In collaboration with Brooks Free Library, the Harwich Historical Society will host a talk by Meadow Dibble Hilley entitled “The Diseased Ship” on Saturday, May 19, 2018 from 2:00-4:00 pm at the Harwich Cultural Center on Sisson Road. The event is being held at the Cultural Center in order to accomodate a larger audience. The event is free and open to the public.
When Brewster sea captain Elijah Cobb sailed the Ten Brothers into Boston harbor in July 1819, he completed the last leg of a triangular journey that had taken him and his crew from New England to West Africa to the West Indies and home again over the course of ten trying months. Seven Brewster men died along the way, and all seemingly for naught. In the ship’s hold authorities found nothing but stones in ballast and a few putrid ears of corn. What escaped their attention entirely was the “subtle poison imported in her from the sickly climes of Africa,” as it was later described in a report published by the Board of Health. Within days of docking at the wharf, the ship’s “malignant disorders” had been unleashed on a stricken population and Boston found itself in the throes of a public health crisis—one that, after reaching pandemic proportions, was effectively suppressed from our collective memory.
Drawing on local archival sources and a growing body of scholarly research on the region’s participation in the Atlantic slave economy, Meadow Hilley considers the Ten Brothers incident within the broader context of Cape Cod’s commerce with Africa and the West Indies over the centuries.
Originally from Brewster, Meadow Hilley lived in Senegal, West Africa for six years in and out of college. She received her Ph.D. from Brown University’s Department of French Studies with a specialization in Francophone African Literature and Film and taught at Colby College from 2005–08. Meadow is now editor of The International Educator newspaper and once again lives in Brewster with her husband and two daughters.