The plan to capture a commercial sailing ship on the Chesapeake Bay and add it to the Confederate Navy was hatched by George Hollins. Hollins was born in Maryland September 20th 1799 and at 15 he joined the United State Navy, even serving during the War of 1812 on Lake Erie. When the Civil War started Hollins was commanding a ship in the Mediterranean. He returned to the United States resigned his commission, and offered his service to the Confederacy.
Very shortly after joining the Confederate Navy, Hollins met another Marylander, Richard Thomas Zarvona. He was born October 27th 1833 on the family plantation known as Mattapany. Zarvona was an adventurer. He had attended the United Military Academy at West Point in 1850 for a short time, fought pirates in China, and fought with Giuseppe Garibaldi in Italy.
These two men set up a plan to seize the St Nicolas, a commercial ship and put it into use in the Confederate Navy. Zarvona recruited some sketchy men in Baltimore, Maryland and they boarded the St Nicholas, along with Zarvona who went on board disguised as a woman using the name Madame La Force. Hollins came on board the St Nicholas at its next port of call. With all the conspirators on board they met in Zarvona’s cabin, where they armed themselves and then surprised and capture the crew on June 28th 1861. Hollins took command of the ship. They stopped the St Nicholas on the Virginia side of the Chesapeake to take on a Confederate crew. They planned to use the ship to capture the sloop, the USS Pawnee, but it sailed out before the St Nicholas got there, instead they captured three other commercial ships carrying cargos of coffee, coal and ice.
For this action Hollins was given a promotion to Flag Officer and sent to command the Confederate fleet at New Orleans, Louisiana.
If you are interested in reading more about the men involved check out Richard Thomas Zarvona (1833-1875) and George Nichols Hollins (1799-1878)