“An impressive feat of historical research that illuminates the life of an unjustly neglected historical figure.”
A brief but thorough biography of Enoch Train, the American entrepreneur who financially backed famed shipbuilder Donald McKay. Donald McKay was a renowned shipbuilder in the 1850s—his clippers set sailing records that at the time seemed unbeatable. Yet as we learn from Miles’ biography, McKay’s career was nearly unthinkable without the enthusiastic support of Train, an energetic leader in maritime commerce who would eventually become the famed shipbuilder’s chief customer. When the two men met in 1844, Train was looking to expand his fleet of ships and was immediately taken with McKay. Within an hour, Train had ordered a 620-ton packet ship, the Joshua Bates, the first of many such commissions. In fact, Train was so pleased with McKay’s work that he helped him finance his own shipyard in Boston. Miles effectively captures not only the symbiotic relationship between Train and McKay, but also the shifting landscape of the shipping industry in the mid-19th century, an industry being transformed by the rising dominance of steam-propulsion technology. Train emerges as a complex figure—he was an indefatigable and adventurous entrepreneur who transcended inauspicious beginnings; after the death of his mother, Hannah, he was left parentless at only 12 years old. Miles achieves an extraordinary comprehensiveness given the brevity of the book, covering Train’s personal tragedies, political career, and final financial collapse. In fact, Miles’ impressive rigor can be a liability—it’s easy to become dazed by the flood of granular information that engorges the book, especially regarding financial details. The author’s biography remains a thoughtful, sensitive historical portrait. But this is certainly not hagiography either. While the author generally presents Train in favorable terms, he is also taken to task for participating in the slave trade: “For some reason, the compassion he showed in multiple other contexts was lacking in his views about slavery.” Miles is surely correct to point out this moral transgression—one that seems incongruent with Train’s character in general. An impressive feat of historical research that illuminates the life of an unjustly neglected historical figure.
“The American clipper ships built in the 1850s are widely regarded as the greatest sailing ships ever to grace the ocean.” Vincent Miles's opening line in the prologue of his latest book is not disputed in any circles. Staghound, Great Republic, Sovereign of the Seas, Flying Cloud—these are the record-shattering clipper ships that wowed the maritime world during this period, names that are familar to anyone who reads or studies this era in American maritime history. They, along with dozens of other clippers built for the transAtlantic packet trade and later for the lucrative run to California in the Gold Rush, were all built by Donald McKay. A Nova Scotian naval architect and shipbuilder, McKay came to Boston in 1845 at the invitation of a local merchant to establish his own shipyard. Many consider McKay to be the greatest sailing-ship builder in history. This book is not about Donald McKay. In “Transatlantic Train,” Miles brings to life the compelling story of the man who brought McKay to Boston to build him a ship. And then another, and another. Enoch Train would be McKay's chief patron, commissioning more ships from the master builder than anyone else. Train became a prominent figure in Boston in his lifetime, but today his name is barely recognized. His is, in a way, the great American success story. He was orphaned as a youth and came to Boston in his late teens to apprentice under his cousin, a shoemaker who started an import/export business in hides and leather as well. From there, Enoch Train's career in shipping took off. His entrepreneurial skills proved hugely successful, and he established Boston's only viable transAtlantic packet line to compete with New York, and later to California and beyond. His line operated for years almost exclusively in McKay-built clippers of various tonnages, and the two men's lives and businesses were wholly dependent on each other for years. Train's packet line found quick success in part because of the first Great Famine in Ireland that sent emigrants by the tens of thousands across the Atlantic aboard his ships. Miles puts Train's business successes, challenges and failures in the context of that exceptional time in our history, when steamships were starting to compete with windships for commercial traffic, when Boston merchant shipowners struggled to find cargoes to export but were overflowing with goods and people sailing westward from Europe, and when our nation experienced the impacts of the Gold Rush, and more. Vincent Miles has done a fine job of restoring Enoch Train's place in American history in a book well researched and a story well told. DEIRDRE O'REGAN, Monument Beach, Massachusetts
Eric Jay Dolin, author of Rebels at Sea: Privateering in the American Revolution; A Furious Sky:The Five-Hundred-Year History of America's Hurricanes; Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America's Most Notorious Pirates, and other books
“Transatlantic Train tells the fascinating story of the dramatic rise and precipitous fall of a titan of nineteenth-century business who is all but forgotten today, yet deserves to be remembered. Vincent Miles’ engaging account of Enoch Train's critical role in the growth of American packet and clipper ship lines at the height of the great age of sail offers both a profile of business acumen and a cautionary tale about how quickly fortunes can collapse. And, in illuminating the important role that Train played in the equally meteoric career of shipbuilder Donald McKay, Miles adds to our understanding of McKay's lasting fame.”
Richard J. King, Visiting Associate Professor, Maritime History and Literature, Sea Education Association; author mosr recently of Ahab's Rolling Sea: A Natural History of Moby-Dick.
“This first ever biography of Enoch Train, a complex man of the nineteenth century with a gift for business but who endured grave personal loss, is a thoughtful profile that quickly opens up into broader histories of European immigration, the Great Famine of Ireland, New England's participation and complicity with enslavement, the environmental history of the city of Boston, the life of merchant seamen before the mast in the age of sail, and even stretches to the guano trade, the Gold Rush, and the Civil War. At the heart of Transatlantic Train, though, is a careful economic history of merchant shipping and shipbuilding that runs smoothly and expertly on the same rails as the works of the foundational American maritime historians, such as Robert G. Albion and Samuel Eliot Morison.”
Anthony M. Sammarco, author of Inferno: The Great Boston fire of 1872; Lost Boston; Beacon Hill Through Time; and more than 60 other books about Boston's history.
“Vincent Miles has written a fascinating account of Enoch Train and the ‘Train Line’ that once competed on the Atlantic alongside Sir Samuel Cunard's line. His Line linked Boston and Liverpool with sleek packet and clipper ships built by Donald McKay, who was induced by Train to move to East Boston. This book is an enjoyable read with many historical anecdotes that once again brings Enoch Train to the public's attention.”
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“An enthralling biography of one of Boston’s earliest, most successful, and yet least-known businessmen and entrepreneurs... a fantastic read not only for history buffs but for the general reading public. I can highly recommend this book.” —Grant Leishman
“Transatlantic Train is an enthralling book and much more than the biography of an exceptional merchant like Enoch Train... I recommend this book to any reader who enjoys discovering new and forgotten historical figures, especially if they are passionate about the history of Boston.” — Astrid Iustulin
“... a slice of history that many people will know very little about. The more you read this engrossing biographical work, the more you’ll want to know about the impact of transatlantic ships on the world during the nineteenth century.” —K.C. Finn