Tuesday, August 10, 2010

John Newland Maffitt-Former U.S. Naval Officer, Confederate Commerce Raider, Always the Southern Gentleman

Private and government owned commerce raiders in the 18th century and 19th century often went out of their way to treat their victims with the greatest respect. War may have been Hell, but that did not mean that the civilians caught in the middle, out in the middle of the ocean, had to suffer. Practically speaking, captains of commerce raiders had reputations to keep. As antiquated as communications were, word would get around the Seven Seas about a captain who mistreated captives. If caught, he would suffer severe consequences.

John Newland Maffitt, the commanding officer of CSS Florida, prided himself on always being a gentlemen in truest Southern sense of the word. On February 12, 1863, Florida intercepted the giant clipper ship Jacob Bell. Per protocol, Maffitt sent a boarding team over to inspect the ship and determine what to do with the vessel. His journal picks up the story from here:

“February 12-At 4 p.m., made a prize of the ship Jacob Bell, of New York. Her tonnage was about 1,300, and she is esteemed one of the most splendid vessels out of New York that trades with China.
A message came that the captain had ladies on board, and that his wife was on the eve of confinement [ed. note: she was about to have a baby]. Sent Dr. Garretson on board to investigate, and that the ladies must leave the ship, as I was determined to burn [Jacob Bell.] The ladies came aboard, and with tons of baggage. I surrendered the cabin. The party consisted of Mrs. Frisbee (captain’s wife), Mrs. Williams, whose husband is a custom-house officer at Swatow, China; a lad, Louis Frisbee, and another, son of a missionary from Rhode Island, now stationed at Swatow. The passengers and crew amounted to forty-three persons. The Jacob Bell had a cargo of choice tea, camphor, chowchow [ed. note: Chinese pickles, not the dog breed], etc. value at $2,000,000 or more.

Took such articles as we required, and on the 13th set her on fire.

Mrs. Frisbee was a very quiet, hind hearted lady; Mrs. Williams, I fancy, something of a tartar; she and Captain Frisbee were not on terms. They remained in possession of my cabin for five days, when I put the entire party on board the Danish brig Morning Star, bound to St. Thomas. If they speak unkindly, such a thing as gratitude is a stranger to their abolition hearts.”

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