I’ve been wondering what to do for a post on this Sesquicentennial year (1863) of the American Civil War. I finally decided that this 3-year-old review on “The Wanderer: The Last American Slave Ship and the Conspiracy that Set its Sails” suits the case with a little editing.
“The title is a phony, as the author makes clear deep in his text. The truth seems to have been too much for his New York publisher to bear. That is the author’s unveiling of the little known business offices of slave traders in New York City and their slave ships down at the wharves of Lower Manhattan. They were the real “last American slave ship(s).”
Author Erik Calonius shows how, until 1864, the third year of the war, these Yankee slave dealers gathered their capital from Northern businessmen and sent their ships to West Africa to buy African slaves low and then sell them high in Cuba and the Caribbean. Then they hosed down their Middle Passage decks and steamed home to New York City.
“All under the disinterested eyes of corrupt port officialdom (despite federal law then making American slave-trading a crime punishable by death). The book’s focus on the Southern sloop Wanderer and the few hot-heads who took it to the mouth of the Congo River for slaves and then back to Georgia once in 1859 ignores the New York slavers which operated for another five years.
“Calonius smartly weaves the Wanderer tale in with the 1850s politics of North and South and other events, such as the John Brown raid, that precipitated the American Civil War. The tracing of the successful descendants of one Wanderer slave was a nice touch. Would have been much better, though, to have included a few of the unwilling passengers of the more numerous New York slave ships.
“I suppose we should be pleased that the publishers didn’t snip the real story out of the book entirely.”