with an approximate three and a half million Dutch on the brink of starvation, the plan was authorized. General Eisenhower began tenuous negotiations with German authorities in Holland, assisted by Swiss go-betweens, and the key aspect of their final agreement was that certain corridors would be opened for allied airmen to fly in without being fired upon.

An American B-17 unloads a load of food above the completely destroyed Schiphol Airport in May 1945 as part of Operation Chowhound

For the fleet of bomber crews who had spent their wartime careers in the exact same flight paths, dropping bombs on factories, submarine pens and worker facilities in occupied Europe, these weak agreements amongst enemies were of little comfort.

The raw courage required of these pilots and crews was immense when their orders came. They had to cross once more into enemy airspace—a suspended flak-filled hell in the skies that they knew all too well—and fly at 400 feet over German anti-aircraft guns to gently deposit their parceled provisions from their modified Bombay doors.

Food parcels being collected and sorted near Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam, Netherlands, May 1945 as part of Operation Chowhound

On April 29 the first mission was run; radio exchanges of good luck and prayers were sent between pilots as they crossed over. The eerie silence they were met with soon brought relief. The truce agreements were honored, and some allied airmen even observed the casual inaction of their enemies through their bombsights: smoking cigarettes and leaning against their once lethal anti-aircraft guns.

A Lancaster aircraft pulls up again after it has ejected its payload over Ypenburg, Holland

For ten consecutive days, British and American bomber groups ran over 5,500 sorties, dropping an estimated 10,000 tons of food on the starving and grateful Dutch. Their operations were named Manna and Chowhound, respectively.

A banner depicting the food drops over a store front in Amsterdam, Holland, June 1945

For most of the bomber crews, these became their last missions as providentially they coincided with the last days of the war in Europe: VE Day was declared on May 8, the same day that the last drop occurred.

Huge crowds gather in Whitehall to listen to Churchill’s Victory speech on “Victory in Europe Day”, May 8, 1945

Not many soldiers got so kind an epilogue to their war stories. Those who participated in these mercy missions spoke of it as being the most satisfying and healing thing they did in their entire lives. To fly over crowds of grateful citizens, dropping life rather than death for once, was a gentle last page of a very awful story for many of them whose role in the air had required much moral dilution in order to carry out their orders of terror and destruction.

Rotterdam, Holland in 1940 after bombing—an estimated 30,000 civilians were killed

According to many, there was no prettier sight in the world than the grateful messages the Dutch cut into their tulip fields: “thanks boys.”

“MANY…THANKS” spelled out in tulips for the pilots of operations Manna and Chowhound

The Pazzi Conspiracy to Assassinate the Medici Family, 1478

2024-04-22T19:30:08-05:00April 22, 2024|HH 2024|

The Pazzi Conspiracy to Assassinate
the Medici Family, April 26, 1478

In the late 1400s, the country we now call Italy was divided into many states and governed each by their own rulers. In the north, Milan’s form of government was a Duchy and thus they were ruled by a Duke. Seafaring Venice had a Doge, Naples a king and the people of Florence had a republic. Over them all, in matters religious and ever-increasingly secular, was the authority of the Pope in Rome, who, in the beneficence of his own office, had granted unto himself certain lands bordering Florence which he called Papal States.

A map of the spread of the Florentine state in the 14th and 15th centuries

When the supreme head of the church and final authority figure for all earthly matters is your neighbor who cultivates his lands and trades his profits through your own, it is easily assumed there might be friction. And considering with whom you have your complaint, that it would remain unresolved. Such were the relations between the republic of Florence and the Papal States in the year 1478.

Pope Sixtus IV (born Francesco della Rovere; 1414-1484)

That is not to say some in Florence did not court papal favor—the Republic’s two leading families, the Medici and the Pazzi, had both vied to be the Pope’s bankers, with the Pazzi eventually securing that prize. Such success cost the Pazzi’s trust and status in their own country, the republic becoming more and more supportive of their rival, the Medici family.

With the ruling Medicis having recently thwarted an attempt by the Pope to seize more lands in the Romagna, a plot was hatched to remove their pesky influence by the Pazzi family—in league with a disgruntled Cardinal from Pisa and Pope Sixtus’ own nephew—leaving the “Holy Father” plausibly blameless for the ensuing coup.

Florence Duomo or Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flower), site of the assassinations, as viewed from Michelangelo Hill, Florence, Italy

As is common amongst the agents of greed and envy, the conspirators had no qualms traveling to Florence, enjoying the hospitality of their plotted victims and, in the case of Francesco Pazzi, embracing Lorenzo de Medici before mass to ensure he had not worn armor into the holy place. Lorenzo had not, having in good faith brought his whole family to worship God with his erstwhile opponents in the magnificent cathedral his grandfather had built, right in the heart of Florence.

Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449-1492)

Giuliano de’ Medici (1453-1478)

What occurred that Easter Sunday would become one of the most infamous scenes of Renaissance history. In front of an attendance of 10,000 in the church, the two Medici brothers, Lorenzo and Giuliano, (ages 29 and 24) were set upon with drawn knives by members of the Pazzi family and their mercenaries.

The ensuing grapple was so intense that one conspirator reportedly stabbed himself in the leg during the frenzy. Giuliano de Medici was so throughly assaulted that he died almost instantly, his body poetically fallen in front of the altar. Though himself wounded in the neck and pursued through the church, Lorenzo de Medici escaped his assassins with brave assistance from his mother and young wife who took refuge in the sacristy—a small, adjacent room.

Commemorative medal by Bertoldo di Giovanni, 1478, showing the assassination attempt

The Pazzi’s grand intentions for a public assassination of their rivals to cement their supremacy backfired gravely. Even before news of Lorenzo’s survival spread, the townspeople had furiously pursued the conspirators and detained them. The plot had been twofold: murder the Medici heirs and seize control of the senate. Both attempts were witnessed by the people and thwarted before they could fully succeed. In the case of the conspiring cardinal from Pisa, he was killed in the street where the crowd found him. The rest were summarily hung as traitors to the republic, their bodies flung out the windows of the Town Hall and left dangling there as a grim deterrence to those who might have sympathized with the plot.

1479 drawing by Leonardo da Vinci of hanged Pazzi conspirator Bernardo Bandini dei Baroncelli

Palazzo Vecchio is the town hall of Florence, Italy, overlooking the Piazza della Signoria—it was from these windows that the conspirators were hung after the Pazzi Conspiracy

The Republic of Florence harbored little doubt regarding the origins of this conspiracy, knowing the Pazzi would not dare such a thing without papal backing, with the involvement of the Pope’s nephew a further confirmation. This began a two year war between Florence and Rome. Among its many outcomes would be the surprising emergence of a pre-Protestant attitude towards the corruption of earthly magistrates, in the church or otherwise. The Pope misstepped not only in consorting with murderers, but also in excommunicating the entire Republic of Florence for their subsequent and lawful execution of the assassins.

Discovery and mutilation of the body of Jacopo de’ Pazzi, one of the Pazzi conspirators

Lorenzo de Medici’s fearless lead in ignoring papal censure and instead consolidating power amongst the local diocese primed the people of Florence for the firebrand preaching of Reformed forerunner Savonarola. His doctrine was fanatical, later twisted as his own ambitions clouded his gospel, but the meat of his teachings led to an intense change in the mood of Florence. Where once art, commerce and ancient philosophies flourished, bonfires of such “vanities” were held in the town square and condemnation passed on the corruption of the church and government at large.

Monument to Girolamo Savonarola, predecessor to Reformation in Italy

By the time of Lorenzo’s own death in 1492, Savonarola’s radical influence had achieved what the Pope could not: the people of Florence overthrew the rule of the very Medicis who once stood between them and papal damnation.

Remembering the Titanic, 1912

2024-04-09T14:18:42-05:00April 9, 2024|HH 2024|

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”—John 15:13

Remembering the Titanic, April 14, 1912

One hundred twelve years ago, the luxury ocean liner RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and began to sink. In the three short hours before she was submerged, her enduring legacy of heroism and hubris became cemented in history.

A contemporary painting of the sinking of the Titanic, by Willy Stöwer

On a record-making voyage from England to New York, RMS Titanic carried aboard her some of the most notable figures of the early 20th century, a substantial middle class and also, hundreds of immigrants. When the rescue ship, Carpathia, arrived the next morning at the scene of the wreck and began loading survivors, it was found that over 1,500 souls, including the captain, had gone down into the frigid Atlantic. The sinking of the RMS Titanic remains the deadliest maritime disaster in peacetime.

On April 17, 1912 the New York Times published an early list of survivors while further information continued to trickle in

The history of the RMS Titanic of the White Star Line, is one of the most tragically short it is possible to conceive. The world had waited expectantly for its launching and again for its sailing; had read accounts of its tremendous size and its unexampled completeness and luxury; had felt it a matter of the greatest satisfaction that such a comfortable and above all such a safe boat had been designed and built—the “unsinkable lifeboat”—and then in a moment to hear that it had gone to the bottom as if it had been the veriest tramp steamer of a few hundred tons; and with it fifteen hundred passengers, some of them known all the world over! The improbability of such a thing ever happening was what staggered humanity.”—Lawrence Beesley, Titanic survivor

Stateroom B 59 aboard the Titanic, displaying the opulence and luxury which was so broadly advertised

J. Bruce Ismay (marked with an X) shown testifying at a U.S. Senate Inquiry into sinking of the RMS Titanic

The inquiry of that following morning began the unveiling of many alarming and unpleasant truths. Subsequently, testimonies emerged of one of history’s most gallant last stands. In a century dawning with suffragettes, booming industrialism, communism and looming world war—all of which had new ideas regarding chivalry’s place in the world—the example of the Titanic would prove the old law of the sea would once again have its day.

A recreation of Titanic’s smoking room

…There arose before us from the decks below a mass of humanity several lines deep converging on the Boat Deck facing us and completely blocking our passage to the stern. There were women in the crowd as well as men and these seemed to be steerage passengers who had just come up from the decks below. Even among these people there was no hysterical cry, no evidence of panic. Oh the agony of it.”
—Colonel Archibald Gracie,
 Titanic survivor

The Port Huron Times reporting on the loss of life aboard the Titanic

Join us next month in Tennessee as we visit the world-class Titanic Musem in Pigeon Forge during our Appalachian Spring Tour, May 1-2.

A long list of dead published in the New York Times held the names of such millionaire magnates as John Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim, George Dennick Wick, Isidor Strauss and his wife Ida—all of whom willingly gave up their seats in the limited lifeboats at the call of “women and children first”. Presidential aide and distinguished officer, Archibald Butts, perished while making the same sacrifice; Thomas Andrews, the ship’s architect, as well. Meanwhile Titanic’s mammoth crew continued at their dangerous posts until the last moment, laboring to buy time and keep the ship afloat for rescue at the cost of all chance for personal escape.

Ned Parfett, best known as the “Titanic paperboy”, holding a large newspaper banner advert about the sinking, standing outside the White Star Line offices in London, April 16, 1912

Captain Smith (seated, just right of center) and other officers of the Titanic

During moments of mass tragedy the world narrows, and isolated aboard a sinking marvel in the middle of the Atlantic, an unfolding narrative of contrasts played out, one of self-preservation warring with the Christian ethic of sacrifice.

What impressed me at the time that my eyes beheld the horrible scene was a thin light-gray smoky vapor that hung like a pall a few feet above the broad expanse of sea that was covered with a mass of tangled wreckage. That it was a tangible vapor, and not a product of my imagination, I feel well-assured. It may have been caused by smoke or steam rising to the surface around the area where the ship had sunk. At any rate it produced a supernatural effect, and the pictures I had seen by Dante and the description I had read in my Virgil of the infernal regions of Charon, and the River Leth, were then uppermost in my thoughts. Add to this, within the area described, which was as far as my eyes could reach, there arose to the sky the most horrible sounds ever heard by mortal man except by those of us who survived this terrible tragedy. The agonizing cries of death from over a thousand throats, the wails and groans of the suffering, the shrieks of the terror-stricken and the awful gaspings for breath of those in the last throes of drowning, none of us will ever forget to our dying day.”
—Colonel Archibald Gracie,
 Titanic survivor

Archibald Gracie IV (1858-1912) initially survived the sinking and wrote extensively of his experience, but never fully recovered and died a mere 8 months later due to complications from the ordeal

Faced with prospects of unimaginable horror, the men of the Titanic, and even some women, chose to lay down their lives for the weak that night. In the end, duty and gallantry, even at appalling cost, remained the victor. The implication of that still grips us today.

There was peace and the world had an even tenor to its way. Nothing was revealed in the morning the trend of which was not known the night before. It seems to me that the disaster about to occur was the event that not only made the world rub its eyes and awake but woke it with a start. To my mind the world of today awoke April 15th, 1912.”
—Jack B. Thayer,
 Titanic survivor

John Borland “Jack” Thayer III (1894-1945) was a 17-year-old first-class passenger traveling with his parents on the Titanic at the time of the sinking. He survived by jumping overboard and climbing onto an overturned lifeboat where he spent the remainder of the night before being rescued.

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