© 2022 254 North Front Street, Suite 300, Wilmington, NC 28401 | 910.343.1640
News Classical 91.3 Wilmington 92.7 Wilmington 96.7 Southport
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

CoastLine: Ship of Blood - Mutiny and Murder Aboard the Harry A. Berwind off the NC Coast

Ship-of-Blood-cover-702x1024.jpg

The story begins when officers from a neighboring ship climb aboard to investigate a cargo ship’s distress signal. They find bloodied decks, one crew member tied up, one crew member dead, and reports that all four of the ship’s officers had been murdered and tossed overboard.

The three men still alive were Black. The four dead officers were white.

Would it be possible for the accused to get a fair trial in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1905?

The coup d'état in Wilmington, North Carolina successfully exterminated any Black power structure: the professional class, duly-elected officials, and Black citizens deemed a threat by whites were driven out of town or murdered. The white supremacist cabal was back in power. It was November 1898.

Seven years later, just off the coast of Southport, three people were hauled ashore and thrown into the tiny Brunswick County jail. Accused of mutiny and murder, officials quickly moved them to Wilmington to await trial.

The sensational story begins when officers from a neighboring ship climb aboard to investigate a cargo ship’s distress signal. They find bloodied decks, one crew member tied up, one crew member dead, and reports that all four of the ship’s officers had been murdered and tossed overboard.

The three men still alive were Black. The four dead officers were white.

Would it be possible for the accused to get a fair trial in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1905?

In fact, two of the three accused saw their claims of innocence travel all the way to the United States Supreme Court – and then on to two Presidents: Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.

Even though the case grabbed national headlines more than a century ago, it’s essentially been lost to history since. Until now.

North Carolina native and former criminal defense attorney Charles Manly Oldham III has written a book, Ship Of Blood:  Mutiny and Slaughter Aboard the Harry A. Berwind and the Quest for Justice. The book is published by Beach Glass Books.

Also on available on Audible

Editor's Note: The author sent this clarification regarding a question about his lineage:

"Regarding Governor Charles Manly, I'm not aware of any blood relationship between his family (including Alex Manly, etc) and my own family. In my research, I have not found any genealogical connection, although if you went back enough generations, there might be some oblique connection somewhere. What I do know is that my great-great-grandfather, Charles Manly Dowd, was born in Chatham County, NC (which was also the home of Gov. Manly's family) in 1848, the same year that Gov. Manly was elected. His parents named him after the prominent local politician, although for what reason I'm not certain. His grandson (and my grandfather) was named for him as Charles Manly Oldham Senior, my father is Junior, and now I am Charles Manly Oldham III. Therefore, it is fair to say that several generations of my family are named after Gov. Charles Manly, although there is not a known blood relationship."

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.