ON NOVEMBER 28, 1858, the pleasure yacht Wanderer landed on Jekyll Island, Georgia with 407 Africans in its hold. Its appearance was startling given a federal law enacted in 1808 outlawing the importation of Africans to be sold as slaves, and by 1820 the slave trade was considered an act of piracy, a capital offence.
Word of the Wanderer's landing and illegal cargo began to spread throughout Savannah, and shortly throughout the country. Evidence of the Wanderer's landing was gathered, and a trial was called to order on November 13, 1859 in Savannah, Georgia.
The Wanderer's landing and the trial that followed proved to be one of the most controversial topics of the 19th Century. The case involved some of the most influential people of Savannah, such as Supreme Court Judge James Wayne, top criminal attorney John Owens, and prominent Savannah businessman Charles Lamar.
The Wanderer trial not only involved the hierarchy of Savannah society, but th hierarchy of the United States government as well. The President of the United States, James Buchanan, was forced to intervene in the case to help settle the cries of discord the Wanderer situation was stirring throughout the country.
(Image: "The Yacht Wanderer," Harper's Weekly, 1859, Museum Collection)