Schooner Wanderer’s sad history

Uss Wanderer 1857
Uss Wanderer 1857
A 19th century rendering of Wanderer, when the schooner was in US Navy service.

In the history of American sailing ships, there are few vessels that can compare with the disreputable story of the schooner Wanderer. In her career, from 1857 to 1871, Wanderer was stranded, involved in two collisions at sea, stolen not once but twice, condemned as a slaver, a pirate ship and a gunboat. The tale of this yacht is both disturbing and illuminates a dark side of American history. 

Wanderer was built as a private yacht for Colonel John Johnson, a sugar plantation owner in Louisiana and also a member of the New York Yacht Club. The keel was laid in Setauket, Long Island, in 1857. No expense was spared — the vessel reputedly cost $25,000, comparable to about one million dollars today. Her design was radical in that she was very modern with a fine long entry at the bow and a cutaway stern. Wanderer was a 114-foot LOA, 232-ton topsail schooner. While on a cruise to New Orleans, Johnson stopped in South Carolina and sold Wanderer to a southern businessman Charles Lamar, who represented a group whose only interest was to bring slaves to Georgia’s Hilton Head, San Simeon, and Jekyll Islands. 

In 1858 Wanderer was brought to Port Jefferson, New York for the addition of extra water tanks to hold up to 15,000 gallons of water. The local officials were suspicious that a vessel of this type should be outfitted with so many water tanks. Unfortunately, however, Wanderer was allowed to sail. 

Carrie sailed Wanderer to the mouth of the Congo River where there was an active slave market. While the ship was in Africa, pens and shelves were built in the hold for at least 500 people. The passage back took six weeks, with many dying — records indicate that the average death toll of slaves on board ship was 12%. 

The ship arrived at Jekyll Island with 409 souls. The owners of Wanderer were brought to trial after the fact. The federal government prosecuted Lamar and his crew three times and lost each case. During the Civil War, the ship was seized by the Union. It was lost in Cuba in 1871. 

In 2008 the state of Georgia erected a monument to Wanderer’s African survivors at the south end of Jekyll Island.

Let’s join Captain Hawkins on Wanderer’s first cruise down the U.S. East Coast — before it became a slave ship. We will be doing a noon sight on July 25. The DR of Wanderer is N 30° 50’ by W 78° 45’. Height of eye is 15 feet. There’s no sextant error. We will be using the 2021 Nautical Almanac. The Hs of the lower limb sun sight is 78 degrees 26.8 minutes. n

A. What is the time in GMT of meridian passage?

B. What is the Ho?

C. What is the latitude?



A. Time of meridian passage in GMT is 17:22

B. Ho is 78° 38.7’

C. Latitude is N 30° 50.7’

By Ocean Navigator