The Wanderer was a schooner built in New York and initially intended to be a racing yacht. It was later sold to Captain William C. Corrie, who represented a group of investors in Savannah, Georgia, led by Charles A. L. Lamar. After a successful slave-trade voyage to Africa, the Wanderer landed near Brunswick, Georgia, in December 1858 with 420 Africans aboard. Most of the Africans were shipped up the Savannah River and put ashore in South Carolina near Augusta, Georgia, where they were sold into slavery. Many southerners, especially South Carolinians, applauded Lamar’s bold venture and triumphantly proclaimed that the successful voyage of the Wanderer had reopened the slave trade. The venture also brought forth cries of protest from abolitionists in the North. Publicity of the Wanderer’s voyage prompted federal authorities, led by the U.S. attorney for the district of Georgia, to investigate the ship for violation of the 1820 federal statute that outlawed the slave trade. During the investigation, the ship was condemned and repurchased by Lamar at a Savannah auction.
Lamar sold part interest in the Wanderer to a captain named Martin, and the two planned another slave-trading expedition. Martin, who apparently never paid nor intended to pay Lamar, gathered a crew and with no notice left Savannah before the ship was fully loaded. The crew was not informed that they were serving on a slave-trading voyage until the ship was out of the harbor, and then they were threatened with death if they tried to leave the ship. When Captain Martin boarded a French boat to obtain more provisions and directions, the crew on the Wanderer, under the direction of the first mate, quickly raised the sail and headed for Boston. When they reached Boston late in 1859, they turned the ship over to federal authorities and claimed it in lieu of their wages and for its salvage value. Federal authorities at the same time began proceedings against the Wanderer under federal piracy statutes.
While proceedings were under way in federal court in Boston, South Carolina federal district court judge Andrew Magrath, at the April 1860 term of court in Charleston, addressed the charges that the U.S. attorney for the district of Georgia had brought against William C. Corrie, who had been the captain of the Wanderer on the voyage in which slaves were brought to South Carolina and Georgia. Magrath threw the case out of court, ruling that the foreign slave trade was not considered piracy, in spite of the 1820 federal statute that made it illegal. Magrath’s extraordinary ruling did not render the statute null and void, but it did send a strong message to federal authorities that they could not successfully prosecute slave traders in South Carolina’s federal district court. In June 1860, only a couple of months after Magrath announced his ruling, a federal judge in Boston condemned the Wanderer as a slave-trading ship.
Bancroft, Frederic. Slave Trading in the Old South. 1931. Reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996.
Finkelman, Paul. Slavery in the Courtroom: An Annotated Bibliography of American Cases. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1985.
Sinha, Manisha. The Counterrevolution of Slavery: Politics and Ideology in Antebellum South Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.