The slave trade was abolished in 1808 and was made punishable by death in 1820, but that didn't stop everyone from committing such horrific acts. This included William Corrie and Charles Lamar, owners of the renowned racing yacht Wanderer, members of the New York Yacht Club, and part of the pro-slavery radicals known as “fire-eaters.” On July 4, 1858, Corrie and Lamar set sail from Charleston, South Carolina for Africa on a vile mission, fooling those standing in their way with their boat's extravagant amenities.

As Wanderer’s elaborate retrofit progressed in Port Jefferson, New York, a customs official grew increasingly suspicious—especially when extra-large water tanks capable of holding 15,000 gallons were hauled aboard and Farnum, a known troublemaker, was spotted in the town. The New York Times wondered aloud whether the yacht might be transformed into a slave ship but acknowledged how absurd the notion was “that a vessel so costly, and so well adapted for a gentleman to spend his elegant leisure in, should be selected as a slaver.” Government officials ordered the ship to New York City for a thorough inspection. Although there was such a volume of supplies that “showed that an extraordinary voyage of some kind was contemplated,” nothing could specifically implicate the vessel as a slave ship. Customs officials had no choice but to let it proceed to Charleston and onto Africa where in exchange for rum, gunpowder, cutlasses, muskets and other goods, the Southerners secretly purchased nearly 500 slaves—many of them teenage boys—and branded them with hot irons.

After riding wind and waves across the Atlantic Ocean, Wanderer dropped anchor at Jekyll Island off the coast of Georgia on November 28, 1858, with 400 African slaves. Approximately 70 of those held in bondage died in the brutal conditions and foul air of the ship’s hold during the six-week journey. The slavers quickly smuggled their human cargo ashore in small boats and scattered them in plantations and slave markets across the South, where they were sold for upwards of $700 a head.

Head over to History to find out what happened to the "fire-eaters" after they were arrested.