All posts are copyright Barbara Rogers 2018. Please ask if you wish to share, and give attribution to the author.My ancestry and more personal notes are now at a revised version of "When I Was 75."

Friday, April 8, 2016

Capt. A. G. Swasey, & the Civil War

Ah, a boat, some water, and I immediately think of the Swasey sea-faring ancestors on my father's mother's side of the family, from Newport, RI, Charleston, SC, St. Augustine, FL and Swansea, MA. (Here's the Sepia Saturday link for sharing other stories on the same theme...)

But today my main interest lies in my great great grandfather, Captain Alexander G. Swasey (1812-1866), born in Newport, RI, died in Charleston, SC.

He had been captaining ships for many years but was captured with his ship the Ella Warley on April 24, 1862 by Union forces.  At that time he was a blockade runner for the Confederacy.  So he went to Federal Prison (aka Yankee) and I think I just learned which one and where.

My ancestry listing has 50 plus entries which I just began checking for cash receipts that the prison listed with A. G. Swasey.  He spent most of the Civil War in prison according to these dates.
Prior to that he captained the Confederate owned side-wheeler steam ship, the Ella Warley (aka the Isabel) which had worked to help the Union troops at the very beginning of the War.

This was the first battle of the Civil War.
After the bombardment (34 hours and no deaths) and surrender by the Union of Fort Sumter on April 12-13, 1861, the side wheeler ship, Ella Warley (known then as the Isabel) was used in the evacuation of Union troops. It carried Colonel Robert Anderson and his troops from the fort and conveyed them to Union warships off the coast of Charleston.

If the Isabel was captained by A. G. Swasey,  it would have probably been a Confederate vessel.   The Charleston SC owners of the Isabel turned it over to the Confederacy sometime in 1861, and changed the name.  The Isabel/Ella Warley was a side wheel steam ship mainly built for the postal services between ports.

Photograph of a faded and torn United States flag
Fort Sumpter Flag
During the Civil War, the Ella Warley, operated out of Charleston  as a Confederate blockade runner, after the Union troops blockaded Charleston harbor. It was captured by the Union Navy in April 1862, as it returned to Charleston from Nassau. Then the Ella Warley was purchased by a New York City shipping company. The illustrious ship’s career ended when it collided with another vessel and sank off Sandy Hook, New Jersey in February 1863.
The Ella Warley
A painting of the Isabel, name changed to Ella Warley for Confederacy

"The Ella Warley," a painting of the Isabel, name changed to Ella Warley for Confederacy

But what about my great great grandfather?  He spent the Civil war years in prison after being captured with his ship.

The following is a sample of the 50+ records of cash transactions which are available for me to read and download, from some records that are 54,000 pages of microfilm long.  The Ancestry  source simply says "Official Records of The Union and Confederate Armies." I just discovered a heading describing where the records on A. G. Swasey were from in 1863-65. Here is an example of these accounts of cash from prisoners.

Nov 11, 1863, 4th entry on left column, A G Swasey had gold in the amount of 256.25 including Spanish piece valued at $8.25

After much searching through these records, I found the microfilm batch for these cash accounts refers to a Federal Prison at Fort Warren, in Boston Harbor on Georges Island. The 50 plus pages of cash records show that Captain Swasey was imprisoned among officers of the Confederate military, as well as civilians.  Fort Warren Prison is known as having treated the prisoners fairly.  I don't think Captain Swasey was among those offered in exchange with some prisoners from the other side.  I only see all the dates from 1863 through 1865 of his receipts in these cash books.   I wonder if any records were kept when prisoners were released at the end of the war, and how Capt. Swasey might have returned to Charleston from Boston.

He did return to Charleston at some point following the end of hostilities, but must have been very sick.  His death was recorded on a register as follows:

Top line is A. G. Swasey, 53 years old, born in Charleston (not true) and died 26 March 1866 of Consumption. The grave is unmarked in Magnolia Cemetery, but is listed as belonging to someone named Mahoney. My cousin visited Charleston and "did research on his feet" by going to various sites, in 2011 and couldn't find Swasey's grave but did find the Mahoney's.

Capt. Swasey's last address was 1 Limehouse St, Charleston (Here's the Google Map photo as it looks today).

His earlier home was 22 Savage St, Charleston. where he lived in 1855.

22 Savage St. Charleston, SC as of 2011
More about the ships of which Captain Swasey was captain HERE.

Come see what else creative Sepia Saturday folks have come up with and posted this week on this theme.


  1. The level of detail you have is very impressive! Maybe he got TB in prison which killed him in 1866?

    1. I would imagine so, Gary. Thanks to Ancestry and my cousins who do lots of work on our ancestors, I don't have to do it all by myself.

  2. I agree that the crowded conditions in prison would have been detremental to health, especially someone contracting TB. How sad that he died so young.

  3. You've done some fine research here! I think my great-grandfather had something to do with Fort Sumpter, but he was in the Union Navy. I'll have to check his records. The houses where your great great grandfather lived on Savage Street in Charleston are interesting the way they're set on end right up to the sidewalk.

    1. Yes, apparently the people preferred to have a smaller lot facing the street (and maybe the bay) so they are all arranged that way.

  4. I didn't mention that his wife who outlived him, actually lived most of this time in St. Augustine, FL...but her last child was born in Charleston, SC. So as a sailor, he probably spent time in different ports, before the war anyway.

  5. What a great story! You bring it to life with the pictures and detail. I love the houses!

  6. Very interesting history. Your gg grandfather had a lot of gold - do you know if he got that from his Confederate activities?

  7. Wow what an interesting piece of family history. You have done well to find all this information.

  8. I love those skinny houses all lined up side by side.

  9. I find the cursive handwriting in Civil War military records fascinating. So many names, dates, addresses, etc. all carefully written out by one hand. With a pen dipped in an ink well too. One of my grandx2fathers was a union soldier POW held at the infamous Libby Prison in Richmond. It was fortunate for him (and me too) that he survived.

  10. Wonderful in your interesting research.... I too have Civil War Confederacy roots in the SC, and Chicot AR area;
    Have a great day

  11. A very interesting family history. Do you get some goosebumps reading it? The Isabel was a beautiful steamship.


Looking forward to hearing from you! Since I didn't know the 1000+ people who supposedly looked at my blog the other day, I'm back to moderating comments. If that doesn't help, I don't know why blogger doesn't have a filter that stops this hacking...