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Yacht

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Wilson Sail Loft’s sail plan of the schooner-yacht Wanderer. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

“Roots,” a new version and a new vision.

This past week the cable channels History, A&E and Lifetime presented a new look at Alex Haley’s 1976 novel, which tells the story of his Mandinka ancestor Kunta Kinte and his descendants. Born in the village of Juffure, West Africa, in 1750, Kunta Kinte and other Mandinka men and women were captured, transported to America and there suffered brutal enslavement. In 1977 “Roots” became an ABC network miniseries watched by millions of viewers. It was a slavery story that many Americans were learning for the first time. Now a new generation of Americans, sadly less informed about our history, can benefit from this new adaptation of Haley’s historical novel.

“Roots,” 2016, benefits from new scholarship giving viewers a broader understanding of the Mandinka culture in which Kunta Kinte grew to manhood, factors that led to a culture of enslavement by the Africans themselves, and the brutal conditions on the British and Americans ships that transported Africans to the Americas. The story continues in America with a more detailed story of the enslaved Africans and less about the white slavers and plantation owners than in the 1977 ABC miniseries.

If you missed the original production last week, you will be able to see it repeated on the cable channels or on the web at https://roots.history.com/. The Web site also includes more details on the show and on the featured characters and actors.

On a more local level, the book, “The Logbooks: Connecticut’s Slave Ships and Human Memory,” by Anne Farrow uses a log book of three voyages, over 20 months in the first half of the 18th century, recorded by a young Connecticut man who went on to captain slave ships and privateers, to tell a much wider and disturbing story.

Farrow’s book connects Dudley Saltonstall, the Connecticut man who kept the log books, to the slaves transported from Africa, then to the African men who enslaved them, to the ships that transported them across the Atlantic, and finally to the men who purchased them to work to death in the Caribbean sugar plantations and rice plantations of America’s southern colonies.

Farrow, a former Connecticut newspaper reporter, feels the early story of African people in America must be told over and over, from the beginning. She believes that it has not yet been absorbed into the family of stories told and retold about America, that the story of injustice and suffering still has not made its way into the national narrative.

Unknown to most Americans is the fact that colonial Connecticut was a major provisioner of British West Indies plantations where slaves were growing and processing sugar and yielding huge profits. In addition, Rhode Island men were at the helm of 90 percent of ships that brought captives to the American south, an estimated 900 ships.

The story of the Connecticut and Long Island Sound men who took part in the slave trade is disturbingly real. It brings into focus the way many of our own prosperous and influential Long Island families made their fortunes. It doesn’t change who they were or who we are, but it provides us with a clearer understanding of the pain and suffering caused by their actions.

In spite of the federal law (1807) prohibiting the importation of slaves from Africa, slaves were still being transported from Africa until the beginning of the American Civil War. On an even more local level is the story of our own East Setauket slave ship, Wanderer.

East Setauket’s Joseph Rowland built the schooner-yacht Wanderer in 1857 for Colonel John D. Johnson, a New York Yacht Club member and a wealthy New Orleans sugar planter. The sails for the Wanderer were made in Port Jefferson in the Wilson Sail Loft.

Johnson sold the Wanderer in 1858 to William Corey, and she reappeared in Port Jefferson where large water tanks were installed. Despite numerous checks by the U.S. Revenue Service the Wanderer was allowed to sail.

Slavers were rigged to outrun the slave squadrons of Great Britain and America, both of which were trying to stop the now illegal slave trade. Wanderer took aboard some 600 people from the west coast of Africa and sailed for America.

On Nov. 28, 1858, she landed 465 Africans on Jekyll Island, Georgia. The ship was seized by federal authorities; however, the Africans, now on Georgia soil, a slave state, were sold at auction.

A walking tour of the maritime and wooden shipbuilding area along Shore Road in East Setauket will be conducted Saturday, June 18, beginning at 3 p.m. from the Brookhaven Town Dock for a tour of the homes and shipyards that built ships that sailed around the world. The tour includes the home of the Wanderer shipbuilder and his story.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the Three Village Historical Society.

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Yacht Wanderer flying New York Yacht Club flag. Photo of original Greene postcard from Beverly Tyler

by Beverly C. Tyler

Joseph Rowland’s home and shipyard is in East Setauket at the intersection of Shore Road and Bayview Avenue.

Rowland built the schooner-yacht Wanderer in 1857 for Colonel John D. Johnson who was a member of the New York Yacht Club, a wealthy sugar planter from New Orleans and had a home in the Islips. The Wanderer was designed by Captain Thomas B. Hawkins, who supervised construction.

The sails for the Wanderer were made in Port Jefferson in the Wilson Sail Loft. Wilson also made the first suit of sails for the schooner-yacht America, which captured the cup that still bears the name of that first winner.

That summer of 1857, the Wanderer sailed Long Island Sound with Captain Hawkins as its sailing master.

The ship’s owner, Johnson, sailed it with the New York Yacht Club Squadron. It was said to have been the fastest schooner ever built, too big and too fast so the yacht club wouldn’t let it compete.

That fall, Wanderer voyaged to Havana, via Charleston and Savannah, and it was very widely acclaimed.

However, Johnson sold the Wanderer in 1858 to William C. Corey and soon after it reappeared in Port Jefferson. It was fitted out for the slave trade, probably at the yard of J.J. Harris. Numerous large water tanks were installed. All the people looked the other way, except S.S. Norton, surveyor of the port. He became suspicious and notified federal officials in New York. The revenue cutter Harriet Lane intercepted the Wanderer off Old Field Point and took it in tow to New York over Corey’s loud protests.

Corey glibly talked himself free and the Wanderer was allowed to leave for Charleston, where the real owner Charles Augustus Lafayette Lamar surfaced. Actually he probably crawled out from under a rock. Lamar, staying in the background because of his previous connection with slavers, obtained customs clearance for it.

They completed fitting out for the slave trade and sailed for Africa. Its captain was John E. Farnum, a mean looking cuss.

Slavers were rigged to outrun the slave squadrons of Great Britain and America, both of which were trying to stop the now illegal slave trade. Wanderer took aboard some 600 “negroes” and sailed for America. The slaves were laid down side-by-side alternating head and feet and chained, wrist to ankle. They were kept lying there for days and there was no sanitation. Even worse, if a ship was overtaken by one of the slave squadrons, it was not uncommon to bend an anchor to the last man on the chain and let it go overboard, taking the whole cargo of slaves and destroying the evidence.

On the evening of Nov. 28, 1858, the ship landed 465 Africans on Jekyll Island, Georgia. The rest died during the voyage and were unceremoniously tossed over the side. The ship was seized by federal authorities; however, the Africans, now on Georgia soil, a slave state, were sold at auction.

There was outrage in the U.S. Congress; but little, if anything, was done, less than two years before the start of the Civil War. Wanderer was sold at auction and Lamar bought it. In the spring of 1861 it was seized by the federal government and used as a gunboat in the Civil War. It was credited with capturing four prizes. After the war, the U.S. Navy sold it to private owners who ran it aground on Cape Maisi, east out of Cuba, on Jan. 21, 1871, and she was a total loss. The mess kettle that was used to feed the slaves on Jekyll Island still existed in the 1970s but has since disappeared.

There was even a sign beside it that explained the history of the kettle and said that the Wanderer was built at East Setauket. In 2008, the Jekyll Island History Museum opened an exhibit on The Last Slaver.

A walking tour of the maritime and wooden shipbuilding area along Shore Road in East Setauket will be conducted this Saturday, June 13, beginning at 2 p.m. Meet at the Brookhaven Town Dock for a tour of the homes and shipyards that built ships that sailed around the world. The tour includes the home of the Wanderer shipbuilder and his story.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.