The two-masted wooden ship Black Warrior was built in New York City by William Collyer and was launched on 1 July 1852. She weighed about 1,900 tons and was 248 feet long, 18 feet deep and had a 37 foot beam. Her engine was constructed by Allaine Works and had a 65 inch cylinder and a full 11 foot stroke which was used to power her two side-mounted paddle wheels. Her total value at the time of the launch was $135,000, which was a considerable amount of money in 1852. The Black Warrior’s main lot in life was to ferry passengers, cargo, and mail between New York, New Orleans, Mobile,
Now, I said earlier that the Black Warrior was historically interesting. I guess what I should have said was that the Black Warrior had a flair for getting itself into trouble. In fact, the Warrior got into trouble for the first time just 8 months after she was launched. On Feb. 18, 1853 just a mere 4 hours after leaving the port of Havana on a routine trip to New York, the Warrior came across three Spanish ships. One of these ships was a Spanish warship which for unknown reasons was not flying a pennant that indicated it to be a man-of-war. As the Warrior passed alongside the brig, the Spanish ship fired its leeward gun. The shot missed, but before the Captain Shufeldt could hoist his flag, the ship fired another shot that barely missed the forward stay. The Warrior eventually hoisted its colors and the brig stopped firing. The New York Times indicated that this act was a “...very arbitrary act, as Capt. Shufeldt had not time to hoist his ensign between the firing of the lee and the loaded guns-nor was he aware of her being a man-of-war, as she had no pennant flying.” Nothing further became of this incident.
The second incident the Warrior got itself into was later dubbed the “Black Warrior Affair” and nearly brought the United States to war with Spain. On 28 February 1854 the Black Warrior set anchor in the port of Havana, Cuba while on her way to New York from Mobile.
As was customary, custom house officials boarded the Black Warrior to check the cargo manifest against the cargo on the ship. The ship’s manifest listed the cargo it had on board, which was over 900 bales of cotton, as ballast. This is not as unusual as it may first appear since the Warrior and many other ships routinely listed cargo as ballast if they were not planning to unload any of it in Cuba.
Later, when the owner of the boat sent a clerk to the custom house to get clearance for the ship to leave, the ship was refused clearance. Captain Bullock, the captain of the Warrior at the time, in an attempted to correct the problem went to the custom house. He soon discovered that the problem was with the manifest and immediately asked to alter the manifest to include the cargo. The Cuban government would not allow it even though their law stated that a ship could alter its manifest for a full 12 hours after laying anchor in the port. The next morning, Cuban authorities went to the Warrior to demand that the cargo be turned over to them. Captain Bullock, recognizing this to be an illegal seizure, told them that if he was forced to turn over his cargo, that he would lower his flag and abandon the ship. The Cubans were a little shaken by his proposal, but after conferring with their superiors, boarded the ship and began removing the cargo. Captain Bullock lowered his flag and abandoned his ship to the Cubans.
The passengers and crew of the Warrior went aboard the steamship Fulton which happened to be in Havana at the same time. Captain Bullock was fined for bringing the cargo into Cuba and the Warrior was seized. The ambassador to Cuba, William Robertson, sent a letter to the Secretary of State, William Marcy, detailing the situation and then things started to get really bad.
To rectify the problem, the Governor of Cuba hastily wrote a memo that suspended the regulation which allowed captains to alter their manifests after arriving in port. The memo was post-dated to make it appear that the rule was in effect before February 28, which made the seizure legal. The United States was enraged by this ex post facto law and demanded retribution for the crimes that had been perpetrated against its citizens. The United States also demanded that Cuba be sold to prevent an imminent conflict. The Spanish refused, of course, and America was brought to the brink of war. Remember, these were volatile times and the southern states really wanted Cuba annexed to make it another slave state. Fortunately for Spain and Cuba, the Kansas-Nebraska act was being debated at the same time and diverted the attention of the American public and the Legislature away from the Black Warrior Affair. After things cooled down a bit, the Spanish Government conceded its mistake and paid retribution to the Captain, owners, and passengers of the Warrior in the amount of $59,000.
In the winter of 1857, the warrior was on a trip from Havana to New York when she encountered a gale between Havana and Cape Hateras. The Gale was so bad that the wheel house, life boats and bulwarks (sides of the ship above the upper deck for you land lubbers) were destroyed. All of the coal on the ship was consumed during this gale and the captain of the ship, Captain Smith, was forced to burn all the furniture, light woodwork, and the remaining spars. The Warrior eventually reached Old Point where she took on additional coal and went on to complete her trip.
The last voyage of the Black Warrior ended with a close encounter with the shore line of East Rockaway, NY on February 20, 1858. The ship was making a cargo and passenger run from Havana to New York and encountered heavy fog as it approached New York Harbor. While under pilot and during a high tide, the boat simply ran aground. In a New York Times article on February 22, 1858, it was assumed that the Warrior was a total loss since it ran aground during a high tide and that the expected low tide was going to be particularly low since a strong westerly wind had been blowing for several days. After several attempts, the Black Warrior was freed and then immediately stuck again. A storm eventually smashed the Warrior to pieces.
Today, the Warrior sits in 30-35 feet of water. The wreck is quite broken up and is scattered. The only recognizable parts of the ship are the engine, boiler and one of the paddle wheels. The ship is considered a novice dive due to the shallow depth, low current and about 15 feet of visibility. The most common artifacts still found are brass spikes and pins. With a little digging and some good luck, however, silverware and port holes can still be found. The ship is frequented by most of the local dive boats and is sometimes used as the first open water dive by some instructors. I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting the Warrior, but after doing this article I am inclined to say that I will be visiting it very soon. Just the rich history of this short lived ship makes it an interesting ship to add to any dive calendar. Who knows, maybe I'll see you down there