The Maritime Heritage Project

World Harbors from The Maritime Heritage Project in San Francisco.

Sea Captains: 1800s


James Iredell Waddell

James Iredell Waddell was born at Pittsboro, North Carolina.

He joined the United States Navy July 13, 1824, as a Midshipman. His nearly two decades in the U.S. Navy included early service in USS Pennsylvania, Mexican War operations off Vera Cruz aboard USS Somers, a tour off South America in USS Germantown, an assignment as a Naval Academy instructor, eastern Pacific duty in USS Saginaw and a cruise with the East Indies Squadron with USS John Adams. Lieutenant Waddell resigned his commission while returning home in the latter ship late in 1861 and was dismissed from the U.S. Navy in January 1862.

In March 1862, Waddell was appointed a Lieutenant in the Confederate States Navy. Sent to New Orleans, he was assigned to the incomplete ironclad Mississippi until her destruction in late April. The next month, while serving as an artillery officer ashore, he participated in the battle between Confederate shore batteries and Federal ironclads at Drewry's Bluff, Virginia. Sent abroad in March 1863, First Lieutenant Waddell was stationed in England awaiting the availability of a seagoing position when the Civil War erupted.

He made his way home to find he had been stricken from the Union rolls. He became part of the Confederate Armed Merchant Raiders and was made captain of the CSS Shenandoah, a 1160-ton screw steam cruiser, which had been launched at Glasgow, Scotland, in August 1863 as the civilian steamer Sea King. She was essentially a merchant ship, the decks crowded with stores, gun ports yet to be cut, batteries to be mounted, the conversion to a confederate man-of-war, usually performed in a navy yard, now to be made at sea with an inexperienced and very limited crew. After the Confederate Navy secretly purchased her, she put to sea in October 1864, under the cover story that she was headed for India on a commercial voyage.

Papers in hand, Wadell took his ship through the south Atlantic and into the Indian Ocean, capturing nine U.S. flag merchant vessels between late October and the end of 1864. All but two of these were sunk or burned. In late January 1865, Shenandoah arrived at Melbourne, Australia, where she was able to receive necessary repairs and provisions, as well as adding more than forty "stowaways" to her very short-handed crew. Following three weeks in port, the cruiser put to sea, initially planning to attack the American south Pacific whaling fleet.

Battlefields of the Civil War with the Story of Captain Wadell.Battlefields of the Civil War: Rebels and Yankees (image right) by William C. Davis includes the story of Lieutenant Wadell. The author recounts the stories of thirteen of some of the most important battles of America's Civil War, from First Manassas in July 1861 to the Battle of Nashville in 1864. Full-color double-page maps show you each move of the opposing forces. Included also are rare war era photographs and color photos of rare artifacts. William C. Davis is the author of more than thirty books on the American Civil War. Writes professor James M. McPherson, "The most readable, authoritative, and beautifully designed illustrated history of the American Civil War."

By this time, the Civil War had ended, but official word had not reached Wadell. Captain Waddell, his crew, and their ship Shenandoah were stateless, without a country, but they did not yet know that. so they continued as a merchant raider, and now operated without Union warships to bar her progress. Wyoming had been ordered home from Batavia, and Iroquois still struggled across the Indian Ocean towards Singapore. When news of Shenandoah's raids finally reach Washington in March, Welles ordered Wyoming to go after her.

The 364 ton Euphrates soon fell to the Confederate Raider. Wadell was being told by captains of the ships he captured that the war was over, but Waddell wanted actual proof of a Union victory, not just stories told by Union Captains. He was well aware that if the war was over, that he ran the risk of a subsequent charge of piracy, but still ordered the latest capture to be destroyed. On the 25th. of June, the 419 ton General Williams was fired, the next day, William C. Nye had the same fate, next came Catherine, of 384 tons and the 340 ton clipper Nimrod. The Raider was stuffed with prisoners, some 200 of them, they were placed into 12 whale boats to be towed behind the Confederate ship, although it somewhat impeded her progress, off they went after the General Price , the 315 ton Isabella, the 360 ton Gipsy and the new Bedford whaler Waverly. Waddell continued into Bering Strait flying a Union flag, but still believing the South was forming a legitimate Government.

Shenandoah proceeded slowly through the whaling fleet, removing any thing of value, then burning, burning, burning: The bark Favorite, the 399 ton, Isaac Howland, Covington of 350 tons hailing from Baltimore, Martha and Hillman skippered by the Macomber brothers, Nassau, a forty year old ship all torched. Since the ship had left Melbourne on the 18th. of February, 29 vessels had been captured, another 3 bonded for $124,600, and the 4 at Ponape were valued at $117,759. The 21 of the total taken had a value of $843,028.

Unknown to Waddell, other than the 4 ships destroyed at Ponape, all other vessels had in fact been captured after the fall of the Southern States.

Mare Island, Vallejo, California.
U.S. Navy Yard, Mare Island
Vallejo, California

Waddell started a slow voyage towards San Francisco, California, which he believed would be weakly defended against his cruiser's guns. Captain David Mc Dougal, who commanded the Navy Yard at Mare Island on the west coast of the United States wrote to the Secretary of the Navy:

"Great apprehensions felt by mercantile community of San Francisco in consequence of depredations of Shenandoah. Merchant ship owners and underwriters have addressed memorial requesting me to telegraph department for authority to charter, arm and man steamer Colorado of Pacific Mail Company to pursue that vessel."

There was no response from Washington, now General Pike arrived with a further group of prisoners, the local paper Alta California headlined its attack on the government, claiming apathy, and called for private initiatives to fit out ships with an armament at least equal to the Raider: "To get out there, find her, and destroy this ship Shenandoah."

The ship's log carried this entry:

"Having received . . . the sad intelligence of the overthrow of the Confederate Government, all attempts to destroy shipping or property of the United States will cease from this date, in accordance with the first lieutenant William C. Whittle, Jr; received the order from the commander to strike below the battery and disarm the ship and crew."

Waddell now consulted his officers on their views on what to do with the ship? Here they were, stateless, deemed to have operated as a pirate, thousands of miles away from the U.S., a cruiser without a country. He sailed for British soil and on November 6, 1865, the ship steamed up the Mersey River, flying the Confederate Flag, and anchored close by a British ship of the line, Donegal, commanded by Captain Paynter Royal Navy.

Waddell surrendered his ship to the British Government, making this the last surrender of the Civil War. He requested that his ship be turned over to the United States. Since 1863, Britain had begun to reverse her policy of giving naval aid to the South and had achieved their objective of taking over maritime commerce supremacy from the United States, and now sought an International law that would prevent neutrals from building navies for any foreign nations at war.

But the US Minister wanted damages for all the damage done by Alabama, and the other main Southern raiders. Crown Law officers side stepped the damages claim, but issued orders that Shenandoah should be turned over to the US, and the crew released with the exception of any of those British subjects who had violated the Foreign Enlistment Act, when asked for a list of British subjects.

Waddell indicated he had not paid much attention to nationalities on enlisting his crew, but he thought they were mainly American. No sailor admitted to British nationality, and Captain Paynter released the entire crew.

Shenandoah attempted to sail to the States on November 21, but fierce storms forced her to return to Liverpool on December 6. She languished for several months there, until the Sultan of Zanzibar bought her to act as his personal yacht, later she went back to the tea trade until in 1879. In the Indian Ocean a storm cast her upon a coral reef ripping open her hull.

November 30, 1875, Daily Alta California
San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

A Naval Relic

The arrival of the steamer City of San Francisco, with Captain James J. Waddell as Commander, has brought to light a relic now in this city which cut a prominent figure during our late civil strife, Captain Waddell being then Lieutenant-Commander of the Rebel cruiser Shenandoah. The document reads as follows:

"This is to certify that the register of the bark Nile has this day been retained by me, said bark having been this day captured on the high seas as a prize of war by the U. S. steamer Shenandoah, and released under a ransom bond of forty-one thousand six hundred dollars."

Then again:

"This is to protect the bark Nile, Captain A. W. Fish, from capture on his way to Honolulu. The ship is ransomed."

December 2, 1875, California Farmer and Journal of Useful Sciences

The Shenandoah Pirate.

We should very much regret to have any circumstances occur, by which the former scenes of our National Calamity should be aroused again; but we do think that the arrival of one of the new steamers of the "Pacific Mail Company" entering the harbor of San Francisco, under command of Capt. Waddell, the former Commander of the Pirate Shenandoah, is certainly in bad taste and very unfortunate. It seems like Braving Public Opinion, when it is remembered how many of our "Pacific Whale Fleet " were destroyed by the Shenandoah, and also Merchant Ships, by which San Francisco Merchants were heavy loosers. Let Capt. Waddell beat a Retreat quietly, for Peace sake.

December 2, 1875, Sacramento Daily Union
Sacramento, California, U.S.A.

Relief of Virginia -- A Confederate Captain

Port of Okhotsk.
Port of Okhotsk
English

Nautical men — more particularly skippers of tbe Arctic whaling fleet — are considerably exercised over the arrival here of Captain Waddell, in command of the Pacific Mail Company's steamer City of San Francisco, he having been in command of the rebel privateer Shenandoah at the time of her dash at the whaling fleet in the Okhotsk Sea.

Many of them regard him with sentiments anything but friendly. 

December 3, 1875, Daily Alta California
San Francisco, Callifornia

PATRIOTIC PACIFIC MAIL COMPANY.

The Pacific Mall Steamship Company la the only line of mall steamships on the ocean which floats the American flag. The corporation thrives in the enjoyment of large subsidies from the American Government. Indeed the existence of subsidy bills for the Pacific Mail Company before the National Congress has come to be recognized as almost one of the necessary evils, so thoroughly entablished by custom and time as to be impossible to abolish. Fostered as it is, therefore, by the Government and fattening as it docs upon the Government, it ill becomes it to insult the nation by flaunting a remnant of decayed treason in its face. The Company could find in the Merchants' Exchange any day gentlemen to take charge of their ships, whose experience and seamanship quite equal those of Captain Waddell, and who would be offensive in no way to any person or any nation. It has chosen instead to overlook the merits of Pacific Coast officers and select a man most obnoxious of all men in the world to a Hawaiian port, and one who really deserves nothing of a Company so essentially a portion of the Government, whatever may be his capacities as a navigator. The speculative Jay Gould of the Pacific Mail Company boasts that he recke little of newspapers and the people, but will have his own way. We fancy he has now rather a hard nut to crack in sitting in the Home Office and realising how little he knows of the Pacific Coast. The sleepless memory and the indignant action of the Hawaiians are fit rebukes to this stiff-necked Company for thus thrusting forward in their very teeth the man who outraged them. Perhaps the Pacific Mail Company would now like another little subsidy to pay tbe expenses of sustaining Captain Waddell against the ire of the unforgetting Hawaiians.

December 7, 1875, Daily Alta California

THE MUCH-ABUSED WADDELL.

A correspondent takes us to task for "drawing the record" on Captain Waddell, and pleads so earnestly for a cessation of hostilities that we give him the benefit of his communication without abridgement. It is a hard case that a man should be taken to task for burning a few ships, but there is, fortunately, the consolation remaining that Captain Waddell cares nothing for what appears in the newspapers, unless he has changed very much since he had command of the Shenandoah.

EDITORS ALTA: I am very much surprised to see you persist in showing up the record of Captain Waddel lin your paper. After his wanton destruction of whaling and merchant vessels (and especially alter the war was over) it does seem strange to me that you, as well as the whole community, are not ready to welcome him with open arms aa Master of one of the best of the Pacific Mall Company's steamers. Surely if he is not entitled to a position in honor of the past way-up, who is? I verily believe if Captain Kidd was alive to-day and should be appointed Master of one of the Pacific Mall Company's steamships, you would rake up something to find fault about with him; or, if Benedict Arnold were living, I have no doubt were he a candidate for President of the United States, you would oppose liis election. I am very sorry to see you, who are generally in the right, occupy so much space in your paper annoying two such honorable gentlemen as Waddell and Dominick Lynch. It looks very much as if you wished to harm the Pacific Mail Company, in a horn.

If you still persist in annoying these gentlemen, I fear we will be obliged to wait upon them and advise them to return to their native land, and San Francisco could ill afford to spare the presence of two such distinguished individuals.

Trusting you will not sound the praises of these men any more, I remain yours, etc.,

December 12, 1875, Daily Alta California

WADDELL, PIRACY AND MURDER

Union Gunboats and Steamships.
Union Gunboats and Steamships Passing...

We publish this morning a communication from Captain Waddell, who is accused of having burned various American vessels in June, 1865, but claims that he did so under the laws of war as Captain of the British steamer Shenandoah, holding a commission as a warship of the Confederate States, when he was ignorant that peace had been made. The daily press is a very unsatisfactory tribunal for the trial of his case, and we should much prefer to see the suit transferred to the United States Circuit Court, which has jurisdiction in matters of piracy and murder on the high sees. The Constitution of the United States and the statutes provide for the punishment of those crimes. Although he was sailing under a flag that was not recognized as that of an independent nation by any civilized Government, yet our Administration practically reoognized it as possessing the rights of a belligerent, and, therefore, so long as the war continued, Captain Waddell had the belligerent right of taking and burning American ships at sea and of killing American citizens who might resist him.

But that belligerent right ceased when he was informed that the war had ceased. The information required was sufficient when it reached him unofficially through the ordinary channels of news — that is, through the newspapers. He could not communicate officially with the Government of the Confederate States, and that Government ceased practically to exist on the day when Richmond fell.

When Richmond fell.
President Abraham Lincoln.
Richmond, Virginia after it fell to Union Forces. 1865

It made no treaty of peace; it accepted no armistice; it issued no proclamation recognizing its own overthrow ; it did nothing to release its soldiers from their oaths, or to recall its cruizers. If Capt. Waddell had a right to wait for official instructions from the Administration of the Confederate States, he would have had a right to keep up his work of destruction and slaughter until to-day. He would, of course, not be "bound by instructions from any foreign Government. He must then accept the news as published in the daily journals, and he was bound to accept as accurate the statements in such papers as reached him, even though they were American, or of nationalities friendly to the United States.

The journalistic information that would bind him most not purport to be a mere rumor. It must be a positive statement, such as if it were received here in reference to the breaking out of a war between Russia and Great Biitain, would justify a Russian war ship at San Francisco in sailing out to attack British ships or British ports. It must purport to be published after the material fact was well known, and mußt show that there was no doubt on the subject. Such information, it is said, Capt. Waddell  had. Several persons declare that after receiving San Francisco papers to the 27th of April, 1865, containing full accounts of the surrender of Richmond, and the final collapse of the Confederacy — which papers were taken from the ship Susan Abigail — he still burned that vessel as well as others. This statement is denied by Cap't. Waddell, but if correct, it makes out a prima facie case of piracy. Again it is charged that Capt. Waddel burned a Hawaiian ship registered in Honolulu and owned by residients of the Hawaiian Islands, of American birth, and suspected of sympathizing with the Government of the United States. This is a charge of piracy and it is properly triable before an American Court. Capt. Waddell, however, would probable plead the Limitation Act if he were indicted for piracy; and if he can prove that he has spent three years within the limit of the United States since the close of the war — of that matter we know nothing — that defence, if proved, would proteot him against legal punishment though he were guilty a thousand times, unless it could be made to appear that he caused the death of one man in the course of his piratical procedure. Piracy is barred by the Statute of Limitations, but murder is not; and there, perhaps, is the vulnerable point. If his enemies oould catch him there, they would have him securely. It is not necessary that he should have killed a man with his own hand, or that he should personally have given the command that led to the fatal act of violence. He is responsible for every hostile act of every man on his vessel while he was engaged in hostilities, and if any person died by a wound, exposure, or privation inflicted in the course of the hostilities, Captain Waddell is answerable.

Tbe same information, the possession of which changed into piracy the act that without it would bave been a legal capture of a vessel under tbe laws of war, also changed homicide into murder.

If there is to be no legal procedure, " th* "honor of a gentleman," which Captain Waddell is very fond of flourishing in his own defence — the honor of a gentleman who, perhaps, can plead the limitation act to any indictment for piracy, may be allowed to pass as worthy of the cause of human bondage, to which he devoted his time and his honorable service.

Waddell did not return to the United States until 1875, when he became captain of the commercial steamer City of San Francisco, sister ship to the City of New York.

The City of San Francisco was a mail carrier on service between San Francisco, Honolulu, Fiji, Sydney and New Zealand under contract to Governments of NSW, Australia and New Zealand. She carried some passengers. Below is the itinerary for her second voyage to New Zealand and she probably made other voyages as it was a regular mail carrier for the Pacific Mail Steamship Company before the company ran into financial difficulties after 1876 and the company ceased operations.

January 4, 1876, Daily Alta California
San Francisco, California

It is rumored in commercial circles that Captain Wadell, who is acting as Superintendent of the Pacific Mail dock in this city, will shortly retire from the Company's service and return to his home near Baltimore.

However, he sailed the SS City of San Francisco through 1876: Sailings in May and June 1876

January 22, 1876, Los Angeles Herald
Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.

The Pacific Mail Company have obtained pardon from the Hawaiian Government for the piracy of James I. Waddell as commander of the Rebel cruiser Shenendoah in the burning of a Hawaiian whaling bark in the Arctic seas. This act of the Hawaiian Government will compel it to protect Waddell in case he ever enters Hawaiian waters.

Click to read the story of Captain Waddell and the wreck of the SS City of San Francisco.

When Captain Waddell died on March 15, 1886, the Maryland State Legislature adjourned in his honor.


The Great Ocean: Pacific Worlds from Captain Cook to the Gold RushThe Great Ocean: Pacific Worlds.
David Igler
From Captain Cook to the Gold Rush.The Pacific of the early eighteenth century was a place of baffling complexity, with 25,000 islands and seemingly endless continental shorelines. But with the voyages of Captain James Cook, global attention turned to the Pacific, and European and American dreams of scientific exploration, trade, and empire grew dramatically. By the time of the California gold rush, the Pacific's many shores were fully integrated into world markets-and world consciousness. The Great Ocean draws on hundreds of documented voyages as a window into the commercial, cultural, and ecological upheavals following Cook's exploits, focusing in particular on the eastern Pacific in the decades between the 1770s and the 1840s. Beginning with the expansion of trade as seen via the travels of William Shaler, captain of the American Brig Lelia Byrd, historian David Igler uncovers a world where voyagers, traders, hunters, and native peoples met one another in episodes often marked by violence and tragedy.

"Master Under God"

Captains exercised absolute authority at sea and so were dubbed "Master Under God" by early insurance writs, agreements with ship owners and passengers and the Board of Trade.

Master Under God.

The captain is responsible for its safe and efficient operation, including cargo operations, navigation, crew management and ensuring that the vessel complies with local and international laws, as well as company and flag state policies.

All persons on board, including officers and crew, other shipboard staff members, passengers, guests and pilots, are under the captain's authority and are his ultimate responsibility.

Customs requirements can include the master providing a cargo declaration, a ship's stores declaration, a declaration of crew members' personal effects, crew lists and passenger lists.

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The Maritime Heritage Project provides free information on world migration and exploration during the 1800s. Please consider supporting The Project by purchasing from our sponsors and advertisers or

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