The Slave-Trader's Letter-Book

Charles Lamar, the Wanderer, and Other Tales of the African Slave Trade

Title Details

Illustrations: 6 b&w images

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 01/15/2018

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5196-4

List Price: $32.95


Pub Date: 11/01/2019

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5687-7

List Price: $26.95

Subsidies and Partnerships

Published with the generous support of Sarah Mills Hodge Fund

The Slave-Trader's Letter-Book

Charles Lamar, the Wanderer, and Other Tales of the African Slave Trade

Seventy long-lost letters shed light on the buildup to the Civil War

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  • Description
  • Reviews

In 1858 Savannah businessman Charles Lamar, in violation of U.S. law, organized the shipment of hundreds of Africans on the luxury yacht Wanderer to Jekyll Island, Georgia. The four hundred survivors of the Middle Passage were sold into bondage. This was the first successful documented slave landing in the United States in about four decades and shocked a nation already on the path to civil war.

In 1886 the North American Review published excerpts from thirty of Lamar's letters from the 1850s, reportedly taken from his letter book, which describe his criminal activities. However, the authenticity of the letters was in doubt until very recently. In 2009, researcher Jim Jordan found a cache of private papers belonging to Charles Lamar's father, stored for decades in an attic in New Jersey. Among the documents was Charles Lamar's letter book, confirming him as the author. The Lamar documents, including the Slave-Trader's Letter Book, are now at the Georgia Historical Society and are available for research.

This book has two parts. The first recounts the flamboyant and reckless life of Lamar himself, including Lamar's involvement in southern secession, the slave trade, and a plot to overthrow the government of Cuba. A portrait emerges at odds with Lamar's previous image as a savvy entrepreneur and principled rebel. Instead, we see a man who was often broke and whose volatility sabotaged him at every turn. His involvement in the slave trade was driven more by financial desperation than southern defiance. The second part presents the "Slave-Trader's Letter-Book." Together with annotations, these seventy long-lost letters shed light on the lead-up to the Civil War from the remarkable perspective of a troubled, and troubling, figure.

Jim Jordan has given us a fascinating look at little-known yet divisive events that occurred during the years leading up to the Civil War, particularly the illegal, transatlantic African slave trade. He brings them to life through the provocative and often outrageous words of a man involved in those activities. Mr. Jordan's thorough research provides a compelling and comprehensive account of the infamous Wanderer expeditions and the men behind them.

—John Duncan, professor emeritus, Armstrong University

This intriguing and educational book is in two parts. The first, a thorough and well-researched biography of one of antebellum Georgia's most famous scoundrels; the second, a professionally edited and annotated printing of Charles Augustus Lafayette Lamar's long-lost and recently rediscovered letter-book. Both parts are well worth the read by scholars and the general public. Charles Lamar was the instigator of the infamous voyage of the Wanderer. He was a hero to southern secessionists and a criminal to northern abolitionists. That makes this book important to all those interested in the antebellum and Civil War history of Georgia.

—Lawrence S. Rowland, coeditor of The Civil War in South Carolina

Extraordinarily intriguing and vital. . . . These letters give a harrowing look into the mind of Lamar and the rationale of many Southerners during the time.

—Johanna Rocker-Clinton, San Francisco Book Review

Jordan's deft writing and excellent story-telling technique turns what could be a pedantic text into a fascinating, informative read.

—Rosi Hollinbeck, Manhattan Book Review

A compelling story.

—Jonathan W. White, The Civil War Monitor

An enthralling read, not just because of the sometimes unbelievable historical details it recounts, but also because it puts the lie to the idea that the Civil War was about anything resembling honor or dignity.

—Kristopher Monroe, Savannah Now

Jordan's study of Lamar and the Wanderer voyage and trials is richly detailed and will be valuable for southern and antebellum scholars interested in secession, fire-eaters, and the illegal slave trade. Scholars in these fields certainly owe Jordan a debt of gratitude for transcribing, organizing, and publishing the seventy letters collected in the second half of The Slave Trader's Letter-Book.

—Chris Blakley, H-Net: Humanities and Social Science Reviews Online

Writing about objectionable figures is never easy, and Jordan has done a fine job.

—Christopher Hager, American Literary History

About the Author/Editor

JIM JORDAN is an author and historian living in South Carolina. He is the author of the novels Savannah Grey: A Tale of Antebellum Georgia and Penny Savannah: A Tale of Civil War in Georgia.