A new book reveals New Orleans's role in the slave-ship Wanderer's infamous 1858

A new book reveals New Orleans's role in the slave-ship Wanderer's infamous 1858 2018-03-09T11:09:58+00:00

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    The expedition of the slave-ship Wanderer is usually considered a Georgia story because its mastermind, Charles Lamar, was from Savannah and the yacht landed its human cargo on Jekyll Island. However, The Slave-Trader’s Letter-Book: Charles Lamar, the Wanderer, and Other Tales of the African Slave Trade by historian Jim Jordan shows that Louisiana played an important role in Lamar’s schemes.

    Lamar entered into a partnership with a New Orleans slave dealer Theodore Johnston to supply Johnston with enslave people in the legal interstate slave trade. Johnston also owned the Gros Tete plantation in Iberville Parish. Before the Wanderer expedition, Johnston helped Lamar outfit another slave ship, the E. A. Rawlins, which embarked for Africa from New Orleans.

    Johnston fell deeply in debt to Lamar, who traveled to New Orleans in late February 1858 to collect. While there, the luxury yacht Wanderer, then owned by a former Louisianan, John D. Johnson, arrived in New Orleans harbor after a winter excursion from New York to Cuba. The local press raved about the beauty of the ship and Johnson received many guests during his stay. Lamar undoubtedly heard of the vessel’s presence and likely visited it, as two months later a syndicate headed by him purchased the yacht. In early July the Wanderer left on its infamous journey to Africa.

    While Lamar was in New Orleans trying to collect from Johnston, he became aware of a bill making its way through the Louisiana legislature. It called for allowing a private company to import 2,500 “African apprentices”, a practice contrary to U.S. federal law but used by the British and French after they banned slavery in their colonies in the West Indies. Another partner of Lamar and Johnston, Nelson Trowbridge, who was also in New Orleans at the time, claimed he was a partner in the company that would import the Africans. The bill passed the house but was rejected by the senate in a narrow vote. The incident gave Lamar an idea. He asked the secretary of the treasury, Howell Cobb, a relative by marriage, for clearance for his ship the Richard Cobden from Charleston to Africa, to pick up a cargo of African apprentices and land them on a levee outside of New Orleans. Lamar would then test the federal slave-trade laws in court. Lamar’s proposal started a national war of words between him and Cobb.

    These are a few of the incidents where New Orleans figured prominently in the Wanderer and other slave-trade plans of Charles Lamar.

    The book is available at Amazon.com and other online bookstores.

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