African-American Mariners in the Civil War

African-American Mariners in the Civil War


The following is directly quoted from: The Negro in the American Rebellion, by William Wells Brown, Lee and Shepard, Boston: 1867. [This book uses the language of the times.]

The Schooner S. J. Waring

    "In the month of June, 1861, the schooner S. J. Waring from New York, bound to South America, was captured on the passage by the rebel privateer Jeff. Davis, a prize-crew put on board, consisting of a captain, mate, and four seamen; and the vessel set sail for the port of Charleston, S.C. Three of the original crew were retained on board, a German as steersman, a Yankee who was put in irons, and a black man named William Tillman, the steward and cook of the schooner. The latter was put to work at his usual business, and told that he was henceforth the property of the Confederate States, and would be sold, on his arrival at Charleston, as a slave. Night comes on; darkness covers the sea; the vessel is gliding swiftly towards the South; the rebels, one after another, retire to their berths; the hour of midnight approaches; all is silent in the cabin; the captain is asleep; the mate, who has charge of the watch, takes his brandy toddy, and reclines upon the quarter-deck. The negro thinks of home and all its endearments: he sees in the dim future chains and slavery. He resolves, and determines to put the resolution into practice upon the instant. Armed with a heavy club, he proceeds to the captain's room. He strikes the fatal blow: he feels the pulse, and all is still. He next goes to the adjoining room: another blow is struck, and the black man is master of the cabin. Cautiously he ascends to the deck, strikes the mate: the officer is wounded but not killed. He draws his revolver, and calls for help. The crew are aroused: they are hastening to aid their commander. The negro repeats his blows with the heavy club: the rebel falls dead at Tillman's feet. The African seizes the revolver, drives the crew below deck, orders the release of the Yankee, puts the enemy in irons, and proclaims himself master of the vessel. The Waring's head is turned towards New York, with the stars and stripes flying, a fair wind, and she rapidly retraces her steps under the command of William Tillman, the negro patriot. The New-York Tribune said of this event, "To this colored man was the nation indebted for the first vindication of its honor on the sea." . . . The Federal Government awarded to Tillman the sum of six thousand dollars as prize-money for the capture of the schooner. A few weeks later, and the same rebel privateer [Jeff. Davis] captured the schooner Enchantress, bound from Boston to St. Jago, while off Nantucket Shoals. A prize-crew was put on board, and, as in the case of The Waring, retaining the colored steward; and the vessel set sail for a Southern port. When off Cape Hatteras, she was overtaken by the Federal gunboat Albatross, Capt. Prentice. On speaking her, and demanding where from and whence bound, she replied, "Boston, for St. Jago." At this moment the negro rushed from the galley, where the pirates had secreted him, and jumped into the sea, exclaiming, "They are a privateer crew from The 'Jeff. Davis,' and bound for Charleston!" The negro was picked up, and taken on board The Albatross. The prize was ordered to heave to, which she did. Lieut. Neville jumped aboard of her, and ordered the pirates into the boats, and to pull for The Albatross, where they were secured in irons. "The Enchantress" was then taken in tow by The Albatross, and arrived in Hampton Roads.

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