The Nightingale sailed from New York City in the autumn of 1860 to England. Although it was said she loading a cargo of cotton cloth, guns and powder from St Thomas, it quickly became known that she was slave ship. The Nightingale made several trips between England, Angola and Cuba with somewhere around 2,000 African people bound for slavery.
The USS Saratoga anchored near the Congo River at Cabinda, Angola. She sent two small boats sometime around midnight April 21st 1861 to board the Nightingale. Sailors and marines from the Saratoga found 961 blacks on board, chained between the decks. The Nightingale was taken as a prize and was put under the command of Lieutenant James J Guthrie, who had led the boarding party. They sailed first for Liberia to release the human cargo on the April 23rd 1861, a fever killed 160 of the blacks and one of the crew before they reached shore on May 7th 1861.
The Nightingale would be condemned in the New York prize court and was bought by the Union Navy. She was commissioned August 18th 1861 and served out the war in blockading duty.