ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO.
SANCTIONED BY THE AUTHOR FOR CONTINENTAL CIRCULATION.
LEIPZIG BERNH. TAUCHNITZ JUN. 1846.
EXTRACTS FROM THE LOG OF A PRIVATEER'S-MAN.
We cruise off Hispaniola—Capture a French Ship—Continue our Cruise—Make a Nocturnal Attack upon a Rich Planter's Dwelling—Are repulsed with Loss.
To Mistress ——.
In compliance with your request I shall now transcribe from the journal of my younger days some portions of my adventurous life. When I wrote, I painted the feelings of my heart without reserve, and I shall not alter one word, as I know you wish to learn what my feelings were then, and not what my thoughts may be now. They say that in every man's life, however obscure his position may be, there would be a moral found, were it truly told. I think, Madam, when you have perused what I am about to write, you will agree with me, that, from my history, both old and young may gather profit, and, I trust, if ever it should be made public, that, by divine permission, such may be the result. Without further preface, I shall commence with a narrative of my cruise off Hispaniola, in the Revenge privateer.
The Revenge mounted fourteen guns, and was commanded by Captain Weatherall, a very noted privateer's-man. One morning at daybreak we discovered a vessel from the masthead, and immediately made all sail in chase, crowding every stitch of canvas. As we neared, we made her out to be a large ship, deeply laden, and we imagined that she would be an easy prize, but as we saw her hull more out of the water she proved to be well armed, having a full tier of guns fore and aft. As it afterwards proved, she was a vessel of 600 tons burden, and mounted twenty-four guns, having sailed from St. Domingo, and being bound to France.
She had been chartered by a French gentleman (and a most gallant fellow we found him), who had acquired a large fortune in the West-Indies, and was then going home, having embarked on board his whole property, as well as his wife and his only son, a youth of about seventeen. As soon as he discovered what we were, and the impossibility of escape from so fast a sailing vessel as the Revenge, he resolved to fight us to the last. Indeed, he had every thing to fight for; his whole property, his wife and his only child, his own liberty, and perhaps life, were all at stake, and he had every motive that could stimulate a man. As we subsequently learnt, he had great difficulty in inspiring the crew with an equal resolution, and it was not until he had engaged to pay them the value of half the cargo provided they succeeded in beating us off, and forcing their way in safety to France, that he could rouse them to their duty.
Won by his example, for he told them that he did not desire any man to do more than he would do himself, and perhaps more induced by his generous offer, the French crew declared they would support him to the last, went cheerfully to their guns and prepared for action. When we were pretty near to him, he shortened sail ready for the combat, having tenderly forced his wife down below to await in agony the issue of a battle on which depended every thing so dear to her. The resolute bearing of the vessel, and the cool intrepidity with which they had hove to to await us, made us also prepare on our side for a combat which we knew would be severe. Although she was superior to us in guns, yet the Revenge being wholly fitted for war, we had many advantages, independent of our being very superior in men. Some few chase-guns were fired during our approach, when, having ranged up within a cable's length of her, we exchanged broadsides for half an hour, after which our captain determined upon boarding. We ran our vessel alongside, and attempted to throw our men on board, but met with a stout resistance. The French gentleman, who was at the head of his men, with his own hand killed two of our stoutest seamen, and mortally wounded a third, and, encouraged by his example, his people fought with such resolution, that after a severe struggle we were obliged to give it up, and retreat precipitately into our own vessel, leaving eight or ten of our shipmates weltering in their blood.
Our captain, who had not boarded with us, was much enraged at our defeat, stigmatizing us as cowards for allowing ourselves to be driven from a deck upon which we had obtained a footing; he called upon us to renew the combat, and leading the way, he was the first on board of the vessel, and was engaged hand to hand with the brave French gentleman, who had already made such slaughter among our men. Brave and expert with his weapon as Captain Weatherall undoubtedly was, he for once found rather more than a match in his antagonist; he was slightly wounded, and would, I suspect, have had the worst of this hand-to-hand conflict, had not the whole of our crew, who had now gained the deck, and were rushing forward, separated him from his opponent. Out-numbered and over-matched, the French crew fought most resolutely, but notwithstanding their exertions, and the gallant conduct of their leader, we succeeded in driving them back to the quarter-deck of the vessel. Here the combat was renewed with the greatest obstinacy, they striving to maintain this their last hold, and we exerting ourselves to complete our conquest. The Frenchmen could retreat no further, and our foremost men were impelled against them by those behind them crowding on to share in the combat. Retreat being cut off, the French struggled with all the animosity and rage of mingled hate and despair; while we, infuriated at the obstinate resistance, were filled with vengeance and a thirst for blood. Wedged into one mass, we grappled together, for there was no room for fair fighting, seeking each other's hearts with shortened weapons, struggling and falling together on the deck, rolling among the dead and the dying, or trodden underfoot by the others who still maintained the combat with unabated fury.
Numbers at last prevailed; we had gained a dear-bought victory—we were masters of the deck, we had struck the colours, and were recovering our lost breaths after this very severe contest, and thought ourselves in full possession of the ship; but it proved otherwise. The first lieutenant of the privateer and six of us, had dashed down the companion, and were entering the cabin in search of plunder, when we found opposed to our entrance, the gallant French gentleman, supported by his son, the captain of the vessel, and five of the French sailors; behind them was the French gentleman's wife, to whose protection they had devoted themselves. The lieutenant, who headed us, offered them quarter, but stung to madness at the prospect of the ruin and of the captivity which awaited him, the gentleman treated the offer with contempt, and rushing forward attacked our lieutenant, beating down his guard, and was just about to pierce him with the lunge which he made, when I fired my pistol at him to save the life of my officer. The ball entered his heart, and thus died one of the bravest men I ever encountered. His son at the same time was felled to the deck with a pole-axe, when the remainder threw themselves down on the deck, and cried for quarter. So enraged were our men at this renewal of the combat, that it required all the efforts and authority of the lieutenant to prevent them from completing the massacre by taking the lives of those who no longer resisted. But who could paint the condition of that unhappy lady who had stood a witness of the horrid scene—her eyes blasted with the sight of her husband slain before her face, her only son groaning on the deck and weltering in his blood; and she left alone, bereft of all that was dear to her; stripped of the wealth she was that morning mistress of, now a widow, perhaps childless, a prisoner, a beggar, and in the hands of lawless ruffians, whose hands were reeking with her husband's and offspring's blood, at their mercy, and exposed to every evil which must befal a beautiful and unprotected female from those who were devoid of all principle, all pity, and all fear! Well might the frantic creature rush, as she did, upon our weapons, and seek that death which would have been a mercy and a blessing. With difficulty we prevented her from injuring herself, and, after a violent struggle, nature yielded, and she sank down in a swoon on the body of her husband, dabbling her clothes and hair in the gore which floated on the cabin-deck. This scene of misery shocked even the actors in it. Our sailors, accustomed as they were to blood and rapine, remained silent and immoveable, resting upon their weapons, their eyes fixed upon the unconscious form of that unhappy lady.
The rage of battle was now over, our passions had subsided, and we felt ashamed of a conquest purchased with such unutterable anguish. The noise of this renewed combat had brought down the captain; he ordered the lady to be taken away from this scene of horror, and to be carefully tended in his own cabin; the wound of the son, who was found still alive, was immediately dressed, and the prisoners were secured. I returned on deck, still oppressed with the scene I had witnessed, and when I looked round me, and beheld the deck strewed with the dead and dying—victors and vanquished indiscriminately mixed up together—the blood of both nations meeting on the deck and joining their streams—I could not help putting the question to myself, "Can this be right and lawful—all this carnage to obtain the property of others, and made legal by the quarrels of kings?" Reason, religion, and humanity, answered, "No."
I remained uneasy and dissatisfied, and felt as if I were a murderer; and then I reflected how this property, thus wrested from its former possessor, who might, if he had retained it, have done much good with it, would now be squandered away in riot and dissipation, in purchasing crime and administering to debauchery. I was young then, and felt so disgusted and so angry with myself and everybody else, that if I had been in England, I probably should never again have put my foot on board of a privateer.
But employment prevented my thinking; the decks had to be cleaned, the bodies thrown overboard, the blood washed from the white planks, the wounded to be removed, and their hurts dressed, the rigging and other damages to be repaired, and when all this had been done, we made sail for Jamaica with our prize. Our captain, who was as kind and gentle to the vanquished as he was brave and resolute in action, endeavoured by all the means he could think of to soften the captivity and sufferings of the lady. Her clothes, jewels, and every thing belonging to her, were preserved untouched; he would not even allow her trunks to be searched, and would have secured for her even all her husband's personal effects, but the crew had seized upon them as plunder, and refused to deliver them up. I am almost ashamed to say that the sword and watch of her husband fell to my lot, and whether from my wearing the sword, or from having seen me fire the pistol which had killed him, the lady always expressed her abhorrence of me whenever I entered her presence. Her son recovered slowly from his wound, and, on our arrival at Port Royal, was permitted by the admiral to be sent to the King's Hospital, and the lady, who was most tenderly attached to him, went on shore and remained at the Hospital to attend upon him. I was glad when she was gone, for I knew how much cause she had for her hatred of me, and I could not see her without remorse. As soon as we had completed our repairs, filled up our provisions and water, we sailed upon another cruise, which was not so successful, as you will presently perceive.
For five or six weeks we cruised without success, and our people began to grumble, when one morning our boats in shore off Hispaniola surprised a small schooner. A negro who was among the prisoners offered to conduct us through the woods by night to the house of a very rich planter, which was situated about three miles from a small bay, and at some distance from the other plantations. He asserted that we might there get very valuable plunder, and, moreover, obtain a large ransom for the planter and his family, besides bringing away as many of the negro slaves as we pleased.
Our captain, who was tired of his ill-success, and who hoped also to procure provisions, which we very much wanted, consented to the negro's proposal, and standing down abreast of the bay, which was in the Bight of Lugan, he ran in at dark, and anchoring close to the shore, we landed with forty men, and, guided by the negro, we proceeded through the woods to the house. The negro was tied fast to one of our stoutest and best men, for fear he should give us the slip. It was a bright moonlight; we soon arrived, and surrounding the house, forced our way in without opposition. Having secured the negroes in the out-houses, and placed guards over them, and videttes on the look-out to give timely notice of any surprise, we proceeded to our work of plunder. The family, consisting of the old planter and his wife, and his three daughters, two of them very beautiful, was secured in one room. No words can express their terror at thus finding themselves so suddenly in the power of a set of ruffians, from whose brutality they anticipated every evil. Indeed the horrid excesses committed by the privateers'-men, when they landed on the coast, fully justified their fears, for as this system of marauding is considered the basest of all modern warfare, no quarter is ever given to those who are taken in the attempt. In return, the privateers'-men hesitate at no barbarity when engaged in such enterprises.
Dumb with astonishment and terror, the old couple sat in silent agony, while the poor girls, who had more evils than death to fear, drowned in their tears, fell at the captain's feet and embraced his knees, conjuring him to spare and protect them from his men.
Captain Weatherall, who was, as I have before stated, a generous and humane man, raised them up, assuring them, on his word, that they should receive no insult, and as his presence was necessary to direct the motions of his people, he selected me, as younger and less brutal than most of his crew, as a guard over them, menacing me with death if I allowed any man to enter the room until he returned, and ordering me to defend them with my life from all insults. I was then young and full of enthusiasm; my heart was kind, and I was pure in comparison with the major portion of those with whom I was associated.
I was delighted with the office confided to me, and my heart leaped at having so honourable an employment. I endeavoured by every means in my power to dissipate their terrors and soothe their anxious minds; but while I was thus employed, an Irish seaman, distinguished even amongst our crew for his atrocities, came to the door, and would have forced his entrance. I instantly opposed him, urging the captain's most positive commands; but, having obtained a sight of the young females, he swore with a vile oath that he would soon find out whether a boy like me was able to oppose him, and finding that I would not give way, he attacked me fiercely. Fortunately, I had the advantage of position, and supported by the justice of my cause, I repelled him with success. But he renewed the attack, while the poor young women awaited the issue of the combat with trembling anxiety—a combat on which depended, in all probability, their honour and their lives. At last I found myself very hard pushed, for I had received a wound on my sword arm, and I drew a pistol from my belt with my left-hand, and fired it, wounding him in the shoulder. Thus disabled, and fearing at the same time that the report would bring back the captain, whom he well knew would not be trifled with, he retired from the door vowing vengeance. I then turned to the young women, who had witnessed the conflict in breathless suspense, encircled in the arms of the poor old couple, who had rushed towards them at the commencement of the fray, offering them their useless shelter. Privateer's-man as I was, I could not refrain from tears at the scene. I again attempted to reassure them, pledged myself in the most solemn manner to forfeit my life if necessary for their protection, and they in some degree regained their confidence. They observed the blood trickling down my fingers from the wound which I had received, and the poor girls stained their handkerchiefs with it in the attempts to staunch the flow.
But this scene was soon interrupted by an alarm. It appeared that a negro had contrived to escape and to rouse the country. They had collected together from the other plantations, and our party being, as is usually the case when plunder is going on, very negligent, the videttes were surprised, and had hardly time to escape and apprise us of our danger. There was not a moment to be lost; our safety depended upon an immediate retreat. The captain collected all hands, and while he was getting them together that the retreat might be made in good order, the old planter who, by the report of the fire-arms and the bustle and confusion without, guessed what had taken place, pressed me to remain with them, urging the certainty of our men being overpowered, and the merciless consequences which would ensue. He pledged himself with his fingers crossed in the form of the crucifix, that he would procure me safe quarter, and that I should ever enjoy his protection and friendship. I refused him kindly but firmly, and he sighed and said no more. The old lady put a ring on my finger, which she took from her own hand, and kissing my forehead, told me to look at that ring, and continue to do good and act nobly as I had just done.
I waved my hand, for I had no time even to take the proffered hands of the young ones, and hastened to join my shipmates already on the retreat, and exchanging shots with our pursuers. We were harassed by a multitude, but they were a mixed company of planters, mulattoes, and slaves, and not half of them armed, and we easily repelled their attacks, whenever they came to close quarters. Their violent animosity, however, against us and our evil doings, induced them to follow close at our heels, keeping up a galling irregular fire, and endeavouring to detain us until we might be overpowered by their numbers, every minute increasing, for the whole country had been raised, and were flocking in. This our captain was well aware of, and therefore made all the haste that he could, without disturbing the regularity of his retreat, to where our boats were lying, as should they be surprised and cut off, our escape would have been impossible. Notwithstanding all his care, several of our men were separated from us by the intricacies of the wood, or from wounds which they had received, and which prevented them from keeping up with us. At last, after repelling many attacks, each time more formidable than the preceding, we gained our boats, and embarking with the greatest precipitation, we put off for the schooner. The enemy, emboldened by our flight, flocked down in great numbers to the water's edge, and we had the mortification to hear our stragglers, who had been captured, imploring for mercy; but groans and then silence too plainly informed us that mercy had been denied.
Captain Weatherall was so enraged at the loss of his men that he ordered us to pull back and attack the enemy on the beach, but we continued to pull for the schooner, regardless of his threats and entreaties. A panic had seized us all, as well it might. We even dreaded the ill-aimed and irregular fire which they poured upon us, which under other circumstances would have occasioned only laughter. The schooner had been anchored only two hundred yards from the beach, and we were soon on board. They continued to fire from the shore, and the balls passed over us. We put a spring upon our cable, warped our broadside to the beach, and loading every gun with grape and cannister, we poured a whole broadside upon our assailants. From the shrieks and cries, the carnage must have been very great. The men would have reloaded and fired again, but the captain forbade them, saying, "We have done too much already." I thought so too. He then ordered the anchor to be weighed, and with a fresh land-breeze, we were soon far away from this unlucky spot.
We are pursued by Two Schooner-Privateers, and failing to escape them a terrible Contest ensues—Three Acts of a Murderous Naval Drama—We are worsted—Captain Weatherall is killed—I am plundered and wounded.
About six weeks after the unlucky affair before described, we met with a still greater disaster. We had cruised off the Spanish Main and taken several prizes; shortly after we had manned the last and had parted company, the Revenge being then close in shore, a fresh gale sprung up, which compelled us to make all sail to clear the land. We beat off shore during the whole of the night, when the weather moderated, and at daybreak we found out that we had not gained much offing, in consequence of the current; but what was more important, the man who went to the look-out at the masthead, hailed the deck, saying there were two sail in the offing. The hands were turned up to make sail in chase, but we found that they were resolutely bearing down upon us; and as we neared each other fast, we soon made them out to be vessels of force. One we knew well—she was the Esperance, a French schooner-privateer of sixteen guns, and one hundred and twenty-men; the other proved to be a Spanish schooner-privateer, cruising in company with her, of eighteen guns, and full manned.
Now our original complement of men had been something more than one hundred, but by deaths, severe wounds in action, and manning our prizes, our actual number on board was reduced to fifty-five effective men. Finding the force so very superior, we made every attempt with sails and sweeps to escape, but the land to leeward of us, and their position to windward, rendered it impossible. Making, therefore, a virtue of necessity, we put a good face upon it, and prepared to combat against such desperate odds.
Captain Weatherall, who was the life and soul of his crew, was not found wanting on such an emergency. With the greatest coolness and intrepidity, he gave orders to take in all the small sails, and awaited the coming down of the enemy. When every thing was ready for the unequal conflict, he ordered all hands aft, and endeavoured to inspire us with the same ardour which animated himself. He reminded us that we had often fought and triumphed over vessels of much greater force than our own; that we had already beaten off the French privateer on a former occasion; that the Spaniard was not worth talking about except to swell the merits of the double victory, and that if once we came hand to hand our cutlasses would soon prove our superiority. He reminded us that our only safety depended upon our own manhood; for we had done such mischief on the coast, and our recent descent upon the plantation was considered in such a light, that we must not expect to receive quarter if we were overcome. Exhorting us to behave well, and to fight stoutly, he promised us the victory. The men had such confidence in the captain that we returned him three cheers, when, dismissing us to our quarters, he ordered St. George's ensign to be hoisted at the main-masthead, and hove to for the enemy.
The French schooner was the first which ranged up alongside; the wind was light, and she came slowly down to us. The captain of her hailed, saying that his vessel was the Esperance, and our captain replied that he knew it, and that they also knew that his was the Revenge. The French captain, who had hove to, replied very courteously that he was well aware what vessel it was, and also of the valour and distinguished reputation of Captain Weatherall, upon which, Captain Weatherall, who stood on the gunnel, took off his hat in acknowledgment of the compliment.
Now Captain Weatherall was well known, and it was also well known that the two vessels would meet with a severe resistance, which it would be as well to avoid, as even if they gained the victory, it would not be without great loss of men. The French captain therefore addressed Captain Weatherall again, and said he hoped, now that he was opposed to so very superior a force, he would not make a useless resistance, but as it would be no disgrace to him, and would save the lives of many of his brave men, his well known humanity would induce him to strike his colours.
To this request our commander gave a gallant and positive refusal. The vessels lay now close to each other, so that a biscuit might have been thrown on board of either. A generous expostulation ensued, which continued till the Spanish vessel was a short distance astern of us.
"You now see our force," said the French captain. "Do not fight against impossible odds, but spare your brave and devoted men."
"In return for your kind feeling towards me," replied Captain Weatherall, "I offer you both quarter, and respect to private property, upon hauling down your colours."
"You are mad, Captain Weatherall," said the French captain.
"You allow that I have lived bravely," replied Captain Weatherall; "you shall find that I will conquer you, and if necessary I will also die bravely. We will now fight. In courtesy, I offer you the first broadside."
"Impossible," said the French captain, taking off his hat.
Our captain returned the salute, and then slipping down from the gunwale, ordered the sails to be filled, and, after a minute to give the Frenchman time to prepare, he fired off in the air the fusee, which he held in his hand, as a signal for the action to begin. We instantly commenced the work of death by pouring in a broadside. It was returned with equal spirit, and a furious cannonading ensued for several minutes, when the Spaniard ranged up on our lee quarter with his rigging full of men to board us. Clapping our helm a-weather and hauling our fore sheets to windward, we fell off athwart his hawse, and raked him with several broadsides fore and aft; our guns having been loaded with langridge and lead bullets, and his men being crowded together forward, ready to leap on board of us, her deck became a slaughter-house. The officers endeavoured in vain to animate their men, who, instead of gaining our decks, were so intimidated by the carnage that they forsook their own. The Frenchman perceiving the consternation and distress of his consort, to give her an opportunity of extricating herself from her perilous condition, now put his helm a-weather, ran us on board, and poured in his men; but we were well prepared, and soon cleared our decks of the intruders. In the meantime the Spaniard, by cutting away our rigging, in which his bowsprit was entangled, swung clear of us, and fell away to leeward. The Frenchman perceiving this, sheered off, and springing his luff, shot ahead clear of us. Such was the first act of this terrible drama. We had as yet sustained little damage, the enemy's want of skill and our own good fortune combined, having enabled us to take them at such a disadvantage.
But although inspirited by such a prosperous beginning, our inferiority in men was so great that our captain considered it his duty to make all sail in hopes of being able to avoid such an unequal combat. This our enemies attempted to prevent by a most furious cannonade, which we received and returned without flinching, making a running fight of it, till at last our fore yard and foretop-mast being shot away, we had no longer command of the vessel. Finding that, although we were crippled and could not escape, our fire continued unabated, both the vessels again made preparations for boarding us, while we on our part prepared to give them a warm reception.
As we knew that the Frenchman, who was our most serious opponent, must board us on our weather bow, we traversed over four of our guns loaded to the muzzle with musket balls to receive him, and being all ready with our pateraroes and hand grenades, we waited for the attack. As he bore down for our bows, with all his men clinging like bees, ready for the spring, our guns were discharged and the carnage was terrible. The men staggered back, falling down over those who had been killed or wounded, and it required all the bravery and example of the French captain, who was really a noble fellow, to rally the remainder of his men, which at last he succeeded in doing, and about forty of them gained our forecastle, from which they forced our weak crew, and retained possession, not following up the success, but apparently wailing till they were seconded by the Spaniard's boarding us on our lee quarter, which would have placed us between two fires, and compelled us to divide our small force.
By this time the wind, which had been light, left us, and it was nearly a calm, with a swell on the sea, which separated the two vessels; the Spaniard, who was ranging up under our lee, having but little way and not luffing enough, could not fetch us, but fell off and drifted to leeward. The Frenchmen who had been thrown on board, and who retained possession of our forecastle, being thus left without support from their own vessel, which had been separated from us by the swell, or from the Spaniard, which had fallen to leeward, we gave three cheers, and throwing a number of hand-grenades in among them, we rushed forward with our half-pikes, and killed or drove every soul of them overboard, one only, and he wounded in the thigh, escaped by swimming back to his own vessel. Here, then, was a pause in the conflict, and thus ended, I may say, the second act.
Hitherto the battle had been fought with generous resolution; but after this hand-to-hand conflict, and the massacre with which it ended, both sides appeared to have been roused to ferocity. A most infernal cannonade was now renewed by both our antagonists, and returned by us with equal fury; but it was now a dead calm, and the vessels rolled so much with the swell, that the shot were not so effective. By degrees we separated more and more from our enemies, and the firing was now reduced to single guns. During this partial cessation our antagonists had drawn near to each other, although at a considerable distance from us. We perceived that the Spaniard was sending two of his boats full of men to supply the heavy loss sustained by his comrade. Captain Weatherall ordered the sweeps out, and we swept our broadside to them, trying by single guns to sink the boats as they went from one vessel to the other. After two or three attempts, a gun was successful; the shot shattered the first of the boats, which instantly filled and went down. The second boat pulled up and endeavoured to save the men, but we now poured our broadside upon them, and, daunted by the shot flying about them, they sought their own safety by pulling back to the vessel, leaving their sinking companions to their fate. Failing in this attempt, both vessels recommenced their fire upon us, but the distance and the swell of the sea prevented any execution, and at last they ceased firing, waiting till a breeze should spring up which might enable them to renew the contest with better success.
At this time it was about eleven o'clock in the forenoon, and the combat had lasted about five hours. We refreshed ourselves after the fatigue and exertion which we had undergone, and made every preparation for a renewal of the fight. During the engagement we were so excited, that we had no time to think; but now that we were cool again and unoccupied, we had time to reflect upon our position, and we began to feel dejected and apprehensive. Fatigued with exertion, we were weak and dispirited. We knew that our best men were slain or groaning under their severe wounds, that the enemy were still numerous, and as they persevered after so dreadful a slaughter, that they were of unquestionable bravery and resolution. Good fortune, and our captain's superior seamanship had, up to the present, enabled us to make a good fight, but fortune might desert us, and our numbers were so reduced, that if the enemy continued resolute, we must be overpowered. Our gallant captain perceived the despondency that prevailed, and endeavoured to remove it by his own example and by persuasion. After praising us for the resolution and courage we had already shown, he pointed out to us that whatever might be the gallantry of the officers, it was clear that the men on board of the opposing vessels were awed by their heavy loss and want of success, and that if they made one more attempt to take us by the board and failed, which he trusted they would do, no persuasion would ever induce them to try it again, and the captains of the vessels would give over such an unprofitable combat. He solemnly averred that the colours should never be struck while he survived, and demanded who amongst us were base enough to refuse to stand by them. Again we gave him three cheers, but our numbers were few, and the cheers were faint compared with the first which had been given, but still we were resolute, and determined to support our captain and the honour of our flag. Captain Weatherall took care that this feeling should not subside—he distributed the grog plentifully; at our desire he nailed the colours to the mast, and we waited for a renewal of the combat with impatience. At four o'clock in the afternoon a breeze sprang up, and both vessels trimmed their sails and neared us fast—not quite in such gallant trim as in the morning it is true—but they appeared now to have summoned up a determined resolution. Silently they came up, forcing their way slowly through the water; not a gun was fired, but the gaping mouths of the cannon, and their men motionless at their quarters, portended the severity of the struggle which was now to decide this hitherto well-contested trial for victory. When within half a cable's length, we saluted them with three cheers, they returned our defiance, and running up on each side of us, the combat was renewed with bitterness.
The Frenchman would not this time lay us on board until he was certain that the Spaniard had boarded us to leeward—he continued luffing to windward and plying us with broadsides until we were grappled with the Spaniard, and then he bore down and laid his gunwale on our bow. The Spaniard had already boarded us on the quarter, and we were repelling this attack, when the Frenchman laid us on the bow. We fought with desperation, and our pikes gave us such an advantage over the swords and knives of the Spaniards, that they gave ground, and appalled by the desperate resistance they encountered, quitted our decks strewed with their dead and dying shipmates, and retreated in confusion to their own vessel. But before this repulse had been effected, the French had boarded us on the weather-bow, and driving before them the few men who had been sent forward to resist them, had gained our main deck, and forced their way to the rise of the quarter-deck, where all our remaining men were now collected. The combat was now desperate, but after a time our pikes, and the advantage of our position, appeared to prevail over numbers. We drove them before us—we had regained the main deck, when our brave commander, who was at our head, and who had infused spirit into us all, received a bullet through his right wrist; shifting his sword into his left hand, he still pressed forward encouraging us, when a ball entered his breast and he dropped dead. With his fall, fell the courage and fortitude of his crew so long sustained—and to complete the mischief, the lieutenant and two remaining officers also fell a few seconds after him. Astonished and terrified, the men stopped short in their career of success, and wildly looked round for a leader. The French, who had retreated to the forecastle, perceiving our confusion, renewed the attack, our few remaining men were seized with a panic, and throwing down our arms, we asked for quarter where a moment before victory was in our hands—such was the finale of our bloody drama.
Out of fifty-five men twenty-two had been killed in this murderous conflict, and almost all the survivors desperately or severely wounded. Most of the remaining crew after we had cried for quarter jumped down the hatchway, to avoid the cutlasses of their enraged victors. I and about eight others, having been driven past the hatchway, threw down our arms and begged for quarter, which we had little reason to expect would be shown to us. At first no quarter was given by our savage enemies, who cut down several of our disarmed men and hacked them to pieces. Perceiving this, I got on the gunwale ready to jump overboard, in the hopes of being taken up after the slaughter had ceased, when a French lieutenant coming up protected us, and saved the poor remains of our crew from the fury of his men. Our lives, however, were all he counted upon preserving—we were instantly stripped and plundered without mercy. I lost every thing I possessed; the watch, ring, and sword I had taken from the gallant Frenchman were soon forced from me, and not stripping off my apparel fast enough to please a Mulatto sailor, I received a blow with the butt-end of a pistol under the left ear, which precipitated me down the hatchway, near which I was standing, and I fell senseless into the hold.
We are sent in, on board the Revenge and treated with great cruelty—Are afterwards recaptured by the Hero privateer, and retaliate on the French—I am taken to the hospital at Port Royal, where I meet the French lady—Her savage exultation at my condition—She is punished by one of my comrades.
On coming to my senses, I found myself stripped naked, and suffering acute pain. I found that my right arm was broken, my shoulder severely injured by my fall; and as I had received three severe cutlass-wounds during the action, I had lost so much blood that I had not strength to rise or do any thing for myself. There I lay, groaning and naked, upon the ballast of the vessel, at times ruminating upon the events of the action, upon the death of our gallant commander, upon the loss of our vessel, of so many of our comrades, and of our liberty. After some time the surgeon, by the order of the French commander, came down to dress my wounds. He treated me with the greatest barbarity. As he twisted about my broken limb I could not help crying at the anguish which he caused me. He compelled me to silence by blows and maledictions, wishing I had broken my rascally neck rather than he should have been put to the trouble of coming down to dress me. However, dress me he did, out of fear of his captain, who, he knew well, would send round to see if he had executed his orders, and then he left me with a kick in the ribs by way of remembrance. Shortly afterwards the vessels separated. Fourteen of us, who were the most severely hurt, were left in the Revenge, which was manned by an officer and twenty Frenchmen, with orders to take her into Port-au-Paix. The rest of our men were put on board of the French privateer, who sailed away in search of a more profitable adventure.
About an hour after they had made sail on the vessel, the officer who had charge of her, looking down the hatchway, and perceiving my naked and forlorn condition, threw me a pair of trousers, which had been rejected by the French seamen as not worth having, and a check shirt, in an equally ragged condition, I picked up in the hold; this, with a piece of old rope to tie round my neck as a sling for my broken arm, was my whole wardrobe. In the evening I gained the deck, that I might be refreshed by the breeze, which cooled my feverish body and somewhat restored me.
We remained in this condition for several days, tortured with pain, but more tortured, perhaps, by the insolence and bragging of the Frenchmen, who set no bounds to their triumph and self-applause. Among those who had charge of the prize were two, one of whom had my watch and the other my ring; the first would hold it to me grinning, and asking if Monsieur would like to know what o'clock it was; and the other would display the ring, and tell me that his sweetheart would value it when she knew that it was taken from a conquered Englishman. This was their practice every day, and I was compelled to receive their gibes without venturing a retort.
On the eleventh day after our capture, when close to Port-au-Paix, and expecting we should be at anchor before nightfall, we perceived a great hurry and confusion on deck; they were evidently making all the sail that they could upon the vessel; and then hearing them fire off their stern-chasers, we knew for certain that they were pursued. Overjoyed at the prospect of being released, we gave three cheers. The French from the deck threatened to fire down upon us, but we knew that they dared not, for the Revenge was so crippled in the fight, that they could not put sail upon her so as to escape, and their force on board was too small to enable them to resist if overtaken—we therefore continued our exulting clamours. At last we heard guns fired, and the shot whizzing over the vessel—a shot or two struck our hull, and soon afterwards a broadside being poured into us, the Frenchmen struck their colours, and we had the satisfaction of seeing all these Gasconaders driven down into the hold to take our places. It was now their turn to be dejected and downcast, and for us to be merry; and now also the tables had to be turned, and we took the liberty of regaining possession of our clothes and other property which they carried on their backs and in their pockets. I must say we showed them no mercy.
"What o'clock is it, Monsieur?" said I to the fellow who had my watch.
"At your service, Sir," he replied, humbly taking out my watch, and presenting it to me.
"Thank you," said I, taking the watch, and saluting him with a kick in the stomach, which made him double up and turn round from me, upon which I gave him another kick in the rear to straighten him again. "That ring, Monsieur, that your sweetheart will prize."
"Here it is," replied the fellow, abjectly.
"Thank you, Sir," I replied, saluting him with the double kick which I had given to the former. "Tell your sweetheart I sent her those," cried I, "that is, when you get back to her."
"Hark ye, brother," cries one of our men, "I'll trouble you for that jacket which you borrowed of me the other day, and in return here are a pair of iron garters (holding out the shackles), which you must wear for my sake—I think they will fit you well."
"Mounseer," cries another, "that wig of mine don't suit your complexion, I'll trouble you for it. It's a pity such a face as yours should be disfigured in those curls. And while you are about it, I'll thank you to strip altogether, as I think your clothes will fit me, and are much too gay for a prisoner."
"I was left naked through your kindness the other day," said I to another, who was well and smartly dressed, "I'll thank you to strip to your skin, or you shall have no skin left." And I commenced with my knife cutting his ears as if I would skin them.
It was a lucky hit of mine, for in his sash I found about twenty doubloons. He would have saved them, and held them tight, but after my knife had entered his side about half an inch, he surrendered the prize. After we had plundered and stripped them of every thing, we set to to kick them, and we did it for half an hour so effectually that they were all left groaning in a heap on the ballast, and we then found our way on deck.
The privateer which had recaptured us proved to be the Hero, of New Providence; the Frenchmen were taken out, and some of her own men put in to take us to Port Royal; we being wounded, and not willing to join her, remained on board. On our arrival at Port Royal, we obtained permission to go to the King's Hospital to be cured. As I went up stairs to the ward allotted to me, I met the French lady whose husband had been killed, and who was still nursing her son at the hospital, his wounds not having been yet cured. Notwithstanding my altered appearance, she knew me again immediately, and seeing me pale and emaciated, with my arm in a sling, she dropped down on her knees and thanked God for returning upon our heads a portion of the miseries we had brought upon her. She was delighted when she heard how many of us had been slain in the murderous conflict, and even rejoiced at the death of poor Captain Weatherall, which, considering how very kind and considerate he had been to her, I thought to be very unchristian.
It so happened that I was not only in the same ward, but in the cradle next to her son, and the excitement I had been under when we were recaptured, and my exertion in kicking the Frenchmen, had done me no good. A fever was the consequence, and I suffered dreadfully, and she would look at me, exulting in my agony, and mocking my groans, till at last the surgeon told her it was by extreme favour that her son had been admitted into the hospital instead of being sent to prison, and that if she did not behave herself in a proper manner, he would order her to be denied admittance altogether, and that if she dared to torment suffering men in that way, on the first complaint on my part, her son should go to the gaol and finish his cure there. This brought her to her senses, and she begged pardon, and promised to offend no more, but she did not keep her word for more than a day or two, but laughed out loud when the surgeon was dressing my arm, for a piece of bone had to be taken out, and I shrieked with anguish. This exasperated one of my messmates so much that, not choosing to strike her, and knowing how to wound her still worse, he drove his fist into the head of her son as he lay in his cradle, and by so doing re-opened the wound that had been nearly healed.
"There's pain for you to laugh at, you French devil," he cried.
And sure enough it cost the poor young man his life.
The surgeon was very angry with the man, but told the French lady as she kneeled sobbing by the side of her son, that she had brought it upon herself and him by her own folly and cruelty. I know not whether she felt so, or whether she dreaded a repetition, but this is certain, she tormented me no more. On the contrary, I think she suffered very severely, as she perceived that I rapidly mended, and that her poor son got on but slowly. At last my hurts were all healed, and I left the hospital, hoping never to see her more.
Sail for Liverpool in the Sally and Kitty—Fall in with a Gale—Boy overboard—Nearly drowned in attempting to save him—See the owners at Liverpool—Embark in the Dalrymple for the Coast of Africa—Arrive off Senegal.
A great deal of prize-money being due to us, I called upon the agent at Port Royal to obtain an advance. I found him in a puzzle. Owing to the death of Captain Weatherall and so many of the officers, he hardly knew whether those who applied to him were entitled to prize-money or not. Whether he thought I appeared more honest than the others, or from what cause I know not, he requested me, as I knew every thing that had passed, to remain with him for a short time; and finding that I could read and write well, he obtained from me correct lists of the privateer's crew, with those who were killed, and on what occasion. All this information I was able to give him, as well as the ratings of the parties; for on more than one occasion the privateers'-men had come to him representing themselves as petty officers, when they were only common seamen on board, and had in consequence received from him a larger advance than they were entitled to. As soon as his accounts were pretty well made up, he asked me whether I intended to go to England, as if so, he would send me home with all the papers and documents to the owner at Liverpool, who would require my assistance to arrange the accounts; and as I had had quite enough of privateering for a time, I consented to go. About two months after leaving the hospital, during which I had passed a very pleasant life, and quite recovered from my wounds and injuries, I sailed for Liverpool in the Sally and Kitty West-Indiaman, commanded by Captain Clarke, a very violent man.
We had not sailed twelve hours before we fell in with a gale, which lasted several days, and we kept under close-reef-topsails and storm-staysails. The gale lasting a week, raised a mountainous swell, but it was very long and regular. On the seventh day the wind abated, but the swell continued, and at evening there was very little wind, when a circumstance occurred which had nearly cost me my life, as you will acknowledge, Madam, when I relate the story to you. During the dog-watch between six and eight, some hands being employed in the foretop, the other watch below at supper, and the captain and all the officers in the cabin, I being at the helm, heard a voice apparently rising out of the sea, calling me by name. Surprised, I ran to the side of the ship, and saw a youth named Richard Pallant in the water going astern. He had fallen out of the forechains, and knowing that I was at the helm, had shouted to me for help. I immediately called all hands, crying a man overboard. The captain hastened on deck with all the others, and ordered the helm a-lee. The ship went about, and then fell round off, driving fast before the swell, till at last we brought her to.
The captain, although a resolute man, was much confused and perplexed at the boy's danger—for his friends were people of property at Ipswich, and had confided the boy to his particular care. He ran backwards and forwards, crying out that the boy must perish, as the swell was so high that he dared not send a boat, for the boat could not live in such a sea, and if the boat were lost with the crew, there would not be hands enow left on board to take the vessel home. As the youth was not a hundred yards from the vessel, I stated the possibility of swimming to him with the deep-sea line, which would be strong enough to haul both him and the man who swam to him on board. Captain Clarke, in a great rage, swore that it was impossible, and asked me who the devil would go. Piqued at his answer, and anxious to preserve the life of the youth, I offered to try it myself. I stripped, and making the line fast round my body, plunged from the ship's side into the sea. It was a new deep-sea line, and stiff in the coil, so that not drawing close round me, it slipped, and I swam through it, but catching it as it slipped over my feet, I made it secure by putting my head and one arm through the noose. I swam direct for the boy, and found that I swam with ease, owing to the strength and buoyant nature of the water in those latitudes. I had not swum more than half-way before the line got foul on the coil on board, and checking me suddenly, it pulled me backwards and under water. I recovered myself, and struck out again. During this time, to clear the line on board, they had cut some of the entangled parts, and in the confusion and hurry, severed the wrong part, so that the end went overboard, and I had half the coil of line hanging to me, and at the same time was adrift from the ship. They immediately hailed me to return, but from the booming of the waves I could not hear what they said, and thought that they were encouraging me to proceed. I shouted in return to show the confidence which I had in myself. I easily mounted the waves as they breasted me, but still I made my way very slowly against such a swell, and saw the boy only at intervals when I was on the top of the wave. He could swim very little, and did not make for the ship, but with his eyes fixed upon the sky, paddled like a dog to keep himself above water. I now began to feel the weight of the line upon me, and to fear that I should never hold out. I began to repent of my rashness, and thought I had only sacrificed myself without any chance of saving him. I persevered, nevertheless, and having, as I guessed, come to the spot where the boy was, I looked round, and not seeing him, was afraid that he had gone down, but on mounting the next wave, I saw him in the hollow, struggling hard to keep above water, and almost spent with his long exertion.
I swam down to him, and hailing him, found he was still sensible, but utterly exhausted. I desired him to hold on by my hand but not to touch my body, as we should both sink. He promised to obey me, and I held out my right-hand to him, and made a signal for them to haul in on board, for I had no idea that the line had been cut. I was frightened when I perceived the distance that the ship was from me—at least a quarter of a mile. I knew that the deep-sea line was but a hundred fathoms in length, and therefore that I must be adrift, and my heart sunk within me. All the horrors of my situation came upon me, and I felt that I was lost; but although death appeared inevitable, I still struggled for life—but the rope now weighed me down more and more. While swimming forward it trailed behind, and although it impeded my way, I did not feel half its weight. Now, however, that I was stationary, it sank deep, and pulled me down with it. The waves, too, which, while I breasted them and saw them approach, I easily rose over, being now behind us, broke over our heads, burying us under them, or rolling us over by their force.
I tried to disengage myself from the line, but the noose being jammed, and having the boy in one hand, I could not possibly effect it. But what gave me courage in my difficulties was, that I perceived that the people on board were getting out the boat; for although the captain would not run the risk for one person, now that two were overboard, and one of them risking his life for the other, the men insisted that the boat should be hoisted out. It was an anxious time to me, but at last I had the satisfaction of seeing her clear of the ship, and pulling round her bow. The danger was, however, considered so great, that when they came to man the boat, only three men could be found who would go in her, and in the confusion they came away with but two oars and no rudder. Under these disadvantages they of course pulled very slowly against a mountainous sea, as they were obliged to steer with the oars to meet it, that the boat might not be swamped. But the sight of the boat was sufficient to keep me up. My exertions were certainly incredible; but what will not a man do when in fear of death. As it approached—slowly and slowly did my powers decrease. I was now often under water with the boy, and rose again to fresh exertion, when at last a crested wave broke over us, and down we went several feet under the water. The force of the sea drove the boy against me, and he seized me by the loins with my head downwards. I struggled to disengage myself! It was impossible. I gave myself up for lost—and what a crowd of thoughts, and memories passed through my brain in a few moments, for it could not have been longer. At last, being head downwards, I dived deeper, although I was bursting from so long holding my breath under water.
This had the desired effect. Finding me sinking instead of rising with him, the boy let go his hold that he might gain the surface. I turned and followed him, and drew breath once more. Another moment had sealed our fates. I no longer thought of saving the boy, but struck out for the boat which was now near me. Perceiving this, the boy cried out to me for pity's sake not to leave him. I felt myself so far recovered from my exhaustion, that I thought I could save him as well as myself, and compassion induced me to turn back. I again gave him my hand, charging him on his life not to attempt to grapple with me, and again resumed the arduous struggle of keeping him as well as myself above water. My strength was nearly gone, the boat approached but slowly, and we now sunk constantly under the water, rising every few seconds to draw breath. Merciful God! how slow appeared the approach of the boat. Struggle after struggle—fainter and fainter still—still I floated. At last my senses almost left me, I took in water in quantities. I felt I was in green fields, when I was seized by the men and thrown into the bottom of the boat, where I lay senseless alongside of the boy. There was great danger and difficulty in getting again to the ship. More than once the boat was half filled by the following seas, and when they gained the ship it was impossible to get us out, as, had they approached the side, the boat would have been dashed to atoms. They lowered the tackles from the yard-arms. The three men clambered up them, leaving us to take our chance of the boat being got in, or her being stove to pieces; in which latter case, we should have been lost. They did get us in, with great damage to the boat, but we were saved. The line was still round me, and it was found that I had been supporting the weight of seventy yards. So sore was I with such exertion, that I kept my hammock for many days, during which I reviewed my past life, and vowed amendment.
We arrived at Liverpool without any further adventure worth recording, and I immediately called upon the owner with the papers intrusted to me. I gave him all the information he required, and he asked me whether I should like to return to privateering, or to go as mate of a vessel bound to the coast of Africa. I inquired what her destination was to be, and as I found that she was to go to Senegal for ivory, wax, gold dust, and other articles, in exchange for English prints and cutlery, I consented. I mention this, as, had she been employed in the slave-trade, as were most of the vessels from Liverpool to the Coast, I would not have joined her. A few days afterwards, I went on board of the Dalrymple, Captain Jones, as mate; we had a very quick passage to Senegal, and brought our vessel to an anchor off the bar.
In crossing the Bar at Senegal the boat is upset by a Tornado—We escape being devoured by Sharks only to be captured by the Natives—Are taken into the interior of the country, and brought before the Negro King, from whose wrath we are saved by the intercession of his female attendants.
A day or two after we had arrived, the master of another vessel that was at anchor near to us came on board and borrowed our long-boat and some hands that he might go in it to Senegal. The captain, who was an old friend of the party who made the request, agreed to lend it to him, and as accidents are very frequent with boats crossing the bar, on account of the heavy breakers, the best swimmers were selected for the purpose, and the charge of the boat was given to me. We set off, five men rowing and I at the helm. When we approached the bar, a tornado, which had been for some time threatening, came upon us. The impetuosity of these blasts is to be matched in no part of the world, and as it came at once in its full force, we endeavoured, by putting the boat before it, to escape its fury. This compelled us to run to the southward along the coast. We managed to keep the boat up for a long while, and hoped to have weathered it, when, being on the bar, and in broken water, a large wave curled over us, filled the boat, and it went down in an instant.
Our only chance now was to reach the shore by swimming, but it was at a distance, with broken water the whole way; and our great terror was from the sharks, which abound on the coast and are extremely ravenous—nor were we without reason for our alarm. Scarcely had the boat gone down, and we were all stretching out for the shore, when one of our men shrieked, having been seized by the sharks, and instantly torn to pieces. His blood stained the water all around, and this attracting all the sharks proved the means of our escape. Never shall I forget the horrible sensation which I felt as I struggled through the broken water, expecting every minute a limb to be taken off by one of those voracious animals. If one foot touched the other, my heart sank, thinking it was the nose of a shark, and that its bite would immediately follow. Agonized with these terrors, we struggled on—now a large wave curling over us and burying us under water, or now forced by the waves towards the beach, rolling us over and over. So battered were we by the surf, that we dived under the waves to escape the blows which we received, and then rose and struck out again. At last, worn out with exertion, we gained the shore, but our toil was not over.
The beach was of a sand so light that it crumbled beneath us, and at the return of the wave which threw us on shore we were dragged back again, and buried in sand and water. We rose to renew our endeavours, but several times without success, for we could not obtain a firm footing. At last the Negroes, who had witnessed our accident, and who now came down in great numbers on the beach, laid hold of us as the sea threw us up, and dragged us beyond the reach of the waves. Worn out with fatigue we lay on the sand, waiting to ascertain what the savages would do with us; they were not long in letting us know, for they soon began to strip us of every article of clothing on our backs. One of our men attempted to resist, upon which a Negro drove a spear through his thigh.
Having divided our apparel, after some consultation, they tied our hands, and placing us in the midst of a large force, armed with spears, and bows and arrows, they went off with us for the inland part of the country. We set off with heavy hearts; taking, as we thought, a last farewell of the ocean, and going forwards in great apprehension of the fate that awaited us. The sand was very deep, and the heat of the sun excessive, for it was then about noon. Without any garments, we were soon scorched and blistered all over, and in intolerable anguish, as well as fatigued; but the Negroes compelled us to move on, goading us with their spears if we slackened our pace, and threatening to run us through if we made a halt. We longed for the night, as it would afford a temporary relief to our sufferings. It came at last, and the Negroes collected wood and lighted a fire to keep off the wild beasts, lying round it in a circle, and placing us in the midst of them. We hoped to have some rest after what we had gone through, but it was impossible—the night proved even worse than the day. The musquitoes came down upon us in such swarms, and their bites were so intolerable that we were almost frantic. Our hands being tied, we could not beat them off, and we rolled over and over to get rid of them. This made matters worse, for our whole bodies being covered with raised blisters from the rays of the sun, our roiling over and over broke the blisters, and the sand getting into the wounds, added to the bites of the musquitoes, made our sufferings intolerable. We had before prayed for night, we now prayed for day. Some prayed for death.
When the sun rose, we set off again, our conductors utterly disregarding our anguish, and goading us on as before. In the forenoon we arrived at a village, where our guards refreshed themselves; a very small quantity of boiled corn was given to each of us, and we continued our journey, passing by several small towns, consisting, as they all do in that country, of huts built of reeds, round in form, and gathered to a point at top. This day was the same as the preceding. We were pricked with spears if we stumbled or lagged, threatened with death if we had not strength to go on. At last the evening arrived, and the fires were lighted. The fires were much larger than before, I presume because the wild beasts were more numerous, for we heard them howling in every direction round us, which we had not done on the night before. The musquitoes did not annoy us so much, and we obtained some intervals of broken rest. At daylight we resumed our journey, as near as we could judge by the sun, in a more easterly direction.
During the first two days we were badly received by the inhabitants of the towns, whose people had been kidnapped so often for the slave-trade; they hated the sight of our white faces, for they presumed that we had come for that purpose; but as we advanced in the interior, we were better treated, and the natives looked upon us with surprise and wonder, considering us as a new race of beings. Some of the women seeing how utterly exhausted we were with fatigue and hunger, looked with compassion on us, and brought us plenty of boiled corn and goats' milk to drink. This refreshed us greatly, and we continued our journey in anxious expectation of the fate for which we were reserved.
On crossing a small river, which appeared to be the boundary of two different states, a multitude of Negroes approached, and seemed disposed to take us from our present masters, but after a conference, they agreed among themselves, and a party of them joined with those who had previously conducted us. We soon came to the edge of a desert, and there we halted till the Negroes had filled several calabashes and gourds full of water, and collected a quantity of boiled corn. As soon as this was done, we set off again, and entered the desert. We were astonished and terrified when we looked around us, not a single vestige of herbage, not a blade of grass was to be seen—all was one wide waste of barren sand, so light as to rise in clouds at the least wind, and we sank so deep in walking through it that at last we could hardly drag one foot after the other. But we were repaid for our fatigue, for when we halted at night, no fires were lighted, and to our great delight we found that there were no musquitoes to annoy us. We fell into a sound sleep, which lasted till morning, and were much refreshed; indeed, so much so as to enable us to pursue our journey with alacrity.
In our passage over the desert we saw numbers of elephants' teeth, but no animals. How the teeth came there, unless it were that the elephants were lost in attempting to cross the desert, I cannot pretend to say. Before we had crossed the desert, our water was expended, and we suffered dreadfully from thirst, walking as we did during the whole day under a vertical sun. The night was equally painful, as we were so tortured with the want of water; but on the following day, when our strength was nearly exhausted, and we were debating whether we should not lie down and allow the spears of our conductors to put an end to our miseries, we came to the banks of a river which the Negroes had evidently been anxiously looking for. Here we drank plentifully, and remained all the day to recruit ourselves, for the Negroes were almost as exhausted as we were. The next morning we crossed the river, and plunged into a deep wood: the ground being high, the musquitoes did not annoy us so much as they did down on the low marshy land near the sea-coast. During our traverse through the wood, we subsisted solely upon the birds and animals which the Negroes killed with their bows and arrows.
When we had forced our way through the forest, we found the country, as before, interspersed with wicker villages or small hamlets at a few miles' distance from each other. Round each village there were small patches of Guinea corn, and we frequently came to clusters of huts which had been deserted. Between the sea-coast and the desert we had traversed we observed that many of the inhabitants had European fire-arms, but now the only weapons to be seen were spears and bows and arrows. As we advanced we were surrounded at every village by the natives, who looked upon us with surprise and astonishment, examining us, and evidently considering us a new species. One morning we arrived at a very large Negro town, and as we approached, our guards began to swell with pride and exultation, and drove us before them among the crowds of inhabitants, singing songs of triumph, and brandishing their weapons. Having been driven through a great part of the town, we arrived at a number of huts separated by a high palisade from the rest, and appropriated, as we afterwards found, to the use of the king of the country, his wives and attendants. Here we waited outside some time, while our guards went in and acquainted this royal personage with the present which they had brought for him.
We had reason to think that our captors were not his subjects, but had been at variance with him, and had brought us as a present, that they might make peace with an enemy too strong for them. We were at last ordered to go inside the inclosure, and found ourselves in a large open building, constructed like the others, of reeds and boughs. In the centre was squatted a ferocious-looking old Negro, attended by four young Negro women. He was raw-boned and lean, and of a very large frame. A diabolical ferocity was imprinted on his grim countenance, and as he moved his arms and legs he showed that under his loose skin there was a muscle of extraordinary power. I never had before seen such a living type of brutal strength and barbarity. On a mat before him were provisions of different kinds. Behind him stood several grim savages who held his weapons, and on each side, at a greater distance, were rows of Negroes, with their heads bent down and their arms crossed, awaiting his orders. The chief or king, as well as the four women, had clothes of the blue cotton cloth of the country, that is, one piece wrapped round the loins and descending to the ankles, and another worn over their shoulders; but, with few exceptions, all the rest, as well as the inhabitants generally, were quite naked. So were we, as the reader may recollect. Round the necks of the women were rows of gold beads, longer by degrees, until the last of the rows hung lower than their bosoms, and both the king and they had large bracelets of gold round their arms, wrists, and legs. The women, who were young and well-looking, stared at us with eager astonishment, while the old king scowled upon us so as to freeze our blood. At last, rising from the ground, he took his sabre from the man who held it behind him, and walked up among us, who with our heads bowed, and breathless with fear, awaited our impending fate. I happened to be standing the foremost, and grasping my arm with a gripe which made my heart sink, with his hand which held the sword he bent down my head still lower than it was. I made sure that he was about to cut off my head, when the women, who had risen from the ground, ran crowding round him, and with mingled entreaties and caresses strove to induce him not to put his intentions, if such he really had, into execution. They prevailed at last; the youngest took away his sword, and then they led him back to his seat, after which the women came to us to gratify their curiosity. They felt our arms and breasts, putting innumerable questions to those who brought us thither. They appeared very much amazed at the length of my hair, for I had worn it tied in a long cue. Taking hold of it, they gave it two or three severe pulls, to ascertain if it really grew to my head, and finding that it did so, they expressed much wonder. When their curiosity was satisfied, they then appeared to consider our condition, and having obtained the old king's permission, they brought us a calabash full of cush-cush, that is Guinea corn boiled into a thick paste. Our hands being still tied; we could only by shaking our heads express our inability to profit by their kindness. Understanding what we meant, they immediately cut our thongs, and the youngest of the four perceiving that my arms were benumbed from having been confined so many days, and that I could not use them, showed the most lively commiseration for my sufferings. She gently chafed my wrists with her hands, and showed every sign of pity in her countenance, as indeed did all the other three. But I was by far the youngest of the whole party who had been captured, and seemed most to excite their pity and good-will. Shortly afterwards we were all taken into an adjoining tent or hut, and our bodies were rubbed all over with an oil, which after a few days' application left us perfectly healed, and as smooth as silk. So altered was our condition, that those very people who had guarded us with their spears and threatened us with death, were now ordered to wait upon us, and as the king's wives frequently came to see how we were treated, we were served with the utmost humility and attention.
I am given as a Slave to the old King's Favourite, Whyna—Assist my young Mistress to make her Toilet—Hold frequent Conversations with her, and become strongly attached to her—My Hatred and Dread of the old King increase—He shoots a Man with Bird-arrows.
One morning, after we had been about three weeks in these comfortable quarters, I was summoned away from my companions into the presence of the king. When I came before him a small manacle was fixed round my left ankle, and another round my left wrist, with a light chain connecting the two. A circle of feathers was put round my head, and a loose cloth wrapped round my loins. I was then led forward to him with my arms crossed over my breast, and my head bowed. By his orders I was then placed behind the youngest of the four women, the one who had chafed my wrists, and I was given to understand that I was her slave, and was to attend upon her, to which, I must say, I gave a joyful assent in my heart, although I did not at that time show any signs of gladness. There I remained, with my arms folded, and bowed as before, until dinner was brought in, and a calabash full of cush-cush was put into my hands to place before the king and his wives. My first attempt at service was not very adroit, for, in my eagerness to do my duty, I tripped over the corner of the mat which served them for a table, and tumbling headlong forward, emptied the calabash of cush-cush which I held in my hand upon the legs of the old king, who sat opposite to where I was advancing. He jumped up roaring out with anger, while I in my fear sprung on my legs, and rushed to the side of the apartment, expecting immediate death. Fortunately the victuals in this country are always served up cool, and my new mistress easily obtained my pardon, laughing heartily at the scene, and at my apprehension.
The repast being over, I was ordered to follow my mistress, who retired to another hut, according to their custom, to sleep during the heat of the day. I was placed before the door to prevent her being disturbed. My only duty now was to attend upon my young mistress. She was the king's favourite wife, and as she was uniformly kind and gentle, I should have almost ceased to lament my loss of liberty had it not been from the fear I had of the old monarch. I knew that my preservation depended entirely upon my mistress's favour, and I endeavoured all I could to conciliate her by the most sedulous attentions to please. Young and generous in disposition, she was easily satisfied by my ready obedience and careful service. I do not think that she was more than seventeen years of age; but they are women at fourteen in that country, and even earlier. She was a Negress as to colour, but not a real Negress; for her hair, although short and very wavy, was not woolly, and her nose was straight. Her mouth was small, and her teeth beautiful. Her figure was perfect, her limbs being very elegantly formed. When she first rose in the morning, I attended her to the brow of a hill just without the palisades, where with devout but mistaken piety she adored the rising sun—at least it appeared to me that she did so. She then went down to the river to bathe, and as soon as her hair was dry she had it dressed. This office, after a short time, devolved upon me, and I became very expert, having to rub her hair with a sweet oil, and then roll it up in its natural curls with a quill, so as to dispose them to the most fanciful advantage as to form.
After her toilet was complete, she went to feed her poultry, and some antelopes and other beasts, and then she practised at a mark with her bow and arrows and javelin till about ten o'clock, when she went to the king's hut, and they all sat down to eat together. After the repast, which lasted some time, if she did not repose with the king, she retired to her own hut, where she usually refreshed herself till about four o'clock, when she returned to the king, or ranged the woods, or otherwise amused herself during the rest of the evening. I will say for the old savage that he did not confine his wives. Such was our general course of life, and wherever she went I attended her. The attachment I showed and really felt for her secured her confidence, and she always treated me in a kind and familiar manner. Their language consists of few words compared to our own, and in a short time, by help of signs, we understood each other tolerably well. She appeared to have a most ardent curiosity to know who we were, and from whence we came, and all the time that we passed alone was employed in putting questions, and my endeavouring to find out her meaning and answer them. This, although very difficult at first, I was eventually enabled to accomplish indifferently well. She was most zealous in her mistaken religion, and one morning when I was following her to her devotions on the hill, she asked me where my God was? I pointed upwards, upon which she told me with great joy and innocency, that hers was there too, and that, therefore, they must be the same God, or if not they must be friends. Convinced that she was right, she made me worship with her, bowing my head down to the sand, and going through the same forms, which of course I did not understand the meaning of; but I prayed to my God, and therefore made no objection, as it was pleasing to her. This apparent conformity in religion recommended me more strongly to her, and we became more intimate, and I was certainly attached to her by every tie of gratitude. I was quite happy in the friendship and kindness she showed towards me; the only drawback was my fear of the proud old king, and the recollection of him often made me check myself, and suddenly assume a more distant and respectful demeanour towards her. I soon found out that she dreaded the old savage as much as I did, and hated him even more. In his presence she treated me very sternly, and ordered me about in a very dictatorial manner; but when we were alone, and had no fear of being seen, she would then be very familiar, sometimes even locking her arm into mine, and laughing as she pointed out the contrast of the colours, and in the full gaiety of her young heart rejoicing that we were alone, and could converse freely together. As she was very intelligent, she soon perceived that I possessed much knowledge that she did not, and that she could not comprehend what I wanted to teach her. This induced her to look upon me with respect as well as kindness.
One day I purposely left her bow behind in the hut where my companions resided; and on her asking me for it, I told her that I had done so, but that I would make my companions send it without my going back. I tore off a piece of the bark of a tree, and with the point of an arrow I wrote to one of them, desiring him to send it by bearer; and calling a young Negro boy, told him in her presence to give that piece of bark to the white man, and come back again to the queen. Whyna, for such was the name of my mistress queen, stood in suspense, waiting the result; in a few minutes the boy returned, bringing the bow. Astonished at this, she made me write again and again for her arrows, her lance, and many other things. Finding by these being immediately sent that we had a method of communicating with each other at a distance, she earnestly insisted upon being taught so surprising an art. Going at a distance from me, she ordered me to talk to her when out of hearing, and finding that I could not, or, as she seemed to suppose, that I would not, she became discontented and out of humour. I could by no means make her comprehend how it was performed, but I made her understand that as soon as I was fully acquainted with her language, I should be able to teach her. She was satisfied with this, but made me promise that I would teach nobody else.
By the canoes in the river, I easily made her comprehend that I came in a vast boat from a distant land, over a great expanse of water, and also how it was that we fell into the Negroes' power. I then found out from her that the Negroes had pretended that we had invaded their land to procure slaves, and that they had vanquished us in battle; hence their songs of triumph on bringing us to the king. I pointed out the heavenly bodies to her in the evenings, trying to make her comprehend something of their nature and motions, but in vain. This had, however, one good effect; she looked up to me with more respect, hoping that some day, when I could fully explain myself, she might be herself taught all these wonders. With these feelings towards me, added to my sedulous endeavours to please her, and obey her slightest wishes, it is not surprising that she treated me as a companion, and not as a slave, and gave me every innocent proof of her attachment. More I never wished, and almost dreaded that our intimacy would be too great. Happy when alone with her, I ever returned with reluctance to the presence of the old king, whose sight and company I dreaded.
The boundless cruelty of this monster was a continual check to all my happiness. Accustomed to blood from his childhood, he appeared wholly insensible to human feelings, and derided the agonies of the wretches who daily fell by his hands. One day he amused himself by shooting small bird-arrows at a man who was bound to a post before the tent, which was placed there for the punishment of those who were his victims. He continued for hours fixing the arrows in different parts of his body, mimicking and deriding his cries. At last, contrary to his intentions, one of the arrows hit the man in the throat, and his head drooped. As the old savage saw that the poor man was dying, he drew another arrow and sent it through his heart, very much annoyed at his disappointment in not prolonging the poor creature's sufferings. I was witness to this scene with silent horror, and many more of a similar nature. I hardly need say, that I felt what my punishment would be if I had by any means roused the jealousy of this monster; and I knew that, without giving him real cause, a moment of bare suspicion would be sufficient to sacrifice my mistress as well as me.