The Voyage of the Nancy, 1767

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"WE USUALLY ASSOCIATE THE TERM ‘COFFIN SHIPS’ with some of the sailing vessels that carried victims of the Irish Potato Famine to Canada and the United States in 1847–1851.

Some earlier immigrant ships can be characterized as ‘coffin ships’ as well and few more accurately than the Nancy of Belfast arriving at Charleston, South Carolina, on June 5, 1767 with many sick and dying passengers.

The first newspaper reports were positive: ‘This day arrived here, in a ship from Belfast, about 240 protestants from the north of Ireland, intending to settle in this province, on the large bounty granted by the legislature’ (South Carolina and American General Gazette, 5 June, 1767)."

This article examines the voyage of the Nancy, an early immigrant ship that was characterised as a 'coffin ship', due to it having many sick and dying passengers.


Richard K. MacMaster

Richard K. MacMaster is co-editor of The Journal of Scotch-Irish Studies and co-director of The Center for Scotch-Irish Studies. He earned a B.A. and M.A. in history at Fordham University and a Ph.D. in American history at Georgetown University.

His research interests have been in eighteenth-century America: Viriginia, Mennonites and other German settlers, and the Scotch-Irish. His books include The Five George Masons: Planters and Patriots of Maryland and Virginia (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1975); Conscience in Crisis: Mennonites and Other Peace Churches in America 1739-1789 (Scottdale, PA: Herald press, 1979); and Land, Piety, Peoplehood: The establishment of Mennonite Communitiies in America 1683-1790 (Scottdale OA: Herald Press, 1985).


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