David White
Negro on the Alabama

Source for this information:- Service Afloat by Raphael Semmes
And
Two Years on the Alabama:- Lt. Arthur Sinclair.

On October the 9th of 1862, the United States vessel Tonawanda was captured by the Alabama. Among the passengers was a businessman from Delaware, who had with him a young Negro slave, aged around 17, named David White.
The North had a system whereby any captured slaves were treated as contraband, and confiscated. Accordingly Raphael Semmes abided by this system, and David was taken aboard the Alabama.

David was put to work in the galley, and although very apprehensive, soon settled down (he would have been welcomed and immediately accepted as one of their own by the Liverpool crew. I speak from experience when I say they are the salt of the earth), David was later made steward for Surgeon Galt, on whom he doted.

The Alabama made regular stops at neutral ports to re-supply with coal and provisions, at these stops, all the crew, including David were given liberty. The United States had consular offices in all of these ports, and officials from these offices would constantly harass and badger David to leave the Alabama. Both promises and threats were regularly used. But David, to his eternal credit, returned to the Alabama of his own free will, on each occasion.


From "Two Years on the Alabama," by Lt. Arthur Sinclair

page 35:
"Among the prisoners shipping on the Alabama during the whaling-raid off the Azores, we will call your attention to little David H. White. He became quite a marked character on our vessel. Dave was a Delaware slave, a boy about seventeen or eighteen years old; and wanting in the ward-room mess of our ship an efficient waiter-boy, the lot fell to Dave. He was not only willing but anxious to ship. The natural instincts of the lad told him we would be his friends. He knew Southern gentlemen on sight. Dave became a great favorite with the officers, his willing, obliging manners, cheerful disposition, and untiring attention winning for him the affection of not only the officers, but of the entire ship's company. Poor Dave! he was drowned in the engagement off Cherbourg. It was his privilege to go on shore with the ward-room steward to market; and on all occasions the American consul or his satellites would use all their eloquence to persuade Dave to desert his ship, reminding him of his present condition of slavery and the chance presented of throwing off his shackles, but Dave remained loyal in face of all temptation."

page 250:
"The news that the Alabama is to fight on Sunday, the 19th of June, 1864, is now the common property of Europe, indeed of all lands, the information being wired to every available point;

page 252:
"Our wardroom in the meantime is the centre of considerable fun and frolic in spite of the grim work ahead....Indeed, there is many a joke passing around the mess-table, all having direct reference to the present state of the nerves, and banter is the order of the meal hours. Poor little Dave, our colored wardroom boy (referred to before in these pages), is jokingly catechised as to the state of his courage. The little fellow seems perfectly contented, evidently having every confidence in the ability of those he is serving to bring him through all right, and shows his ivories at each banter. Faithful Dave! Your goal is about reached. "Well done, good and faithful servant." Like Llewellyn, Steward Bartelli, and some others, poor little Dave could have saved his life by the mere mention that he was unable to swim. Howell could not swim; and it being generally known Semmes ordered him to take an oar in the boat conveying the wounded to the Kearsarge in charge of Lieut. Wilson. It is true the boat was much crowded, so much so that Lieut. Armstrong and Midshipman Anderson declined to go in her, though both were severely wounded. Still, in such an emergency and with a calm sea, the boat could have been loaded "gunwales to" with safety." It is one of the great tragedies of this war that David White died in the battle with the Kearsage at Cherbourg. His story, if told and published, could well have been a major embarrassment to the United States.

Back

<Home