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An Old Claim

Hello readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. Many of the posts on this blog over the past few months have concerned the SS United States. While this blog will by no means abandon the proud ship as a subject matter, it will nonetheless begin to focus on a new topic: Maritime Piracy. Piracy is an issue that comes up frequently in our news, especially in the past few years. Just yesterday, naval forces from France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands worked together to catch numerous pirates that had stolen boats and taken hostages in the Gulf of Aden. Read the full article HERE!

The CSS Alabama was sunk by the USS Kearsage, but not before causing considerable damage to the American merchant marine. From The Mariners’ Museum collection.

During the American Civil War, the Confederates deployed several small ships of war as commerce raiders, bent on damaging the Union’s trade routes. Since the Confederate government was not officially recognized by the United States government, these commerce raiders were seen as pirates by Union ships. Perhaps no raider is as famous as the CSS Alabama, a British-built sloop-of-war that terrorized Union shipping all over the world. In fact, First Mate Joshua P. Atkins from the T.B. Wales filed an insurance claim for his lost property when the CSS Alabama captured and burned his ship on November 8th 1863.

Click for a much bigger view. From The Mariners’ Museum Woodbridge collection.

In the text of the letter, Atkins details how his ship spent 18 months sailing around the world, from Boston to Melbourne and Calcutta. As they were returning home to Boston, Atkins writes that “the Pirate ship called the Alabama Commanded by Capt. Symmes took our ship from us and burnt her together with all my valuable on board…” Though this incident occurred almost 150 years ago, one can well imagine the fear, frustration, distress felt by Atkins and his fellow crewmen at the sudden destruction of their ship and possessions: in his letter, Atkins ended up claiming $1100 in lost clothes, maps, charts and equipment. Then, as now, the victims of piracy are left with little recourse but to file an insurance claim. That is, if they are lucky enough to escape with their lives.

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