Charlotte-based author Charles Oldham, who was born and raised in Sanford, released his second book of historical true crime on Feb. 1.
“Ship of Blood” is published by Beach Glass Books and tells the tale of a racially-charged Wilmington, N.C. Trial which took place in the early 1900s surrounding a group of grisly maritime murders.
“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,” reads a description on the Beach Glass Books website. “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.”
“I thought it was an interesting postscript to the whole 1898 (Wilmington insurrection),” Oldham said. “I came across the story almost by accident when I read an article about it in a historical review, and I was surprised nobody else had come along and written about it first.”
Writing about history can be a daunting task — “the most important thing for me was to make sure I got all the historical details correct,” Oldham said, adding that he spent hours at the public library in Wilmington and at the National Archives facility in Atlanta, where he was able to find primary sources including old news accounts and physical copies of trial transcripts — but he was able to navigate things thanks to his experience with his first book, “The Senator’s Son,” which he published in 2018.
That book covered the disappearance of then North Carolina state Senator Sam Beasley’s young son from eastern North Carolina in 1905, as well as its aftermath.
“I knew right away that I wanted to follow up (“The Senator’s Son”),” Oldham said.
Oldham’s formal training as a lawyer was also a valuable resource in researching the book.
“Having the transcripts and reading the questions by the attorneys, the objections — I was able to put myself in their position and sort of figure out what they were thinking,” he said.
Oldham will appear at a Friends of the Lee County Library event to promote the book on Feb. 15, at 6 p.m.
“I love doing speaking events,” he said. “We’ve discovered that’s really the best way to build buzz.”