Ship of Blood: Mutiny and Slaughter Aboard the Harry A. Berwind, and the Quest for Justice

Charles Oldham

Book Cover



    Core Theme



    Earlier 20th Century









    Ship of Blood is the true story of a multiple-murder that occurred on a ship off the coast of North Carolina in 1905. Three Black sailors were put on trial for murdering four white officers, in the darkest days of the Jim Crow South. Yet the legal drama lasted 7 years, with justice in the end.

    Target Audiences

    Age: 18-34,35-54,55+

    Target Gender: Universal


    Wilmington, North Carolina; Washington, DC; New York

    Based on a True Story


    Publishing Details

    Status: Yes: with a Publisher

    Publisher: Beach Glass Books

    Year Published: 2022

    Starting Description

    Three black sailors, all telling different stories, were arrested for murder on board their ship off the North Carolina coast. One body lay dead on the deck, in a pool of blood. The ship's four officers were also shot dead, their bodies tossed overboard.

    Ending Description

    In the end, two of the black sailors who had been wrongly convicted of murder were granted clemency by President William Howard Taft in 1912. Against all odds, and with the surprising help of so many otherwise-conservative white Southerners, they left prison as free men.

    Group Specific

    Information not completed

    Hard Copy Available




    Mature Audience Themes

    Information not completed

    Plot - Other Elements

    Happy Ending,Twist

    Plot - Premise


    Main Character Details

    Name: Henry Scott

    Age: 35

    Gender: Male

    Role: Antagonist

    Key Traits: Aggressive,Crazy,Villainous,Narcisstic,Lone Wolf

    Additional Character Details

    Name: Robert Sawyer

    Age: 35

    Gender: Male

    Role: Protagonist

    Key Traits: Empathetic,Faithful,Underdog,Modest

    Additional Character Details

    Name: Arthur Adams

    Age: 25

    Gender: Male

    Role: protagonist

    Key Traits: Empathetic,Faithful,Underdog,Modest

    Additional Character Details

    Name: George Rountree

    Age: 55

    Gender: Male

    Role: skeptic

    Key Traits: Complex,Engaging,Flexible,Gracious,Educated




    A trade ship is discovered off the coast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, with a dead man on board and all its officers missing, seemingly killed by the Black crewmen left alive, led by Henry Scott...but all is not quite what it seems. Based on true events.

    Overall Rating


    Point of View


    Narrative Elements

    Authors Writing Style: GOOD

    Characterization: FAIR

    Commerciality: GOOD

    Franchise Potential: FAIR

    Pace: GOOD

    Premise: GOOD

    Structure: GOOD

    Theme: EXCELLENT

    Accuracy of Book Profile

    It is accurate.

    Draw of Story

    The book wisely opens with the end result of this true event that occurred in 1905—namely the murders of all the officers and a crewman on the Harry A. Berwind off the coast of Cape Fear, NC. This is what drew me into the story right away: the desire to discover exactly what happened on this ship, and also to discover if the events occurred as they seemed to have occurred or another way entirely. This is another way of saying that the intriguing mystery at the heart of the story is what drew me into it, bolstered by the spooky atmosphere the author conveys and the simmering tensions among the crew as they approach boiling point.

    Possible Drawbacks

    Nothing made me want to put this book down; it was a great read start to finish, and it was a concise read. This is not to say the book is flawless, but its flaws are trivial and likely will be perceived differently reader to reader, yet probably will remain trivial.

    Use of Special Effects


    Primary Hook of Story

    The hook is the murder mystery at the heart of the plot, enhanced by the book’s unwavering focus on its main theme of racism and racial tensions in 2th-century America, which remain relevant over a century later. A secondary hook of this story is the fact it explores racism through a maritime story set during the height of trade-ship passage—a rare combination.

    Fanbase Potential

    SHIP OF BLOOD is likely to niche to have a huge fanbase but it certainly could have a moderately sized passionate fanbase.

    Awards Potential

    Potentially, yes, because the story is concerned primarily with racism and racial tensions in the early 20th century and is highly relevant today because of it—a theme the awards community usually responds well to.

    Envisioned Budget


    Similar Films/TV Series


    What’s New About the Story

    Original about SHIP OF BLOOD is the true event that the story focuses on, which is as yet unexplored in popular fiction as far as I am aware. Original also is the combination of a 20th century-era tale set on a trade ship with the theme of racism. The story could be made even more unique by adapting it into a more immersive, semi-fictional style that would recreate the events on the ship as they likely happened by placing the readers inside the heads of a viewpoint character as this protagonist and the readers experience these events first-hand.

    Lead Characters

    With this book being nonfiction, the characters are not characters in the classic sense, and therefore they don’t really stand out. However, Henry Scott, the murderous crewman, stands out as a kind of anti-hero who the audience will root for in a certain way because his murders are perhaps not entirely unjustified given the circumstances; or at least, the audience will empathize with Scott considering the circumstances.

    Uniqueness of Story

    This may be a rare gem. At the very least, it’s on the fence. It’s difficult how to say it could become more of a rare gem as it is based on true events that cannot change. The events themselves are fascinating but perhaps not quite fascinating enough to be designated a rare gem.

    Possible Formats

    Film: Studio, Indie, Streaming TV Series: Network, Cable, Limited Run / Mini-Series, Streaming, Unscripted

    Analyst Recommendation



    SHIP OF BLOOD is a gripping, concise nonfiction account of a fascinating, sinister event over a century ago that was the result of a racist culture and racist policies combined with poor working conditions that resulted in one man snapping and committing murder. In this way the story is a warning for society today and is highly relevant to today because of it. While the true events this story is based upon are indeed engrossing, and while they are indeed relevant for audiences today, this concept is not exactly mind-blowing, and the setting of a trade ship in the early 20 th century is not exactly super commercial, either. Therefore, my recommendation is a strong consider.


    A trade ship is discovered off the coast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, with a dead man on board and all its officers missing, seemingly killed by the Black crewmen left alive, led by Henry Scott...but all is not quite what it seems. Based on true events.

    What We Liked

    As its title suggests, SHIP OF BLOOD is a spooky tale of mutiny and murder based on the real-life killings of the officers of the Harry A. Berwind off the coast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, in 1905. Even without being based on true events, this is a gripping tale of paranoia and frustration festering among eight men living and working in the cramped c conditions of a medium-sized trade ship on a long trip, and bringing into sharp relief the turbulent racial tensions ever-present among workers during this era before African Americans had achieved many civil rights. However, by being based on a shocking and true story that riveted the nation in the early 20th century, this true-story status bolsters the effect here by adding the weight of history to it, and exposing the racial tensions and racist policies and cultures that remain in American workplaces and society today.
    Although an adaptation of SHIP OF BLOOD may not exactly be a blockbuster or smash-hit TV series, there is nonetheless a sizable audience for prestige series based on sinister true events, as Netflix’s many true-crime series has shown, and for this reason SHIP OF BLOOD is a strong contender for adaptation not just as a feature film or TV series within the realms of the fictional but also as a true-crime documentary, limited series or a even podcast.

    Film: A feature-film adaptation is the most ideal format for SHIP OF BLOOD because the story based on true events has a very definite end point that could be covered to completion easily within a two-hour film following the classic three-act structure. The first act could see our crew members meet and board the ship as it departs from its original point, while the third act could contain the trial scene that recounts the events that could be covered by act two. Alternatively, the film could open with the trial scene and intercut the progress of the trial into the entire film as the plot moves along. There are many possible ways to effectively adapt SHIP OF BLOOD a film, and that is testament to the well-written, informative prose of the book.

    TV: If adapted for TV, SHIP OF BLOOD would be restricted to becoming a limited series adaptation as the true events the story is based upon have a very definite end.
    However, a limited series could be an ideal format for such an adaptation because it provides ample screentime to slowly build to this ending as the tensions between the Black and white officers and crewmen reaches critical peak, exploding into the horrific events that led to this event becoming what it became. A TV series adaptation could experiment with the chronology of events, or even play with the accuracy of events by showing different versions of the event from various characters’ perspectives until the true version is finally revealed.

    Key points:
    1) Fascinating, engrossing true-crime tale.
    2) Themes of racism and racial tensions are highly relevant today.
    3) An enthralling blend of history, mystery, drama, and sheer spookiness.
    4) Exceptionally well written, methodically


    On the evening of October 10, 1905, Captain John W. Tailor spotted the Harry A. Berwind near Cape Fear, North Carolina. He found a crime scene, including a dead man on the roof, a man bound with rope and chain on the ship’s cabin roof, and two distraught mobile men. The ship did not contain other members, which implied that the officials, including the captain, were not present. The officials had been murdered, and their bodies were thrown overboard.
    According to Adams and Sawyer, the crime on the ship was not a result of mutiny or conspiracy. Henry Scott shot all four officials and threw them out of the ship. The scenario surrounding the incident and the different accounts of what had happened introduced a legal spectacle that captivated the nation’s press. It also fueled the trial in Wilmington, which had previously undergone racial violence that had ensured all the power in the region belonged to white supremacists. The trial had a panel of white judges, lawyers, prosecutors, and jury. Also, Scott was tried at a separate trial from Adams and Sawyer. The trials began on November 1, 1905.
    Adams and Sawyer both pleaded not guilty. However, after the proceedings, George Peschau, the lawyer for the defense, insisted that Scott was the only villain. President Roosevelt received a petition to appeal the ruling of Adams and Sawyer. He sentenced them to life imprisonment with hard labor but did not justify making the rulings. After the president’s ruling, the two appealed their case. Later, the president found them not guilty, and they were freed from the Atlanta penitentiary. They went to New York and were offered jobs by Henry Warner and his attorney.

    About The Author

    Charles Oldham, author of The Senator’s Son, graduated law school at the University of Georgia in 2000. He now lives in Charlotte, NC, where for ten years he had a solo legal practice focused on criminal defense and civil litigation.