Thursday, February 3, 2022

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Ship of Blood, by Charles Oldham {ends 2/10}

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Ship of Blood, by Charles Oldham {ends 2/10}
Guest review by: Becki Bayley

The trials of the three Berwind sailors began on November 1, 1905, only three weeks after the ship was intercepted off Southport and the crime discovered. Today, of course, it is inconceivable that a murder case in federal court could be conducted with such haste. Defendants must have ample opportunity to meet with attorneys, plan strategy, receive discovery from the prosecution, and file motions accordingly. All of that takes months at the very least, and usually longer in a case like this one, which involved multiple codefendants and conflicting defenses.

But federal officials in Wilmington wanted to get the business over and done. For one reason, the defendants seemed easily convictable, even if the details of the mutiny and killings were ambiguous. There was no doubt that four white men had been brutally killed by at least one Black man, and even if not all were equally complicit, surely they must all have been in on it somehow. That, at least, appeared a safe assumption.

What started as a shipping schooner with eight men on board was recovered while traveling erratically along the coast with one dead body on board, one man tied up, and two more yelling for rescue. 

Official synopsis:
Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Ship of Blood, by Charles Oldham {ends 2/10}
In October 1905, North Carolina and much of the nation was captivated by the mass murder found aboard the Harry A. Berwind as it sailed the coast of Cape Fear. All four of the ship’s officers had been shot and tossed overboard, one crewman lay dead on the deck, and another was chained hand and foot. The three survivors, Henry Scott, Arthur Adams, and Robert Sawyer, had different stories. Scott claimed other sailors conspired together and restrained him when he would not cooperate; Adams and Sawyer claimed Scott pulled a gun and acted alone until they tackled and restrained him.

The most inflammatory factor that captured the nation: all the murdered officers were white, and the survivors Black.

Just seven years earlier, Wilmington, North Carolina witnessed a brutal white supremacist insurrection that killed dozens of Black citizens in the streets, and by 1905, Jim Crow laws were firmly in place. Predictably, all three survivors were found guilty and sentenced to hang. Yet the legal drama went on, defying all other predictions. Lasting seven years, the case reached the Supreme Court and even presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Adams and Sawyer were eventually found innocent and freed.

In-depth non-fiction is never about just one event. This book was no exception: the history in the years before this tragedy contributed so much to the political climate and the players involved in the drama. Thankfully the author was thorough in his descriptions and explanations leading up to the slaughter aboard the Harry A. Berwind.

The way this book presented the facts before, during, and after the high seas massacre makes it a wonder that a similar presentation wasn’t done much earlier. There was follow-through with any information available regarding what happened to the participants in the original event and legal fall-out afterward. While it turns out the drama was made into a movie in the 1950s, there is even a comparison between this movie (stated to be based on a true story) and the vast differences from the available truth.

I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars. The level of detail was compelling, but not overwhelming. The author found the perfect meeting point between giving enough trivia to keep it interesting, but not detracting from the original intended story. I would recommend this as a great read for those who enjoy historical crime stories, as well as a healthy dose of race history around the early 1900s.

{click here to purchase - currently free for Kindle Unlimited!}

Becki Bayley is a reader. When she’s not reading, she’s taking care of her house and family, writing book reviews and blogging, or putting in hours of work that pay the bills. Check out her blog at


One of my lucky readers will win a copy of Ship of Blood!

Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Thursday, February 10th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be chosen the next day and notified by email. Winner will have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

U.S. residents only, please.

Good luck!

Ship of Blood, by Charles Oldham


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