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
The historic images that follow are taken from Charles J. Montgomery, “Survivors from the Cargo of the Negro Slave Yacht Wanderer”, American Anthropologist, 1908. They are in the public domain and shared here as such.
It is amazing that the names of these men and women have not been lost to history. They should be better known.
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.