Wanderer (slave ship)

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For other ships of the same name, see Wanderer (disambiguation).
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

The Wanderer was the last documented ship to bring a cargo of slaves from Africa to the United States (on November 28, 1858). When the Wanderer reached Jekyll Island, Georgia from Africa, approximately 303 of the enslaved Africans had survived. 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 roles.

In November 2008 the Jekyll Island Museum unveiled an exhibit dedicated to the enslaved Africans on the Wanderer.[1] A memorial sculpture was erected on the island.


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, it was inspected and there was no conclusive evidence that it was to be a slave ship, so it was allowed to pass.[4]

The captain sailed to Angola, Africa where over 10 days he had shelves and pens built in 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. The Wanderer reached Jekyll Island, Georgia on November 28, 1858 and delivered 409 slaves alive.

A prosecution of the slave traders was launched, but the defendants were found not guilty. The outrage aroused by the case was a contributing cause to the American Civil War. Ironically, the 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 in the Civil War.[5] Also among the defendants was John Frederick Tucker, a planter, who was 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.)


The Wanderer was built in a Setauket, New York (Long Island) shipyard in 1857 as a pleasure craft yacht for Colonel John Johnson. She was built to be one of the most impressive pleasure crafts in the world. This was clearly demonstrated as her streamlined design allowed the ship to achieve speeds of up to 20 knots, 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, who hired him to transport slaves from Africa. Corrie managed conversion of the ship for that purpose.[7] They were both opposed to restrictions on importing 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, the 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 to arrive 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. On the other hand, Southerners continued to press for re-establishment of importing slaves. The federal government tried Lamar and his conspirators three times for piracy, but was unable to get a conviction. It failed to convince the jury of a connection between Lamar and the ship.[7]

Buchanan Administration[edit]

The arrival of the 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. Determined to discover the truth of these stories, 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." (ref) Senate Executive Documents, 36 Cong., 2 Sess, No 1, Pt. 1 (Serial 1078), 24.

Description of Wanderer slaves[edit]

The slaves who arrived in the United States on the Wanderer gained a celebrity status, that spread beyond the south to newspapers in New York, Washington, and London.[12] They were the only group of slaves who were frequently identified with the ship which they arrived on. The tendency of newspapers and private correspondence to identify the slaves in this way showed there were no other known large-scale importations of African slaves in this period.[13]

Wanderer's later career[edit]

Main article: USS Wanderer (1857)

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 before bringing the ship back to Boston, Massachusetts, 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, the Wanderer operated commercially until lost off Cape Maisí, Cuba, on 12 January 1871.


Most historians believe that the 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.

In 2008, on the south tip of Jekyll Island, the state of Georgia erected a monument to the voyage of the Wanderer, consisting of three 12-foot 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, the book which was credited for reviving interest in the Wanderer story.[14]

See also[edit]


  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 Colonizaton, 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. ^ Calonius, Eric (2008). The Wanderer: The Last American Slave Ship and the Conspiracy That Set Its Sails. St. Martin's Griffin. 
  13. ^ Wells, Tom Henderson (2009). The Slave Ship Wanderer. University of Georgia Press. 
  14. ^ 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]

The schooner Clotilde (or Clotilda) was the last known U.S. slave ship to bring captives from Africa to the United States,[1] arriving at Mobile Bay in autumn 1859[1] (some sources give the date as July 9, 1860[2][3]), with 110-160 slaves.[1] The ship was a two-masted schooner, 86 ft long by 23 ft (26 × 7 m), and it was burned and scuttled at Mobile Bay, soon after. The sponsors had arranged to buy slaves in Whydah, Dahomey on May 15, 1859. [1][2]

Many descendants of Cudjo Kazoola Lewis,[1][2] the last survivor of the Clotilde, still reside in Africatown, a neighborhood of Mobile, Alabama. A memorial bust of him was placed in front of the Union Missionary Baptist Church.