or, A Life Before the Mast
By James Fenimore Cooper.
Thou unrelenting Past! Strong are the barriers round thy dark domain, And fetters sure and fast Hold all that enter thy unbreathing reign. BRYANT
Entered, according to the Act of Congress, in the year 1843, by
J. Fenimore Cooper,
in the clerk's office of the District Court of the United States for the Northern district of New York.
It is an old remark, that the life of any man, could the incidents be faithfully told, would possess interest and instruction for the general reader. The conviction of the perfect truth of this saying, has induced the writer to commit to paper, the vicissitudes, escapes, and opinions of one of his old shipmates, as a sure means of giving the public some just notions of the career of a common sailor. In connection with the amusement that many will find in following a foremast Jack in his perils and voyages, however, it is hoped that the experience and moral change of Myers may have a salutary influence on the minds of some of those whose fortunes have been, or are likely to be, cast in a mould similar to that of this old salt.
As the reader will feel a natural desire to understand how far the editor can vouch for the truth of that which he has here written, and to be informed on the subject of the circumstances that have brought him acquainted with the individual whose adventures form the subject of this little work, as much shall be told as may be necessary to a proper understanding of these two points.
First, then, as to the writer's own knowledge of the career of the subject of his present work. In the year 1806, the editor, then a lad, fresh from Yale, and destined for the navy, made his first voyage in a merchantman, with a view to get some practical knowledge of his profession. This was the fashion of the day, though its utility, on the whole, may very well be questioned. The voyage was a long one, including some six or eight passages, and extending to near the close of the year 1807. On board the ship was Myers, an apprentice to the captain. Ned, as Myers was uniformly called, was a lad, as well as the writer; and, as a matter of course, the intimacy of a ship existed between them. Ned, however, was the junior, and was not then compelled to face all the hardships and servitude that fell to the lot of the writer.
Once, only, after the crew was broken up, did the writer and Ned actually see each other, and that only for a short time. This was in 1809. In 1833, they were, for half an hour, on board the same ship, without knowing the fact at the time. A few months since, Ned, rightly imagining that the author of the Pilot must be his old shipmate, wrote the former a letter to ascertain the truth. The correspondence produced a meeting, and the meeting a visit from Ned to the editor. It was in consequence of the revelations made in this visit that the writer determined to produce the following work.
The writer has the utmost confidence in all the statements of Ned, so far as intention is concerned. Should he not be mistaken on some points, he is an exception to the great rule which governs the opinions and recollections of the rest of the human family. Still, nothing is related that the writer has any reasons for distrusting. In a few instances he has interposed his own greater knowledge of the world between Ned's more limited experience and the narrative; but, this has been done cautiously, and only in cases in which there can be little doubt that the narrator has been deceived by appearances, or misled by ignorance. The reader, however, is not to infer that Ned has no greater information than usually falls to the share of a foremast hand. This is far from being the case. When first known to the writer, his knowledge was materially above that of the ordinary class of lads in his situation; giving ample proof that he had held intercourse with persons of a condition in life, if not positively of the rank of gentlemen, of one that was not much below it. In a word, his intelligence on general subjects was such as might justly render him the subject of remark on board a ship. Although much of his after-life was thrown away, portions of it passed in improvement; leaving Ned, at this moment, a man of quick apprehension, considerable knowledge, and of singularly shrewd comments. If to this be added the sound and accurate moral principles that now appear to govern both his acts and his opinions, we find a man every way entitled to speak for himself; the want of the habit of communicating his thoughts to the public, alone excepted.
In this book, the writer has endeavoured to adhere as closely to the very language of his subject, as circumstances will at all allow; and in many places he feels confident that no art of his own could, in any respect, improve it.
It is probable that a good deal of distrust will exist on the subject of the individual whom Ned supposes to have been one of his god-fathers. On this head the writer can only say, that the account which Myers has given in this work, is substantially the same as that which he gave the editor nearly forty years ago, at an age and under circumstances that forbid the idea of any intentional deception. The account is confirmed by his sister, who is the oldest of the two children, and who retains a distinct recollection of the prince, as indeed does Ned himself. The writer supposes these deserted orphans to have been born out of wedlock—though he has no direct proof to this effect—and there is nothing singular in the circumstance of a man of the highest rank, that of a sovereign excepted, appearing at the font in behalf of the child of a dependant. A member of the royal family, indeed, might be expected to do this, to favour one widely separated from him by birth and station, sooner than to oblige a noble, who might possibly presume on the condescension.
It remains only to renew the declaration, that every part of this narrative is supposed to be true. The memory of Ned may occasionally fail him; and, as for his opinions, they doubtless are sometimes erroneous; but the writer has the fullest conviction that it is the intention of the Old Salt to relate nothing that he does hot believe to have occurred, or to express an unjust sentiment. On the subject of his reformation, so far as "the tree is to be known by its fruits" it is entirely sincere; the language, deportment, habits, and consistency of this well-meaning tar, being those of a cheerful and confiding Christian, without the smallest disposition to cant or exaggeration. In this particular, he is a living proof of the efficacy of faith, and of the power of the Holy Spirit to enlighten the darkest understanding, and to quicken the most apathetic conscience.
In consenting to lay before the world the experience of a common seaman, and, I may add, of one who has been such a sinner as the calling is only too apt to produce, I trust that no feeling of vanity has had an undue influence. I love the seas; and it is a pleasure to me to converse about them, and of the scenes I have witnessed, and of the hardships I have undergone on their bosom, in various parts of the world. Meeting with an old shipmate who is disposed to put into proper form the facts which I can give him, and believing that my narrative may be useful to some of those who follow the same pursuit as that in which I have been so long engaged, I see no evil in the course I am now taking, while I humbly trust it may be the means of effecting some little good. God grant that the pictures I shall feel bound to draw of my own past degradation and failings, contrasted as they must be with my present contentment and hopes, may induce some one, at least, of my readers to abandon the excesses so common among seamen, and to turn their eyes in the direction of those great truths which are so powerful to reform, and so convincing when regarded with humility, and with a just understanding of our own weaknesses.
I know nothing of my family, except through my own youthful recollections, and the accounts I have received from my sister. My father I slightly remember; but of my mother I retain no distinct impressions. The latter must have died while I was very young. The former, I was in the habit of often seeing, until I reached my fifth or sixth year. He was a soldier, and belonged to the twenty-third regimen of foot, in the service of the King of Great Britain. The fourth son of this monarch, Prince Edward as he was then called, or the Duke of Kent as he was afterwards styled, commanded the corps, and accompanied it to the British American colonies, where it was stationed for many years.
I was born in Quebec, between the years 1792 and 1794; probably in 1793. Of the rank of my father in the regiment, I am unable to speak, though I feel pretty confident he was a commissioned officer. He was much with the prince; and I remember that, on parade, where I have often seen him, he was in the habit of passing frequently from the prince to the ranks—a circumstance that induces my old shipmate to think he may have been the adjutant. My father, I have always understood, was a native of Hanover, and the son of a clergyman in that country. My mother, also, was said to be a German, though very little is now known of her by any of the family. She is described to me as living much alone, as being occupied in pursuits very different from those of my father, and as being greatly averse to the life of a soldier.
I was baptized in the Church of England, and, from earliest boyhood, have always been given to understand that His Royal Highness, Prince Edward, the father of Queen Victoria, stood for me at the font; Major Walker, of the same regiment, being the other god-father, and Mrs. Walker, his wife, my god-mother. My real names are Edward Robert Meyers; those received in baptism having been given me by my two sponsors, after themselves. This christening, like my birth, occurred in Quebec. I have, however, called myself Edward, or Ned, Myers, ever since I took to the sea.
Before I was old enough to receive impressions to be retained, the regiment removed to Halifax. My father accompanied it; and, of course, his two children, my sister Harriet and myself, were taken to Nova Scotia. Of the period of my life that was passed in Halifax, I retain tolerably distinct recollections; more especially of the later years. The prince and my father both remained with the regiment for a considerable time; though all quitted Halifax several years before I left it myself. I remember Prince Edward perfectly well. He sometimes resided at a house called The Lodge, a little out of town; and I was often taken out to see him. He also had a residence in town. He took a good deal of notice of me; raising me in his arms, and kissing me. When he passed our house, I would run to him; and he would lead me through the streets himself. On more than one occasion, he led me off, and sent for the regimental tailor; directing suits of clothes to be made for me, after his own taste. He was a large man; of commanding presence, and frequently wore a star on the breast of his coat. He was not then called the Duke of Kent, but Prince Edward, or The Prince. A lady lived with him at the Lodge; but who she was, I do not know.
At this time, my mother must have been dead; for of her I retain no recollection whatever. I think, my father left Halifax some time before the prince. Major Walker, too, went to England; leaving Mrs. Walker in Nova Scotia, for some time. Whether my father went away with a part of the regiment to which he belonged, or not, I cannot say but I well remember a conversation between the prince, the major and Mrs. Walker, in which they spoke of the loss of a transport, and of Meyers's saving several men. This must have been at the time when my father quitted Nova Scotia; to which province, I think, he never could have returned. Neither my sister, nor myself, ever saw him afterwards. We have understood that he was killed in battle; though when, or where, we do not know. My old shipmate, the editor, however, thinks it must have been in Canada; as letters were received from a friend in Quebec, after I had quitted Nova Scotia, inquiring after us children, and stating that the effects of my father were in that town, and ought to belong to us. This letter gave my sister the first account of his death; though it was not addressed to her, but to those in whose care she had been left. This property was never recovered; and my shipmate, who writes this account, thinks there may have been legal difficulties in the way.
Previously to quitting the province of Nova Scotia, my father placed Harriet and myself in the house of a Mr. Marchinton, to live. This gentleman was a clergyman, who had no regular parish, but who preached in a chapel of his own. He sent us both to school, and otherwise took charge of us. I am not aware of the precise time when the prince left Halifax, but it must have been when I was five or six years old—probably about the year 1798 or 1799.
From that time I continued at Mr. Marchinton's, attending school, and busied, as is usual with boys of that age, until the year 1805. I fear I was naturally disposed to idleness and self-indulgence, for I became restive and impatient under the restraints of the schoolmaster, and of the gentleman in whose family I had been left. I do not know that I had any just grounds of complaint against Mr. Marchinton; but his rigorous discipline disgusted me; principally, I am now inclined to believe, because it was not agreeable to me to be kept under any rigid moral restraint. I do not think I was very vicious; and, I know, I was far from being of a captious temperament; but I loved to be my own master; and I particularly disliked everything like religious government. Mr. Marchinton, moreover, kept me out of the streets; and it was my disposition to be an idler, and at play. It is possible he may have been a little too severe for one of my temperament; though, I fear, nature gave me a roving and changeful mind.
At that time the English cruisers sent in many American vessels as prizes. Our house was near the water; and I was greatly in the habit of strolling along the wharves, whenever an opportunity occurred; Mr. Marchinton owning a good deal of property in that part of the town. The Cambrian frigate had a midshipman, a little older than myself, who had been a schoolmate of mine. This lad, whose name was Bowen, was sent in as the nominal prize-master of a brig loaded with coffee; and I no sooner learned the fact, than I began to pay him visits. Young Bowen encouraged me greatly, in a wish that now arose within me, to become a sailor. I listened eagerly to the history of his adventures, and felt the usual boyish emulation. Mr. Marchinton seemed averse to my following the profession, and these visits became frequent and stealthy; my wishes, most probably, increasing, in proportion as they seemed difficult of accomplishment.
I soon began to climb the rigging of the brig, ascending to the mast-heads. One day Mr. Marchinton saw me quite at the main-truck; and, calling me down, I got a severe flogging for my dexterity and enterprise. It sometimes happens that punishment produces a result exactly opposite to that which was intended; and so it turned out in the present instance. My desire to be a sailor increased in consequence of this very flogging; and I now began seriously to think of running away, in order to get to sea, as well as to escape a confinement on shore, that, to me, seemed unreasonable. Another prize, called the Amsterdam Packet, a Philadelphia ship, had been sent in by, I believe, the Cleopatra, Sir Robert Laurie. On board this ship were two American lads, apprentices. With these boys I soon formed an intimacy; and their stories of the sea, and their accounts of the States, coupled with the restraints I fancied I endured, gave rise to a strong desire to see their country, as well as to become a sailor. They had little to do, and enjoyed great liberty, going and coming much as they pleased. This idleness seemed, to me, to form the summit of human happiness. I did not often dare to play truant; and the school became odious to me. According to my recollections, this desire for a change must have existed near, or quite a twelvemonth; being constantly fed by the arrival and departure of vessels directly before my eyes, ere I set about the concocting of a serious plan to escape.
My project was put in execution in the summer of 1805, when I could not have been more than eleven years old, if, indeed, quite as old. I was in the market one day, and overheard some American seamen, who had been brought in, conversing of a schooner that was on the point of leaving Halifax, for New York. This vessel belonged to North Carolina, and had been captured by the Driver, some time before, but had been liberated by a decision of the Admiralty Court. The men I overheard talking about her, intended taking their passages back to their own country in the craft. This seemed to me a good opportunity to effect my purpose, and I went from the market, itself, down to the schooner. The mate was on board alone, and I took courage, and asked him if he did not want to ship a boy. My dress and appearance were both against me, as I had never done any work, and was in the ordinary attire of a better class lad on shore. The mate began to laugh at me, and to joke me on my desire to go to sea, questioning me about my knowledge. I was willing to do anything; but, perceiving that I made little impression, I resorted to bribery. Prince Edward had made me a present, before he left Halifax, of a beautiful little fowling-piece, which was in my own possession; and I mentioned to the mate that I was the owner of such an article, and would give it to him if he would consent to secrete me in the schooner, and carry me to New York. This bait took, and I was told to bring the fowling, piece on board, and let the mate see it. That night I carried the bribe, as agreed on, to this man, who was perfectly satisfied with its appearance, and we struck a bargain on the spot. I then returned to the house, and collected a few of my clothes. I knew that my sister, Harriet, was making some shirts for me, and I stole into her room, and brought away two of them, which were all I could find. My wardrobe was not large when I left the house, and I had taken the precaution of carrying the articles out one at a time, and of secreting them in an empty cask in the yard. When I thought I had got clothes enough, I made them into a bundle, and carried them down to the schooner. The mate then cleared out a locker in the cabin, in which there were some potatoes, and told me I must make up my mind to pass a few hours in that narrow berth. Too thoughtless to raise any objections, I cheerfully consented, and took my leave of him with the understanding that I was to be on board, again, early in the morning.
Before going to bed, I desired a black servant of Mr. Marchinton's to call me about day-break, as I desired to go out and pick berries. This was done, and I was up and dressed before any other member of the family was stirring. I lost no time, but quitted the house, and walked deliberately down to the schooner. No one was up on board of her, and I was obliged to give the mate a call, myself. This man now seemed disposed to draw back from his bargain, and I had to use a good deal of persuasion before I could prevail on him to be as good as his word. He did not like to part with the fowling-piece, but seemed to think it would be fairly purchased, could he persuade me to run away. At length he yielded, and I got into the locker, where I was covered with potatoes.
I was a good while in this uncomfortable situation, before there were any signs of the vessel's quitting the wharf. I began to grow heartily tired of the confinement, and the love of change revived within me in a new form. The potatoes were heavy for me to bear, and the confined air rendered my prison almost insupportable. I was on the point of coming out of prison, when the noise on deck gave me the comfortable assurance that the people had come on board, and that the schooner was about to sail. I could hear men conversing, and, after a period of time that seemed an age, I felt satisfied the schooner was fairly under way. I heard a hail from one of the forts as we passed down the harbour, and, not long after, the Driver, the very sloop of war that had sent the vessel in, met her, and quite naturally hailed her old prize, also. All this I heard in my prison, and it served to reconcile me to the confinement. As everything was right, the ship did not detain us, and we were permitted to proceed.
It was noon before I was released. Going on deck, I found that the schooner was at sea. Nothing of Halifax was visible but a tower or two, that were very familiar objects to me. I confess I now began to regret the step I had taken, and, could I have been landed, it is probable my roving disposition would have received a salutary check. It was too late, however, and I was compelled to continue in the thorny and difficult path on which I had so thoughtlessly entered. I often look back to this moment, and try to imagine what might have been my fortunes, had I never taken this unlucky step. What the prince might have done for me, it is impossible to say; though I think it probable that, after the death of my father, I should have been forgotten, as seems to have been the case with my sister, who gradually fell from being considered and treated as one of the family in which she lived, into a sort of upper servant.
I have learned, latterly, that Mr. Marchinton had a great search made for me. It was his impression I was drowned, and several places were dragged for my body. This opinion lasted until news of my being in New York reached the family.
My appearance on deck gave rise to a great many jokes between the captain of the schooner, and his mate. I was a good deal laughed at, but not badly treated, on the whole. My office was to be that of cook—by no means a very difficult task in that craft, the camboose consisting of two pots set in bricks, and the dishes being very simple. In the cabin, sassafras was used for tea, and boiled pork and beef composed the dinner. The first day, I was excused from entering on the duties of my office, on account of sea-sickness; but, the next morning, I set about the work in good earnest. We had a long passage, and my situation was not very pleasant. The schooner was wet, and the seas she shipped would put out my fire. There was a deck load of shingles, and I soon discovered that these made excellent kindling wood; but it was against the rules of the craft to burn cargo, and my friend the mate had bestowed a few kicks on me before I learned to make the distinction. In other respects, I did tolerably well; and, at the end of about ten days, we entered Sandy Hook.
Such was my first passage at sea, or, at least, the first I can remember, though I understand we were taken from Quebec to Halifax by water. I was not cured of the wish to roam by this experiment, though, at that age, impressions are easily received, and as readily lost. Some idea may be formed of my recklessness, and ignorance of such matters, at this time, from the circumstance that I do not remember ever to have known the name of the vessel in which I left Nova Scotia. Change and adventure were my motives, and it never occurred to me to inquire into a fact that was so immaterial to one of my temperament. To this hour, I am ignorant on the subject.
The schooner came up, and hauled in abreast of Fly Market. She did not come close to the wharf, but made fast, temporarily, at its end, outside of two or three other vessels. This took place not long after breakfast. I set about the preparations for dinner, which was ready, as usual, at twelve o'clock. While the crew were eating this meal, I had nothing to do, and, seeing a number of boys on the wharf, I went ashore, landing for the first time in this, my adopted country. I was without hat, coat, or shoes; my feet having become sore from marching about among the shingles. The boys were licking molasses from some hogsheads, and I joined in the occupation with great industry. I might have been occupied in this manner, and in talking with the boys, an hour or more, when I bethought me of my duty on board. On looking for the schooner, she was gone! Her people, no doubt, thought I was below, and did not miss me, and she had been carried to some other berth; where, I did not know. I could not find her, nor did I ever see her again.
Such, then, was my entrance on a new scene. Had I known enough to follow the wharves, doubtless I should have found the vessel; but, after a short search, I returned to the boys and the molasses.
That I was concerned at finding myself in a strange place, without a farthing in my pockets—without hat, shoes or coat, is certain—but it is wonderful how little apprehension I felt. I knew nothing, and feared nothing. While licking the molasses, I told the boys my situation; and I met with a great deal of sympathy among them. The word passed from one to the other, that a "poor English boy had lost his vessel, and did not know where to go to pass the night." One promised me a supper; and, as for lodgings, the general opinion seemed to be, that I might find a berth under one of the butchers' stalls, in the adjacent market. I had different projects for myself, however.
There was a family of the name of Clark, then residing in New York, that I had known in Halifax. I remembered to have heard my sister, Harriet, speaking of them, not long before I quitted home, and that she said they lived in, or near, Fly Market. I knew we were at Fly Market; and the name recalled these people. I inquired, accordingly, if any one knew such a family; but met with no success in discovering them. They were strangers; and no one knew them. It was now near sunset; and I determined to look for these people myself. On this errand, then, I set off; walking up the market until I reached Maiden Lane. While strolling along the street, I heard a female voice suddenly exclaim: "Lord! here is Edward Myers, without anything on him!" At the next instant, Susan Clark, one of the daughters, came running into the street; and presently I was in the house, surrounded by the whole family.
Of course, I was closely questioned; and I told the whole truth. The Clarks were extremely kind to me, offering me clothes, and desiring to keep me with them; but I did not like the family, owing to old quarrels with the boys, and a certain sternness in the father, who had made complaints of my stealing his fruit, while in Halifax. I was innocent; and the whole proceeding had made me regard Mr. Clark as a sort of enemy. My principal motive, in inquiring for the family, was to learn where a certain Dr. Heizer lived. This gentleman was a German, who had formerly been in the army; and I knew he was then in New York. In him I had more confidence; and I determined to throw myself on his kindness.
After declining a great many offers, I got the address of Dr. Heizer, and proceeded in quest of his residence, just as I was. It was moonlight, and I went through the streets with boyish confidence. My route lay up Broadway, and my destination was one of its corners and Hester Street. In 1805, this was nearly out of town, being near Canal street. I had been told to look for a bridge, which then stood in Broadway, and which answered for a landmark, in my new navigation. The bridge I found easily; and, making inquiries at a house, I was told the family I sought lived next door.
The Heizers were greatly surprised at my appearance. I was questioned, of course; and told them the naked truth. I knew concealment would be useless; was naturally frank, notwithstanding what I had just done; and I began to feel the want of friends. I was fed; and that same evening, Dr. and Mrs. Heizer led me down Broadway, and equipped me in a neat suit of clothes. Within a week, I was sent regularly to school.
I never knew what Dr. Heizer did, in relation to my arrival. I cannot but think that he communicated the circumstances to Mr. Marchinton, who was well known to him; though, Harriet tell me, the first intelligence they got of me was of a much later date, and came from another source. Let this be as it might, I was kindly treated; living, in all respects, as if I were one of the family. There was no son; and they all seemed to consider me as one.
I remained in this family the autumn of 1805, and the winter and spring of 1806. I soon tired of school, and began to play truant; generally wandering along the wharves, gazing at the ships. Dr. Heizer soon learned this; and, watching me, discovered the propensity I still retained for the sea. He and Mrs. Heizer now took me aside, and endeavoured to persuade me to return to Halifax; but I had become more and more averse to taking this backward step. To own the truth, I had fearful misgivings on the subject of floggings; and I dreaded a long course of severity and discipline. It is certain, that, while rigid rules of conduct are very necessary to some dispositions, there are others with which they do not succeed. Mine was of the latter class; for, I think, I am more easily led, than driven. At all events, I had a horror of going back; and refused to listen to the proposal. After a good deal of conversation, and many efforts at persuasion, Dr. Heizer consented to let me go to sea, from New York; or affected to consent; I never knew which.
The Leander, Miranda's flag-ship, in his abortive attempt to create a revolution in Spanish-America, was then lying in the Hudson; and Dr. Heizer, who was acquainted with some one connected with her, placed me in this ship, with the understanding I was to go in her to Holland. I passed the day on board; going up to my new employer's house, for my meals, and to sleep. This course of life may have lasted a fortnight; when I became heartily tired of it. I found I had a mistress, now, as well as a master. The former set me to cleaning knives, boots, candlesticks, and other similar employments; converting me into a sort of scullion. My pride revolted at this. I have since thought it possible, all this was done to create disgust, and to induce me to return to Mr. Marchinton; but it had a very contrary effect.
My desire was to be a sailor. One Sunday I had been on board the ship, and, after assisting the mate to show the bunting fore and aft, I went back to the house. Here my mistress met me with a double allowance of knives to clean. We had a quarrel on the subject; I protesting against all such work. But to clean the knives I was compelled. About half were thrown over the fence, into the adjoining yard; and, cleaning what remained, I took my hat, went to the doctor's, and saw no more of my mistress, or of the Leander.
An explanation took place. Dr. and Mrs. Heizer remonstrated about my conduct, and endeavoured, once more, to persuade me to return to Mr. Marchinton's. A great deal was told me of the kind intentions of that gentleman, and concerning what I might expect from the protection and patronage of my god-father, the Duke of Kent. I cannot help thinking, now, that much of the favour which was extended towards me at that early period of life, was owing to the circumstance that the prince had consented to stand for me at my baptism. He was a great disciplinarian—so great, indeed, I remember to have heard, as to cause more than one mutiny—and my father being a German, and coming from a people that carried military subordination to extremes, it is highly probable I was indebted, for this compliment, to a similarity of tastes between the two. I cared little for all this, however, in 1805, and thought far less of being protected by a prince of the blood royal, than of going to sea, and especially of escaping from the moral discipline of Mr. Marchinton. Finding his arguments vain, Dr. Heizer sent me to school again, where I continued a few months longer.
All this time, my taste for ships rather increased than diminished. At every opportunity I was on the wharves, studying the different craft, and endeavouring to understand their rig. One day I saw a British ensign, and, while looking at it, with a feeling of strong disgust, I heard myself called by name. A glance told me that I was seen by a Halifax man, and I ran away, under the apprehension that he might, by some means, seize me and carry me back. My feelings on this head were all alive, and that very day one of the young ladies said, in a melancholy way, "Edouard," "Halifax." These girls spoke scarcely any English, having been born in Martinique; and they talked much together in French, looking at me occasionally, as if I were the subject of their discourse. It is probable conscience was at the bottom of this conceit of mine; but the latter now became so strong, as to induce me to determine to look out for a vessel for myself, and be off again. With this view, I quitted a negro who had been sent with me to market, under the pretence of going to school, but went along the wharves until I found a ship that took my fancy. She was called the Sterling, and there was a singularly good-looking mate on her deck, of the name of Irish, who was a native of Nantucket. The ship was commanded by Capt. John Johnston, of Wiscasset, in Maine, and belonged to his father and himself.
I went on board the Sterling, and, after looking about for some time, I ventured to offer myself to Mr. Irish, as a boy who wished to ship. I was questioned, of course, but evaded any very close answers. After some conversation, Capt. Johnston came on board, and Mr. Irish told him what I wanted. My examination now became much closer, and I found myself driven to sheer fabrication in order to effect my purposes. During my intercourse with different sea-going lads of Halifax, I had learned the particulars of the capture of the Cleopatra 32, by the French frigate Ville de Milan 38, and her recapture by the Leander 50, which ship captured the Ville de Milan at the same time. I said my father had been a serjeant of marines, and was killed in the action—that I had run away when the ships got in, and that I wished to be bound to some American ship-master, in order to become a regularly-trained seaman. This story so far imposed on Capt. Johnston as to induce him to listen to my proposals, and in part to accept them. We parted with an understanding that I was to get my clothes, and come on board the vessel.
It was twelve at noon when I got back to Dr. Heizer's. My first business was to get my clothes into the yard, a few at a time; after which I ate my dinner with the family. As soon as we rose from table, I stole away with my bundle, leaving these kind people to believe I had returned to school. I never saw one of them afterwards! On my return to New York, several years later, I learned they had all gone to Martinique to live. I should not have quitted this excellent family in so clandestine a manner, had I not been haunted with the notion that I was about to be sent back to Halifax, a place I now actually hated.
Capt. Johnston received me good-naturedly, and that night I slept and supped at the Old Coffee House, Old Slip—his own lodgings. He seemed pleased with me, and I was delighted with him. The next day he took me to a slop-shop, and I was rigged like a sailor, and was put in the cabin, where I was to begin my service in the regular way. A boy named Daniel McCoy was in the ship, and had been out to Russia in her, as cabin-boy, the last voyage. He was now to be sent into the forecastle, and was ordered to instruct me in my duty.
I was now comparatively happy, though anxious to be bound to Capt. Johnston, and still more so to be fairly at sea. The Sterling had a good, old-fashioned cabin, as cabins went in 1806; and I ran about her state-room, rummaged her lockers, and scampered up and down her companion-way, with as much satisfaction as if they had all belonged to a palace. Dan McCoy was every day on board, and we had the accommodations of the ship very much to ourselves. Two or three days later, Capt. Johnston took me to the proper place, and I was put under regular indentures, to serve until I was twenty-one. I now felt more confidence in my situation, knowing that Dr. Heizer had no legal authority over me. The work I did, in no manner offended my dignity, for it was on ship-board, and belonged properly to my duty as a cabin-boy.
The Sterling soon began to take in her cargo. She was to receive a freight of flour, for Cowes and a market. Not only was the hold filled, but the state-room and cabin, leaving barely room to climb over the barrels to reach the berths. A place was left, just inside of the cabin door, for the table. Passengers were not common in that day, while commerce was pushed to the utmost. Our sails were bending when the consignee, followed by another merchant, came down to the ship, accompanied by a youth, who, it was understood, wished also to be received in the vessel. This youth was named Cooper, and was never called by any other appellation in the ship. He was accepted by Capt. Johnston, signed the articles, and the next day he joined us, in sailor's rig. He never came to the cabin, but was immediately employed forward, in such service as he was able to perform. It was afterwards understood that he was destined for the navy.
The very day that Cooper joined us, was one of deep disgrace to me. The small stores came on board for the cabin, and Dan McCoy persuaded me to try the flavour of a bottle of cherry-bounce. I did not drink much, but the little I swallowed made me completely drunk. This was the first time I ever was in that miserable and disgraceful plight; would to God I could also say it was the last! The last it was, however, for several years; that is some comfort. I thank my Divine Master that I have lived to see the hour when intoxicating liquors have ceased to have any command over me, and when, indeed, they never pass my lips. Capt. Johnston did not flog me for this act of folly, merely pulling my ears a little, and sharply reprimanding me; both he and Mr. Irish seeming to understand that my condition had proceeded from the weakness of my head. Dan was the principal sufferer, as, to say the truth, he ought to have been. He was rope's-ended for his pains.
Next day the stevedores took the ship in to the stream, and the crew came on board. The assembling of the crew of a merchantman, in that day, was a melancholy sight. The men came off, bearing about them the signs of the excesses of which they had been guilty while on shore; some listless and stupid, others still labouring under the effects of liquor, and some in that fearful condition which seamen themselves term having the "horrors." Our crew was neither better nor worse than that of other ships. It was also a sample of the mixed character of the crews of American vessels during the height of her neutral trade. The captain, chief-mate, cook, and four of those forward, were American born; while the second-mate was a Portuguese. The boys were, one Scotch, and one a Canadian; and there were a Spaniard, a Prussian, a Dane, and an Englishman, in the forecastle. There was also an Englishman who worked his passage, having been the cooper of a whaler that was wrecked. As Dan McCoy was sent forward, too, this put ten in the forecastle, besides the cook, and left five aft, including the master of another wrecked English vessel, whom we took out as a passenger.
That afternoon we lifted our anchor, and dropped down abreast of Governor's Island, where we brought up. Next day all hands were called to get under way, and, as soon as the anchor was short, the mate told Cooper and myself to go up and loose the fore-top-sail. I went on one yard-arm and Cooper went on the other. In a few minutes the second mate came up, hallooing to us to "avast," and laughing. Cooper was hard at work at the "robins," and would soon have had his half of the sail down in the top, had he been let alone; while I was taking the gaskets from the yard, with the intention of bringing them carefully down on deck, where it struck me they would be quite safe. Luckily for us, the men were too busy heaving, and too stupid, to be very critical, and we escaped much ridicule. In a week we both knew better.
The ship only got to the quarantine ground that day, but in the morning we went to sea. Our passage was long and stormy. The ship was on a bow-line most of the time, and we were something like forty days from land to land. Nothing extraordinary occurred, however, and we finally made the Bill of Portland. The weather came on thick, but we found a pilot, and ran into St. Helen's Roads and anchored. The captain got into his boat, and taking four men pulled ashore, to look for his orders at Cowes.
That afternoon it cleared off, and we found a pilot lying a little outside of us. About sunset a man-of-war's cutter came alongside, and Mr. Irish was ordered to muster the crew. The English lieutenant, who was tolerably bowsed up, took his seat behind the cabin table, while the men came down, and stood in the companion-way passage, to be overhauled. Most of the foreigners had gone in the boat, but two of the Americans that remained were uncommonly fine-looking men, and were both prime seamen. One, whose name was Thomas Cook, was a six-footer, and had the air of a thorough sea-dog. He filled the lieutenant's eye mightily, and Cook was very coolly told to gather his dunnage, as he was wanted. Cook pointed to his protection, but the lieutenant answered—"Oh! these things are nothing—anybody can have one for two dollars, in New York. You are an Englishman, and the King has need of your services." Cook now took out of his pocket a certificate, that was signed by Sir John Beresford, stating that Thomas Cook had been discharged from His Maj. Ship Cambrian, after a pretty long service in her, because he had satisfactorily proved that he was a native-born American. The lieutenant could not very well dishonour this document, and he reluctantly let Cook go, keeping his protection, however. He next selected Isaac Gaines, a native New Yorker, a man whose father and friends were known to the captain. But Gaines had no discharge like that of Cook's, and the poor fellow was obliged to rowse up his chest and get into the cutter. This he did with tears in his eyes, and to the regret of all on board, he being one of the best men in the ship. We asked the boat's crew to what vessel they belonged, and they gave us the name of a sixty-four in the offing, but we observed, as they pulled away from us, that they took the direction of another ship. This was the last I ever saw, or heard, of Isaac Gaines. Cook went on with us, and one day, while in London, he went with Cooper to Somerset House to get an order for some prize-money, to which he was entitled for his service in the Cambrian, as was shown by his discharge. The clerk asked him to leave the certificate, and call a day or two later, when he would have searched out the amount. This was done, and Cook, being now without certificate or protection, was pressed on his way back to the ship. We never heard of him, either. Such was often the fate of sailors, in that day, who were with you one day, and lost for ever the next.
Captain Johnston did not get back to the ship for four-and-twenty hours. He brought orders for us to go up to London; and, the wind being fair, and almost a gale, we got under way, and were off as soon as possible. The next morning we were in the straits of Dover; the wind light, but fair. This was at a moment when all England was in arms, in anticipation of an invasion from France. Forty odd sail of vessels of war were counted from our ship, as the day dawned, that had been cruising in the narrow waters, during the night, to prevent a surprise.
We worked our way up to London, with the tides, and were carried into London dock; where we discharged. This was my first visit to the modern Babylon, of course; but I had little opportunity of seeing much. I had one or two cruises, of a Sunday, in tow of Cooper, who soon became a branch pilot, in those waters, about the parks and west end but I was too young to learn much, or to observe much. Most of us went to see the monument, St. Paul's, and the lions; and Cooper put himself in charge of a beef-eater, and took a look at the arsenals, jewels and armoury. He had a rum time of it, in his sailor rig, but hoisted in a wonderful deal of gibberish, according to his own account of his cruise.
Captain Johnston now got a freight for the ship, and we hauled into the stream, abreast of the dock-gates, and took in shingle ballast. The Prussian, Dane, second mate, and the English cooper, all left us, in London. We got a Philadelphian, a chap from Maine, who had just been discharged from an English man-of-war, and an Irish lad, in their places. In January we sailed, making the best of our way for the straits of Gibraltar. The passage was stormy—the Bay of Biscay, in particular, giving us a touch of its qualities. It was marked by only two incidents, however, out of the usual way. While running down the coast of Portugal, with the land in sight, we made an armed felucca astern, and to windward. This vessel gave chase; and, the captain disliking her appearance, we carried hard, in order to avoid her. The weather was thick, and it blew fresh, occasionally, in squalls. Whenever it lulled, the felucca gained on us, we having, a very little, the advantage in the puffs. At length the felucca began to fire; and, finding that his shot were coming pretty near, Captain Johnston, knowing that he was in ballast, thought it wisest to heave-to. Ten minutes after our main-top-sail was aback, the felucca ranged up close under our lee; hailed, and ordered us to send a boat, with our papers, on board her. A more rascally-looking craft never gave such an order to an unarmed merchantman. As our ship rose on a sea, and he fell into the trough, we could look directly down upon his decks, and thus form some notion of what we were to expect, when he got possession of us. His people were in red caps and shirts, and appeared to be composed of the rakings of such places as Gibraltar, Cadiz and Lisbon. He had ten long guns; and pikes, pistols and muskets, were plenty with him. On the end of each latine-yard was a chap on the look-out, who occasionally turned his eyes towards us, as if to anticipate the gleanings. That we should be plundered, every one expected; and it was quite likely we might be ill-treated. As soon as we hove-to, Captain Johnston gave me the best spy-glass, with orders to hand it to Cooper, to hide. The latter buried it in the shingle ballast. We, in the cabin, concealed a bag of guineas so effectually, that, after all was over, we could not find it ourselves.
The jolly-boat had been stowed in the launch, on account of the rough weather we had expected to meet, and tackles had to be got aloft before we could hoist it out. This consumed some time, during which there was a lull. The felucca, seeing us busy at this work, waited patiently until we had got the boat over the side, and into the water. Cooper, Dan McCoy, Big Dan, and Spanish Joe, then got into her; and the captain had actually passed his writing-desk into the boat, and had his leg on the rail, to go over the side himself, when a squall struck the ship. The men were called out of the boat to clew down the topsails, and a quarter of an hour passed in taking care of the vessel. By this time the squall had passed, and it lightened up a little. There lay the felucca, waiting for the boat; and the men were reluctantly going into the latter again, when the commander of the felucca waved his hand to us, his craft fell off and filled, wing-and-wing, skimming away towards the coast, like a duck. We stood gaping and staring at her, not knowing what to make of this manoeuvre, when "bang!" went a heavy gun, a little on our weather quarter. The shot passed our wake, for we had filled our topsail, and it went skipping from sea to sea, after the felucca. Turning our eyes in the direction of the report, we saw a frigate running down upon the felucca, carrying studding-sails on both sides, with the water foaming up to her hawse-holes. As she passed our stern, she showed an English ensign, but took no other notice of us, continuing on after the felucca, and occasionally measuring her distance with a shot. Both vessels soon disappeared in the mist, though we heard guns for some time. As for ourselves, we jogged along on our course, wishing good luck to the Englishman. The felucca showed no ensign, the whole day. Our guineas were found, some weeks later, in a bread-locker, after we had fairly eaten our way down to them.
The other adventure occurred very soon after this escape; for, though the felucca may have had a commission, she was a pirate in appearance, and most probably in her practices. The thick westerly weather continued until we had passed the Straits. The night we were abreast of Cape Trafalgar, the captain came on deck in the middle watch, and, hailing the forecastle, ordered a sharp look-out kept, as we must be running through Lord Collingwood's fleet. The words were hardly out of his mouth, when Spanish Joe sung out, "sail ho!" There she was, sure enough, travelling right down upon us, in a line that threatened to take us between the fore and main masts. The captain ordered our helm hard up, and yelled for Cooper to bring up the cabin lantern. The youngster made one leap down the ladder, just scraping the steps with his heels, and was in the mizzen rigging with the light, in half a minute. That saved us. So near was the stranger, that we plainly heard the officer of the deck call out to his own quarter-master to "port, hard a-port—hard a-port, and be d——d to you!" Hard a-port it was, and a two-decker came brushing along on our weather beam—so near, that, when she lifted on the seas, it seemed as if the muzzles of her guns would smash our rails. The Sterling did not behave well on this occasion, for, getting a yaw to windward, she seemed disposed to go right into the Englishman, before she would mind her helm. After the man-of-war hailed, and got our answer, her officer quaintly remarked that we were "close on board him." It blew too fresh for boats, and we were suffered to pass without being boarded.
The ship proceeded up to Carthagena, and went in. Here we were put in quarantine for several days. The port was full of heavy ships of war, several of which were three-deckers; and an arrival direct from London made quite a sensation among them. We had divers visits from the officers, though I do not know what it all amounted to. From Carthagena we were sent down the coast to a little place called Aguilas, where we began to take in a cargo of barilla. At night we would discharge our shingle ballast into the water, contrary to law; and, in the day, we took in cargo. So clear was the water, that our night's work might easily be seen next morning, lying beneath the ship. As we lay in a roadstead, it mattered little, few vessels touching at the port. While at this place, there was an alarm of an attack from an English man-of-war that was seen in the offing, and priests enough turned out to defend an ordinary town.
We got about half our freight at this little village, and then came down as low as Almeria, an old Moorish town, just below Cape de Gatte, for the remainder. Here we lay several weeks, finishing stowing our cargo. I went ashore almost every day to market, and had an opportunity of seeing something of the Spaniards. Our ship lay a good distance off, and we landed at a quarantine station, half a mile, at least, from the water-gate, to which we were compelled to walk along the beach.
One of my journeys to the town produced a little adventure. The captain had ordered Cooper to boil some pitch at the galley. By some accident, the pot was capsized, and the ship came near being burned. A fresh pot was now provided, and Cooper and Dan McCoy were sent ashore, at the station, with orders to boil down pitch on the land. There was no wharf, and it was always necessary to get ashore through a surf. The bay is merely an elbow, half the winds blowing in from the open sea. Sometimes, therefore, landing is ticklish work and requires much skill. I went ashore with the pitch, and proceeded into the town on my errands, whilst the two lads lighted their fire and began to boil down. When all was ready, it was seen there was a good deal of swell, and that the breakers looked squally. The orders, however, were to go off, on such occasions, and not to wait, as delay generally made matters worse. We got into the boat, accordingly, and shoved off. For a minute, or more, things went well enough, when a breaker took the bows of the jolly-boat, lifted her nearly on end, and turned her keel uppermost. One scarcely knows how he gets out of such a scrape. We all came ashore, however, heels over head, people, pot, boat, and oars. The experiment was renewed, less the pitch and a pair of new shoes of mine, and it met with exactly the same result. On a third effort, the boat got through the surf and we succeeded in reaching the ship. These are the sorts of scenes that harden lads, and make them fond of risks. I could not swim a stroke, and certainly would have been drowned had not the Mediterranean cast me ashore, as if disdaining to take a life of so little value to anybody but myself.
After lying several weeks at Almeria, the ship got under way for England again. We had fresh westerly gales, and beat to and fro, between Europe and Africa, for some time, when we got a Levanter that shoved us out into the Atlantic at a furious rate. In the Straits we passed a squadron of Portuguese frigates, that was cruising against the Algerines. It was the practice of these ships to lie at the Rock until it blew strong enough from the eastward to carry vessels through the Gut, when they weighed and kept in the offing until the wind shifted. This was blockading the Atlantic against their enemies, and the Mediterranean against their own ships.
We had a long passage and were short of salt provisions. Falling in with an American in the Bay of Biscay, we got a barrel of beef which lasted us in. When near the chops of the channel, with a light southerly wind, we made a sail in our wake, that came up with us hand over hand. She went nearly two feet to our one, the barilla pressing the Sterling down into the water, and making her very dull, more especially in light airs. When the stranger got near enough, we saw that he was pumping, the water running out of his scuppers in a constant stream. He was several hours in sight, the whole time pumping. This ship passed within a cable's-length of us, without taking any more notice of us than if we had been a mile-stone. She was an English two-decker, and we could distinguish the features of her men, as they stood in the waist, apparently taking breath after their trial at the pumps. She dropped a hawse-bucket, and we picked it up, when she was about half a mile ahead of us. It had the broad-arrow on it, and a custom-house officer seeing it, some time after, was disposed to seize it as a prize.
We never knew the name of this ship, but there was something proud and stately in her manner of passing us, in her distress, without so much as a hail. It is true, we could have done her no good, and her object, doubtless, was to get into dock as soon as possible. Some thought she had been in action, and was going home to repair damages that could not be remedied at sea.
Soon after this vessel was seen, we had proof how difficult it is to judge of a ship's size at sea. A vessel was made ahead, standing directly for us. Mr. Irish soon pronounced her a sloop of war. Half an hour later she grew into a frigate, but when she came abeam she showed three tiers of ports, being a ninety. This ship also passed without deigning to take any notice of us.
We made the Land's End in fine weather, and with a fair wind. Instead of keeping up channel, however, our ship hauled in for the land. Cooper was at the helm, and the captain asked him if he knew of any one on board who had ever been into Falmouth. He was told that Philadelphia Bill had been pointing out the different head-lands on the forecastle, and that, by his own account, he had sailed a long time out of the port. This Bill was a man of fifty, steady, trust-worthy, quiet, and respected by every man in the ship. He had taken a great liking to Cooper, whom he used to teach how to knot and splice, and other niceties of the calling, and Cooper often took him ashore with him, and amused him with historical anecdotes of the different places we visited. In short, the intimacy between them was as great as well could be, seeing the difference in their educations and ages. But, even to Cooper, Bill always called himself a Philadelphian. In appearance, indeed, he resembled one of those whom we call Yankees, in America, more than anything else.
Bill was now sent for and questioned. He seemed uneasy, but admitted he could take the ship into Falmouth. There was nothing in the way, but a rock abreast Pendennis Castle, but it was easy to give that a berth. We now learned that the captain had made up his mind to go into this port and ride out the quarantine to which all Mediterranean vessels were subject. Bill took us in very quietly, and the ship was ordered up a few miles above the town, to a bay where vessels rode out their quarantine. The next day a doctor's boat came alongside, and we were ordered to show ourselves, and flourish our limbs, in order to make it evident we were alive and kicking. There were four men in the boat, and, as it turned out, every one of them recognised Bill, who was born within a few miles of the very spot where the ship lay, and had a wife then living a great deal nearer to him than he desired. It was this wife—there happening to be too much of her—that had driven the poor fellow to America, twenty years before, and which rendered him unwilling to live in his native country. By private means, Bill managed to have some communication with the men in the boat, and got their promises not to betray him. This was done by signs altogether, speaking being quite out of the question.
We were near, or quite, a fortnight in quarantine; after which the ship dropped down abreast of the town. This was of a Saturday, and Sunday, a portion of the crew were permitted to go ashore. Bill was of the number, and when he returned he admitted that he had been so much excited at finding himself in the place, that he had been a little indiscreet. That night he was very uncomfortable, but nothing occurred to molest any of us. The next morning all seemed right, and Bill began to be himself again; often wishing, however, that the anchor was aweigh, and the ship turning out of the harbour. We soon got at work, and began to work down to the mouth of the haven, with a light breeze. The moment we were clear of the points, or head-lands, we could make a fair wind of it up channel. The ship was in stays, pretty well down, tinder Pendennis, and the order had been given to swing the head yards. Bill and Cooper were pulling together at the fore-top-sail brace, when the report of a musket was heard quite near the ship. Bill let go the brace, turned as white as a sheet, and exclaimed, "I'm gone!" At first, the men near him thought he was shot, but a gesture towards the boat which had fired, explained his meaning. The order was given to belay the head braces, and we waited the result in silence.
The press-gang was soon on board us, and its officer asked to have the crew mustered. This humiliating order was obeyed, and all hands of us were called aft. The officer seemed easily satisfied, until he came to Bill. "What countryman are you?" he asked. "An American—a Philadelphian," answered Bill. "You are an Englishman." "No, sir; I was born—" "Over here, across the bay," interrupted the officer, with a cool smile, "where your dear wife is at this moment. Your name is , and you are well known in Falmouth. Get your clothes, and be ready to go in the boat."
This settled the matter. Captain Johnston paid Bill his wages, his chest was lowered into the boat, and the poor fellow took an affectionate leave of his shipmates. He told those around him that his fate was sealed. He was too old to outlive a war that appeared to have no end, and they would never trust him on shore. "My foot will never touch the land again," he said to Cooper, as he squeezed his young friend's hand, "and I am to live and die, with a ship for my prison."
The loss of poor Bill made us all sad; but there was no remedy. We got into the offing, and squared away for the river again. When we reached London, the ship discharged down at Limehouse, where she lay in a tier of Americans for some time. We then took in a little ballast, and went up opposite to the dock gates once more. We next docked and cleaned the ship, on the Deptford side, and then hauled into the wet-dock in which we had discharged our flour.
Here the ship lay part of May, all of June, and most of July, taking in freight for Philadelphia, as it offered. This gave our people a good deal of spare time, and we were allowed to go ashore whenever we were not wanted. Cooper now took me in tow, and many a drift I had with him and Dan McCoy up to St. Paul's, the parks, palaces, and the Abbey. A little accident that happened about this time, attached me to Cooper more than common, and made me more desirous than ever to cruise in his company.
I was alone, on deck, one Sunday, when I saw a little dog running about on board a vessel that lay outside of us. Around the neck of this animal, some one has fastened a sixpence, by a bit of riband rove through a hole. I thought this sixpence might be made better use of, in purchasing some cherries, for which I had a strong longing, and I gave chase. In attempting to return to our own ship, with the dog, I fell into the water, between the two vessels. I could not swim a stroke; and I sang out, lustily, for help. As good luck would have it, Cooper came on board at that precise instant; and, hearing my outcry, he sprang down between the ships, and rescued me from drowning. I thought I was gone; and my condition made an impression on me that never will be lost. Had not Cooper accidentally appeared, just as he did, Ned Myers's yarn would have ended with this paragraph. I ought to add, that the sixpence got clear, the dog swimming away with it.
I had another escape from drowning, while we lay in the docks, having fallen overboard from the jolly-boat, while making an attempt at sculling. I forget, now, how I was saved; but then I had the boat and the oar to hold on to. In the end, it will be seen by what a terrific lesson I finally learned to swim.
One Sunday we were drifting up around the palace; and then it was that I told Cooper that the Duke of Kent was my god-father. He tried to persuade me to make a call; saying I could do no less than pay this respect to the prince. I had half a mind to try my hand at a visit; but felt too shy, and too much afraid. Had I done as Cooper so strongly urged me to do, one cannot say what might have been the consequences, or what change might have been brought about in my fortunes.
One day Mr. Irish was in high glee, having received a message from Captain Johnston, to inform him that the latter was pressed! The captain used to dress in a blue long-tog, drab-breeches and top-boots, when he went ashore. "He thought he could pass for a gentleman from the country," said Mr. Irish, laughing, "but them press-gang chaps smelt the tar in his very boots!" Cooper was sent to the rendezvous, with the captain's desk and papers, and the latter was liberated. We all liked the captain, who was kind and considerate in his treatment of all hands; but it was fine fun for us to have "the old fellow" pressed—"old fellow" of six or eight-and-twenty, as he was then.
About the last of July, we left London, bound home. Our crew had again undergone some changes. We shipped a second mate, a New-England man. Jim Russel left us. We had lost Bill; and, another Bill, a dull Irish lad, who had gone to Spain, quitted us also. Our crew consisted of only Spanish Joe; Big Dan; Little Dan; Stephen, the Kennebunk man; Cooper; a Swede, shipped in London; a man whose name I have forgotten; and a young man who passed by the name of Davis, but who was, in truth,————, a son of the pilot who had brought us in, and taken us out, each time we passed up or down the river. This Davis had sailed in a coaster belonging to his father, and had got pressed in Sir Home Popham's South-American squadron. They made him a midshipman; but, disliking the sea, he was determined to go to America. We had to smuggle him out of the country, on account of the press-gang; he making his appearance on board us, suddenly, one night, in the river.
The Sterling was short-handed this passage, mustering but four hands in a watch. Notwithstanding, we often reefed in the watch, though Cooper and Little Dan were both scarcely more than boys. Our mates used to go aloft, and both were active, powerful men. The cook, too, was a famous fellow at a drag. In these delicate times, when two or three days of watch and watch knock up a set of young men, one looks back with pride to a passage like this, when fourteen men and boys—four of the latter—brought a good sized ship across the ocean, reefing in the watch, weathering many a gale, and thinking nothing of it. I presume half our people, on a pinch, could have brought the Sterling in. One of the boys I have mentioned was named John Pugh, a little fellow the captain had taken as an apprentice in London, and who was now at sea for the first time in his life.
We had a long passage. Every inch of the way to the Downs was tide-work. Here we lay several days, waiting far a wind. It blew fresh from the southwest-half of that summer, and the captain was not willing to go out with a foul wind. We were surrounded with vessels of war, most of the Channel Fleet being at anchor around us. This made a gay scene, and we had plenty of music, and plenty of saluting. One day all hands turned-to together, and fired starboard and larboard, until we could see nothing but a few mast-heads. What it all meant I never heard, but it made a famous smoke, and a tremendous noise.
A frigate came in, and anchored just ahead of us. She lowered a boat, and sent a reefer alongside to inform us that she was His Majesty's ship——; that she had lost all her anchors but the stream, and she might strike adrift, and he advised us to get out of her way. The captain held on that day, however, but next morning she came into us, sure enough. The ships did not get clear without some trouble, and we thought it wisest to shift our berth. Once aweigh, the captain thought it best to turn out of the Downs, which we did, working through the Straits, and anchoring under Dungeness, as soon as the flood made. Here we lay until near sunset, when we got under way to try our hand upon the ebb. I believe the skipper had made up his mind to tide it down to the Land's End, rather than remain idle any longer. There was a sloop of war lying in-shore of us, a mile or so, and just as we stretched out from under the land, she began to telegraph with a signal station ashore. Soon after, she weighed, and came out, also. In the middle watch we passed this ship, on opposite tacks, and learned that an embargo had been laid, and that we had only saved our distance by some ten or fifteen minutes! This embargo was to prevent the intelligence of the Copenhagen expedition from reaching the Danes. That very day, we passed a convoy of transports, carrying a brigade from Pendennis Castle to Yarmouth, in order to join the main fleet. A gun-brig brought us to, and came near pressing the Swede, under the pretence that being allies of his king, England had a right to his services. Had not the man been as obstinate as a bull, and positively refused to go, I do believe we should have lost him. He was ordered into the boat at least half-a-dozen times, but swore he would not budge. Cooper had a little row with this boarding officer, but was silenced by the captain.
After the news received from the sloop of war, it may be supposed we did not venture to anchor anywhere on English ground. Keeping the channel, we passed the Isle of Wight several times, losing on the flood, the distance made on the ebb. At length we got a slant and fetched out into the Atlantic, heading well to the southward, however. Our passage was long, even after we got clear, the winds carrying us down as low as Corvo, which island we made, and then taking us well north again. We had one very heavy blow that forced us to scud, the Sterling being one of the wettest ships that ever floated, when heading up to the sea.
When near the American coast, we spoke an English brig that gave us an account of the affair between the Leopard and the Chesapeake, though he made his own countrymen come out second-best. Bitter were the revilings of Mr. Irish when the pilot told us the real state of the case. As was usual with this ship's luck, we tided it up the bay and river, and got safe alongside of the wharf at Philadelphia, at last. Here our crew was broken up, of course, and, with the exception of Jack Pugh, my brother apprentice, and Cooper, I never saw a single soul of them afterwards. Most of them went on to New York, and were swallowed up in the great vortex of seamen. Mr. Irish, I heard, died the next voyage he made, chief mate of an Indiaman. He was a prime fellow, and fit to command a ship.
Such was my first voyage at sea, for I count the passage round from Halifax as nothing. I had been kept in the cabin, it is true, but our work had been of the most active kind. The Sterling must have brought up, and been got under way, between fifty and a hundred times; and as for tacking, waring, chappelling round, and box-hauling, we had so much of it by the channel pilots, that the old barky scarce knew which end was going foremost. In that day, a ship did not get from the Forelands up to London without some trouble, and great was our envy of the large blocks and light cordage of the colliers, which made such easy work for their men. We singled much of our rigging, the second voyage up the river, ourselves, and it was a great relief to the people. A set of grass foresheets, too, that we bought in Spain, got to be great favourites, though, in the end, they cost the ship the life of a very valuable man.
Captain Johnston now determined to send me to Wiscasset, that I might go to school. A Wiscasset schooner, called the Clarissa, had come into Philadelphia, with freight from the West Indies, and she was about to sail for home in ballast. I was put on board as a passenger, and we sailed about a week after the ship got in from London. Jack Pugh staid behind, the Sterling being about to load for Ireland. On board the Clarissa I made the acquaintance of a Philadelphian born, who was an apprentice to the master of the schooner, of the name of Jack Mallet. He was a little older than myself, and we soon became intimate, and, in time, were fated to see many strange things in company.
The Clarissa went, by the Vineyard Sound and the Shoals, into Boston. Here she landed a few crates, and then sailed for Wiscasset, where we arrived after a pretty long passage. I was kindly received by the mother and family of Captain Johnston, and immediately sent to school. Shortly after, we heard of the embargo, and, the Clarissa being laid up, Jack Mallet became one of my school-mates. We soon learned that the Sterling had not been able to get out, and, ere long, Jack Pugh joined our party. A little later, Captain Johnston arrived, to go into the commercial quarantine with the rest of us.
This was the long embargo, as sailors called it, and it did not terminate until Erskine's arrangement was made, in 1809. All this time I remained in Wiscasset, at school, well treated, and, if anything, too much indulged. Captain Johnston remained at home all this time, also, and, having nothing else to do, he set about looking out for a wife. We had, at school, Jack Pugh, Jack Mallet, and Bill Swett, the latter being a lad a little older than myself, and a nephew of the captain's. I was now sixteen, and had nearly gotten my growth.
As soon as the embargo was removed, Captain Johnston, accompanied by Swett, started for Philadelphia, to bring the ship round to New York. From that place he intended to sail for Liverpool, where Jack Pugh and myself were to join him, sailing in a ship called the Columbia. This plan was changed, however, and we were sent round by sea to join the Sterling again, in the port where I had first found her.
As this was near three years after I had quitted the Hel zer's so unceremoniously, I went to look for them. Their old neighbours told me they had been gone to Martinique, about a twelvemonth. This was the last intelligence I ever heard of them. Bill Swett was now put into the cabin, and Jack Pugh and myself were sent regularly to duty before the mast. We lived in the steerage, and had cabin fare; but, otherwise, had the fortunes of foremast Jacks. Our freight was wheat in the lower hold, flour betwixt decks, and cotton on deck. The ship was very deep. Our crew was good, but both our mates were foreigners.
Nothing occurred until we got near soundings, when it came on to blow very heavy from the southward and westward. The ship was running under a close-reefed main-topsail and foresail, with a tremendous sea on. Just as night set in, one Harry, a Prussian, came on deck from his supper to relieve the wheel, and, fetching a lurch as he went aft, he brought up against the launch, and thence down against our grass fore-sheet, which had been so great a favourite in the London passages. This rope had been stretched above the deck load for a ridge rope, but, being rotten, it gave way when the poor Prussian struck it, and he went into the sea. We could do no more than throw him the sky-light, which was large; but the ship went foaming ahead, leaving the poor fellow to his fate, in the midst of the hissing waters. Some of our people thought they saw poor Harry on the sky-light, but this could not have made much difference in such a raging sea. It was impossible to round-to, and as for a boat's living, it was out of the question. This was the first man I saw lost at sea, and, notwithstanding the severity of the gale, and the danger of the ship herself, the fate of this excellent man made us all melancholy. The captain felt it bitterly, as was evident from his manner. Still, the thing was unavoidable.
We had begun to shorten sail early in the afternoon, and Harry was lost in the first dog-watch. A little later the larboard fore-sheet went, and the sail was split. All hands were called, and the rags were rolled up, and the gaskets passed. The ship now laboured so awfully that she began to leak. The swell was so high that we did not dare to come by the wind, and the seas would come in, just about the main chains, meet in board and travel out over her bows in a way to threaten everything that could be moved. We lads were lashed at the pumps, and ordered to keep at work; and to make matters worse, the wheat began to work its way into the pump-well. While things were in this state, the main-top-sail split, leaving the ship without a rag of sail on her.
The Sterling loved to be under water, even in moderate weather. Many a time have I seen her send the water aft, into the quarter-deck scuppers, and, as for diving, no loon was quicker than she. Now, that she was deep and was rolling her deck-load to the water, it was time to think of lightening her. The cotton was thrown overboard as fast as we could, and what the men could not start the seas did. After a while we eased the ship sensibly, and it was well we did; the wheat choking the pumps so often, that we had little opportunity for getting out the water.
I do not now recollect at what hour of this fearful night, Captain Johnston shouted out to us all to "look out"—and "hold on." The ship was broaching-to. Fortunately she did this at a lucky moment, and, always lying-to well, though wet, we made much better weather on deck. The mizzen-staysail was now set to keep her from falling off into the troughs of the sea. Still the wind blew as hard as ever. First one sail, then another, got loose, and a hard time we had to keep the canvass to the yards. Then the fore-top-mast went, with a heavy lurch, and soon after the main, carrying with it the mizzen-top-gallant-mast. We owed this to the embargo, in my judgment, the ship's rigging having got damaged lying dry so long. We were all night clearing the wreck, and the men who used the hatchets, told us that the wind would cant their tools so violently that they sometimes struck on the eyes, instead of the edge. The gale fairly seemed like a hard substance.
We passed a fearful night, working at the pumps, and endeavouring to take care of the ship. Next morning it moderated a little, and the vessel was got before the wind, which was perfectly fair. She could carry but little sail; though we got up top-gallant-masts for top-masts, as soon as the sea would permit. About four, I saw the land myself and pointed it out to the mate. It was Cape Clear, and we were heading for it as straight as we could go. We hauled up to clear it, and ran into the Irish channel. A large fleet of vessels had gathered in and near the chops of the channel, in readiness to run into Liverpool by a particular day that had been named in the law opening the trade, and great had been the destruction among them. I do not remember the number of the ships we saw, but there must have been more than a hundred. It was afterwards reported, that near fifty vessels were wrecked on the Irish coast. Almost every craft we fell in with was more or less dismasted, and one vessel, a ship called the Liberty, was reported to have gone down, with every soul on board her.
The weather becoming moderate, all hands of us went into Liverpool, the best way we could. The Sterling had good luck in getting up, though we lay some time in the river before we were able to get into dock. When we got out the cargo, we found it much damaged, particularly the wheat. The last was so hot that we could not bear our feet among it. We got it all out in a few days, when we went into a dry dock, and repaired.
This visit to Liverpool scattered our crew as if it had been so much dust in a squall. Most of our men were pressed, and those that were not, ran. But one man, us boys excepted, stuck by the ship. The chief mate—a foreigner, though of what country I never could discover—lived at a house kept by a handsome landlady. To oblige this lady, he ordered William Swett and myself to carry a bucket-full of salt, each, up to her house. The salt came out of the harness-cask, and we took it ashore openly, but we were stopped on the quay by a custom-house officer, who threatened to seize the ship. Such was the penalty for landing two buckets of Liverpool salt at Liverpool!
Captain Johnston had the matter explained, and he discharged the mate. Next day, the discharged man and the second mate were pressed. We got the last, who was a Swede, clear; and the chief mate, in the end, made his escape, and found his way back to New York. Among those impressed, was Jack Pugh, who having been bound in London, we did not dare show his papers. The captain tried hard to get the boy clear, but without success. I never saw poor Jack after this; though I learn he ran from the market-boat of the guard-ship, made his way back to Wiscasset, where he stayed some time, then shipped, and was lost at sea.
At length we got a new crew, and sailed for home. We had several passengers on board, masters of American ships who could go back themselves, but not carry their vessels with them, on account of certain liberties the last had taken with the laws. These persons were called "embargo captains." One of them, a Captain B——, kept Captain Johnston's watch, and got so much into his confidence and favour, that he gave him the vessel in the end. The passage home was stormy and long, but offered nothing remarkable. A non-importation law had been passed during our absence, and our ship was seized in New York in consequence of having a cargo of English salt. We had taken the precaution, however, to have the salt cleared in Liverpool, and put afloat before the day named in the law, and got clear after a detention of two months. Salt rose so much in the interval, that the seizure turned out to be a good thing for the owners.
While the ship was lying off the Battery, on her return from this voyage, and before she had hauled in, a boat came alongside with a young man in her in naval uniform. This was Cooper, who, in pulling across to go aboard his own vessel, had recognised our mast-heads, and now came to look at us. This was the last time I met him, until the year 1843; or, for thirty-four years.
We now loaded with naval stores, and cleared again for Liverpool. Bill Swett did not make this voyage with us, the cook acting as steward. We had good passages out and home, experiencing no detention or accidents. In the spring of 1810, Captain Johnston gave the ship to Captain B——, who carried us to Liverpool for the third time. Nothing took place this voyage either, worthy of being mentioned, the ship getting back in good season. We now took in a cargo of staves for Limerick. Off the Hook we were brought-to by the Indian sloop-of-war, one of the Halifax cruisers, a squadron in company. Several vessels were coming out at the same time, and among them were several of the clippers in the French trade. The Amiable Matilda and the Colt went to windward of the Englishmen as if the last had been at anchor; but the Tameahmeah, when nearest to the English, got her yards locked in stays, and was captured. We saw all this, and felt, as was natural to men who beheld such things enacted at the mouth of their own port. Our passages both ways were pleasant, and nothing occurred out of the usual course. I fell in with a press-gang, however, in Limerick, which would have nabbed me, but for a party of Irishmen, who showed fight and frightened the fellows so much that I got clear. Once before, I had been in the hands of these vermin in Liverpool, but Captain Johnston had got me clear by means of my indentures. I was acting as second-mate this voyage.
On our return home, the ship was ordered to Charleston to get a cargo of yellow pine, under a contract. Captain B—— was still in command, my old master, Captain Johnston, being then at home, occupied in building a new ship. I never saw this kind-hearted and indulgent seaman until the year 1842, when I made a journey to Wiscasset expressly to see him. Captain B—— and myself were never very good friends, and I was getting to be impatient of his authority; but I still stuck by the ship.
We had an ordinary run to Charleston, and began to prepare for the reception of our cargo. At this time, there were two French privateers on the southern coast, that did a great deal of damage to our trade. One went into Savannah, and got burned, for her pains; and the other came into Charleston, and narrowly escaped the same fate. A mob collected—made a fire-raft, and came alongside of our ship, demanding some tar. To own the truth, though then clothed with all the dignity of a "Dicky,"  I liked the fun, and offered no resistance. Bill Swett had come in, in a ship called the United States; and he was on board the Sterling, at the time, on a visit to me. We two, off hatches, and whipped a barrel of tar on deck; which we turned over to the raftsmen, with our hearty good wishes for their success. All this was, legally, very wrong; but, I still think, it was not so very far from being morally just; at least, as regards the privateersmen. The attempt failed, however, and those implicated were blamed a great deal more than they would have been, had they burned up the Frenchmen's eye-bolts. It is bad to fail, in a legal undertaking; but success is indispensable for forgiveness, to one that is illegal.
That night, Captain B—— and the chief mate, came down upon me, like a gust, for having parted with the tar. They concluded their lecture, by threatening to work me up. Bill Swett was by, and he got his share of the dose. When we were left to ourselves, we held a council of war, about future proceedings. Our crew had run, to a man, the cook excepted, as usually happens, in Charleston; and we brought in the cook, as a counsellor. This man told me, that he had overheard the captain and mate laying a plan to give me a threshing, as soon as I had turned in. Bill, now, frankly proposed that I should run, as well as himself; for he had already left his ship; and our plan was soon laid. Bill went ashore, and brought a boat down under the bows of the ship, and I passed my dunnage into her, by going through the forecastle; I then left the Sterling, for ever, never putting my foot on board of her again. I saw her, once or twice, afterwards, at a distance, and she always looked like a sort of home to me. She was subsequently lost, on the eastern coast, Captain Johnston still owning her, and being actually on board her, though only as a passenger. I had been out in her twelve times, from country to country, besides several short runs, from port to port. She always seemed natural to me; and I had got to know every timber and stick about her. I felt more, in quitting this ship, than I did in quitting Halifax. This desertion was the third great error of my life. The first was, quitting those with whom I had been left by my father; the second, abandoning my good friends, the Heizers; and the third, leaving the Sterling. Had Captain Johnston been in the ship, I never should have dreamed of running. He was always kind to me, and if he failed in justice, it was on the side of indulgence. Had I continued with him, I make no doubt, my career would have been very different from what it has since turned out to be; and, I fear, I must refer one of the very bad habits, that afterwards marred my fortunes, that of drinking too much, to this act. Still, it will be remembered, I was only nineteen, loved adventure, and detested Captain B——.
After this exploit, Swett and I kept housed for a week. He then got into a ship called the President, and I into another called the Tontine, and both sailed for New York, where we arrived within a few days of each other. We now shipped together in a vessel called the Jane, bound to Limerick. This was near the close of the year 1811. Our passage out was tremendously bad, and we met with some serious accidents to our people. We were not far from the mouth of the Irish channel when the ship broached-to, in scudding under the foresail and main-top-sail, Bill Swett being at the helm. The watch below ran on deck and hauled up the foresail, without orders, to prevent the ship from going down stern foremost, the yards being square. As the ship came-to, she took a sea in on her starboard side, which drove poor Bill to leeward, under some water-casks and boards, beating in two of his ribs. Both mates were injured also, and were off duty in consequence for several weeks. The plank sheer was ripped off the vessel from aft to amidships, as neatly as if it had been done by the carpenters. We could look down among the timbers the same as if the vessel were on the stocks.
The men braced up the after-yards, and then the ship was lying-to under a close-reefed main-top-sail. After this, she did well enough. We now passed the hurt below, and got tarred canvass over the timber-heads, and managed to keep out the water. Next day we made sail for our port. It blowing too fresh to get a pilot, we ran into a roadstead at the mouth of the Shannon, and anchored with both bowers. We rode out the gale, and then went up to Limerick. Here all hands got well, and returned to duty. In due time, we sailed for home in ballast. As we came into the Hook, we were hailed by a gun-boat, and heard of the "Little Embargo."
The question now came up seriously between Bill and myself, what was best to be done. I was for going to Wiscasset, like two prodigals, own our fault, and endeavour to amend. Bill thought otherwise. Now we were cast ashore, without employment, he thought it more manly to try and shift for ourselves. He had an uncle who was a captain of artillery, and who was then stationed on Governor's Island, and we took him into our councils. This gentleman treated us kindly, and kept us with him on the island for two days. Finding his nephew bent on doing something for himself, he gave us a letter to Lt. Trenchard, of the navy, by whom we were both shipped for the service. Swett got a master's-mate's berth, and I was offered the same, but felt too much afraid of myself to accept it. I entered the navy, then, for the first time, as a common Jack.
This was a very short time before war was declared, and a large flotilla of gun-boats was getting ready for the New York station. Bill was put on board of No. 112, and I was ordered to No. 107, Sailing-Master Costigan. Soon after, we were all employed in fitting the Essex for sea; and while thus occupied the Declaration of War actually arrived. On this occasion I got drunk, for the second time in my life. A quantity of whiskey was started into a tub, and all hands drank to the success of the conflict. A little upset me, then, nor would I have drunk anything, but for the persuasions of some of my Wiscasset acquaintances, of whom there were several in the ship. I advise all young men, who feel no desire to drink, to follow their own propensities, and not to yield themselves up, body and soul, to the thoughtless persuasions of others. There is no real good-fellowship in swilling rum and whiskey; but the taste, once acquired, is hard to cure. I never drank much, as to quantity, but a little filled me with the love of mischief, and that little served to press me down for all the more valuable years of my life; valuable, as to the advancement of my worldly interests, though I can scarcely say I began really to live, as a creature of God's should live, to honour his name and serve his ends, until the year 1839.
After the Essex was fitted out, the flotilla cruised in the Sound, and was kept generally on the look-out, about the waters of New York. Towards the end of the season, our boat, with several others, was lying abreast of the Yard, when orders came off to meet the Yard Commander, Captain Chauncey, on the wharf. Here, this officer addressed us, and said he was about to proceed to Lake Ontario, to take command, and asking who would volunteer to go with him. This was agreeable news to us, for we hated the gun-boats, and would go anywhere to be quit of them. Every man and boy volunteered. We got twenty-four hours' liberty, with a few dollars in money, and when this scrape was over every man returned, and we embarked in a sloop for Albany. Our draft contained near 140 men, and was commanded by Mr. Mix, then a sailing-master, but who died a commander a few years since. Messrs. Osgood and Mallaby were also with us, and two midshipmen, viz: Messrs. Sands and Livingston. The former of these young gentlemen is now a commander, but I do not know what became of Mr. Livingston. We had also two master's-mates, Messrs. Bogardus and Emory.
On reaching Albany, we paid a visit to the Governor, gave him three cheers, got some good cheer in return, and were all stowed in wagons, a mess in each, before his door. We now took to our land tacks, and a merry time we had of it. Our first day's run was to a place called Schenectady, and here the officers found an empty house, and berthed us all together, fastening the doors. This did not suit our notions of a land cruise, and we began to grumble. There was a regular hard horse of a boatswain's-mate with us, of the name of McNally. This man had been in the service a long time, and was a thorough man-of-war's man. Fie had collected twenty-four of us, whom he called his 'disciples,' and shamed am I to say, I was one. McNally called all hands on the upper deck, as he called it, that is to say, in the garret, and made us a speech. He said this was no way to treat volunteers, and proposed that we should "unship the awning." We rigged pries, and, first singing out, "stand from under," hove one half of the roof into the street, and the other into the garden. We then gave three cheers at our success. The officers now came down, and gave us a lecture. But we made out so good a case, that they let us run till morning, when every soul was back and mustered in the wagons. In this way we went through the country, cracking our jokes, laughing, and noting all oddities that crossed our course. I believe we were ten or twelve days working our way through the state, to Oswego. At Onondago Lake we got into boats, and did better than in the wagons. At a village on the lake shore, the people were very bitter against us, and we had some difficulty. The word went among us they were Scotch, from the Canadas, but of this I know nothing. We heard in the morning, however, that most of our officers were in limbo, and we crossed and marched up a hill, intending to burn, sink, and destroy, if they were not liberated. Mischief was prevented by the appearance of Mr. Mix, with the other gentlemen, and we pushed off without coming to blows.