The Slave-Trader’s Letter-Book: Charles Lamar, the Wanderer, and Other Tales of the African Slave Trade

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Charles Lamar was a businessman from Savannah, Georgia, during the years leading up to the American Civil War. His father, Gazaway Lamar, had found good success in banking, cotton, and other endeavors, and supported his son’s business ventures with several loans, large and small, over many years, in spite of the fact that Charles more often than not ignored his father’s council and advice on business matters, creating a veritable morass of debt and a trail of missed and ruined opportunities. As was the case with many businessmen in the South during that time, their success often rested on the shoulders of slaves. While hundreds of thousands of African slaves had been brought to the Americas, both the newly-minted United States and Great Britain outlawed the slave trade in the early 1800s. By January, 1808, U.S. laws prohibited “U.S. citizens or residents from building, equipping, or loading ships at any port or place in the United States to carry on a trade in African slaves, holding an interest in any vessel used to transport slaves from one foreign place to another, and working on board a slave ship.” By the mid-1800s, many southerners were unhappy with these laws, and Charles Lamar saw an opportunity to make a lot of money in a short period of time. Although firmly discouraged by his father, Lamar found several partners to invest in a large, fast yacht, the Wanderer, they felt could outrun British ships and bring new slaves from Africa to the shores of the U.S. again.

Historian and author Jim Jordan found a treasure trove of letters and papers from the Lamar family that forms the basis of this incredible story. His careful and thorough research shines on every page, and, while the complexity of the story and the raft of characters might be daunting to some, Jordan’s deft writing and excellent story-telling technique turns what could be a pedantic text into a fascinating, informative read. While sometimes the number of characters involved becomes a bit difficult to track, the thoroughness of the author uncovers an assortment of rapscallions and miscreants but also uncovers one surprising person who acts quite heroically and honorably. The story is followed by a small section with photographs of some of the main characters with biographical information and a couple maps as well as a drawing of the Wanderer. Beyond that are two sections of heavily annotated letters from Charles Lamar’s letter book and a section of notes for each chapter. This is a book anyone interested in American History will be excited to read.

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Author Jim Jordan
Star Count 4.5/5
Format Hard
Page Count 327 pages
Publisher University of Georgia Press
Publish Date 2019-Jan-15
ISBN 9780820351964
Amazon Buy this Book
Issue February 2019
Category History


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