ON AN OCTOBER NIGHT IN 1905, a horrifying scene was found on a wooden vessel off the coast of Cape Fear, North Carolina. Onboard the Harry A. Berwind, one crewman lay dead, his blood streaming down the deck. The four officers all were gone—murdered, too, it would turn out, their bodies dumped into the sea. Only three sailors remained alive, one tied up, all telling different stories, all blaming each other. The three sailors were Black. The dead officers were white.
So began a legal spectacle that would captivate much of the nation’s press and fuel a sensational trial in Wilmington. It was in Wilmington, after all, that shocking racial violence had occurred not long before, and now the city remained in the clutches of white supremacists. Most observers could have predicted a quick verdict and a triple hanging . . . if not an even quicker lynching.
Yet the legal drama would defy predictions, lasting seven years, reaching the Supreme Court, pulling in presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft—then even being twisted into a fanciful, big-budget movie. In the end, so many participants—from jurors to lawyers to politicians—acted against type that justice had a fighting chance.
NOW FROM CHARLES OLDHAM, attorney and award-winning author of The Senator’s Son, comes the first full account of this fascinating true tale.
“An engaging thriller with a surprise ending, . . . Ship of Blood explores racism and justice in a Southern port with a bloody past.”
—DAVID ZUCCHINO, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author of Wilmington’s Lie
“Charles Oldham unspools the complex mystery of guilt or innocence with a deft hand, artfully embedding the events of the crime within the rich history of a region fraught with
conflict in an era of deadly social upheaval. A terrific read.”
—PHILIP GERARD, Author of Cape Fear Rising and Winner of the North Carolina Award for Literature
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CHARLES OLDHAM AUTHOR BIO
From an early age, Charles Oldham had a feeling that he could write a good story, especially one about true crime. He was born and raised in Sanford, North Carolina, the son of a community college professor and a math teacher. His parents instilled in him a natural curiosity and a love for reading. Early on, Charles had a special interest in history and politics, most especially that of North Carolina, where his family roots go back more than two centuries. He also has a keen eye for mysteries, for searching out the details of a story that needs to be explored. It is a talent that led him to become an attorney.
Charles graduated from Davidson College in 1997, and from law school at the University of Georgia in 2000. Afterward, he practiced law in Sanford for a time, including a term as President of the Lee County Bar Association. He now lives in Charlotte, where for ten years he had a solo legal practice focused on criminal defense and civil litigation.
Ship of Blood is Charles’s second book, which he wrote after having a wonderful time with his first, The Senator’s Son, published in 2018.
In his spare time, Charles can be found doing just about anything outdoors, especially hiking and camping. He also loves spending time with his family in the summer at their favorite vacation spots, including Ocean Isle Beach and Lake Junaluska in the mountains of North Carolina.
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