“Captive of the Confederacy and a Continent Touched by War: Lucy Lord Howes Hooper’s Six Days as a Civilian Prisoner of War”

By Cassy Jane Werking, PhD Candidate, University of Kentucky, Andrew W. Mellon Short-Term Research Fellow at the MHS

The ship in the distance gave hope to Lucy Lord Howes Hooper, passenger aboard the American Southern Cross. Her vessel was not lost at sea because civilization was in sight. The ship, however, served as an unexpected reminder of a civilization fraught with conflict—the American Civil War. The feeling of hope felt by Massachusetts natives Lucy Lord Howes Hooper and her husband, Captain Benjamin Howes, quickly vanished as the approaching Confederate ship, sailing under the disguise of the British flag and taking advantage of Britain’s neutrality, announced that all on board the Southern Cross were now prisoners of war for the Confederacy. Hooper watched the Confederate flag quickly replace the English flag and commented, “I had been standing on deck all this time in the rain, watching the proceedings with an aching heart.” [1] The discomfort of the rain falling on her head may have matched the discomfort she felt in her heart about the situation unfolding in front of her eyes and the uncertainty that would undoubtedly follow. Passengers packed belongings as quickly as possible, evacuated the ship, and boarded the Confederate Florida before their capturers burned the American Southern Cross. Hooper served time as a Confederate prisoner of war for six days in June 1863 alongside her husband who was the merchant captain of the Southern Cross. They were on route from Mazatlán, Mexico with a shipment of brazilwood when the Confederates found them. [2] Hooper left the ship she referred to as home in an unusual way. She stated, “I was wrapped in the American flag and lowered over the side in an arm chair into the boat, with one of my cats in my lap.” [3] This unusual scene highlights the variety of forms the Civil War took and the unsuspecting civilians who were caught in the cross hairs.

The experience of Lucy Lord Howes Hooper shows that the Confederacy took advantage of fluid borders in international waters through Confederate privateers with the goal of destroying Union commerce. Hooper’s story provides a female perspective from the southern end of the North American continent to contrast with northern regions that my dissertation explores—the international border between Canada and the United States.  The Confederacy extended its reach beyond the borders of the South and beyond the United States. Hooper’s diary and my dissertation contribute to the more recent trajectory of Civil War scholarship that has involved “internationalizing” the war’s scope. Historians have examined Europe and South America to broaden our understanding. They have also highlighted the importance of Latin American nations to the Civil War Era. Examinations ranged from the escapades of filibusters before the war like William Walker, who led a private expedition into Nicaragua in order to acquire land needed for the expansion of slavery, to the lives of white southerners who did not want to live in the United States during Reconstruction. Yet, North America on a larger scale remains understudied. Analyzing international borders by land, and by water, adds a new dimension to how the scholarship conceptualizes the geography of war and builds on recent studies of borders as contested spaces.

Confederate Lieutenant John Newland Maffitt treated Hooper less like a prisoner and more like a guest. He offered Hooper his personal room for her to stay in and taught her to play Solitaire. Hooper was from Dennis, Massachusetts and even talked about Cape Cod with Maffitt in which the captain reported that the Cape Cod girls are “great flirts.” [4] Interesting conversations may have briefly diverted Hooper’s attention away from her capricious situation, but she remained uncomfortable because there was no destination or freedom in sight. Hooper demurred, “Still prisoners we are discounted, suffer considerable from ennui, a dull rainy disagreeable day.” [5] Hooper knew that the ticket to her release hindered on the presence of a non-American ship coming in the path of the Confederates. Ultimately, the French ship Fleur De Para unknowingly liberated Hooper, her husband, and a handful of other passengers. The Confederate privateers posing as Englishmen explained that they saved them from a burning vessel, but secretly kept the remainder of the crew as prisoners.

Examining Confederate actions in international waters and the safety of civilians threatened on ships, shows that the Civil War, despite its name, was not a war that transpired only within the borders of the United States, but also on the border, specifically in the “borderlands.” Therefore, a fuller understanding of the war that encompasses all the diverse actors, like Hooper, who were affected and their varied experiences of war requires a reframing of the Civil War that positions it as a fight that played out across North America.

[1] Lucy Lord Howes Hooper, 6 June 1863 [electronic edition], [Page unnumbered; (Page 1 of sequence)], Lucy Lord Howes Hooper diary, 1862-1863,  Massachusetts Historical Society, https://www.masshist.org/database/viewer.php?item_id=2505&pid=25.

[2] This description is from the project: Civil War, Massachusetts Historical Society.

[3] Ibid., [Page unnumbered; (Page 2 of sequence)].

[4] Ibid., 7 June 1863, [Page unnumbered; (Page 3 of sequence)].

[5] Ibid., 10 June 1863, [Page unnumbered; (Page 3 of sequence)].