Extract: The Rebel Pirate’s Fatal Prize

or, the bloody tragedy of the prize schooner Waring, enacted as the rebels were attempting to run her into Charleston, S. C., July 7, 1861; being the life and confessions of the steward, william tillman, the brave and daring negro, who, with a hatchet, murdered the rebel prize master, lieutenant, and mate, whom he overheard secretly plotting to sell him into slavery, recaptured the vessel and brought her into a free port.

From Harper’s Weekly, August 3, 1861.

The Schooner S. J. Waring, of Brookhaven, hence for Montevideo, July 4th, when 150 miles from Sandy Hook in lat. 38 degrees, and long. 69 degrees, was brought to by the privateer brig Jeff. Davis, which sent a boat full of men alongside, and ordered the Captain of the schooner to haul down the United States Flag, and declared her a prize. They took from her a quantity of provisions, and then put on board a prize crew of five men, taking away Captain Francis Smith, the two mates, and two seamen, leaving the steward, two seamen, and Mr. Bryce Mackinnon, a passenger, on board. The prize crew were Montague Amiel, a Charleston pilot in command, one named Stevens as mate, Malcolm Sidney as second mate, and three men.

The S. J. Waring had started on a voyage to Buenos Ayres, Montevideo, with an assorted cargo, which with the vessel was valued at $100,000. There was on board the Captain and mate; W. Tillman, steward; Wm Stedding, seaman, born in Germany, 23 years of age, has been sailing four years out of New York; Donald McLeod, seaman, of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, 30 years of age, has been sailing out of New York for seven or eight years; and Brice Makinnon, a passenger.

On the seventh of July, they fell in with the Jeff. Davis, and a prize crew of five were put on board, who were unarmed. To use the language of Mr. Tillman, they run ten days and didn’t find Charleston, we were, however, only fifty miles south of Charleston, and one hundred to the eastward.

“One day the first Lieutenant of the Pirate was sitting in the cabin smoking, when he said to me, ‘When you go down to Savannah, Tillman, I want you to come to my house, and I will take care of you.’ I raised my hat and thanked him for his kind offer, thinking all the while, ‘Yes, when you get me there, you will take care of me.’

“I passed apparently about my duties, but keeping my ears open, overheard him and the Captain in confidential conversation, and also the latter regarding my Hope several times, when he thought no one saw him, with lecherous looks of passionate envy and desire. Said he to the Lieutenant, ‘I say, Lieutenant, I shall make a pretty good “speck” on those two “niggers;” bring good price in Georgia.’

“‘Don’t know,’ said the Lieutenant, indifferently; ‘the war is having a bad effect on the price of “niggers,” still these haven’t cost us anything, we may as well turn them to account. The wench may make a, good breeder.’

“‘By — they shall never see the north again,’ said the captain, as he again emptied his glass of brandy they were drinking.

“One evening I caught him, as he took hold of Hope, as she passed him on deck, and attempted to kiss her. But she tore herself away from him and ran into the cabin. I then said to him mildly as I could under the circumstances, ‘Captain, you will oblige me if you do not do anything of the kind again. Hope is my lawful wife, and I don’t want her treated in that way.’

“‘Sir,’ roared he, ‘I am master of this vessel, and will do as I please. If you utter any more of your insolence, I’ll tie you up. Mind your duties here.’ He passed me savagely to the after part of the vessel. I had now made up my mind they should never take me into Charleston or Georgia alive; and that evening I conferred with two of the seamen about taking possession of the schooner; but they declined adopting any plan, saying that none of them knew how to navigate her back, should they succeed in getting control. I thought the matter over for three days, and then made an appeal to the German, and said, ‘If you are a man to stick to your word, we can take this vessel easy.’ Then we made a plan that I should go to my berth, and when most of them were asleep, he was to give me some sign, or awake me. We tried this for two nights, but no good chance offered. But, last Tuesday night we caught them asleep, and we went to work. The mate comes to my berth and touches me. He says, now is your time. I went into my room and got my hatchet. The first man I struck was the captain. He was laying in a stateroom on the starboard side. I aimed for his temple as near as I could, and hit him just below the ear with the edge of the hatchet. With that, he made a very loud shriek. The passenger jumped up very much in fright. I told him, ‘do you be still; I shall not hurt a hair of your head.’ The passenger knew what I was up to; he never said a word more. I walks right across the cabin to the second mate’s room, and I gave him one severe blow in the mole of the head — that is, right across the middle of his head. I didn’t stop to see whether he was dead not; but I jumped on deck, and as I did so the mate who had been sleeping on the companion-way, started from the noise he heard in the cabin. Just as he rose upon his feet, I struck him in the back of the head. Then the German chap jumped over, and we “hasted” on to him, and flung him over the starboard quarter.

Marshal Murray. What did you do then?

Tillman. Then we went down straight into the cabin. The second mate was not quite dead. He was sitting leaning against his berth. I “catched” him by the hair of the head with my left hand, and struck him with the hatchet which I had in my right hand. I told this young German, “Well let’s get him overboard as soon as we can.” So we hauled him over on to the cabin.

Marshal. Was he quite dead?

Tillman. No; he was not quite dead, but he would not have lived long. We flung him over the starboard quarter. Then I told this German to call that man Jim, the Southern chap, (one of the pirates) here. He called him aft. Says I, Jim come down here in the cabin. Do you know that I have taken charge of this vessel to-night? I am going to put you in irons. “Well,” says he, “I am willing.” He gave right up. I kept him in irons till eight o’clock next morning. I then sent the German for him, and I said: “Smith (the name Milnor vent by on board), I want you to join us and help take this vessel back; but mind, the least crook or the least turn, and overboard you go with the rest. “Well,” says he, “I will do the best I can.” And he worked well all the way back. He couldn’t do otherwise. It was pump or sink.

Marshal. Did they beg, any of them?

Tillman. They didn’t have any have to beg. It was all done in five minutes. In seven minutes and a half after I struck the first blow the vessel was away before the wind and all sail on. We were fifty miles south of Charleston, and one hundred to the eastward.

Marshal. I guess you must have been in the habit of killing hogs?

Tillman. I never killed but one before, and that was a pig.


(These are extracts from The Rebel Pirate’s Fatal Prize: Or, The Bloody Tragedy of the Prize Schooner Waring, an anonymous book from 1865. I’ve made a Kindle version available here, and a paperback version here. The original is available as a PDF here.)

Francisco Araujo da Costa

Written by

Tradutor inglês-português. Autor de livros de idioma. Libertário. Pai. Marido. Não nessa ordem.

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