Born at sea while his family sailed from Ireland to America, John Newland Mafffitt was destined for a life on the water. Having just relinquished command of the USS Crusader at New York on March 1, 1861, after several years capturing New England-captained and financed slavers off Cuba, the country he had left had become something different.
Soon to become one of the most famed of blockade runners and privateers, he had, by his account, in the first three of his four captures of slavers, rescued 789 Africans from their cramped holds.
The Wilmington Daily Journal of 25 September 1863 remarked, “It is a curious fact, for those who maintain the civil war in America is founded upon the slave question, that [Maffitt] should be the very man who has distinguished himself actively against the slave trade.”
Though describing himself as a “slave holder” due to a modest interest in land he had inherited from his wife’s family, Maffitt found the newly-rediscovered morality of New Englanders disingenuous.
Assuming Puritanical Attitudes
“The news of Fort Sumter reached Washington in the early evening of April 13, causing intense excitement within the city. Maffitt now faced his terrible decision of allegiance. He could hear the tramp of soldiers and the roll of artillery wagons day and night outside his house. Southern families departed daily; resignations were announced “in language of gall and bitterness.” Maffitt’s relatives were in the South. His property was partly in the North – his Washington home with its valuable furnishings and fine library; and partly in the South interest in land he inherited . . .
He recoiled against a people who sold slaves to Southerners and then became puritanical in their attitudes:
‘I fancied that New England, with her well-developed secession proclivities, would offer no material objection to the course of the South. In truth it was natural to presume that fanatical abolitionism would hail with joy the departure of the un-Godly, slaveholding section of the country from her unwelcome participation in the Union. But material interest gave zest to patriotism, and her war course would lead the world to suppose that she never contemplated a severance from the Union and forming a Northern Confederation.”
(High Seas Confederate: The Life and Times of John Newland Maffitt, Royce Shingleton, University of South Carolina Press, 1994, excerpts pp. 30; 32-33)