CBMM & Temple B’nai Israel to share story of Chesapeake ‘ship that launched a nation’

ST. MICHAELS, Md., Sept. 8, 2023 – The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum is partnering with Temple B’nai Israel of Easton on Wednesday, Oct. 11 to present “S.S. President Warfield to Exodus 1947: The Chesapeake Steamship That Launched Israel.”

During this Speaker Event hosted in the Van Lennep Auditorium, CBMM’s Chief Historian Pete Lesher and University of Maryland Distinguished Professor Emeritus Jeffrey Herf share the story of a Chesapeake packet steamship with a symbolic role in the formation of Israel 75 years ago. Light refreshments will be served at 5pm, and the talk will begin promptly at 5:30pm. 

The suggested ticket price is $8 per participant with both in-person and virtual options available. To register and get more information, visit cbmm.org/ShipThatLaunchedIsrael.

This program is made possible in part through the generosity of Marlene and Phil Feldman.

“The history of this steamship is familiar to many of us—its story was made famous both in books and in the movies,” Temple B’nai Israel Rabbi Peter Hyman said. “What may be less well known is that Exodusfirst sailed on the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. This, for many of us living here, intensifies and makes more poignant our connection to this ship and to the role it played in post-World War II history.”

This program will trace the vessel’s interesting journey to its place in history.

S.S. President Warfield was the largest and last steamboat built for the Baltimore Steam Packet Company, nicknamed the “Old Bay Line.” The luxury liner ran overnight express service between Baltimore and Norfolk beginning in 1928.

Like several other Bay steamboats, President Warfield was requisitioned for service in World War II, and after surviving the war, it was ultimately sold via auction to a Zionist organization seeking to take European Jewish refugees displaced by the war to Palestine.

Despite opposition from the British government that controlled Palestine, President Warfield recrossed the Atlantic Ocean, took refugees aboard in southern France, and headed on.

British naval vessels followed and ultimately stopped the steamship just short of its destination. Amid the melee, new nameboards were revealed, dubbing the vessel Exodus 1947.

The international attention that ensued around the plight of the Jewish refugees ultimately led to the establishment of the State of Israel. While the venerable steamship saw no more use, it was called by some “the ship that launched a nation” and its story inspired Leon Uris’ novel “Exodus.”

CBMM’s collection features two models of the steamship, numerous historic photographs, and several related artifacts, including a brass state room key and a dinner menu from its maiden voyage.

During next month’s program, Lesher will share the history of the vessel through World War II, while Herf, an authority on modern European history, will speak about the international impact of the Exodus 1947incident.

“It’s an extraordinary story, and because of its international dimensions, President Warfield was among the best-known Chesapeake Bay steamboats,” Lesher said. “We think this program will appeal both to those interested in Chesapeake Bay maritime history and 20th century Jewish history, the founding of the State of Israel, and international relations in the aftermath of World War II.”

Find more information about CBMM’s fall series of Speaker Events at cbmm.org/speakerseries and all of its upcoming events at cbmm.org/events.