By Christopher Miskimon

By the early 1890s, John D. Hart was one of the largest importers of bananas on the East Coast. His ships brought a seemingly endless supply of the fruit to a large and hungry market. This came to an end with the Financial Panic of 1893, when the many unemployed could no longer afford luxuries such as bananas. Hart was on the brink of bankruptcy when Emilio Nuñez, a member of the exiled Cuban Revolutionary Party, approached him with an offer. Nuñez soon convinced Hart to become what was then known as a “filibuster,” transporting weapons and ammunition to Cuba to support the simmering uprising against Spain. Hart performed this role for three years, along with other shipping owners. Along the way, he angered both the Spanish and American governments, became a hero to many Cubans and a darling of many in the American press. In many ways Hart prepared a path for eventual war between the United States and Spain in 1898.

This book reveals how Hart and others like him paved a path for America to enter the world stage, even though not everyone in the U.S. wanted to do so. The story of American gunrunners to Cuba in this period is largely unknown today; this new work sheds much-needed light on the subject. It provides an entertaining and informative mix of diplomacy, espionage, piracy and gunrunning.

King of the Gunrunners: How a Philadelphia Fruit Importer Inspired a Revolution and Provoked the Spanish-American War (James W. Miller, University Press of Mississippi, Jackson MI, 2024, 277 pp., photographs, notes, bibliography, index, $35, HC)

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