The Wilmington Journal editorialized on 25 September 1863 that: “It is a curious fact, for those who maintain the civil war in America is founded upon the slave question, that [John Newland Maffitt] should be the very man who has distinguished himself actively against the slave trade.”
Maffitt, born of Irish parents at sea on the Atlantic on 22 February 1819, was said to be “born to command a ship.” He was “cultivated and gentlemanly,” blessed with a magnetic personality, and his seagoing exploits during the war are legendary.
The slave ship Echo noted below was originally built and registered in Baltimore in 1845 as the Putnam, for the New York City merchants Everett and Brown. The latter sold the ship in 1857 to “New York slave traders.”
New York City at the time “proved to be an ideal port for launching illegal slave voyages at this time: it boasted an abundance of available vessels and seafarers, it was overseen by overstretched and often corrupt port officials, and it even offered a legitimate trade in West African palm oil that could serve as a legitimate cover for illegal human trafficking.”
The newly purchased Putnam was sent on its first slaving voyage in 1857, the first of fifteen to leave New York City docks in that year alone.
Emancipator and Confederate Naval Officer
“Maffitt had captured a beautiful clipper named Echo, originally from Baltimore. It had a crew of eighteen, several of whom were Americans. It carried – stowed in a false lower deck only forty-four inches high – some three hundred African slaves. They were separated by sex and almost entirely naked. Maffitt ordered [two officers with a prize crew] to sail the Echo to Charleston to be turned over to the US marshal for disposition in court.
From orders dated 11 June 1859, he learned his new command was to be the USS Crusader [to be used] again cruising for slavers. (His earlier capture of the Echo had touched off great interest in the enterprise and led to a series of captures by other US naval vessels).
[On May 23rd, 1860] off the northern coast of Cuba [Maffitt stopped and boarded a suspicious square-rigger flying a French flag]. At this moment, hundreds of blacks broke open the hatches and, with a great shout, swarmed on board. When they saw the American flag over the Crusader, they became frantic with joy. The men danced, shouted, and climbed into the rigging. The women’s behavior was quite different. Totally nude, and some with babies in their arms, they withdrew to sit upon the deck, silent tears of appreciation in their eyes.
The crew of the slaver . . . stated their ship had no name, but it subsequently was found to be the bark Bogota out of New York. The cargo master spoke English and “might be taken for a Yankee galvanized into a Frenchman or Spaniard, as circumstances might dictate.”
Maffitt escorted the Bogota to Key West. The blacks, between four and five hundred of them, had been on passage in the Bogota for forty-five days from Ouida, a slave trading base in the People’s Republic of Benin (Kingdom of Dahomey). They, like many others, had been prisoners of war sold by the king.
At Key West, the blacks joined others who had been recaptured by the navy. Buildings had been erected to house them at Whitehead Point. At the time, there were some fourteen hundred Africans in the complex awaiting government disposition.”
(High Seas Confederate: The Life and Times of John Newland Maffitt, Royce Shingleton, University of South Carolina Press, 1994, excerpts pp. 26-30)