The Confederate privateer Jefferson Davis is now little remembered within the Civil War community, but in the war’s first year, 150 years ago, it was one of the most feared raiders. Preying on Union cargo ships and supply vessels, the Jefferson Davis enjoyed one of the most successful raiding expeditions of any Rebel ship, seizing nine prizes in one outing.
Pepe Productions sent me a copy of their fascinating DVD about the history of this ship, which ran aground at St. Augustine Inlet in Florida on august 17, 1861, and was abandoned to the elements. Over time, the shipwreck was lost. The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum sponsored a search for the Jefferson Davis, and a crew of divers and marine archaeologists discovered the decaying remains. Their 2010 DVD, “Search for the Jefferson Davis: Trader * Slaver * Raider” chronicles that search.
The story itself is interesting to any Civil War buff, particularly those who may be naval wargamers or naval history fans. The DVD is well done, with a good storyline and great underwater photography of the shipwreck, despite the poor visibility often associated with St. Augustine’s waters.
To view the trailer for this film, visit Pepe Productions’ website and have a look.
When the townspeople of St. Augustine awoke on August 17, 1861, they saw “a black painted brig with dark canvas sails beating towards the harbor entrance”. The ship was the Jefferson Davis, a Confederate privateer seeking food and water stores. This 187-ton brig was built in Baltimore in 1845 as a merchant vessel and was being illicitly operated as a slaver when she was captured off Cuba in 1858 by USS Dolphin. The U.S. Government sold her to a Charleston shipping merchant in January 1859 but with the outbreak of the Civil War she was soon granted a letter of marque by the Confederate government, designating her a privateer in the war on Union commerce. Despite her brief career, cut short by the shallow bars of St. Augustine’s inlet, she remained the most successful privateer of the Civil War.
- Built in Baltimore as the 187-ton merchant brig Putnam in 1845.
- Renamed Echo, was illegally used as a slaver and captured by USS Dolphin off of Cuba in 1858; her cargo of 271 enslaved people was returned to Africa.
- U.S. Government sold her to Charleston shipping merchant in January 1859.
- At outbreak of Civil War, the brig was granted a letter of marque signed by Jefferson Davis himself, designating her a privateer or privately operated commerce raider.
- Under Captain Coxetter of Jacksonville, Jefferson Davis’ first raiding cruise, described as “the last truly classic cruise in the history of private-armed sea power,” succeeded in capturing nine northern merchant vessels in just seven weeks off the coast of New England, making her the most successful Confederate privateer of the war.
- Needing water and supplies, she attempted to enter St. Augustine’s inlet on August 17, 1861 where she ran aground and was abandoned. Though she has never been located, her compliment of iron cannons will register as a distinctive target during planned magnetometer surveys of the old channel entrance.
From director Peter Pepe: “Buried in the oceans sands off St. Augustine, Florida, “the Nation’s oldest port,” is a lost shipwreck, one of the last great maritime mysteries from America’s Civil War. The 150 year old shipwreck had several incarnations—first, that of a commercial trader, then an illegal slaver, and finally a feared rebel privateer. Join underwater archaeologists and forensic scientists in their pursuit to find the missing Confederate privateer—Jefferson Davis.
One hundred fifty years ago, America was embroiled in a terrible Civil War (1861-1865). Early into that conflict, the Confederate government issued letters of marque, creating privateers that preyed upon Union shipping. Confederate privateers acted in support of an almost non-existent rebel navy. The most successful of those marauders was the brig Jefferson Davis. Lost on the St. Augustine Bar in August of 1861, underwater archaeologists from the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program are engaged in a search for this vessel. The Jefferson Davis started life as a merchant ship known as the Putnam, then slipped into a dark period as an illegal slave trader, and finally ended its career as the Union Navy’s “most wanted.” The quest to find this lost shipwreck is a journey into our shared maritime past. Join us in the hunt for the Jefferson Davis, Trader-Slaver-Raider!”
The DVD is available from Pepe Productions and is available on-line at www.searchforthejeffersondavis.com. It is #24.95 plus $4.50 s/h. NY residents should add sales tax.
Pepe Productions also has interesting looking DVDs on similar searches for old French & Indian War and American Revolution vessels in the fresh water lakes of upstate New York.
For more information:
PO Box 185
Glens Falls, NY 12801