Landing of the Wanderer, 1858, Jekyll Island

The Wanderer was built as a pleasure yacht in 1857 for New Orleans sugar merchant John D. Johnson and quickly gained a reputation as one of the fastest and most luxurious private crafts in America. In the spring of 1858 Colonel Johnson sold the ship to Captain William C. Corrie of Charleston. Corrie was hopeful it would gain him entrance into the prestigious New York Yacht Club, which it apparently did. Soon after the purchase, Corrie was approached by Savannah businessman Charles Augustus Lafayette Lamar for the purpose of refitting the Wanderer and transforming it into an illegal* slave ship. The two entered into partnership for this purpose.

On 18 October 1858 the Wanderer departed Angola with a cargo 0f 487 human souls and arrived 42 days later, on 28 November, off the coast of Jekyll Island. Assistant Cumberland Island lightkeeper Horatio Harris procured James Clubb to help the Wanderer maneuver the treacherous sandbars of St. Andrews Sound. Through an arrangement Lamar had made with Jekyll’s owner, Henry DuBignon, Jr., the ship made landfall on the southern shore of the island. According to the Wanderer’s log, 409 Africans survived the voyage. They were attended by Dr. Robert Hazelhurst of Brunswick before being taken to markets in Savannah and Augusta to be dispersed throughout the region. News of their arrival spread quickly via newspapers in New York, Washington, and London and outrage followed. This led President Buchanan to call for further scrutiny of Southern ports. The Wanderer slaves became celebrities of a sort and their fates were followed as closely as possible. They were among the only Africans to be closely identified with the ship upon which they were spirited to servitude.

By the end of the year Assistant U. S. Attorney Joseph Ganahl had the Wanderer impounded and crewmen Nicholas Brown, Juan Rajestam, and Michael Arguirir were arrested. (They were, unsurprisingly, found not guilty in November 1859). Charles Lamar bought back his boat at a government auction in Savannah in May 1859 and sold it to Captain Martin, who stole it before completing payment.

A federal court in Savannah brought three counts of piracy against Lamar, Corrie, DuBignon, and other conspirators, but all were found not guilty in May 1860.

In the meantime, Captain Martin had taken the Wanderer back to West Africa to retrieve more slaves, but the crew mutinied and left him stranded. The ship arrived in Boston on Christmas Eve 1860. Gazaway Bugg Lamar, father of Charles Lamar, took possession of the ship to satisfy Martin’s outstanding debt. On 5 April 1861 it was seized by the U. S. Navy at Key West to prevent its further involvement in the slave trade and served the Union in various capacities throughout the Civil War. After being decommissioned the Wanderer was purchased by a private citizen and sailed commercially until sinking off Cuba on 28 December 1870.

In 2008, an interpretive monument to the African survivors of the Wanderer was erected at St. Andrews Beach Park, consisting of three 12-foot sail-shaped signs. The Jekyll Island Museum features an exhibit, as well, and actively seeks information on the families of the survivors.

Some Survivors of the Wanderer

Clockwise from top left: Zow Uncola [Slave name Tom Johnson]; Manchuella [Slave name Katie Noble]; Lucy Lanham [she was too young to remember her African name]; Mabiala [Slave name Uster Williams]. From Charles J. Montgomery, “Survivors from the Cargo of the Negro Slave Yacht Wanderer”, American Anthropologist, 1908.

(Below) Left to right: Cilucangy [Slave name Ward Lee]; Pucka Geata [Slave name Tucker Henderson]; Tahro [Slave name Romeo Thomas]

From US Slave: Survivors of the Slave Ship Wanderer: Cilucangy grew up in the village of Cowany. He was 12 or 13 when he was transported to America, sold to Sophia Tillman, and renamed Ward Tillman. In 1866, Ward married Rosa Tillman. Rosa was probably African also. If she was aboard the Wanderer, she would have been around 13 during the Wanderer’s crossing. By 1880, Ward and Rosa rejected the name Tillman, adopting the surname Lee. They worked as field hands in Meriwether, Edgefield County, SC, moving to Shaws, Aiken County, SC as their family grew. Ward and Rosa had four children; Andrew, Sam, Amelia, and Dempsey. Rosa passed away sometime after 1900. Losing his wife after around 35 years of marriage, Ward became homesick. He wrote a letter expressing his longing to return to Africa. He lived until 1914, but he never saw Africa again.

*- Congress outlawed the importation of slaves in 1807, but such activity continued clandestinely in the South; it had become much more difficult by the 1850s, with the Royal Navy patrolling the coast of West Africa. Though the Wanderer was long considered the last American slave ship, recent scholarship has discovered that another slave ship, the Clotilda, landed in Mobile a little over a year later, in 1860. 

 

Advertisements

7 Comments

Filed under -GLYNN COUNTY, Jekyll Island GA

7 responses to “Landing of the Wanderer, 1858, Jekyll Island

  1. Nanci G Posey

    Interesting but sad…..part of Jekyll’s diverse history.

  2. ben

    Thanks for this interesting if sad telling of history Brian. Our journey as a state has much to make us proud, but such events as this certainly temper the pride.

  3. Thank you! I have known of the Wanderer for several years. I first read about it while researching my maternal ancestors who settled on Long Island in the 1600s. The Wanderer was built at the Bayles Shipyard at Port Jefferson on Long Island. Elisha Bayles was the founder of that shipyard. My Mother was a Bayless but in those early days her family members spelled the name Bayles and her ancestor was John Bayles of Southold and Jamaica. John was a British immigrant. I have never been able to connect John to Elisha and after many years still do not know if the shipyard family are any relation to mine. The use that the “pleasure yacht” was put to is a thing that I would not like to know that my family had any connection to. I am glad to know about survivors of that sad enterprise.

  4. John Speer

    Thanks for the info on the Wanderer. Interesting

  5. Susan Vann

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. You are doing important work…keep on!

  6. Jack OConnor

    Thank you so much for your dedication to our American history Brian. Because of your blog I’ve been to Kingsley Plantation and learned about sea island cotton, watched wild horses cavorting on Cumberland Island and driven the length and breath of Jekyll Island visiting places you’ve highlighted.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.