Charlottetown-Boston Steamer “Oriental” was Confederate Blockade-runner

Oriental001When Carvell Brothers, shipping agents,  placed an ad  for the summer schedule in the Islander in the summer of 1866 on behalf of the Boston and Colonial Steamship Company few readers were aware of the history of one of the boats newly placed on the run.  The steamer Oriental was a modern boat which promised speedy and comfortable service to Canso, Halifax and Boston along with the steamship company’s other boat the Alhambra. But the Oriental had a previous existence as a blockade runner trying to supply the Confederate States of America.

The American Civil war had ended only the year before and the blockade runners played an unsuccessful role in supplying the South and carrying their cotton to market.

The blockade runners of the American Civil War were seagoing steamships that were used to make their way through the Union blockade that extended some 3,500 miles along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastlines and the lower Mississippi River. To get through the blockade these ships had to cruise by undetected, usually at night. If spotted the runners would then attempt to outmaneuver or simply outrun any Union ships on blockade patrol. The typical blockade runners were privately owned vessels often operating with a letter of marque issued by the Confederate States of America. These vessels would carry cargoes to and from neutral ports often located in Nassau and Cuba where neutral merchant ships in turn carried these cargoes, usually coming from or destined to England or other points abroad. Inbound ships usually brought badly needed supplies and mail to the Confederacy while outbound ships often exported cotton, tobacco and other goods for trade and revenue while also carrying important mail and correspondence to suppliers and other interested parties in Europe, most often in England. Most of the guns and other ordnance of the Confederacy was imported from England via blockade runners. Some blockade runners made many successful runs while many others were either captured or destroyed. There were an estimated 2500-2800 attempts to run the blockade with at least an 80% success rate. However, by the end of the Civil War the Union Navy had captured more than 1,100 blockade runners and had destroyed or run aground another 355 vessels.

One of the finest of the 1,100 captured ships was the screw steamer Minna. The ship had been built in the Palmer Brothers yard at Jarrow on the Tyne in 1856.  Registered at 774 tons the 212 foot iron ship had a 264 hp engine driving a screw propeller which gave it a high speed. Its first owners were Malcolmson Brothers in Waterford Ireland, a firm of cotton manufacturers with business links to the American-south. Late in 1864 the Minna found herself, probably not for the first time, in Nassau loading cargo to be shipped to the waiting Confederates. The USS Circassian, which itself had been a former blockade runner, intercepted the ship off Charleston near the Carolina coast. She was described by the correspondent for the Greenlock Advertiser as “the celebrated blockade runner Minna, a splendid barkentine steamship, of Waterford Ireland, undoubtedly one of the finest prizes of the war.” She was found to be carrying $300,000 worth of goods which included quinine, rifles and powder as well as a marine engine which was believed to be destined for a rebel ironclad.  Also on board was a consignment of bibles and prayer books which were in short supply in the south.  When the cargo sold in Boston the Massachusetts Bible Society bought a part of that shipment but was later refused permission to ship the bibles to the south.

The ship itself was sold early in 1865 to Boston interests for about $70,000. In March of that year the Boston and Colonial Steamship Company was incorporated under Massachusetts legislation.

Boston stockIn 1864 service to Halifax and P.E.I. had begun with two steamers, the Commerce and the Franconia.  This appears to have been the first regularly scheduled steamer service linking the Island with New England. The latter ship was replaced in 1865 with the Greyhound  and both vessels were replaced in 1866 with the Minna, now re-named the Oriental, and the American-built Alhambra.The Oriental continued to be a visitor in Charlottetown Harbour for a number of years but the vessel is recorded in the Record of American and Foreign Shipping as being wrecked in June 1876. The ship was wrecked at Harding’s Ledge, near Boston.  No images of the vessel have been located. The Alhambra went ashore at Cape Sable Nova Scotia in May of 1875

In an ironic twist two of the steamers later added to the route by the same company had been on the other side of the civil war sea forces as U.S. Navy blockade guard ships.

That will be the subject of an upcoming blog entry.



5 thoughts on “Charlottetown-Boston Steamer “Oriental” was Confederate Blockade-runner

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