“An impressive feat of historical research that illuminates the life of an unjustly neglected historical figure.”
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.
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.”