Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Booknotes: Shipwrecked

New Arrival:

Shipwrecked: A True Civil War Story of Mutinies, Jailbreaks, Blockade-Running, and the Slave Trade by Jonathan W. White (Rowman & Littlefield, 2023).

In Shipwrecked, prolific historian Jonathan White "tells the riveting story of Appleton Oaksmith, a swashbuckling sea captain whose life intersected with some of the most important moments, movements, and individuals of the mid-19th century, from the California Gold Rush, filibustering schemes in Nicaragua, Cuban liberation, and the Civil War and Reconstruction."

With a Dickensian character name like Appleton Oaksmith, one can't help but live an adventurous nineteenth-century life that defies easy description. White's writing topics are always unpredictable (few match his range), and it's easy to see why this individual appealed to the storytelling aspect of his repertoire. I can't say that I've ever come across the name before, and it was the same with the author until a research assistant brought him to White's attention. At the time, White was researching the illegal slave trade.

Since 1808, it was illegal for American citizens to engage in the international slave trade, but that didn't stop individuals from attempting to profit from it nonetheless. White credits Lincoln, early on in his presidency, for firming up previously lax enforcement. More from the description: "Most importantly, the book depicts the extraordinary lengths the Lincoln Administration went to destroy the illegal trans-Atlantic slave trade. Using Oaksmith’s case as a lens, White takes readers into the murky underworld of New York City, where federal marshals plied the docks in lower Manhattan in search of evidence of slave trading. Once they suspected Oaksmith, federal authorities had him arrested and convicted, but in 1862 he escaped from jail and became a Confederate blockade-runner in Havana. The Lincoln Administration tried to have him kidnapped in violation of international law, but the attempt was foiled."

Oaksmith, who always maintained his innocence, eventually fled to England by way of Havana, Cuba. He stayed abroad until 1871, and the following year, helped by the persistence of friends and allies, received a pardon from President Grant. Residing in North Carolina, Oaksmith embarked on a political career that was notable in its opposition to KKK involvement in the state. "Through a remarkable, fast-paced story, this book will give readers a new perspective on slavery and shifting political alliances during the turbulent Civil War Era."

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