Ships 2

Black Warrior

Ships 3

Black Warrior

Adventures Of The Steamship Black Warrior

By James Donahue

Among the early steamships operating out of United States ports was the Black Warrior, a 225-foot-long wooden hulled vessel launched at New York in 1852.

Like most steamships built in those early days, the Black Warrior was a full-rigged sailing ship   equipped with steam engines that drove two large paddle wheels mounted on both starboard and port sides of the ship.

The vessel made regular trips between New York, New Orleans and Havana, Cuba, carrying both passengers and freight.

The steamer became the center of an international incident in February, 1854 when it called at Havana and was seized there by the newly appointed governor of Cuba. The governor accused the master of the ship, a Captain Bullock, of failing to list a cargo of Alabama cotton with Cuban custom officials. Bullock said he believed he operated within the law since the cotton was not scheduled to be delivered at Havana.

Nevertheless, the ship was held, Bullock and his crew were forced to leave the ship, and Cuban authorities confiscated the cargo. The crew was allowed to board an American steamer, Fulton, after the owners of the Black Warrior paid a $6,000 fine.

The slavery issue was gaining steam in the United States in 1854 and pro-slavery forces used the Warrior incident to pressure the United States to go to war against Spain. In the end, Spain backed off, paid back the $6,000 fine and compensated the owners of the Warrior another $53,000 for detaining the ship.

The Black Warrior was back in business when it was caught in a severe storm off the Atlantic coast in 1857. The master, this time a man named Smith, drew upon all of his skills of seamanship to survive that gale and bring his ship and its passengers safely into harbor. The battle was so intense, according to a news clipping from the New York Times, the vessel ran out of fuel. The crew cut up the ship’s spars, furniture and stripped the woodwork throughout the superstructure to keep the fires burning.

The steamer wrecked on Feb. 20, 1859, while attempting to enter New York harbor in a heavy fog. The Black Warrior went aground on Rockaway Bar.

At first the grounding did not appear to be a serious mishap. The passengers, crew and cargo were removed and carried safely into the harbor. By the time tugs reached the steamer and attempted to pull it back into deep water, however, the tide went out and the ship was mired solid on the sand. During the next high tide the Warrior was moved about a hundred feet before it grounded again.

That same day a storm blew up and the high seas pounded the wooden hulled steamship into pieces. Remains of the wreck still can be found there, in about thirty feet of water. Divers say parts of the ship are spread over a wide area.