The Wanderer was the last ship to bring enslaved people to Georgia and one of the last ships to bring slaves to the United States. The Wanderer made its voyage to Georgia in 1854, arriving on the shores of Jekyll Island with 409 slaves. The voyage was very suspect and illegal due to the Slave Importation Act, a law passed by the United States in 1807 that went into effect on January 1, 1808. The Slave Importation Act made the Atlantic slave trade illegal by declaring that slaves could no longer be brought into the US from any foreign lands.
William C. Corrie of Charleston, South Carolina, was the owner of the Wanderer. The beautiful ship was a 238 ton luxury vessel originally built for Colonel John D. Johnson, a wealthy and prominent sugar baron from New Orleans. The Wanderer was one of the most beautiful and fastest pleasure crafts in the world. Its design would allow it to achieve twenty knots per hour. Shortly after Corrie purchased the vessel from Colonel Johnson he was approached by Savannah, Georgia businessman Charles Lamar. Lamar proposed that the ship be refitted into a slave ship for the purpose of illegally importing slaves in the American South. A partnership formed between Corrie and Lamar. The ship sailed to New York City where the work to refit the craft began in 1857. One of the most impressive installations to the ship was a tank capable of holding 15,000 gallons of drinking water. Despite rumors of the ship’s purpose and red flags a plenty, the Wanderer passed all inspections and set sail for Charleston. After arriving in Charleston, further preparations were made, and then the ship set sail for the African coast.
The Wanderer entered the mouth of the Congo River near present day Angola in September of 1858 and sailed up river to where captives were readily available. After negotiations with local tribes, Corrie and Lamar purchased 500 slaves for $50 a head. The price was paid for with rum, gunpowder, and muskets instead of paper or gold. The entire transaction took less than a month to complete, and by mid-October, the ship and its inhabitants were headed for Georgia.
The ship arrived at Jekyll Island, a much safer spot than Savannah, in late November 1858. Henry DuBignon, Jr., who owned Jekyll Island and had conspired with Corrie and Lamar, arranged the landing point and met the ship upon its arrival. 409 of the African slaves on board the ship survived the crossing of the Atlantic and within days were dispatched to slave markets in Charleston, Savannah, and Augusta.
Corrie and Lamar believed that they had pulled off the smuggling scheme, but locals continued to complain about seeing “smuggled slaves” in the area which prompted an investigation. That investigation found that Corrie and Lamar had falsified documents concerning the Wanderer and its mission prompting the federal government to bring charges against the two men. The trial took place in Savannah in May of 1860. The prosecution team, led by Henry R. Jackson, a prominent lawyer and judge from Savannah, was outstanding but the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. Abolitionists were outraged, and it led President James Buchannan to introduce stricter measures of policing the smuggling of slaves into the U.S.
The Civil War would start less than a year later. The Wanderer was captured by the Union Navy in Key West, Florida, and used as a gun boat and hospital ship during the war. After the war, it was bought by a private citizen and used as a pleasure yacht. It sank just off the coast of Cuba in December 1870.