Autobiography of Joseph Bates, 1792-1872. Chapters V-X.
Cutting a Hole Through the Ship - Perilous Adventure of a Narragansett Indian - Hole Finished - Eighteen Prisoners Escape - Singular Device to Keep the Number Good - Drowning Man - Night Signals for Relief - Another Hole Cut - Letter from the Escaped Prisoners - U. S. Government Clothe their Prisoners - Prisoners sent to Dartmoor - Cheering News of Peace.
OUR keepers were in the habit of examining the inside of our prison every evening before we were ordered up to be counted down, to ascertain whether we were cutting through the ship to gain our liberty. We observed that they seldom stopped at a certain place on the lower deck, but passed it with a slight examination. On examining this place, a number of us decided to cut a hole here if we could effect it without detection by the soldier who was stationed but a few inches above where we must come out, and yet have room above water.
Having nothing better than a common table-knife fitted with teeth, after some time we sawed out a heavy three-inch oak plank, which afterward served us successfully for a cover when our keepers were approaching. We now began to demolish a very heavy oak timber, splinter by splinter. Even this had to be done with great caution, that the soldier might not hear us on the outside. While one was at work in his turn, some others were watching, that our keepers might not approach and find the hole uncovered. About forty were engaged in this work. Before the heavy timber was splintered out, one of our number obtained the cook's iron poker. This was a great help to pry off small splinters around the heavy iron bolts. In this way, after laboring between thirty and forty days, we reached the copper on the ship's bottom, some two to three feet from the top of our cover, on an angle of about 25° downward. By working the poker through the copper, on the upper side of the hole, we learned to our joy that it came out beneath the stage where the soldier stood. Then on opening the lower side of the hole, the water flowed in some, but not in sufficient quantities to sink the ship for some time, unless by change of wind and weather she became more unsteady in her motion, and rolled the hole under water, in which case we should doubtless have been left to share her fate. The commander had, before this, stated that if by any means the ship caught fire from our lights in the night, he would throw the keys of our hatchways overboard, and leave the ship and us to burn and perish together. Hence we had chosen officers to extinguish every light at 10 P. M.
Sunday afternoon, while I was at work in my turn, enlarging the hole in the copper, a shout of hundreds of voices from the outside so alarmed me for fear that we were discovered, that in my hurry to cover up the hole, the poker slipped from my hands through the hole into the sea. The hole covered, we made our way with the rushing crowd, up the long stairway to the upper deck, to learn the cause of the shouting. The circumstances were these: Another ship like our own, containing American prisoners, was moored about one-eighth of a mile from us. People from the country, in their boats, were visiting the prison ships, as was their custom on Sundays, to see what looking creatures American prisoners were. Soldiers with loaded muskets, about twenty feet apart, on the lower and upper stages outside of the ship, were guarding the prisoners' escape. One of the countrymen's boats, rowed by one man, lay fastened to the lower stage, at the foot of the main gangway ladder, where also one of these soldiers was on guard. A tall, athletic Narragansett Indian, who, like the rest of his countrymen, was ready to risk his life for liberty, caught sight of the boat, and watching the English officers who were walking the quarter-deck, as they turned their backs to walk aft he bolted down the gangway ladder, clinched the soldier, musket and all, and crowded him under the thwarts, cleared the boat, grasped the two oars, and with the man (who most likely would have shot him before he could clear himself) under his feet, he shaped his course for the opposite, unguarded shore, about two miles distant!
The soldiers, seeing their comrade, with all his ammunition, snatched from his post and stowed away in such a summary manner, and moving out of their sight like a streak over the water by the giant power of this North-American Indian, were either so stunned with amazement at the scene before them, or it may be with fear of another Indian after them, that they failed to hit him with their shot. Well-manned boats, with sailors and soldiers, were soon dashing after him, firing and hallooing to bring him to; all of which seemed only to animate and nerve him to ply his oars with herculean strength.
When his fellow-prisoners saw him moving away from his pursuers in such a giant-like manner, they shouted, and gave him three cheers. The prisoners on board our ship followed with three more. This was the noise which I had heard while working at the hole. The officers were so exasperated at this that they declared if we did not cease this cheering and noise they would lock us down below. We therefore stifled our voices, that we might be permitted to see the poor Indian make his escape.
Before reaching the shore, his pursuers gained on him so that they shot him in his arm (as we were told), which made it difficult to ply the oar; nevertheless he reached the shore, sprang from the boat and cleared himself from all his pursuers, and was soon out of reach of all their musket balls. Rising to our sight upon an inclined plain, he rushed on, bounding over hedges and ditches like a chased deer, and, without doubt, would have been out of sight of his pursuers in a few hours, and gained his liberty, had not the people in the country rushed upon him from various quarters, and delivered him up to his pursuers, who brought him back, and for some days locked him up in the dungeon. Poor Indian! he deserved a better fate.
The prisoners now understood that the hole was completed, and a great many were preparing to make their escape. The committee men decided that those who had labored to cut the hole should have the privilege of going first. They also selected four judicious and careful men, who could not swim, to take charge of the hole, and help all out that wished to go.
With some difficulty we at length obtained some tarred canvas, with which we made ourselves small bags, just large enough to pack our jacket, shirt, and shoes in; then we fastened a stout string, about ten feet long, to the end, and in the other end made a loop to pass around the neck. With hat and pants on, and bag in one hand, and the other fast hold of our fellow, we took our rank and file for a desperate effort for liberty. At the given signal (10 P. M.), every light was extinguished, and the men bound for liberty were in their stations.
Soldiers, with loaded muskets, as already described, were on guard all around the ship, above and below. Our landing-place, if we reached it, was about half a mile distant, with a continued line of soldiers just above high-water mark. The heads of those who passed out came only a few inches from the soldiers' feet, i. e., a grating stage between.
A company of good singers stationed themselves at the after port-hole where the soldier stood that was next to the one over the hole. Their interesting sailor and war songs took the attention of the two soldiers some, and a glass of strong drink now and then drew them to the port-hole, while those inside made believe drink. While this was working, the committee were putting the prisoners through, feet foremost, and as their bag string began to draw, they slipped that out also, being thus assured that they were shaping their course for the shore. In the mean time, when the ship's bell was struck, denoting the lapse of another half hour, the soldier's loud cry would resound, "All's well!" The soldier that troubled us the most, would take his station over the hole, and shout, "All's well!" Then when he stepped forward to hear the sailors' song, the committee would put a few more through, and he would step back and cry again, "All's well!" It surely was most cheering to our friends while struggling for liberty in the watery element, to hear behind and before them the peace-and-safety cry, "All's well!"
Midnight came; the watch was changed, the cheering music had ceased. The stillness that reigned without and within retarded our work. At length it was whispered along the ranks that the few that had passed out during the stillness had caused great uneasiness with the soldiers, and they judged it best for no more to attempt to leave for fear of detection. It was also near daylight, and we might better retire quietly to our hammocks.
Edmond Allen and myself, of New Bedford, covenanted to go, and keep together. We had kept hold of each other during the night, and had advanced near the hole when it was thought best for no more to go. In the morning the cover was off, and E. A. was among the missing.
The committee reported seventeen, and E. A. made eighteen that had passed out during the night.
The prisoners were greatly elated at the last night's successful movement, and took measures to keep the hole undiscovered for another attempt at 10 P. M.
We were confined between two decks, with no communication after we were counted down at night and locked up. During the day some tools were obtained, and a scuttle was cut through the upper deck, and covered up undiscovered. Word was then circulated among the prisoners to go up from the upper deck as soon as the soldiers ordered the prisoners up to be counted down for the night. But those on the lower deck were to move tardily, so that those on the upper deck might be counted down before the lower deck was cleared. This was done, and eighteen that had just been counted, slipped through the scuttle unperceived by the soldiers, mingled with the crowd up the lower-deck ladder, and were counted over again. At 10 P. M., the lights were again extinguished, and the ranks formed for another attempt to escape.
On taking our station at 10 P. M., it was whispered along our ranks that two men not of our number were waiting at the hole, insisting that they would go first or they would raise a cry and prevent any one from going. They had been drinking, and would not be reasoned with. It was finally settled to let them go. The first was put through very quietly, saying to his drunken companion, "I will hold on to the ship's rudder-rings until you come." The second man, not being much of a swimmer, sank like a log, and rose up under the stage, splashing and struggling for life. Said the soldier to his next companion, "Here's a porpoise." "Put your bayonet into him," replied he. "I will," said the first, "if he comes up again." We were by this time all listening with almost breathless attention, fearing our chance for liberty was about gone. Up he came again. We heard the rush and then the cry, "Don't kill me! I'm a prisoner." "Prisoner? prisoner? where did you come from?" "Out of a hole in the ship." The soldier cried, "Here's a prisoner overboard! Prisoners are getting out of the ship!" "Prisoners are getting out of the ship!" was the quick response of all the watchmen. All hands came rushing on the deck. In a few moments our vigilant commander came running from his bed, frantically inquiring, "Where?" and hearing the sound outside, he rushed down the accommodation ladder, crying out, "How many have gone?" One of the prisoners, who felt disposed to quicken our chief captain's speed, put his face to the grating hole, and cried out, "About forty, I guess."
In quick succession, the night signals of distress brought well-manned boats to pick them up. "Where shall we pull?" "Here, there, all around." "Do you find any?" "No, sir, no, sir."
Orders were now given to land a body of men, and surround Gelingham forest, where they supposed the "forty" must have escaped, explore it in the morning, and take them on board. We were much amused to see what full credit the commander gave to the prisoner's "guess."
After making these arrangements, they got the drowning man on deck and demanded of him to state the facts; but he was so far gone with the large draughts of salt water which he had swallowed, somewhat mixed up with his rum, and the dreadful fear of being harpooned with a soldier's bayonet, that he failed to satisfy them, only that there was a hole in the ship, from which he passed out. One of the boats at length found it, pushed a long iron rod inside, and remained there watching until morning.
When we were permitted to come on deck in the morning, poor Johnson was lying, tied to a stake, floating in the water near the beach. All that we could learn was, that the string of his bag was fast around his left wrist, below which his hand was nearly cut off. Some of his friends knew that he had a sharp knife in the pocket of his pants, which was missing when he was found near the shore. Fastening his bag on his wrist instead of his neck, was doubtless a great hinderance to his getting away from the boats. In attempting to cut this string, we supposed he cut his wrist, and thus bled to death by the time he reached the shore.
We were kept on deck all day, without food, mustered by name, and strictly examined to see if we answered to our original descriptions. When it was clearly ascertained that eighteen living men had escaped the night previous to the discovery of the hole, and the full number of prisoners still reported on board, the British officers were arrested for making a false report, but released again on our president's declaring how the affair was managed.
The following day the king's carpenters, from Chatham, were sent on board with their tools and a heavy stick of timber to plug up the hole. While they were busy cutting and pounding in our midst, some of the prisoners picked up a few of their loose tools and began to cut out another hole, equally good, on the opposite side of the ship, and finished it before the carpenters had closed up the other. The soldiers outside ascribed the noise to the king's carpenters.
That night a number of us stationed ourselves at this hole to watch for an opportunity to escape, and remained there until about four o'clock in the morning. The copper being cut off in a great hurry, ragged and sharp points were left. To prevent these points from mangling our flesh, we fastened a woolen blanket to the lower side to slip out on. Besides the vigilant guard, a boat was pulling around the ship during the night, with one man in the center, sounding the side of the ship, under the lower stage, with a long iron rod. The rod continued to strike on each side of the hole during the night, but failed to find the place they were punching for.
Before daylight one of our number ventured to slip out, just after the boat passed, to ascertain whether the night was light, or dark enough to escape detection by swimming astern of the ship before the boat could get round. After pulling him in, he said the night was clear, and he could see a great distance on the water. We therefore concluded to wait until the following night. By negligence of our committee, the blanket was left with the end floating in the water. This was discovered by the boatmen soon after daylight. "Here's another hole on this side of the ship!" and in came the iron rod, blasting all our hopes of escape from this quarter. To repair these damages, a portion of food was deducted from our daily allowance, and continued for some time.
Our boasting commander began to be sorely troubled for the safety of himself and family. It seemed almost certain that these audacious, daring Yankees would yet sink their prison-ships or gain their liberty. I was told that he declared he would sooner take charge of six thousand French prisoners than six hundred Yankees.
After all their search for the eighteen who had escaped, a letter came from London, directed to the commander of the Crown Princen prison-ship, informing him of the happy escape of every one of them, and of their safe travel, seventy miles, to the city of London; and that it would be useless for him to trouble himself about them, for they were on the eve of sailing on a foreign voyage. They gave him to understand that they should remember his unkind treatment.
From this, the British government began to talk of sending us all to Dartmoor prison, a dreary waste some fifteen miles inland from old Plymouth harbor, where we should find some trouble in getting outside the massy stone walls and dungeons that were so strongly fortified.
In 1814 the American prisoners continued to pour in from Halifax, the West India Islands, and other parts of the world. Their state was miserable, indeed, for want of proper and decent clothing, especially the soldiers. It was distressing to see them in their tattered rags, many of them having their dirty woolen blanket wrapt around them to shield them from the cold storms. Statements were sent to the United States, which at length aroused the government to take measures to provide their prisoners with suitable clothing.
Mr. Beasley, acting agent for the United States in London, was empowered to attend to this matter for his suffering countrymen. He sent a London Jew with his boxes of ready made or basted clothing, and a stripling of a clerk to deal them out to us according to his judgment; so that some who were not needy got supplied with a whole suit, while others were turned away who were much in want. The prisoners remonstrated with Mr. B. by letter, but he justified his agent, and paid little or no attention to our grievances.
After I had remained a prisoner over a year, the British government condescended to pay us our small pittance of wages, which enabled me to furnish myself with clothing and some extra food as long as it lasted. My father was favored with an opportunity to send to an agent in London to furnish me with means from time to time. The agent sent me twenty dollars, which were most gladly received. Soon after this, the American prisoners were sent off to Dartmoor, and I heard no more from him.
It was in the summer of 1814 that we were sent in large drafts by sea to Plymouth, and from thence to Dartmoor. Soon we numbered, as we were told, six thousand. The double stone walls, about fourteen feet high, broad enough for hundreds of soldiers to walk on guard, formed a half moon, with three separate yards containing seven massy stone buildings, capable of holding from fifteen to eighteen hundred men each. The center one was appropriated to colored prisoners.
These buildings were located on the slope of a hill, fronting the east, affording us a prospect of the rising sun; but it was shut out from our view long before sunset. A large number of similar buildings lay above us on the west, separated by heavy iron palings, and occupied for barracks, store and dwelling-houses for our keepers, and a hospital. On these three sides, one of the most dreary wastes, studded with ledges of rocks and low shrubs, met our view, as far as the eye could reach. Surely, it was rightly named Dartmoor.
The prisons were three story, with a flight of stone steps at each end, open in the center. There was one iron-grated port-hole on each gable end. We were guarded by a barrack of six hundred soldiers, counted out in the morning, and driven in at sunset. It was quite a sight, when the sun shone, to see those who desired to keep themselves decent, seated in groups about the yard, clearing their blankets and beds from vermin. On hearing of a fresh arrival, the prisoners would crowd up to the gates, and make a lane for all to pass through; and as they passed through, some of them would recognize their friends. "Halloo, Sam! Where did you come from?" "Marblehead." "Any more left?" "No; I was the last one." And in this way all were recognized. It was often stated that nearly all the Marblehead sailors were prisoners.
During the winter, Agent Beasley's men appeared again to supply us with clothing, which was done much more to our satisfaction.
Religious meetings were held in the colored prison about every Sunday, and some professed to be converted, and were baptized in a small pool of water in the yard, supplied from a reservoir on the hill, which was generally used by the prisoners in washing their clothes.
December, 1814, brought us the cheering intelligence that a treaty of peace between the United States and Great Britain was signed by the plenipotentiaries at Ghent, on the continent of Europe. Those who were never doomed to imprisonment in this dark and most dreary spot can appreciate nothing respecting our feelings. Yet we were held in suspense while a frigate was dispatched across the ocean to obtain President Madison's signature. In February, 1815, she returned with the treaty ratified. Shoutings of rapturous joy rang through our gloomy dungeons, such as most likely will never be heard there again. What! about to be liberated, go to our native country, and gather around the paternal fireside once more? Yes; this hope was in us, and it seemed sometimes as though we were almost there.
It was supposed that there were about two hundred of us in Dartmoor who came there from the British navy. This was a tacit acknowledgment, on their part, of our impressment. Some of these had served them from twenty to thirty years. As we had not taken up arms against them, we sent up a respectful petition to the British Parliament, asking a mitigation of our sufferings, or an honorable release. This was strongly objected to by the noble lords, on the ground that they had trained us in their naval tactics, and if we were liberated before the close of the war, we would, as a matter of course, enter the United States navy, and teach them how we learned to fight. That, said they, will be putting sticks into their hands, wherewith to break our heads.
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Subterranean Passage - A Traitor - Ratification of Peace - American Consul Hung in Effigy - Without Bread for Two Days - Prisoners Demand and Obtain their Bread - Inhuman Massacre of Prisoners - English Soldier Liberated - Court of Inquiry - Arrival of a Cartel - Liberated from Prison - Display of Flags Respecting the Massacre.
ABOUT this time the prisoners in one of the prisons had commenced the herculean task of opening a subterranean passage to the outside of the prison walls, to obtain their liberty. To accomplish this, one of the large, heavy flagging stones on the ground floor was raised, and the work begun of scratching the dirt into small bags, and packing it snugly away under the flight of stone steps which reached up to the third loft, planked up on the back side. To effect this, one of the planks had to be removed, but carefully re-placed, and also the flagging stone, before morning, subject to the critical inspection of the turnkeys after all the prisoners were counted out.
The length of the passage from under the foundation of the prison to the first wall across the prison-yard (as near as I can remember) was about one hundred feet; from thence to the outer wall about twenty feet more. These walls, we were told, were fourteen feet high, and two feet below the surface of the earth; broad enough for the soldiers on guard to pass and re-pass on the top.
A friend of mine, Capt. L. Wood, of Fairhaven, Mass., who lived in this prison, with whom I had frequent intercourse, informed me about the work, and how difficult it was to enter that stifled hole after they had progressed some distance, and return with a small bag of dirt. Said he, "Their faces are almost black, and they are nearly exhausted for want of breath;" but still another would rush onward, and presently return with a full bag. In this manner they continued their night work, undiscovered, until they reached and dug under the foundation of the first, and the second, or outer wall. Many now prepared themselves with knives and such deadly weapons as they could defend themselves with, determined to fight their way at the risk of their lives, to the sea coast, and seize on the first vessel or boats, and steer for the coast of France.
Before they broke the ground outside of the outer wall for as many as desired to pass out, one following the other in the darkness of the night, one of the prisoners, being acquainted with their proceedings, informed on them. Suddenly armed soldiers and officers came into the prison-yard with their informer in their midst, who pointed to the place over the dark passage, which they soon broke in, and thus in a few moments it was filled with stones and dirt from the stone-paved yard, and the traitor carefully conveyed out under guard for fear the prisoners would seize him and tear him in pieces. "What is his name?" "Who is he?" "What State does he belong to?" was the inquiry. Those who knew him replied that he belonged to New Hampshire. The governor gave him his liberty, and we heard no more about him.
On the arrival of the frigate from the United States, bringing the ratified treaty of peace between us and Great Britain, we learned that Mr. Beasley had resumed his functions as United States consul in London, and was instructed by our government to procure suitable ships to convey the American prisoners from England to the United States. After waiting a suitable time, Mr. B. was addressed in behalf of the Dartmoor prisoners, to know why the ships did not come. His reply was very unsatisfactory. Again we expressed our surprise at his seeming neglect of us, when nearly two months had expired since the treaty of peace was ratified, and no relaxation of our sufferings. His reply was far from relieving us. At length the prisoners became so exasperated at his willful neglect of them, that they erected a gallows in the prison-yard, and hung and then burned Mr. B. in effigy. As the English periodicals began to herald this matter, Mr. B. began to wake up and expostulate with us for daring to take such liberties with his character. We gave him to understand that he was instructed to relieve and release us from imprisonment, and we were still waiting for the event.
Our governor, who bore a commission as post-captain in the British navy, also undertook to take advantage of us, by ordering that the prisoners consume the hard ship-bread that had been stored for them in the winter, in case soft bread could not be procured. This was not objected to, provided they gave us as many ounces of hard as we had been receiving of the soft bread. This, Governor Shortland objected to, and said we should not have so much by one-third. This was what the commander of the prison-ship attempted to do with us the year before, and failed, as we have before shown. We unhesitatingly objected to Governor S.'s proposals. He said we should have that or none. We claimed our full allowance or none. We continued thus two days without bread, with a threat that, if we did not yield, our water would be withheld also.
It was now the 4th of April, 1815. Governor S. left the depot that day on a visit for a few days, thinking that probably by the time he returned we should be hungry enough to accede to his terms. But before sunset, or the time came for turning us in to be locked up for another dismal night, a great portion of the prisoners were becoming so exasperated with their down-trodden and starving condition that when the soldiers and turnkeys came to order us in to be locked up, we refused to obey until they gave us our bread. "Go into your prisons!" they cried. "No, we will not until we get our bread!" Soldiers were called to arms, and, with their colonel and second in command, arranged above the great iron gate-way, above the great public square containing the hospital and store-houses where our bread was stored. On the lower side of this square was another iron fence and locked-up iron gate-way, which was the line of demarkation between us and our keepers. Here was a narrow pass-way of about ten feet wide and thirty long, where all the prisoners, when out of their prisons, were continually passing and re-passing into yards Nos. 1, 4 and 7, containing the seven prison-houses prepared to accommodate about ten thousand prisoners.
About dark the excitement had become general on both sides, and the narrow pass-way became so crowded that it was difficult to pass. The pressure at length became so heavy that the lock of the great folding gate-way broke, and the gates flew open. In a few moments the prisoners, unarmed and without any preconcerted plan, were treading on forbidden ground, filling up the public square, and crowding up to the great iron gate-way on the opposite side of the square, on the other side of which stood the colonel in command, with his regiment of armed soldiers, commanding the prisoners to retire or he should fire upon them. "Fire away!" cried the prisoners, as they crowded in front of the soldiers, "we would as lief die by sword as by famine." The colonel, still more unwilling to fire, wished to know what we wanted." "We want our bread, sir." "Well, retire quietly to your respective prisons, and something shall be done about it." "No, sir, we shall not leave until we get our full allowance of bread." The colonel ordered the contractor to serve the prisoners with their full allowance of soft bread. About nine in the evening the various messes had all received their bread. The prisoners then quietly entered their respective prisons, and commenced satiating their appetites on the coarse brown loaves and cold water, commending in the highest terms the cool, courageous, and gentlemanly manner in which the colonel received us and granted our request.
Two days after this, viz., April 6, 1815, Governor S. returned to his station. On learning what had transpired on the evening of the 4th, he declared (as we were told) that he would be revenged on us. On this 6th day, P. M., some of the prisoners were playing ball in No. 7 yard. Several times the ball was knocked over the wall, and was as often thrown back by the soldiers when kindly asked so to do. Presently one of the prisoners cried out in quite an authoritative manner, "Soldier, throw back that ball." And because it failed to come, some of the ball-players said, "We will make a hole in the wall and get it." Two or three of them began by pecking out the mortar with small stones. A sentinel on the wall ordered them to desist. This they did not do until spoken to again. I was walking back and forth by the place during the time, with others, but did not suppose they could make a hole with the stones they were using, or that anything touching that matter was of much or any importance. Aside from this trifling affair, the prisoners were as orderly and as obedient as at any time in the past.
At sunset the turnkeys, as usual, ordered the prisoners to turn in. To effect this, and get to their respective prisons, the narrow pass-way was so densely crowded that the folding gate-way, which had not been repaired since the 4th, and was very slightly fastened, burst open, and some few were necessarily and without design crowded into the square. It appeared that Governor S., with a regiment of armed soldiers, had stationed himself above the square, watching for a pretext to come upon us. The bursting open of the folding gates, though unintentional, seemed sufficient for his purpose; for he advanced with his soldiers and ordered them to fire. His orders were promptly obeyed, the soldiers rushing in among the fleeing prisoners, and firing among them in all directions. One poor fellow fell wounded, and a number of soldiers surrounded him. He got on his knees and begged them to spare his life, but their answer was, "No mercy here!" They then discharged the contents of their muskets into him and left him a mangled corpse. Others, fleeing for the doors of their respective prison, that always before had been left open at turning-in time, found them shut, and while endeavoring to gain the opposite door, found themselves subject to the cross-fire of the soldiers. This was further proof that this work was premeditated.
As I was crowding my way down the flight of stone steps to ascertain respecting the uproar and report of muskets, a number of soldiers came rushing to the doorway (while the remnant outside were wedging themselves in), and discharged their musket-shot upon us. One man fell dead, another fell just before me with the loss of his leg, and one English soldier, against his will, was crowded in, and the door shut against those most cowardly murderous soldiers, who discharged their muskets on those who had not been outside of their prisons.
The greatest confusion and excitement now prevailed throughout the different prisons. The most we could learn was that some, while fleeing from these murderers, said they passed the dead and dying all along in their way to the prison. We hailed the next prison to our own, and they said about two hundred of their number were missing. We thought this was about the number missing in ours. Judging thus, we supposed a great many must have been massacred. Fathers, sons, and brothers were missing, and a most intense excitement prevailed in our prison. Suddenly we heard the boatswain's whistle from the daily crier. All was silent on the upper floor. He now began to read like the following: "There is an English soldier found among us on the lower floor, and a number of prisoners have a rope around his neck, and the other end over the beam, urging him to say his prayers, for they are about to hang him. Two of the committe have prevailed on them to hold on until they get the mind of the prisoners. What shall be done with him?" "Hang him! hang him! hang him!" cried some; others, "No, no; let him go!" Second loft and lower floor, about the same. The crier reported the majority for hanging him. The committee, with others, begged them to hold on until they tried the vote once more. The prisoners were too much excited, and therefore judged too hastily. The poor soldier was still begging for his life, expecting to be swung up the next moment. When the crier passed around the second time, it was difficult to decide, but many more were in favor of sparing the life of their enemy. This opened the way for a third trial, which was decidedly in favor of releasing him. During this interval, the dead and dying had been gathered out of the yards, and conveyed to the hospital. A guard of soldiers then came to our door for the dead and wounded prisoners. "Have you any here?" "Yes, here are two; and here is also one of your own soldiers, take him along with you."
When the court of inquiry that set on this murderous affair adjourned (which will be referred to presently), the English periodicals were loud in their applause of the honorable and merciful act of the Dartmoor prisoners, under such aggravating circumstances, in sparing the life of the English soldier.
It was late in the morning before the doors of our prison were opened; for it required some time to wash away the blood of our murdered companions, which our enemies were very unwilling for us to see. When we got out into the yard, many found their lost friends; for during the massacre, to escape the fire of the soldiers, several fled to the nearest prisons and remained in them until the morning, while others sought and found theirs in the hospital, among the murdered and wounded. After much inquiry, we learned that seven were killed and sixty wounded. What made this the more aggravating, was, that the two governments were on the most amicable terms, and many of our ships and countrymen were already negotiating their business in England, while, as already shown, instead of relaxing their rigor over us, they were drawing our cords tighter and stronger; and this they even did for seven weeks after the ratification of the treaty of peace between Great Britain and the United States. If Mr. B., our consul in London, had promptly obeyed the instructions of our government, he might have saved us the trouble of hanging and burning him in effigy, and Governor Shortland also the gratification of murdering us in such an unwarrantable manner, by furnishing ships, or satisfying us that he was doing what he could to release us from our dismal confinement.
A court of inquiry was now instituted to investigate this matter--John Quincy Adams, late Secretary of the American Legation at Ghent, on the part of the United States, and one of the experienced admirals from Plymouth, on the part of Great Britain, with their retinue.
A place was fitted for the court on the top of the walls over the narrow passage and place of demarkation between the prisoners and their keepers, so that the court could be addressed by the prisoners on the left, and by their keepers on the right, the walls being between us. The statement of Governor Shortland and his party, with respect to the attempt to make a hole in the wall, and the bursting open of the broken locked gates, to justify his attack upon us in the manner already described, seemed to have but little weight. It was settled with us at the time of the massacre, that his plan was preconcerted. The British admiral seemed intent on questioning the prisoners with regard to their allowance of food, and whether they had not had all that was allowed them, etc. The reply was, that our grievance was not then about our allowance of food, but the inhuman manner in which our countrymen had been massacred. Finally, in the settlement of this grievous question, the massacre at Dartmoor was disavowed by the British government, and compensation was made to the widows of the sufferers. (See "D. Haskel's Leading Events of Universal History.")
Three weeks after the massacre, the long-looked-for news came, viz., that a cartel had arrived in Plymouth for a draft of prisoners. As I was among the first on the prisoner's list at this time, I was called out and mustered with a draft of about two hundred and fifty. Many of this number, as we were mustered before Gov. S. and his armed soldiery, bore white flags on long poles, with mottoes like the following, in large black letters: "Massacre of American prisoners in Dartmoor prison, April 6th, 1815." "The bloody 6th of April!" And others had flags with Shortland's name as the murderer of American prisoners. Some of the prisoners openly declared that they would kill him if they could get near him. He seemed to be aware of these threats, and kept himself at a safe distance while we were being mustered in the upper yard near his and his officers' dwellings, preparatory to our final departure. We also expected that he would command us to strike our flags while we remained under his immediate inspection, or his armed regiment of soldiers that guarded us from thence to Plymouth harbor (a distance of fifteen miles), but he did not, for they continued to wave them until we passed through Plymouth to our place of embarkation.
We were liberated from the Dartmoor prison on the morning of the 27th of April, 1815, just five years to a day from the time I was impressed in Liverpool. I spent about two years and a half in actual service in the British navy, and two and a half as prisoner of war. The western gate of our dreary and bloody place of confinement was at length thrown open, and the soldiers were ordered to march out with the prisoners. As we ascended the hights of Dartmoor, we turned to look back on that dark and massy pile of stone buildings where we had suffered so many privations, and then forward to the western horizon, which could now for the first time since our confinement be seen stretching away in the distance toward our native country, where were our paternal homes and dear friends. Our mingled emotions of oppressive bondage on the one hand, and unbounded liberty on the other, were more easily felt than described. With an old pair of worn-out shoes, I stooped to relash them on my feet, and felt myself competent to perform what to us, in our weak state, was a tedious journey. But the joyful feelings of liberty, and the pleasing anticipation of soon greeting our dear friends, though an ocean of three thousand miles in width divided us, cheered us onward to the city of old Plymouth. The people stared at us, and no marvel, for I presume they had never seen so motley a company of men, with such singular flags flying, pass through their city before.
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Embarkation for the United States - Injustice to Prisoners - Excitement Respecting our Port of Destination - Banks of Newfoundland - Perils of the Ocean - Threatened Mutiny - Islands of Ice - Mutiny on the High Seas - Speak an American Ship - Joyful News - Land in Sight - A Prize Taken - Safe Arrival at New London, Ct. - Sail Again for Boston.
BOATS were waiting, and before night we were embarked on board the cartel. This was an English merchant-ship of four hundred tons burden, called the Mary Ann, of London, commanded by Capt. Carr, with temporary berths between decks to accommodate about two hundred and eighty persons. Some officers that had been on parole joined us at P., which swelled our number to two hundred and eighty.
Here, past scenes were brought to remembrance. Away some three miles, in the upper harbor, were moored a fleet of old sheer hulks (ships of war unseaworthy and dismantled), where some five years before I had been sent, after I was impressed, to be held in readiness for actual service in the British navy. Rather than submit to such unwarrantable oppression, at the midnight hour I lowered myself from the gun-port hole of the middle deck of the St. Salvadore del Mondo (an old Spanish three-decker), into the sea, thinking to swim these three miles, and possibly land somewhere near the place where I was now, through the mercy and providence of God, embarking for my own native country. From this desperate effort for liberty I was prevented, as already shown, and sent away among strangers, with my character branded as a runaway from His Majesty's service. This side of that dark spot of dismantled ships lay moored the Swiftshore, 74, recently returned from her three years station in the Mediterranean--the same ship to which I was drafted, on her arrival in the Mediterranean, from the Rodney, 74, when she was about returning from thence to England; the same ship in which I spent my first six months' imprisonment, where I was threatened, if I would not comply with the urgent request of the first lieutenant, that I should be lashed in the main rigging, a target for the French fleet to fire at. As I was transferred to this ship because I had attempted to gain my liberty (as stated above--so I was informed), I should be transferred when she was relieved, at the expiration of some three years more, and thus I was doomed to remain in a foreign country, deprived of the privileges allowed in their service, such as paying their seamen their wages, and granting them twenty-four hours' liberty on shore, etc. But my sufferings in their prisons had now gained for me what they were not disposed to grant, viz., entire freedom and liberty from the service of King George III.
England and America have done, and still are doing, much by way of compensation for such as have labored and suffered in their service. Millions of dollars were expended to carry on the war of 1812. Americans demanded and fought for "free trade and sailors' rights." England acknowledged the justice of their claim: First, by permitting hundreds, who requested to become prisoners of war rather than remain in their service, so to do (it was often stated that about two hundred of this class of American prisoners were confined in Dartmoor); secondly, by treaty of peace in 1815. But no remuneration was ever allowed for depriving us of our liberty, and unjustly retaining us to fight their battles, except the small allowance of wages which they were disposed to grant. I was required to do the duty of an able seaman the last part of my service, and was told that I was so rated, where I was stationed on the maintop. While a prisoner of war in 1813, the navy agent paid me £14, 2s. 6d., or $62.71. This, including my coarse, cheap wearing apparel (for a mild climate), served out from what the officers call the sailors' "slop chest," was all the compensation England allowed me for my services for some two years and a half; after which they held me a prisoner of war two and a half years longer, treating and regarding me in the same manner, without any mitigation or favor, as those of our countrymen who were taken in privateers or in battle. But if England feels disposed at this late hour of my sojourn here to do me justice, it will be very acceptable.
Our berths on board the cartel were much crowded together, and were prepared for both sleeping and eating, with a narrow pass-way, just wide enough to admit of our passing up on deck, and down, rank and file. The next morning we weighed our anchor and passed out of the harbor under a cloud of sail, with a fair wind. Very soon we took our departure from old England, and were glad enough to find ourselves on the wide ocean steering westward. Nothing worthy of note occurred on board until we reached the eastern edge of the celebrated banks of Newfoundland, except the little sea larks which came fluttering in our wake, seemingly overjoyed to find another ship and her company on the ocean, from which they could obtain their daily allowance of food. How they rest in the night, if they do at all, is the marvel! Sailors call them "Mother Carey's chickens," perhaps in honor of a good old lady by that name, for her kind care and sympathy for poor sailors.
When a few days out, we learned from the captain that Mr. Beasley, our consul at London, had chartered this ship to land us at City Point (a long distance up the James River, Va.), and load with tobacco for London. We considered this a cruel and unwarrantable act of Mr. B.'s, for only about six of our number would be accommodated, while the rest would have to travel hundreds of miles to reach their homes in New York and New England, if they could beg their way. We expostulated with the captain, but he declared he would not deviate from his charter to land us at any other place. The prisoners declared on the other hand, that his ship should never carry us to City Point; whereupon arrangements were soon made among us in a private manner, in case of a revolution in our floating castle, who the captain and officers should be.
As we approached the eastern edge of the banks of Newfoundland, about two-thirds of the distance across the Atlantic Ocean, I found we were in the place where I was shipwrecked by the ice several years before, as related in a previous chapter. As this perilous place became the topic of conversation, we learned that a number among us had experienced like difficulties in passing over these banks in the spring season of the year. Capt. Carr said he had made fifteen voyages to Newfoundland and never had seen any ice, and he did not believe there was any in our way. In the afternoon we saw a large patch of sheet-ice. We asked the captain what he called that. He acknowledged that it was ice. As the night set in the wind increased to a gale from the east. Capt. Carr, unmindful of all that had been said to him respecting the danger of ice in our track, still kept the ship scudding before the gale under a close-reefed main-top-sail and foresails, determined to have his own way rather than lay by until morning, as suggested by some of the prisoners. Some thirty of us, unwilling to trust to the captain's judgment, took our position on the bow and bowsprit of the ship to look out for ice. At midnight the ship was driving furiously before the gale and storm, evidently without any hope of our having time to avoid ice if we should see it, and in danger of being dashed in pieces without a moment's warning. We also felt a marked change in the air. In this dilemma we decided to take the ship from the captain and heave her to. We found him at the quarter-deck conning* the ship. We briefly stated our dangerous position, and told him that about three hundred souls were at the mercy of his will; and now, if he did not round his ship to, we would do it for him. Seeing our determination to act in this matter immediately, he cried out to his crew, "Round in the larboard main brace! Put the helm a-starboard!" This laid the main-top-sail to the mast, and let the ship come by the wind.
This being done, the onward progress of the ship was stayed until the dawn of the morning, which showed us how narrowly we had escaped with our lives. Large islands of ice lay right in our track, and if we had continued to run before the gale we should have been in the midst of them, in imminent danger of being dashed in pieces. The willfulness of Capt. Carr was now evident to all, and the course we pursued in requiring him to heave the ship to was also justifiable. And after the ship was again turned on her onward course, and passing these huge islands of ice, we were all stirred to watch until we had passed the banks and were again safe in the fathomless ocean. These bodies of ice had the appearance of large cities in the distance, and had it not been for our forethought, would in all probability have been the cause of our immediate destruction.
Moreover, a large majority of us were satisfied that this was the best time to take the ship from the captain and proceed to New York or Boston, from whence we could more readily reach our homes; for we had decided and declared, as before stated to Capt. Carr, that his ship should never take us to City Point, Va., where his charter party required him to land us. Having passed beyond all danger from ice, the most difficult point for us to decide was, which of the two ports we should steer for, if we took the ship. Suddenly and unexpectedly, one of our company placed himself amid-ship upon the main hatchway, and with a stentorian voice cried out, "All you that are for New York go on the starboard side of the ship, and all that are for Boston go on the larboard side!" Sides were immediately
taken, when it was declared that the greatest number were on the starboard side; hence the ship was bound for New York. Capt. Carr stood in our midst, near by the man at the wheel, gazing at this unlooked-for and strange movement, when suddenly one of our number took the wheel from the helmsman. Capt. Carr demanded that he should leave it immediately, and ordered his man to take the helm again. A number of us also urged our friend to take the helm, assuring him that we would protect him. At this Capt. C. became very much enraged, saying what he would do with us if he had a crew able to cope with us. But he saw that resistance was vain; we had taken possession of the helm, the ship therefore would no longer be steered by his direction. Seeing what was done, he called us a "rabble," "roughally," etc., for taking his ship from him on the high seas, and wished to know what we were going to do with her, and who was to be the captain. Capt. Conner, of Philadelphia, was lifted up by those who stood near him, and placed with his feet on the head of the capstan (a cylinder four feet high, with levers to weigh the anchors, etc.). "There is our captain!" cried the multitude. Said Capt. Carr, "Are you going to take charge of my ship, Capt. Conner?" "No, sir," was the reply. "Yes, you shall!" was the unanimous cry. "I don't want anything to do with her," said Capt. Conner. "You shall," was the loud cry, "or we will throw you overboard!" "You hear what they say, Capt. Carr. What shall I do?" "Take her, take her, Capt. Conner," said the English commander. This being settled, Capt. Carr began to call us hard names again.
Some that stood near him advised him to cease and get down into his cabin as soon as possible, out of the way of danger. He did so, and order was soon restored. Capt. Conner took charge of the ship, and named three officers for mates. A number of us volunteered as sailors to man the ship, and we were divided into three watches, that every advantage might be taken to urge our ship onward for the port of New York under all the sail she could bear.
Capt. Carr and crew had their liberty, and were treated kindly; but they were not allowed to interfere with the sailing of the ship. He declared that if the vessel ever arrived in the States he would have us all arraigned before the United States Court for taking his ship from him on the high seas. The idea of being deprived of our liberty and arraigned before our country for trial in this case, on our arrival, troubled us some; nevertheless, we were resolved to keep charge until we arrived.
A ship was seen bearing down toward us, with American colors flying. We hoisted English colors. It was a rare sight to see one of our own country's ships, with the stars and stripes floating at her peak. As she came riding triumphantly within speaking distance by our side, the cry was given, "What ship is that?" "Where are you from?" and, "Where bound to?" Answer: "From the United States, bound to Europe." "What ship is that?" etc. Answer: "The Mary Ann, of London, a cartel with American prisoners from Dartmoor, England, bound to the United States." A few more inquiries, and as each ship filled away for its onward voyage, we gave them three loud cheers, so glad were we to see the face of some one from our native country afloat on the wide ocean.
About ten days after the revolution, or time we took the ship, we saw the land looming in the distance before us. As we drew near the coast, we learned to our great joy that it was Block Island, R. I., about forty miles from our home. Sail boats were now pushing out from the land to get the first opportunity to pilot us in. Some of our number thought this would be a rare chance for them to go on shore in their boats, and so got up their hammocks and bags, waiting to jump aboard when they should come along. A heavy squall was now rising out of the northwest, so the top-sails were clewed down, and many hands were on the yards reefing them. As the boats came sheering up to our side, the men on the top-sail yards cried out, "Don't you come here! for we have got the plague on board!" The men that were in waiting for them declared that we had nothing of the kind, and bade them come along-side. A multitude of voices from the top-sail yards were again saying, "Yes; we have got the plague on board, too! Don't come here!" The boats immediately hauled their wind, and steered for the land. Nothing that we had would induce one of them to come on board, for they knew that a bare report of their doing so would subject them to a tedious quarantine. The plague we had on board was this: We were expecting that Capt. Carr would (as he had threatened) have us arraigned before the United States Circuit Court for piracy on the high seas. Therefore we were unwilling to part with them until we learned more about the matter.
The wind died away during the night, and the next morning we perceived that a heavy swell and current was setting us in between the east end of Long Island and Block Island into Long Island Sound. We now concluded if we could get a pilot we would pass up the Sound to New York. From some one of the many fishing smacks in sight we hoped to find one. At length, one of the smacks was induced to come along-side. In less than five minutes she was taken possession of, while the captain and crew retreated away to the stern in amazement at the strange work that was going on. We judged that nearly one hundred of our company began throwing their bags and hammocks on board of her, and themselves after them in quick succession. They then cast off from the ship, gave us three cheers, and bore away for Newport, R. I., before we could learn their object. They had no idea of being brought to trial for piracy on the high seas by Capt. Carr.
As the wind was now unfavorable to proceed to New York, we concluded to go to New London, Ct., at which port we arrived the next forenoon, and anchored off the wharf before the town, six weeks from Plymouth, in England. A great number of us now crowded aloft for the purpose of furling all the sails at the same time. We then stood on our feet on the yards, and gave three cheers to the gazing multitude on the wharfs in New London. In a few moments more, boat loads of our joyous company, with their bags and hammocks, were crowding for the shore, leaving their captured ship and Capt. Carr to find his way from thence for his load of tobacco at City Point, Va., as best he could, or even to find us the next twenty-four hours, if he still felt disposed to prosecute us for our so-called piratical proceedings on the ocean. Doubtless, he was so wonderfully relieved at the departure of such a rebellious crew that he had no particular desire to come in collision with them again.
The good people on the land seemed about as glad to see and welcome us on shore as Capt. Carr was to get rid of us. But neither party was half as glad as we were. It seemed almost too much to believe that we were actually on our own native soil once more as freemen, free from British war-ships and their gloomy, dismal prisons. After our joyful feelings in a measure subsided, we were inquiring our ways home. Within twenty-four hours a great portion of our company took passage in a packet for New York City. Four of us, by fair promises, without money, chartered a fishing smack at two dollars per head, to carry twenty-two of us around Cape Cod to Boston, Mass. This placed us beyond the reach of Capt. Carr, or ever hearing from him again.
*Conning: In seamen's language, guiding or directing a vessel by orders to the steersman.
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Arrival Home - Voyage to Europe - Singular Rock in the Ocean - Sudden Commencement of Winter - Voyage Ended - Another Voyage - Perilous Situation in Chesapeake Bay - Criterion in Distress - Wrecked in a Snow-storm - Visit to Baltimore - On Board the Criterion Again - Cargo Saved - Another Voyage - Hurricane - Voyage Ended - Married - Another Voyage - Captain Reefing Top-sails in his Sleep.
THE purser of the cartel allowed each of us about a week's amount of provision for our voyage. We were highly favored with good weather, and arrived in Boston the third day from New London, when we sold our remaining stock of provisions for enough to pay our passage money and redeem our clothing. A friend and neighbor of my father (Capt. T. Nye), being in Boston on business, lent me thirty dollars on my father's account, which enabled me to purchase some decent clothing in which to appear among my friends. The next evening, June 14 or 15, 1815, I had the indescribable pleasure of being at my parental home (Fairhaven, Mass.), surrounded by mother, brothers, sisters, and friends, all overjoyed to see me once more in the family circle; and all of them exceedingly anxious to hear a relation of my sufferings and trials during the six years and three months that I had been absent from them; for my position on board the British war-ships, and in prison for the past five years, rendered it extremely difficult, as I have before shown, for any of my letters to reach them. It was well known that for my six-and-a-quarter years' suffering and labor I had nothing to show but a few old, worn garments, and a little canvas bag, which I have had no use for since I was prevented from swimming away from the prison-ship in 1814, except my experience,--the relation of which caused the tears to flow so freely around me that we changed the subject for that time.
My father had been told by those who thought they knew, that if ever I did return home I would be like other drunken man-o'-war sailors. He was away from home on business when I arrived, but returned in a few days. Our meeting quite overcame him. At length he recovered and asked me if I had injured my constitution. "No, father," I replied, "I became disgusted with the intemperate habits of the people I was associated with. I have no particular desire for strong drink," or words to this effect, which very much relieved his mind at the time. I now renewed my acquaintance with my present companion in life, which had commenced at an early age.
In a few weeks after my return, an old schoolmate of mine arrived at New Bedford in a new ship, and engaged me for his second mate on a voyage to Europe. We proceeded first to Alexandria, D. C., where we were to load for Bremen, in Europe, intending to return to Alexandria. On our passage out we sailed round the north side of England and Ireland. Sailors call it "going north about." This passage is often preferred to going on the south side of these islands through the English Channel. In this passage, north-west of Ireland, some over two hundred miles from land stands a lone rock rising some fifty feet above the level of the sea, called by navigators, "Rockal." Its form is conical, having the appearance of a sugar-loaf, or light-house, in the distance. We had been running for it, and when we got our observation at meridian, we were drawing close up with this singular rock in the ocean. Our ship being under good headway, with a steady, flowing breeze, our captain ventured to run the ship close by it. The sea was rushing up its glassy sides, as it probably had been doing ever since the deluge, which had given it the appearance of a glassy polish on all its sides. This rock has always been a terror to the mariner when in its vicinity during a storm. What a tragic story could it tell, if it were intelligible, of the ten thousand terrific storms, and ten thousand times ten thousand raging seas rushing on all its sides; and how hundreds of heavy-laden ships, with one bound in a driving storm, have been dashed in pieces, and the poor heart-stricken mariners, unwarned and unprepared, engulfed at its base--their sad and tragic story never to be known until the resurrection of the dead! And yet it stands as unmoved and undisturbed as when it was first fashioned by its Creator.
After a prosperous passage we anchored in the river Weser, about thirty miles below Bremen. Winter commenced before we had discharged all our cargo, so that we were embargoed there until the spring. The closing up of these rivers often occurs in one night, and a long winter commences. It is astonishing also to see how rapidly ice will increase in the short space of a six-hour flood tide, even from fifteen to twenty feet thick along its banks. Up to this time we had seen no ice. We were enjoying a very pleasant day; the wind had changed to the east with a clear setting sun. Our captain and a pilot came on board to have the ship moored, and placed between "the slangs"--a kind of wharf running out from "the dyke" to the deep water for the purpose of breaking and turning the ice into the channel from vessels that take shelter there. The inhabitants had predicted ice in the river before morning. A few hours after dark, ice began to make, and increased so fast that with all our square sails filled with a strong wind, and all hands at the windlass, the ship could not be moved toward her anchor, during the flood tide, against the running ice. In the morning at sunrise it was deemed advisable to cut the cable at the windlass and press her in between the slangs to save her from being cut to pieces by the ice, and ourselves from inevitable destruction. Fortunately she took the right sheer, and in a few moments the tide and ice bore her between the slangs to the shore along-side of the dyke. Dykes are embankments thrown up to prevent the sea from overflowing the low lands. One end of our cables was immediately carried into the meadows and secured to sunken timber, to hold us clear of the ice at the flowing and ebbing of the tide. At this time we judged that the ice was twenty feet high inside of us on the shore, all of which had accumulated during the night. During the winter our ship was very much damaged by the ice. After repairing her thoroughly, we returned to Alexandria in the summer of 1816.
I sailed again from Alexandria, chief mate of the brig Criterion, of and for Boston, Mass. From thence we loaded and sailed for Baltimore, where we discharged our cargo, and loaded again and sailed for New Orleans, in January, 1817. In this month commenced one of the severest cold winters known for many years. I will here relate one circumstance as proof of this. A ship from Europe with a load of passengers anchored in the Chesapeake Bay, about forty miles below Baltimore. Her passengers traveled on the ice to the harbor and city of Annapolis, distant about two miles. I was in the city of Annapolis at the time, endeavoring to procure cables and anchors to relieve the Criterion from her perilous situation, as I shall further show.
As we sailed out of the harbor and down the river in the afternoon, we saw the ice was making around us so fast that we were in danger of being seriously injured by it. As we came to the mouth, or entrance, of the river, the pilot gave orders to prepare to anchor until daylight. The captain and myself objected, and endeavored to persuade him to keep under way and get out of the way of the ice. But he judged otherwise, and anchored in the Chesapeake, at the mouth of the Patapsco River, some sixteen miles below Baltimore. The tide was so low that we grounded on the bank. In this situation the ice cut through our plank before the rise of the tide. All hands were hard at work from early in the morning, carrying out anchors and heaving the Criterion over the bank. At the top of the flood-tide we concluded we could sail over the bank, if we could save our anchor. While we were getting the anchor up with the long boat, the tide turned, and the ice began to press so heavily upon us that we dropped it again and made our way for the vessel. As we came on the lee side, and were in the act of reaching to get hold of the vessel, the ice suddenly broke away from where it had been held for a few moments on the windward side, and crowded us away from her into a narrow space of clear water, which was made by the breaking of the ice against her broadside, and passing by her brow and stern. By the time we got our oars out to pull up to the vessel, we had drifted several rods to leeward, and the clear place of water so narrowed up that the oars lapped over on the ice, rendering them useless. We then laid hold of the broken edge of the ice to haul her up, but the ice broke in our hands so fast that we could not hold her. The captain and pilot were doing what they could by thrusting oars, ropes, and various floating things, toward us, but we drifted as fast as the things did, so that in a few moments we were thoroughly enclosed in a vast field of ice that was hurrying us away from our vessel down the Chesapeake Bay as fast as the ebb-tide and a strong north-west gale could move us.
We were all thinly clad in our working-dress, and had but little room to move about to keep ourselves from freezing. We had now been in the boat from about 2 o'clock in the afternoon. At the going down of the sun we looked every way to learn how we should direct our course if the sea should break up the ice that bound us.
We judged ourselves from twelve to fifteen miles distant from our vessel, as she was waning from our view. The distant shores to leeward appeared unapproachable on account of ice. The prospect of deliverance before another day seemed hopeless, even if any one of us should survive the cheerless, bitter cold night before us. A few scattered lights to windward on the western shore of Maryland, some seven or eight miles distant, still gave us a ray of hope, though they were at the time unapproachable. About 9 o'clock in the evening the ice began to break away from us, and soon left us in the open sea. We manned our oars and pulled for one of the above-named lights on the windward shore, all of which were extinguished in a few hours.
After about six hours' incessant rowing against the wind and sea, the boat struck the bottom about an eighth of a mile from the shore, so loaded with ice that had been made from the wash of the sea, both outside and in, that she filled with water soon after we left her, and froze up, leaving her gunwale level with the ice.
The second mate waded through the water and ice to the shore to look for a house, while we were preparing to secure the boat. He soon returned with the joyful news that there was one not far off, and the family were making a fire for us. It was now 3 o'clock in the morning, and we had been about thirteen hours in the boat, with hardly any cessation from laboring and stirring about to keep from freezing, except the last fifteen or twenty minutes.
I now requested all to get out of the boat. The acute pain on getting into the water, which was about three feet deep, was indescribable, while the frost that was in us was coming to the surface of our bodies. I called again to get out of the boat, when I saw that "Tom," my best man, was at the side of the boat so fast asleep, or dying with the frost, that I could not wake him. I hauled him out of the boat into the water, keeping his head up until he cried out, "Where am I?" and got hold of the boat. One I saw was still in the boat. "Stone!" said I, "why don't you get out of the boat?" "I will," said he, "as soon as I get my shoes and stockings off!" He was so bewildered he was not aware that his feet (as well as those of all the rest of us) had been soaking in water and ice all night. We got him out, and all of us started together. By the time we had broken our way through the newly-made ice to the shore, we were so benumbed that we could not crawl up the cliff. I directed the sailors to follow the shore to the first opening, and I would come along with Stone as soon as I could get his shoes on.
On entering the house, I perceived there was a great fire, and the men were lying with their feet to it, writhing in agony from theirs wollen limbs and acute pain. I requested them to remove from the fire. As in the good providence of God we were now all in a place of safety, and I was relieved from my almost overwhelming anxiety and suspense, I moved to the opposite corner of the room, and sank down with exhaustion. As soon as I was relieved by our kind host and his companion, feeling still faint, I got out of the house on the deep snow, where it appeared to me I could hardly survive the excruciating pain which seemed to be racking my whole frame, and especially my head, caused by the frost coming out of my whole body. Thus the Lord delivered and saved me. Thanks to his name.
By keeping away from the hot fire until the frost came out of my body, I was the only one who escaped from frozen limbs and protracted sickness. Many years after this I fell in with "Tom," in South America. He told me how much he had suffered, and was still suffering, since that perilous night.
Capt. Merica and his companion (for this was the name of our kind friends) provided us with a warm meal, and very kindly welcomed us to their home and table. After sunrise, by the aid of a glass, we saw that the Criterion was afloat, drifting in the ice down the bay toward us, showing a signal of distress--colors flying half-mast. It was not possible, however, for any human being to approach them while they were in the floating ice. We expected they were in a sinking condition, as she was cut through with the ice before we were separated from her. As the Criterion passed within four miles of the shore where we were, we could see the captain and pilot pacing the deck, watching to see what would be their destiny. We hoisted a signal on the cliff, but they appeared not to notice it. We saw that the Criterion was careened over to starboard, which kept the holes made by the ice on her larboard side out of the water. Before night the Criterion passed us again, drifting up the bay with the flood tide, and so continued to drift about for two days, until in a violent north-east snow-storm she was driven to her final destination and burying-place.
When the storm abated, with the aid of a spyglass, we saw the Criterion lying on Love Point, on the east side of the Chesapeake Bay, distant about twelve miles. As there was no communication with the sufferers only by the way of Baltimore, and thence around the head of the bay, across the Susquehanna, I decided to proceed to Baltimore and inform the consignees and shippers of her situation. Capt. Merica said it was about thirty miles distant, and a good part of the way through the woods, and, over bad roads, especially then, as the snow was about one foot deep. Said he, "If you decide to go I will lend you my horse." Said his companion "I will lend you a dollar for your expenses." After a fatiguing journey from morning until nine in the evening, I reached Baltimore. The consignees furnished me with money to pay our board on shore as long as we were obliged to stay, and orders to merchants in Annapolis for cables and anchors, if we needed them, to get the Criterion afloat again.
Some two weeks from the time we were separated from the Criterion, the weather moderated and became more mild, and the drifting ice much broken. Capt. Merica, with some of his slaves, assisted us to cut our boat out of the ice and repair her. With our crew somewhat recovered, and two stout slaves of Capt. M.'s, we run our boat on the ice until we broke through into deep water, and climbed into her. Then with our oars and borrowed sail we steered through the broken ice toward the Criterion. As we drew near her, we saw that she was heeled in toward the shore, and a strong current was hurrying us past her, into a dangerous place, unless we could get hold of a rope to hold us. We hailed, but no one answered. I said to the men, "Shout loud enough to be heard!" The two slaves, fearing we were in danger of being fastened in the ice, set up such a hideous noise that the cook showed his head at the upper, or weather side, and disappeared immediately. We caught a hanging rope as we were passing her bow, which held us safely. The captain and pilot, in consternation, came rushing toward us, as I leaped on the deck of the Criterion to meet them.
"Why," said Capt. Coffin, as we grasped each other's hand, "where did you come from, Mr. Bates?" "From the western shore of Maryland," I replied. "Why," said he, "I expected all of you were at the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay! I buried you that night you passed out of our sight, not supposing it possible for you to live through the night."
The Criterion had parted her cables and lost her anchor in the violent storm that drove her to the shore. Her cargo was yet undamaged. The captain and pilot consented for me to take part of the crew and return to the city of Annapolis, to procure cables and anchors. This we accomplished, but were prevented from returning for several days, on account of another driving storm, in which the Criterion bilged and filled with water, and those on board abandoned her in time to save their lives.
During the winter, with a gang of hired slaves (our men were on the sick list), we saved nearly all the cargo in a damaged state. The men that were chosen to survey the Criterion judged there was one hundred and seventy tons of ice on her hull and rigging, caused by the rushing of the sea over her and freezing solid. After stripping her, in the spring, she was sold for twenty dollars!
I returned to Baltimore and commenced another voyage as chief mate of the brig Frances F. Johnson, of Baltimore, for South America. Our crew were all black men, the captain's peculiar choice. I often regretted that we two were the only white men on board, for we were sometimes placed in peculiar circumstances, in consequence of being in the minority.
With the exception of some dry goods, we disposed of most of our cargo in Maranham and Para. The last-mentioned place lies about one hundred miles up from the mouth of the river Amazon, the mouth of the river being on the equator. Here we took in a return cargo for Baltimore. On our homeward voyage we stopped at the French island of Martinico. After taking our place among the shipping near the shore, and remaining a few days, the captain and myself were unexpectedly ordered on board by the commodore, who reprimanded us because we had failed to comply with a trifling point in his orders, for which he ordered us to leave the place in the morning. We considered this ungenerous and severe, and without precedent; but we obeyed, and had but scarcely cleared ourselves from the island when a dreadful hurricane commenced (which is common in the West Indies about the autumnal equinox), causing such devastation among the shipping and seamen that in a few hours about one hundred vessels were dashed in pieces at their moorings, and sunk with their crews on board, and some were driven to sea in a helpless condition, leaving but two vessels saved in the harbor in the morning!
It was with much difficulty we cleared ourselves from the island during the day, because of the sudden changing of the wind from almost every quarter of the compass. We were pretty well satisfied that a violent storm was at hand, and made what preparations we deemed necessary to meet it. We fortunately escaped from the most violent part of it with but little damage, and arrived safely at St. Domingo. A sloop from New York City came in a few days after us, the captain of which stated what I have already related respecting the storm and disaster at Martinico. Said he, "We arrived off the harbor of Martinico at the commencement of the hurricane, and as we were driven at the mercy of the storm, in the darkness of the night, while we were endeavoring to hold ourselves to the deck around our boat, which was lying bottom upwards, strongly lashed to ring-bolts in the deck, she was taken by the violence of the wind from our midst, and not one of us knew when, or how, or where she had gone." The miracle with them was that they survived the storm. But still more wonderful, with us, that we, while attending to our lawful business, should in such an unexpected and unprecedented manner be driven from the place where none but the omniscient eye of Jehovah could tell of the terrible destruction that in a few hours was to come upon those we left behind. Surely, through his saving mercy and providential care, we were hurried out of that harbor just in time to be left still numbered among the living.
"God moves in a mysterious way,
Capt. Sylvester here gave me the command of the F. F. Johnson, to proceed to Baltimore with the homeward cargo, while he remained in St. Domingo to dispose of the balance of the outward cargo. At the time of sailing I was sick, and fearing my disease was the yellow fever I had my bed brought upon the quarter-deck, and remained exposed to the open day and night air, and soon recovered my health. We arrived safely in Baltimore, the beginning of January, 1818. From thence I returned to my father's, in Fairhaven, Mass., having been absent some two years and a half. Feb. 15, 1818, I was united in marriage to Miss Prudence M., daughter of Capt. Obed Nye, my present wife.
His wonders to perform."
Six weeks subsequent to this, I sailed on another voyage, chief mate of the ship Frances, Capt. Hitch, of New Bedford, taking command of the vessel. We proceeded to Baltimore, Md., where we loaded with tobacco for Bremen, in Europe. From thence we proceeded to Gottenberg, in Sweden, where we loaded again with bar-iron for New Bedford, Mass.
I will here relate an incident which occurred on our passage from Bremen to Gottenberg, to show how persons are wrought upon sometimes in their sleep. We were passing what is called "The Scaw," up the Cattegat, not a very safe place in a gale, in company with a large convoy of British merchantmen bound into the Baltic Sea. Capt. H., unusual for him, remained on deck until midnight, at which time the larboard watch was called. The night was uncommonly light, pleasant, and clear, with a good, wholesale, flowing breeze--all the convoy sailing onward in regular order. Capt. H. requested me to follow a certain large ship, and be particular to keep about so far astern of her, so that if we saw her in difficulty we could alter our course in time to avoid the same. Before my four hours' watch was out, Captain H. came up to the gangway, saying, "Mr. Bates, what are you about, carrying sail in this way? Clew down the top-sails and reef them! Where is that ship?" "Yonder," said I, "about the distance she was when you went down below!" I saw his eyes were wide open, but still I could not believe he was in his right mind in addressing me in the peremptory manner he did. Said I, "Capt. Hitch, you are asleep!" "Asleep!" said he, "I never was wider awake in my life! Clew the top-sails down and reef them!" I felt provoked at this unusual arbitrary treatment without the least cause, and cried out at the top of my voice, "Forward there! Call all hands to reef the top-sails!" This waked up the captain, who inquired, "What's the matter?" Said I, "You have been giving orders to reef the top-sails!" "Have I? I did not know it. Stop them from doing so, and I will go down again out of the way."
As Capt. H. was part owner of the ship, with the prospect of making a few thousand dollars with a cargo of iron, he loaded the ship very deep, but did not seem to apprehend any particular danger until we encountered a snow-storm as we entered the North Sea, which determined us to go "north about," and brought us in the vicinity of "Rockal" in a violent storm in the night, which aroused our feelings and caused deep anxiety until we were satisfied we were past all danger from it.
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Allowance of Water - Casting Cargo into the Sea - Allowance of Provisions - Terrible Storm - Gulf Stream - Dead Calm and Rushing Hurricane - The Cook's Prayer - Silent Agony - Wallowing between the Seas - More Respecting the Gale - Leak Increasing - Supply of Provisions - Council - Bear up for the West Indies - Reported - Safe Arrival in the West Indies.
OUR heavy cargo of iron, and prevailing westerly gales, caused our ship to labor so incessantly that she began to leak very freely. We got up about twenty tons of iron and secured it on the upper deck. This eased her laboring some, but still the westerly gales prevailed, and we gained westward but slowly. At length Capt. Hitch said, "We must come on an allowance of water;" and asked how much I thought we could begin with. I answered, "Two quarts per day." "Two quarts of water per day!" said he, "why, I never drank two quarts of water a day in my life. I drink two cups of coffee in the morning, and two cups of tea at night, and two or three glasses of grog during the day [temperance societies were not known then], and that is about all I drink." Said he, "I have been following the sea for about thirty years, and never have yet been put on an allowance." I had not been so fortunate, but had been on an allowance of food five years, and several months on a short allowance of water. I said to Capt. H., "The very idea of being on an allowance of water will increase your desire for more." Well, he knew nothing about that, but said, "We will wait a little longer, for I don't believe I ever drank two quarts a day."
As we were still hindered in our progress, and the ship was increasing her leak, Capt. H. said, "It is your morning watch to-morrow, I think you had better begin to measure out the water, and fasten up the water-casks." "Very well, sir," said I, "but how much shall I measure for each man?" "Well, begin with two quarts." This was done, and the captain's two quarts were taken to the cabin. As I was walking the deck about 7 o'clock in the evening, the after hatchway being open, I heard Capt. H., in the dark, say in a loud whisper, "Lem! you got any water?" (Lemuel T. was a nephew of Capt. H., and messed in the steerage.) "Yes, sir." Give me a drink, will you?" In a few moments I heard the captain gurgling the water down out of "Lem's" bottle, as though he was very thirsty, and yet it was but twelve hours since his two quarts had been measured out. At the breakfast table next morning, said I, "Capt. Hitch, how did you make out for water last night?" He smiled, and acknowledged he was mistaken. "The thought of being on an allowance (as you said) makes one feel thirsty. I never tried it before."
After encountering another heavy gale, Capt. H. became seriously alarmed, fearing the Frances was too deeply laden to cross the Atlantic in safety. A council was held, which decided to relieve the ship of part of her burden by casting the twenty tons of iron overboard. In a few hours this work was accomplished, and the long bars of iron were gliding swiftly to their resting place some five or more miles below us, into what the sailors call "Davy Jones's Locker."
Twenty tons more were taken on deck. This change relieved the ship very perceptibly, and enabled her to make better progress. But still the captain was fearful of carrying a press of sail for fear her leak would increase, and carry us all down to the bottom.
Our stock of provisions getting low, we came on a stated allowance of beef and bread, our small stores being about exhausted. We all began to feel anxious to get to our destined haven. When the captain was asleep, we would venture sometimes to crowd on a little more sail. After a westerly storm, the wind had come round to the east during the night. To improve this favorable wind, by the time the morning watch was called, we had all the reefs out of the topsails, topmast and lower studding-sails set with a good top-gallant breeze, but rather a heavy head-beat sea. Capt. H. came on deck and looked around a few moments, and said, "Mr. Bates, you had better take in the main-top-gallant sail; also the lower and topmast studding-sails. Now we will double and single reef the top-sails." This done, he concluded the ship would get along much easier, and almost as fast.
At length the winds favored us, and we were making rapid progress. The last three days the wind had been increasing from the south-east, and according to our reckoning, if it continued, we should reach New Bedford in three days more, making our passage in seventy days from Gottenberg. In this we were sadly disappointed, for by the third day at midnight, the gale had increased to a dreadful hight. The raging elements seemed to set at defiance every living creature that moved above the surface of the sea. In all my experience I had never witnessed such portentous signs of a dreadful, devastating storm in the heavens. The sea had risen to such an awful hight, it seemed sometimes that it would rush over our mast-heads before our heavy-laden ship would rise to receive its towering, foaming top; and then the howling, raging wind above it, straining every stitch of sail we dared to show, would dash us headlong again into the awful gulf below. All the canvas we dared to show was a close-reefed main top-sail, and reefed foresail. We needed more to hurry the ship off before the foaming sea, but were in great fear that the heavy gusts of wind would wrench them from the bolt-ropes and leave us in the power of the next sea, to be overwhelmed, and sink with our iron cargo to the bottom of the sea.
We charged the watch that were going below not to lay off any of their clothing, but be ready at a moment's warning. We considered ourselves in the eastern edge of the Gulf Stream, one of the most dreaded places for continual storms on the American coast, or any other coast in the world. Cross it somewhere we must, to reach our home.
I entered the cabin for a moment to inform Capt. H. of the increasing storm. He was unwilling to see it, but said, "Mr. Bates, keep the ship dead before the sea!" That was our only hope. Our tiller had been broken off within four feet of the rudder-head, a short time previous, by a violent sea that struck us on the bow. We had spliced it, and now with tiller-ropes and relieving tackles it required four experienced men, with our utmost skill in "conning" them, to manage the helm, to keep the ship running directly before the foaming, mountainous seas. Our continual work was something like the following: "Starboard your helm!" "Starboard, sir," was the reply. "Steady, here comes another dreadful sea!" "Steady," was the reply. "How do we head now?" "North-west," was the reply. "Steady, keep her head just so. That was well done!" If the ship had not answered her helm as she did, it appeared that that fearful sea would have rushed over our quarter, and swept us all by the board. "Port your helm! here comes another on the larboard side! Steady now, the sea is square on our stern," etc.
With the dawn of the morning the rain came down upon us in such torrents that it was with much difficulty that we could see the shape of the sea until it was rushing upon us. This rain was ominous of a change more dreadful (if possible) than our present situation. My short experience had taught me that the Gulf Stream* was more dangerous for navigators on this account than any other navigable sea.
Between 7 and 8 o'clock in the morning, without a moment's warning, the wind suddenly struck us from the opposite quarter, and our sails were struck against the mast. The simultaneous cry was uttered, "The ship's aback!" "Hard aport your helm!" "Quick! quick!" It seemed as though I touched the deck but twice in getting some thirty feet to the mainmast, where the weather forebraces were belayed. I whirled them from the pins, and shouted, "All hands on deck in a moment!" Descending from the top of the sea, the ship answered her helm; her head paid off to the north-east. The foresail filled again, or we should inevitably have gone down stern foremost, from the overpowering rush of the next sea. The wind came furiously from the west for a few moments, and suddenly died away, leaving us in a dead calm. "Lash your helm to the starboard!" "Call the captain, one of you!" "Clew up the main top-sail!" "Haul up the foresail!" "All hands aloft now, and furl the main top-sail." "Make haste, men, and secure it to the yard as fast as you can!"
The ship was now unmanageable. The sea described above was now on our lee beam, and seemed as though it would either run over our mast-heads or roll us bottom upward to windward. As the captain came up from the cabin and saw our situation, he cried out, "Oh, my grief!" and for a while was silent. The ship was now writhing and wrenching some like a person in perfect agony. Her tumbling in such a tumultuous and violent manner made it very difficult for the men to get aloft. Before they reached the top-sail yard, the wind came rushing upon us like a tornado, from the west-south-west. This was what we feared, and why we hurried to save our storm-sails if we could. It was some time before the men could secure the sails. When this was done, and the ship pumped after a manner, the crew were all clustered on the quarter-deck, except Lemuel T. and George H., the captain's nephew and son, who, by the captain's orders, were fastened below for fear they would be swept from the deck, also one passenger. Said the captain, "Cook, can you pray with us?" The cook knelt down where he could secure himself, the rest of us holding on upon our feet, and prayed most fervently for God to protect and save us from the dreadful, raging storm. This was the first prayer that I ever heard uttered in a storm upon the ocean. Sinners as we were, I believe it was remembered by Him whose ear is not closed to the distressed mariner's cry; for the Scriptures testify that "he commandeth, and raiseth the storm wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths; their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit's end. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses." Ps. 107:25-28.
We seemed to be placed in the very position the psalmist speaks of. After we had done all we could to save our lives from the raging elements of the past night, until our ship was rendered unmanageable, our sails secured and the helm lashed alee, then we were at our "wit's end," and prayed to the Lord for help, and secured ourselves to the mizzen rigging and quarter-deck, there in deep contemplation and utter silence to wait the issue of our case. Capt. H. doubtless felt that he had neglected his duty in commending us to God daily, during our long voyage, and now in this perilous hour, when we were at our "wit's end," his confidence failed him. Himself and the cook were the only professors of religion on board. They both belonged to the Close-Communion Baptist Church, in New Bedford, Mass. The cook was the only colored man on board. I have always believed that the Lord specially regarded his prayer. Once only during the voyage I heard the captain pray. I had become almost exhausted from extreme labor in some of the storms I have before mentioned, and was losing two hours of my evening watch to get some rest, when I overheard Capt. H., in a dark part of the cabin, praying the Lord to raise me to health and strength. In saying this I mean no disrespect to Capt. H., for he was a gentlemanly, good-hearted man, and treated his officers and men with kindness and respect.
After the cook's prayer I secured myself to the weather foremost mizzen shroud, to watch the furious, raging storm. Capt. H, was next behind me, the second mate and crew all ranged along the weather side of the quarter-deck, waiting in silence the decision of our case. The wind was so unabating in its fury that it would whirl the top of the contending seas over us, and drench us like pouring rain from the clouds. The labor of the ship seemed to be more than she could long endure. The marvel was that she had held together so long. It seemed sometimes, when she was rushing from the top of some of those mountain seas, broadside foremost, that she would either turn clear over or rush down with such impetuosity that she never would rise again. After a while the sea became furious from the west, and the two seas would rush together like enemies contending for victory. We had remained in silence about three hours, when I said, "Our ship can stand this but a little longer." "So I think," replied the captain. I said, "It appears to me that our only hope is to loose the wings of the foresail, and drive her between these two seas on a north-east course." "Let us try it," said Capt. H.
Soon our good old ship was making her way through between these two tumbling mountains, being most severely buffeted, first on the right and then on the left. And when our hearts would almost sink for fear of her being overwhelmed, she would seem to rise again above it all, and shake herself as though some unseen hand was girding her from beneath, and with her two little outstretched wings, filled to overflowing with the howling, raging wind, she would seem to move onward again with more than mortal energy. Thus she wallowed along until midnight between these tumbling seas, trembling, wrenching, and groaning, with her heavy iron load and precious living souls that she was laboring to preserve, in answer to the poor negro sailor's prayer, that had passed from her upper deck, away from amidst the distracting hurricane and dreadful storm, to the peaceful mansions of the Governor of Heaven, and earth, and seas.
My wife was visiting one of our relatives, a few miles distant from home, when a Methodist minister called in to visit the family. He asked why she appeared so sober. He was told that the ship her husband sailed in was out of time, and much fear was entertained for her safety, and particularly at that time, as there was a violent, raging storm. Said the minister, "I want to pray for that ship's company." His prayer was so fervent, and made so deep an impression on my wife, that she noted down the time. When the ship came home, her log-book was examined, which proved it was the same storm.
Somewhere about midnight, as the wind had veered round to the north and west, and the furious sea from that quarter had become very dangerous, and was continuing to subdue and overpower the one that had been so dangerous from the south-east, we deemed it for our safety to still bear away and head the ship on to the south-east sea, and give her the whole of her reefed foresail to drive her from the irregular, furious cross-sea that was raging from the west. Thus, for four days, we were driven onward by the furious hurricane, to save ourselves from what we considered a more dangerous position, that of lying to under bare poles, exposing the ship to the irregular cross-seas that might render her unmanageable, and wrench her in pieces. We first steered north-west before a most violent south-east gale, and in a moment of time our sails were all aback with the gale from the north-west; then in a few moments followed a dead calm for about fifteen minutes, rendering the ship unmanageable; and then came a raging hurricane from the west-south-west, veering in four days round by the north to the east, our course being north-east between the seas; then east and south-east, south and south-west. In this manner, in about four days, we run three-quarters of the way round the compass, some hundreds of miles further from home than we were at the hight of the storm. This was the most peculiar and trying storm in all my experience; neither have I read of the like in its nature and duration. The marvel with us was that our good old ship had weathered this most trying time. Her leak, however, had increased to twelve thousand strokes of the pump in twenty-four hours.
Again, by a unanimous decision, we launched another twenty tons of our iron cargo into the sea. We endeavored to steer for a southern port, but the westerly winds continued to check our progress westward. Winter had now fairly commenced, and our provisions and water were getting so low that we were about to reduce our allowance, while our constant labor at the pumps was also reducing our strength. We saw vessels occasionally, but at too great a distance to approach them. We made an extra effort, and sailed for one until night-fall, and then, to induce her to approach us, we rigged a spar over our stern, on which we fastened a barrel with tar, and fired it, to make them believe we were on fire, and so come to our relief, but to no purpose.
Soon after this, when things began to look more dubious, just at the close of a gale of wind, about midnight, we saw a vessel directly ahead steering toward us. She soon answered our signal by hoisting her "lanthorn," and soon we met within speaking distance. "Where are you from?" "New York," was the reply. "Where are you bound?" "South America." "Can you spare us some provisions?" "Yes, as much as you want; I am loaded with them." "Lay by us and we will send our boat." "Very well."
Capt. Hitch's heart began to fail him as we began to clear away our small boat. Said he, "The swell is so high the boat will be swamped, and I dare not have you go, Mr. Bates. To lose some of the crew now would be very discouraging, and how could the ship be saved in her leaky, sinking condition?" "But, Capt. Hitch, we are in want of provisions, and can now get a supply." He still declared himself unwilling to command any one to attempt it. Said I, "Allow me, then, to call for volunteers." He continued irresolute. Fearing we should miss this opportunity, I inquired, "Who among you will volunteer to go with me in the boat?" "I will go for one, sir." "I will go," "and I will go," said others. "That will do," said I, "three are enough." In a few moments we were almost out of sight of our ship, steering for the signal light. One sea boarded us, and about half filled the boat. With one hand bailing out the water, and the other two at the oars, we reached the brig. On account of the rough sea we could carry but a few barrels of bread and flour. I gave the captain a draft on our owners in New Bedford. "Your name is Bates," said he; "are you related to Dr. Bates, of Barre, Massachusetts?" "He is my brother." "Well, I am his near neighbor; I left there a few weeks ago. Don't you want some more?" "No, sir. Only if you will fill away and tow us to the windward of our ship we will be much obliged." This done, we reached the ship in safety, and soon had our supply of bread and flour safely landed on deck. Our boat was stowed away, and each vessel filled away on its course. Capt. H. was almost overjoyed at our safe return with a supply of provisions to carry us into port. The westerly winds, however, prevailed, and our ship's bottom had become so foul with grass and barnacles that she moved very slowly. We prepared a scraper, with which we were enabled in a calm to scrape some of it off. Bushels of barnacles as large as thimbles, and green grass two feet long, would rise under our stern as we hauled the scraper under her bottom, all of which had accumulated during our passage.
Again we met with a vessel from the West Indies, which supplied us with three casks of water; after which a ship from Portland supplied us with potatoes from her cargo. These were very acceptable, not only for a change of diet, but also to check the scurvy, which is common with those seamen who are obliged to subsist on salted provisions. In a few weeks we obtained another short supply, and were animated with the hope of reaching some port on the coast in a few days. But our buoyant hopes would sink again with the increasing westerly gales, and we would wish that we had taken a larger supply of provisions. Thus we continued to toil on, gaining sometimes a considerable distance westward, and then in one gale losing almost as much distance as we gained in a week before.
Three times after this we obtained a supply of what could be spared from different vessels we met with, making in all seven different times. And it had become a common saying with us that at the very time we needed relief it came. Wicked as we still were, we could but acknowledge the hand of a merciful God in it all. Finally, we began to despair, contending with the almost continual westerly winds in our disabled condition, and called all hands in "council," to determine whether, in our perilous position, to preserve our lives, we should change the voyage, and run for a port in distress. It was decided unanimously that we bear up for the West Indies. After running about two days south, the wind headed us from that quarter. As the ship was now heading westward, Capt. H. concluded he could reach a southern port in the United States. But the wind changed again, which cut off this prospect. Capt. H. now regretted that he had taken it upon him to deviate from the decision of the council, and wished me to call another, and see if it would be decided for us to bear up again for the West Indies. The whole crew expressed themselves in favor of adhering to our previous decision, to steer for the West Indies; but what was the use of deciding? Capt. H. would turn back again as soon as the wind came fair to steer westward. I stated that if he did I should oppose him, and insist on abiding by the decision we then made in council. It was a unanimous* vote to bear up in distress for the West Indies. Capt. H. was not present.
Shortly after we changed our course, we met a schooner from the West Indies, bound to New York. We requested the captain to report the ship Frances, Hitch, one hundred and twenty-two days from Gottenberg, in Sweden, bound to St. Thomas, in the West Indies, in distress.
As letters had reached our friends, advising them of our sailing from Gottenberg for New Bedford some four months previous, one-third of the time being sufficient for a common passage, various conjectures were afloat respecting our destiny. Few, if any, believed that we were numbered among the living.
As the New York packet was leaving the wharf for New Bedford and Fairhaven, the schooner arrived and reported us. In about twenty-four hours the New York packet touched at Fairhaven wharf with the report, one day in advance of the mail. My wife, father, mother, and sisters were on a social visit at my sister's near the wharf. Mr. B., my sister's husband, left them a few moments, and was standing on the wharf with other citizens of F., when the first item of intelligence from the packet as she touched the wharf was that a schooner had arrived in New York from the West Indies, which had fallen in with the ship Frances, Hitch, in lat.--, and long.--, one hundred and twenty-two days from Gottenberg, bound to St. Thomas, "in distress." With this unexpected item of news, Mr. B. hurried back to the family circle, declaring that the ship Frances was still afloat, bound to the West Indies. In a moment the scene was changed, and the news spread throughout the village to gladden other hearts, for there were other husbands and sons on board the long-looked-for missing ship. On the arrival of the mail the next day, the news was confirmed. No piece of intelligence for many years had caused such universal joy in F. The principal owner of the ship and cargo (Wm. Roach, of New Bedford) said it gave him more joy to hear that the crew were all alive than all his interest in the ship and cargo. Owners and friends were exceedingly anxious to hear particulars, how we had been sustained such a length of time with only provisions and water for about half said time, also what had caused our delay.
We had a successful run and passage to St. Thomas, one of the Virgin Islands in the West Indies, belonging to Denmark. The night preceding our arrival, a schooner came in company with us, bound on the same course. By request of Capt. H., she consented to keep our company during the night, as her captain professed to be well acquainted with that region. The night was delightful, with a fair wind. The schooner took in all her sail except her top-sail lowered on the cap. We were under a cloud of sail, lower, top-mast, and top-gallant steering sails, all drawing and filled with the pleasant gale. The captain of the schooner seemed out of all patience with us because we did not sail fast enough to keep up with him. About midnight he sheered up within speaking distance, and cried out, "Ship ahoy!" "Halloo!" replied Capt. H. "Do you know what I would do with that ship if I commanded her?" "No," was the reply. "Well, sir," said he, "if I had charge of that ship I would scuttle her and send her to the bottom with all hands on board!" Our ship's bottom was so full of grass and barnacles that she sailed only half her usual speed.
We arrived, however, the next day, and thought we felt thankful to God for preserving and sustaining us through the perilous scenes we had experienced. Even when our ship was safely anchored and our sails all furled, for awhile we could hardly realize that we were safe in the harbor of St. Thomas. Careening our ship to clean the bottom, it was wonderful to behold the quantity of green grass, from two to three feet long, and large barnacles on the bottom. The "survey" decided that the ship could be repaired to proceed to the United States.
* The Gulf Stream is caused by a large body of water issuing from the Gulf of Mexico, flowing north-easterly from the south-east point of the coast of Florida, in some places passing close to the land, widening as it flows onward by our northern coast, where it branches off toward the banks of Newfoundland, where it is sometimes found to be several hundred miles in width, narrowing and widening as influenced by the heavy winds. This current sweeps along our southern coast, sometimes at the rate of three miles per hour. In passing from or approaching the coast of the United States, mariners always find the water much warmer in this stream than on either side of it. The weather is also changeable and tempestuous, such as is not found elsewhere.
* When a deviation from a policy of insurance is made in a vessel's voyage, it is required to be done by the majority or whole crew in council, that they do so for the preservation of lives, or vessel and cargo; this transaction being recorded in the daily journal or log-book of said vessel, that the owners may lawfully recover their insurance, if a loss occurs after deviation. The same is required when casting cargo overboard to preserve life.
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A Spoiled Child - Passage Home from the West Indies - False Alarm - Arrival Home - Voyage in the Ship New Jersey - Breakers off Bermuda - Dangerous Position in a Violent Storm - Turk's Island - Cargo of Rock Salt - Return to Alexandria, D. C. - Voyage to Liverpool - Storm in the Gulf Stream - Singular Phenomenon on the Banks of Newfoundland - Arrival at Liverpool - A Great Change - An Old Shipmate.
WHILE we were refitting in St. Thomas, Capt. H. was going to visit an acquaintance of his on Sunday, and I proposed to spend a few hours on shore to see the place. Said he, "George wants to go on shore; I wish you would take him with you, but don't let him go out of your sight." While I was conversing with an acquaintance, George was missing. When I returned to the boat in company with the mate of the vessel where Capt. H. was visiting, we saw George lying in the boat, drunk! When we came to the vessel where his father was, he was exceedingly aggravated, and endeavored in several ways to arouse him from his stupor, and induce him to pull at the oar; for his father arranged that we three alone would manage the boat, and leave the sailors on board. George was unable to do anything but reply very disrespectfully to his father, who also had to ply his oar to the ship.
After George had somewhat recovered from his drunken spell, he made his appearance on the quarter-deck, when his father began to reprove, and threaten to chastise him, for disgracing himself and his father among strangers, as he had done. A few more words passed, and George clinched his father and crowded him some distance toward the stern of the ship before he could check him and get him down with his knee upon him. He then turned to me, saying, "Mr. Bates, what shall I do with this boy?" I replied, "Whip him, sir!" Said he, "I will!" and slapped him a few times with the flat of his hand on his back saying "There! take that now!" etc.
George was so vexed and provoked because his father whipped him, that he ran down into the cabin to destroy himself. In a few moments the cook came rushing up from thence, saying, "Captain Hitch! George says he is going to jump out of the cabin window and drown himself!" "Let him jump!" said I. He had become sober enough by this time to know better, for he was a great coward.
George Hitch was about thirteen years of age at this time, and when free from the influence of strong drink was a generous, good-hearted boy, and with right management would have proved a blessing instead of a reproach and curse, as he did, to his parents and friends. His father, in unburdening his heart to me about him, said, "When he was a child, his mother and I were afraid that he would not be roguish enough to make a smart man, so we indulged him in his childish roguery, and soon he learned to run away from school and associate himself with wicked boys, and the like, which troubled his mother so that she could not have him at home. This is why I have taken him with me.
His father was aware that he would drink liquor whenever he could get it, and yet he would have the liquor in the decanter placed in the locker where George could get it whenever he pleased in our absence. Sometimes his father would ask the cook what had become of the liquor in the decanter. He knew that neither the second mate nor myself had taken it, for neither of us used strong drink; hence he must have known that George took it.
Our merchant in Gottenberg had placed in the hands of Capt. H. a case of very choice cordial as a present to Mrs. H. After our small stores and liquors were used up during our long passage, I saw George with his arms around his father's neck one evening in the cabin. Capt. H. said to me, "What do you think this boy wants?" "I don't know, sir," I replied. "He wants me to open the cordial case of his mother's and give him some of it." The indulgent father yielded, and very soon the mother's cordial case was emptied. This thirst for liquor, unchecked by his parents, ripened with his manhood, and drove him from all decent society, and finally to a drunkard's grave in the midst of his days. His mother mourned and wept, and died sorrowing for her ruined boy. His father lived to be tormented, and threatened with death if he did not give him money to gratify the insatiable thirst that was hastening him to an untimely end, and went down to the grave sorrowing that he had been the father of such a rebellious, unnatural child. Another warning to surviving parents who fail to follow the Bible, in obedience to God's infallible rule. Prov. 22:6.
On our passage from St. Thomas to New Bedford, Mass., we met a very tempestuous storm in the Gulf Stream, off Cape Hatteras. During the midnight watch George came rushing into the cabin, crying, "Father! father! the ship is sinking!" The second mate, who had charge of the watch, followed, declaring the ship was going down. As all hands were rushing for the upper deck, I asked Mr. Nye how he knew the ship was sinking. "Because," said he, "she has settled two or three feet." We raised the after hatchway to see how much water was in the hold, and found no more than usual. The almost continual cracking thunder and vivid lightning in the roaring storm alarmed and deceived them; for the whole watch on deck also believed the ship was sinking.
In about three weeks from St. Thomas we saw Block Island. In the morning we were about twenty-five miles from New Bedford, when the wind came out ahead from the north in a strong gale, threatening to drive us off our soundings. We clinched our cables round the mast and cleared our anchors, determined to make a desperate effort, and try the strength of our cables in deep water rather than be blown off the coast. Then with what sail the ship could bear we began to ply her head to windward for a harbor in the Vineyard Sound. The sea and spray rushed upon us and froze on the sails and rigging, so that before we tacked, which was often, we had to break off the ice from our sails, tacks, and sheets, with handspikes. In this way we gained about ten miles to windward during the day, and anchored in Tarpaulin Cove, about fifteen miles from New Bedford. Our signal was seen from the observatory in New Bedford just as we were passing into the cove. When our anchor reached the bottom, the poor, half-frozen crew were so overjoyed that they gave three cheers for a safe harbor. After two days the gale abated, and we made sail and anchored in the harbor of New Bedford, Feb. 20, 1819, nearly six months from Gottenberg. So far as I have any knowledge of ship-sailing, this was one of the most providential and singular passages from Europe to America, in its nature and duration, that is on record.
This voyage, including also our passage to the West Indies, could in ordinary weather be performed by our ship, when in good sailing trim, in less than sixty days. Our friends were almost as glad to see us as we were to get safely home. The contrast between the almost continual clanking of pumps to keep our ship afloat, and the howling winter storms with which we had to contend, and good cheering firesides, surrounded by wives, children, and friends, was great indeed, and cheered us exceedingly. We thought we were thankful to God for thus preserving our lives. This was the third time I had returned home during ten years.
"The Old Frances," as she was called, apparently ready to slide into a watery grave, was soon thoroughly repaired and fitted for the whaling business, which she successfully pursued in the Pacific and Indian Oceans for many years. Capt. L. C. Tripp and myself are now the only survivors.
After a pleasant season of a few months at home with my family, I sailed again for Alexandria, D. C., and shipped as chief mate on board the ship New Jersey, of Alexandria, D. C., D. Howland, commander. We proceeded up James River near Richmond, Va., to load for Europe, but went from there to Norfolk, Va., where we finally loaded and sailed for Bermuda.
On our arrival at Bermuda, our ship drew so much water that it became necessary for us to anchor in open sea, and wait for a smooth time and fair wind to sail into the harbor. The captain and pilot went on shore expecting to return, but were prevented on account of a violent gale and storm which came on soon after they reached the shore, which placed us in a trying and perilous situation for nearly two days. We were unacquainted with the dangerous reefs of rocks with which the north and east sides of the island were bounded, but with the aid of our spy-glass, from the ship's mast-head, I could see, still many miles off in the offing, the furious sea breaking mast-head high over the reefs of rocks east and north; and on the west of us the island of Bermuda receiving the whole rake of the beating sea against its rock-bound coast as far as the eye could extend to the south. From my place of observation I saw there was a bare possibility for our lives, if during the gale our ship should be driven from her anchors, or part her cable, to pass out by the south, provided we could show sail enough to weather the breakers on the south end of the island. Our storm-sails were now reefed, and every needful preparation made, if the cables parted, to chop them off at the windlass, and crowd on every storm-sail the ship could bear, to clear, if possible, the breakers under our lee. As the gale increased we had veered out almost all our cable, reserving enough to freshen the chafe at the bow, which was very frequent. But contrary to all our fearful forebodings, and the fears of those on shore who were filled with anxiety for our safety, especially our captain and pilot, our brow-beaten ship was seen at the dawn of the second morning still contending with her unyielding foe, holding to her well-bedded anchors by her long, straitened cables, which had been fully tested during the violent storm which had now begun to abate. As the sea went down, the captain and pilot returned, and the ship was got under way and safely anchored in the harbor, and we discharged our cargo.
We sailed from Bermuda to Turk's Island for a cargo of salt. In the vicinity of this island is a group of low, sandy islands, where the inhabitants make large quantities of salt from the sea water. Passing by near these islands, strangers can see something near the amount of stock they have on hand, as it is heaped up in stacks for sale and exportation. A little way off, these salt stacks and the dwelling-houses very much resemble the small houses on the prairies in the West, with their numerous wheat stacks dotted about them after harvest. Turk's Island salt is what is also called "rock-salt." Here we moored our ship about a quarter of a mile from the shore, our anchor in forty fathoms, or two hundred and forty feet, of water, ready to ship our cables and put to sea at any moment of danger from change of wind or weather; and when the weather settled again, return and finish loading. In a few days we received from the natives, by their slaves, twelve thousand bushels of salt, which they handed us out of their boats by the half-bushel in their salt sacks. The sea around this island abounds with small shells of all colors, many of which are obtained by expert swimmers diving for them in deep water. We returned to Alexandria, D. C., in the winter of 1820, where our voyage ended.
Before the cargo of the New Jersey was discharged, I was offered the command of the ship Talbot, of Salem, Mass., then loading in Alexandria for Liverpool. In a few weeks we were again out of the Chesapeake Bay, departing from Cape Henry across the Atlantic Ocean.
Soon after leaving the land, a violent gale and storm overtook us in the Gulf Stream, attended with awful thunder and vivid streaks of lightning. The heavy, dark clouds, seeming but just above our mast-heads, kept us enshrouded in almost impenetrable darkness, as the night closed around us. Our minds were only relieved by the repeated sheets of streaming fire that lit up our pathway, and showed us for an instant that there was no other ship directly ahead of us, and also the shape of the rushing seas before which we were scudding with what sail the ship could bear, crossing with all speed this dreaded, dismal, dark stream of warm water that stretches itself from the Gulf of Mexico to Nantucket shoals on our Atlantic coast. Whether the storm abated in the stream we crossed, we could not say, but we found very different weather on the eastern side of it. I have heard mariners tell of very pleasant weather in the Gulf Stream, but I have no knowledge of any such experience.
After this we shaped our course so as to pass across the southern edge of what is called the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. According to our reckoning and signs of soundings, we were approaching this noted spot in the afternoon. The night set in with a drizzling rain, which soon began to freeze, so that by midnight our sails and rigging were so glazed and stiffened with ice that we were much troubled to trim them and steer the ship away from the bank again into the fathomless deep, where we were told that water never freezes. This was true in this instance, for the ice melted after a few hours' run to the south. We did not stop to sound, but supposed we were in about sixty fathoms of water on the bank, when we bore up at midnight. Here, about one-third of the three thousand miles across the ocean, and hundreds of miles from any land, and about three hundred and sixty feet above the bottom of the sea, we experienced severe frosts, from which we were entirely relieved after a run south of about twenty miles. If we had been within twenty miles of land the occurrence would not have been so singular. We at first supposed that we were in the neighborhood of islands of ice, but concluded that could not be, as we were about a month too early for their appearance. This occurrence was in April.
In a few weeks from the above incident we arrived in Liverpool, the commercial city where ten years before I was unjustly and inhumanly seized by a government gang of ruffians, who took me and my shipmate from our quiet boarding-house in the night, and lodged us in a press room, or filthy jail, until the morning. When brought before a naval officer for trial of my citizenship, it was declared by the officer of the ruffian gang that I was an Irishman, belonging to Belfast, in Ireland. Stripped of my right of citizenship, from thenceforth I was transferred to the naval service of King George III. without limitation of time. Then myself and Isaac Bailey of Nantucket, my fellow-boarder, were seized by each arm by four stout men, and marched through the middle of their streets, like condemned felons, to the water side; from thence in a boat to what they called the Old Princess, of the Royal navy.
During these ten years a great change had taken place with the potentates and subjects of civilized Europe. The dreadful convulsions of nations had in a great measure subsided: first, by the peace between the United States and Great Britain, granting to the former "free trade and sailor's rights," secured in a few months after the great decisive battle of Waterloo, in 1815; secondly, by what had been unheard of before--a conclave of the rulers of the great powers of Europe, united to keep the peace of the world. (Predicted in olden times by the great sovereign Ruler of the universe. Rev. 7:1.)
The two great belligerent powers that had for about fifteen years convulsed the civilized world by their oppressive acts and mortal combats by land and sea, had closed their deadly strife. The first in power, usurping the right to seize and impress into his service as many sailors as his war ships required, without distinction of color, if they spoke the English language, had been defeated, and compelled to relinquish this so-called right. The second, with all his ambition to conquer and rule the world, had been banished to what was once an uninhabited and barren rock, far away in the South Atlantic Ocean, and was now desolate and dying.
The people were now mourning the death of the first, namely, my old master, King George III. His crown was taken off, his course just finished, and he laid away in state to sleep with his fathers until the great decisive day. Then there was a female infant prattling in its mother's arms, destined to rule his vast kingdom with less despotic sway. During these ten years my circumstances also had materially changed. Press-gangs and war prisons were things of the past, so that I enjoyed the freedom of the city of Liverpool in common with my countrymen.
As we were about loading with return cargo of Liverpool salt for Alexandria, a man dressed in blue jacket and trowsers, with a ratan whip in his hand, approached me with, "Please, your honor, do you wish to hire a 'lumper' to shovel in your salt?" "No," I replied, "I do not want you." "Why, your honor, I am acquainted with the business, and take such jobs." I again refused to employ him, and said, "I know you." He asked where I had known him. Said I, "Did you belong to His Majesty's ship, Rodney, of 74 guns, stationed in the Mediterranean in the years 1810-12?" He replied in the affirmative. "I knew you there," said I, "do you remember me?" "No, your honor. Were you one of the lieutenants? or what office did you fill? or were you one of the officers of the American merchant ship we detained?" "Neither of these," I replied. But from the many questions I asked him, he was satisfied that I knew him. We had eaten at the same table for about eighteen months.
Go to CHAPTER XI.
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