Slave Memorial Serves as Reminder; Monument Tells Tale of 19th Century Ship the Wanderer

By Hawkins, Carole | The Florida Times Union, November 24, 2008 | Go to article overview

Slave Memorial Serves as Reminder; Monument Tells Tale of 19th Century Ship the Wanderer


Hawkins, Carole, The Florida Times Union


Byline: CAROLE HAWKINS

JEKYLL ISLAND, Ga. -- Eric Calonius was touring Jekyll Island's millionaire mansions six years ago when he saw a painting of a 19th century sailing ship and read a single paragraph about its illicit slave cargo. This week the paragraph telling the all-but-forgotten tale of the Wanderer will grow to the size of a monument.

The Jekyll Island Authority Museum will dedicate on Tuesday a new 12-foot exhibit commemorating the 150th anniversary of the landing of the slave ship Wanderer on Jekyll Island. The dedication ceremony will be at 4:30 p.m. at St. Andrew's Picnic Area on the island's south end, close to where the vessel is believed to have landed.

The monument, designed as three billowing sails with text panels, was funded by the Friends of Historic Jekyll Island. A program celebrating local African-American heritage will follow the dedication.

The designer, Colombian Mario Schambon, and master welder Marco Guzman were at the erected memorial Friday, taking photos and making sure it was well-anchored.

Jekyll Island Authority Museum Director John Hunter called the date a milestone and an opportunity to reflect on what happened here.

"Even in spite of the bad things we've done in our past, for the descendants of the people who were aboard this ship, this was their entry into America," Hunter said.

Calonius, a former reporter and editor for The Wall Street Journal, said he was intrigued by the painting he saw during his Jekyll visit.

"Jekyll Island is a place that we think of as fun. I was fascinated to discover that this really dark event had happened here," he said.

He researched the almost unknown tale and was surprised to uncover 140 articles in The New York Times archives written about the Wanderer in 1858 and 1859. The story made national news in its time.

In 2006 Calonius published The Wanderer: The Last American Slave Ship and the Conspiracy That Set Its Sails.

Calonuis will be one of four people giving a presentation at Tuesday's dedication.

FROM LUXURY TO ILLEGAL

The Wanderer was built in New York as a luxury racing yacht and then sold to William Corrie of Charleston, who secretly refitted it as a slave ship.

In 1858, more than 40 years after Congress outlawed slave trading and subsequently declared it an act of piracy punishable by death, Corrie used the Wanderer to smuggle 409 Africans onto Jekyll Island. John DuBignon, who owned Jekyll Island at the time, was a friend of Savannah planter Charles Lamar, a co-conspirator in the scheme. …

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