Naval History and Heritage Command

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Nightingale I (Ship)

(Ship: t. 1,066; l. 177'; b. 36'; dph. 19'; cpl. 186; a. 4 32-pdrs.)

Any of several small European thrushes noted for sweet nocturnal song.


About midnight 20-21 April 1861, two boats from sloop of war Saratoga pulled silently toward a darkened ship anchored near the mouth of the Congo River at Cabinda, Angola. After clambering on board Nightingale, a suspected slaver from Boston, the American Sailors and Marines found 961 negros (men, women, and children)chained between decks. The prize, a clipper ship designed and built at Portsmouth, N. H., in 1851 by Samuel Hanscomb, Jr., was preparing to load more slaves before getting under way for America.

Saratoga's skipper, Comdr. Alfred Taylor, placed a prize crew on Nightingale commanded by the leader of the boarding party, Lt. James J. Guthrie. The captured clipper got under way on the 23d for Liberia, a nation founded in 1822 by the American Colonization Society as a refuge for freed slaves. En route, a fever raged through the ship killing 160 negroes and one member of the crew. After arriving Monrovia 7 May, Nightingale landed her passengers, fumigated living quarters, and sailed for home on the 13th. During the first part of the passage, fever seriously weakened the crew, at one point leaving only 7 of her 34 man crew fit for duty. Two more Sailors died before the scourge began to subside, enabling the ship to reach New York 15 June.

Nightingale was condemned by the New York prize court; purchased by the Navy which was then expanding to blockade the Confederate coast, and commissioned 18 August 1861, Acting Master David B. Horne in command.

Fitted out as a coal and store ship, Nightingale, laden with coal, got underway south the same day, stopped at Hampton Roads on the 21st, and pushed on toward Key West the following morning. But for occasional voyages north for coal and supplies, she served in the gulf through the first years of the Civil War. She was with Union ships Preble, Richmond, Vincennes, and Water Witch in the Mississippi River near Head of Passes when Confederate ironclad ram Manassas, accompanied by steamers Ivy and James L. Day, attacked 12 October. During the action she ran aground, but the Southern ships did not press their advantage. The ship was refloated a few days later and she sailed to New York with prisoners of war, and booty.

Nightingale returned to the Gulf late in the year with a cargo of coal and supplies for the Union Blockaders. During most of 1862, she served the East Gulf Blockading Squadron operating out of Key West. Early in 1863, she became ordnance ship at Pensacola and continued this duty until returning to Boston 9 June 1864. Decommissioned at the Boston Navy Yard 20 June, she was sold at public auction there 11 February 1865 to D. E. Mayo and remained in merchant service until she foundered in the North Atlantic 17 April 1893.

Published: Thu Aug 13 11:20:42 EDT 2015