Wanderer (slave ship)

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USS Wanderer (1857)
Wanderer in U.S. Navy service during the American Civil War (1861–1865), after her days in the slave trade were over.
United States
Name: Wanderer
Launched: 1858
Fate: Lost 12 January 1871
  • In slave trade and mercantile service 1857–1861
  • In U.S. Navy service 1861–1865
  • In mercantile service 1865–1871
General characteristics
Displacement: 300 tons
Length: 106 ft 0 in (32.31 m)
Beam: 25 ft 6 in (7.77 m)
Draught: 9 ft 6 in (2.90 m)
Propulsion: Sails
Sail plan: Schooner-rigged
Speed: 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph)

Wanderer was the penultimate documented ship to bring an illegal cargo of slaves from Africa to the United States, landing at Jekyll Island, Georgia on November 28, 1858. (Clotilde, which transported slaves in 1860, is the last known ship to bring slaves from Africa to the US.) Originally built in New York as a pleasure schooner, The Wanderer was purchased by a Southern planter and used in a conspiracy to import slaves. An estimated 303 to 409 slaves survived the voyage from Angola to Georgia. The federal government prosecuted the owner and crew, but failed to win a conviction.

During the American Civil War, Union forces took over the ship and used it for various military roles. It was decommissioned in 1865, converted to merchant use, and lost off Cuba in 1871.

In November 2008 the Jekyll Island Museum unveiled an exhibit dedicated to the enslaved Africans on Wanderer.[1] That was also the month of unveiling of a memorial sculpture on Jekyll Island dedicated to the surviving slaves.


Upon ending the slave trade in all British colonies in 1808, the British began pressuring other nations to end their slave trades. At the same time, the British began pressuring the African rulers to stop exporting people as slaves.[2] The United States officially outlawed the importation of slaves in 1808. It did not use its own ships to enforce the law until 1819, when U.S. naval ships joined British patrol ships in the Caribbean and African waters to intercept slavers (See African Slave Trade Patrol).[3]

Even after the US outlawed the slave trade, people tried to evade the law. The Wanderer was built in 1857 and in 1858 it was partially outfitted for a long voyage. The ship flew the pennant of the New York Yacht Club.[1] Although there was speculation about the ship's projected use, it was inspected. As there was no conclusive evidence that it was to be used as a slave ship, it was allowed to pass.[4]

The captain sailed to Angola, Africa. For a period of 10 days, he had shelves and pens built into the hold in order to accept a shipment of 490-600 slaves, who were loaded on the ship.[4] Many of the slaves died on the six-week journey across the Atlantic Ocean. Wanderer reached Jekyll Island, Georgia on November 28, 1858, delivering 409 slaves alive.

A prosecution of the slave traders was launched, but the defendants were acquitted by the jury. The outrage aroused by the case is believed to have contributed to the sectional tensions and the American Civil War. The US prosecutor, Henry R. Jackson, became a major general in the Confederate States Army and one of the defendants, John Egbert Farnum, became a colonel and brevet brigadier general in the Union Army. [5] Also among the defendants was John Frederick Tucker, a planter and one of the owners of the ship.[6] During the war, the ship was seized by Union troops and used for the Naval blockade of the Confederate States of America. (See USS Wanderer.)


Wanderer was built in a Setauket, New York (Long Island) shipyard in 1857 as a pleasure craft yacht for Colonel John Johnson. The vessel's streamlined design allowed the ship to achieve speeds of up to 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph), making Wanderer one of the fastest ships of the day. While on a trip to New Orleans, Johnson stopped in Charleston, South Carolina and sold the Wanderer to William C. Corrie.

Corrie became a partner with wealthy businessman and cotton planter Charles Augustus Lafayette Lamar (son of Gazaway Bugg Lamar) from Savannah, Georgia. He was hired to transport slaves from Africa, although such importation had been prohibited since 1808 by federal law. Corrie achieved some elements of conversion, but much of the work was accomplished after the ship reached an Angolan port.[7] Both men opposed the restrictions on importing slaves, as demand drove a high price for domestic slaves. The Wanderer was returned to New York to undergo preparation for a long voyage.

Some observers accused the shipyard of preparing it as a slave ship. The ship was inspected and cleared on its voyage out. Public rumors of the ship's being involved in the slave trade persisted and were permanently associated with her name.[8]

Arrival at Jekyll Island and publicity[edit]

In his ship's log, Corrie noted arriving at Bengula (probably Benguela in present-day Angola) on October 4, 1858. Wanderer took on 487 slaves at this port on the Congo River.[7] After a six-week return voyage across the Atlantic, Wanderer arrived at Jekyll Island, Georgia around sunset on November 28, 1858. The tally sheets and passenger records showed that 409 slaves survived the passage. They were landed at Jekyll Island, which was owned by John and Henry DuBignon, Jr., who conspired with Lamar.[9] These figures present a slightly higher mortality rate than the estimated average of 12 percent during the illegal trading era.[10] Hoping to evade arrest, Lamar had the slaves shipped to markets in Savannah and Augusta, Georgia; South Carolina and Florida.[7]

As the federal government investigated, news of the slave ship raised outrage in the North. Southerners pressed Congress to reopen the Atlantic trade. The federal government tried Lamar and his conspirators three times for piracy, but was unable to get a conviction. It failed to convince a jury of a connection between Lamar and the ship.[7]

Buchanan Administration[edit]

The arrival of Wanderer prompted the Buchanan Administration to strengthen the United States' role in anti-slave-trade efforts. Following the dispersion and sale of the 400 Africans throughout the South, there were rumors of subsequent slave ship landings in the region. The Buchanan Administration sent a "secret agent" named Benjamin F. Slocum on a two-month journey to search for evidence.

Slocum, working undercover, spoke with slave traders, plantation owners, and townspeople, hunting down every possible lead. In the end he delivered a detailed report, in which he concluded that the rumors of subsequent landings, "were founded upon the movements of the Wanderer negroes, or else they were mere fabrications, manufactured and circulated for political effect, or to fill a column in a sensation newspaper."[11]

Based on that investigation, Buchanan reported to Congress on December 3, 1860 that "since the date of my last inaugural message not a single slave has been imported into the United States in violation of the laws prohibiting the African slave trade."[12]

Description of Wanderer slaves[edit]

The slaves who arrived in the United States on Wanderer gained a celebrity status, that spread beyond the South to newspapers in New York, Washington, and London.[13][page needed] They were the only group of slaves who were frequently identified with the ship on which they had been transported. The tendency of newspapers and private correspondence to identify the slaves in this way suggests there were no other known large-scale importations of African slaves in this period.[14][page needed]

Wanderer's later career[edit]

During the next two years, ownership of the vessel changed several times. On one occasion, the ship was stolen and taken to sea on a piratical and slaving voyage. Near the coast of Africa, the first mate led a mutiny and left the pirate captain at sea in a small boat. He sailed the ship back to Boston, Massachusetts, arriving on 24 December 1859 and turning her over to authorities.

In April 1861, upon the outbreak of the American Civil War, the United States Government seized Wanderer to prevent her from falling into the hands of the Confederate States of America. She served in the United States Navy from then until June 1865, serving as a gunboat, a tender, and a hospital ship. Sold into mercantile service in June 1865, Wanderer operated commercially until lost off Cape Maisí, Cuba, on 12 January 1871.


Most historians believe that Wanderer was the last slave ship to reach the U.S., including W. E. B. Du Bois, in his book The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638–1870.[note 1]

In 2008, on the south tip of Jekyll Island, the state of Georgia erected a monument to the African survivors of the Wanderer. It consists of three 12-foot (3.7 m) steel sails and several historical storyboards. On November 25, 2008 a dedication of the memorial was held, attended by 500 participants, including descendants of the original Wanderer slaves, and Erik Calonius, author of The Wanderer: The Last American Slave Ship and the Conspiracy that Set Its Sails (2008), credited for reviving interest in the Wanderer story.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The schooner Clotilde (or Clotilda) also claims to be the last U.S. slave ship to bring captives from Africa to the United States


  1. ^ a b Jekyll Island Beachscape, vol 5, #42, Nov/Dec 2008, pg. 1
  2. ^ Herbert S. Klein, The Atlantic Slave Trade (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 183.
  3. ^ Herbert S. Klein, Slave Trade, 191.
  4. ^ a b Joye Brown, "The Wanderer", Newsday, 12 May 2009, accessed 12 May 2009
  5. ^ Sifakis, Stewart. Who Was Who in the Civil War. New York: Facts On File, 1988. ISBN 0-8160-1055-2. pp. 212, 335
  6. ^ Myers, Robert Manson. The Children of Pride. Yale University Press, 1972. ISBN 0-300-01214-4. p.1705
  7. ^ a b c d Dan Chapman, "Slave ship's voyage of shame recalled", Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 23 Nov 2009, accessed 12 May 2009 Archived May 5, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ Tom H. Wells, The Slave Ship Wanderer (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1967), 8-10.
  9. ^ Tom H. Wells, Wanderer, 30-31.
  10. ^ Johannes Postma, The Atlantic Slave Trade (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003), 44.
  11. ^ Records of the office of the Secretary of the Interior Relating to the Suppression of the African Slave Trade and Negro Colonization, 1854–1872, No. 160, Roll 4, The National Archives, Washington, 1949. Also, Ralph R. Davis Jr., "Buchanian Espionage: A Report on Illegal Slave Trading in the South in 1859", Journal of Southern History, vol. 16, no. 2, (May, 1971), 271-273.
  12. ^ Senate Executive Documents, 36 Cong., 2 Sess, No 1, Pt. 1 (Serial 1078), 24.
  13. ^ Calonius, Eric (2008). The Wanderer: The Last American Slave Ship and the Conspiracy That Set Its Sails. St. Martin's Griffin. 
  14. ^ Wells, Tom Henderson (2009). The Slave Ship Wanderer. University of Georgia Press. 
  15. ^ Chapman, Dan (November 23, 2009). "Slave Ship's voyage of shame recalled". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Archived from the original on May 5, 2009. Retrieved May 12, 2009. 


External links[edit]