Donald G. Shomette,
The Othello Affair
(Calvert Press, 1985)

History is often told through weighty tomes, some of which are read laboriously to gain two or three morsels of interesting knowledge. The Othello Affair, on the other hand, is a tightly packed nugget of information about a very specialized incident, and in that it succeeds admirably at its purpose.

Author Donald G. Shomette sets out to describe the events surrounding the seizure of Othello, an American merchant ship fresh out of Liverpool, by French pirates lurking in the region of the Chesapeake Bay. Bound for Baltimore, the Othello in 1807 had reason to fear the British blockade ships -- after all, tensions were high between the two, recently sundered nations, leading up to the War of 1812 -- but the French were considered allies.

Consequently, this bold act of piracy scandalized the nation, and authorities wasted little time in sending ships and troops out to find the guilty parties.

Shomette tells the tale briefly, keeping the reader's interest as events unfold. It's exactly what I was hoping for; any more would have been overdone.

It's a short book, less than 40 pages, so the person trying to sell a used copy on Amazon for $94.12 is stretching a bit. If early American naval exploits are your cup of tea, contact the Calvert County Marine Museum, which when I checked last sold copies of the booklet for $1.

book review by
Tom Knapp

2 July 2011

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