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The Slave Ship Wanderer

Updated: Feb 3, 2021

(from the collections of the Three Village Historical Society)

Originally written for the Summer 2015 Historian

by William B. Minuse and Beverly C. Tyler

Joseph Rowland’s home and shipyard is in East Setauket at the intersection of Shore Road and Bayview Avenue. Rowland built the 106 foot schooner-yacht Wanderer in 1857 for Colonel John D. Johnson who was a member of the New York Yacht Club and a wealthy sugar planter from New Orleans. He had a home in the Islips. The Wanderer was designed by Captain Thomas B. Hawkins and he supervised her construction.

Wanderer sail plan

The sails for the Wanderer were made in Port Jefferson, in the Wilson sail loft. Wilson also made the first suit of sails for the schooneryacht America, that captured the Cup that still bears the name of that first winner. That summer of 1857, the Wanderer sailed Long Island Sound with Captain Hawkins as her sailing master. Her owner, Johnson, sailed her with the New York Yacht Club Squadron. She was said to have been the fastest schooner ever built, too big and too fast so the yacht club wouldn't let her compete.

Photo of silver cup courtesy of the descendants of Captain Walter Scott

That fall Wanderer, with captain Walter Smith, voyaged to Havana, via Charleston and Savannah and she was very widely acclaimed. However, Johnson sold the Wanderer in Janurary 1858 to William C. Corey. With the change of ownership Captain Smith left the ship along with the owner and most of the crew. As a token of appreciation and respect the owner and crew presented Smith with an inscribed silver cup. “PRESENTED to Capt Walter Smith OF YACHT WANDERER on her Southern Cruise Jan 1858 As a testimonial of our regard BY THE WANDERERS John D Johnson, Henry D Townsend, G.H. McLean, T.E. Wilmeiding, E.A. Johnson, P. Haitshoine.”

Corey sailed the Wanderer back to Long Island and brought her into Port Jefferson where she was fitted out for the slave trade, probably at the yard of J.J. Harris. Numerous large water tanks were installed. All the people looked the other way, except S.S. Norton, surveyor of the Port. He became suspicious and notified federal officials in New York. The revenue cutter Harriet Lane intercepted the Wanderer off Old Field Point and took her in tow to New York over Corey's loud protests.

Revenue Cutter Harriet Lane

Corey glibly talked himself free and the Wanderer was allowed to leave for Charleston, SC where the real owner Charles Augustus Lafayette Lamar surfaced. Actually he probably crawled out from under a rock. Lamar, staying in the background because of his previous connection with slavers, obtained customs clearance for her. They completed fitting out for the slave trade and sailed for Africa. Her captain, for at least part of this time was John E. Farnum, a mean looking cuss.

Wanderer under full sail off the African coast

Slavers were rigged to outrun the slave squadrons of Great Britain and America, both of which were trying to stop the now illegal slave trade. Wanderer took aboard some 600 “negroes” and sailed for America. The slaves were laid down side by side alternating head and feet and chained, wrist to ankle. They were kept lying there for days and there was no sanitation. Even worse, if a ship was overtaken by one of the slave squadrons it was not uncommon to bend an anchor to the last man on the chain and let it go overboard, taking the whole cargo of slaves and destroying the evidence.

On the evening of November 28, 1858, she landed 465 Africans on Jekyll Island, Georgia. The rest died during the voyage and were unceremoniously tossed over the side. The ship was seized by Federal authorities however the Africans, now on Georgia soil, a slave state, were sold at auction.

There was outrage in the U.S. Congress but little, if anything, was done, less than two years before the start of the Civil War. Wanderer was sold at auction and Lamar bought her. In the spring of 1861 she was seized by the federal Government and used as a gunboat in the Civil War. She was credited with capturing four prizes. After the war the U.S. Navy sold her to private owners who ran her aground on cape Maisi, east out of Cuba, on January 21, 1871 and she was a total loss.

The mess kettle that was used to feed the slaves on Jekyll Island, Georgia still existed in the 1970s but has since disappeared. There was even a sign beside it that explained the history of the kettle and told that the Wanderer was built at East Setauket. In 2008, the Jekyll Island History Museum opened an exhibit on “The Last Slaver.”

Above: Sign for the mess kettle (shown in inset) from the Wanderer.

William B. Minuse (1908-2002) was a civil Engineer, writer, historian and past

president of the Three Village Historical Society. Beverly Tyler is Three Village Historical Society Historian.

The last four photographs above are from William Minuse’s 1973 slide presentation “Shipbuilding in the Three Village Area.” His notes, documents and written presentation formed the basis for this article.

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