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Book details
  • Genre:HISTORY
  • SubGenre:Europe / Germany
  • Language:English
  • Pages:148
  • eBook ISBN:9781667828404
  • Paperback ISBN:9781667828398

Halfway to America

The Tragic Sinking of the William Nelson

by Jeff Wright

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"Halfway to America" is an historical account of 19th century immigration that shares its hardships and in this case – tragedies. Poor emigrants who sailed to America in the 1860s usually made the trip in the steerage deck – where the conditions were quite unpleasant for a month-long voyage. This historical book shares the true story of Heinrich Dirkes and his son Johannes. While traveling from Antwerp, Begium, to New York in 1865, the ship William Nelson caught fire when buckets of hot tar spilled. This book highlights the details of the ship fire and sinking, and raises social and political questions.


Heinrich Dirkes and his son Johannes were emigrating from their home in Bauler, Bitburg-Prüm, Prussia on the American ship William Nelson. Heinrich's other sons already were in America. Nearly all of the emigrants were poor, and were making the trip to find a better life in America. Also on board were 30 crew members including the captain, plus about 30 passengers traveling in cabin rooms that cost much more than steerage. After the American Consulate in Havre, France learned of the tragedy, it quickly set about working to limit the liability of the ship owner and the captain. The Swiss government in particular was outraged at the lack of accountability in the US because only 16 of its 176 citizens on board survived. This little known chapter of American history describes the tragic details of the burning of the ship William Nelson. The book will be helpful for historians, educators, and those who are looking to learn more about their ancestry. As a creative non-fiction novella, the book uses creative portions to knit the story together with known facts. Every effort was made to accurately describe the actual events.

About the author
Jeff Wright is a retired financial analyst. He spent his career gathering and analyzing financial records to determine company profitability and value. He has been researching his family genealogy since 2000, and has focused in recent years on his German ancestors.

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