Our history is not always pretty, which makes it even more important to learn about. A great example of this is The Wanderer slave ship and its connection with the Golden Isles.
The story begins on Long Island, New York in 1857. Colonel John D. Johnson had The Wanderer vessel built for his personal use, and it was considered one of the finest private vessels ever constructed. The streamlined designed allowed the ship to sail upwards of 20 knots per hour, an impressive feat at the time. However, Johnson’s ownership did not last long, and he sold it to a businessman out of Charleston, South Carolina. William C. Corrie, the new owner, partnered with a man out of Savannah, Charles Lamar, and together they carved up a plan to convert The Wanderer into a slave smuggling vessel. Remember, although slavery was not illegal until after the Civil War, the slave trade was banned on January 1st, 1808. Lamar was described as a “fire-breathing radical” who was as pro-slavery as they came.
The alterations to the ship were made in the New York Harbor, and somehow, and it carelessly passed through the customs inspection. It was now time to set sail to the west African coast. On September 16, 1858, The Wanderer entered the mouth of the Congo River. Met with an illegal slave trader from New York City, Corrie and Lamar bartered and landed on a deal: 500 slaves at 50 dollars per head. In todays money, they spent just shy of $950,000. After a few weeks in the Congo River basin, the ship loaded with 500 West Africans, and The Wanderer was en route to the American south.
On November 28th, 1858, The Wanderer entered the waters of the Golden Isles. Henry DuBignon Jr., the owner of Jekyll Island, had been in cahoots for quite some time, and decided that Jekyll was the perfect place to unload the slaves. The survivors of the passage were unloaded on the shores of Jekyll Island, and in the following weeks, sent around the south for auction.
Corrie and Lamar’s plan was not as flawless as they thought, however, and locals began to notice the newly imported Africans. Already under speculation, their counterfeit documentation to authorities really raised red flags. An investigation was launched, and as a result, Corrie, Lamar, and DuBignon were tried in federal court. The trail took place in Savannah, Georgia, and all businessmen were found not guilty of piracy.
While the repercussions for the smugglers were small, the impact of The Wanderer in Glynn County can still be seen today. There are still decedents of passengers on The Wanderer living on St. Simons and surrounding areas, still hoping to tell the stories of their ancestors.
Today, The Wanderer sits somewhere on the on the floor of the Caribbean Sea, but the stories of the hundreds of decedents live on.