I was born in the city of Norwich, Conn., in the year 1783. My father, whose name was Beriah, was a native of that part of Norwich now called Bozrah, and at the time of my birth was the only Methodist minister in that city. His wife, my mother, was named Elizabeth Bragg, and bore him ten children, of whom I was the youngest.
At the age of six years I was bound by the town to a Mr. U—
F—, of Canterbury, who was engaged to give me, when I had served
my time out, a score of sheep, a horse, a saddle, a bridle, two
suits of clothes, and a Bible. Mr. F. was a very cruel man, and,
abeing nearly always drunk, so treated me, that, had it not been
for the kindness of neighbors, I should certainly have starved. I
ran away from him several times on account of his cruelty, but he
always pursued me and carried me back. At one time he tied me to
the tail of an old mare, as a punishment for running home, and
drove two miles with me thus tied, until, stopping at a tavern for
a drink, in his absence several gentlemen passed by, and having
inquired the reason and cause of my running away, loosed me, and
then cut the hair from the horse's tail.
I never returned to Canterbury, but after remaining a while at home, I went to live with a brother in Oxford. I was then in my thirteenth year. My brother was rather cross, and as I was tired of being treated unkindly, I soon returned home to my mother. I left her shortly, however, and went to Mr. B—, of Norwich, to learn the tailor's trade, but instead of learning a trade, I was kept scouring pots and kettles and mahogany, so that of all the time I was with him I worked but one day in the shop.
Once I saw Mr. B. place some pictures in a desk, and the next day,
while digging in a part of the garden which had never been dug up
before, I found a key which I though might fit the desk.
The next day, while on my journey, I helped myself to a gun, and
desiring to use it, I obtained powder and ball at Franklin—but
the gun would not go off. I then returned to the store, where I met
a man who asked me to exchange it for a double barreled one, and
though I ought and meant to have returned it to its owner, the Evil
One was too strong for me, and I made the exchange.
That day the schooner left for Baltimore. At nightfall, we entered the Sound. The sea was very high, and I was sea-sick. The vessel plunged and tossed. I was in the forechains, sick almost to death, with the sea washing and beating over me, till the captain took me, undressed me, and put me in a berth, where I found myself next morning nearly well. We had a long passage on account of head winds, but the captain and crew were very kind to me, and one o ld man in particular, who taught me to cook and curious things about sailing a ship. We lay in Baltimore two months. all the crew but myself being paid off, left the schooner, and I remained, not knowing what to do next.
One day the captain said to me, “Ed, (so they called me,) do
you want to go to the West Indies?” “Yes,” said I,
“I'll go where you go.”
“Well,” said he, “you have been with me over two months; I shall allow you six dollars a month for it, and lay out the money for you in clothes, and buy you a little chest—after this I will give you twelve dollars.” When I heard, also, that the same old crew were shipped for the voyage, I was very happy, for I knew them and liked them all very much for their goodness to me. After they came on board we all signed the articles—I making my mark. The captain took me to the Custom House and got me my protection papers, the object of which was to preserve me from impressment in foreign countries, by declaring me an American. These papers were absolutely necessary in those days, for such was the scarcity of men for army and navy service in Europe, that every sailor, unless provided with these papers, was almost certain to be pressed and kept as good as prisoner for years, perhaps. They described the person, name, residence, &c, and are cherished by the sailor as his title to his freedom, and, therefore, as his most valuable property. Thus provided, I sailed with the vessel for Guadaloupe on the 17th of October, 1796.
After a passage of about twenty days we made Point Peter's harbor,
where we discharged our cargo and took in one of molasses and
After this I made one cruise on the “Hornet,” schooner, to
Jeremie, W.I., receiving twenty-five dollars per month, and then
shipped on the “Polly,” for London. We made a thirty-five
day passage from the cape, and having discharged in the Thames
River, not far from the London Bridge, hauled into Limehouse dock
At this time I was taken down with the small-pox, and for seven weeks was completely blind, suffering greatly. I was confined five months, and for a long time my recovery was extremely doubtful—but the kind treatment I received at my boarding house saved me. The Custom House allowed me one dollar and a half per week. This was in accordance with the usual practice by which seamen, when in port, if ill or destitute, are always provided for, unless through the negligence of villainy of those to whom such business is entrusted. When a vessel is cleared from the Customs office, she pays so much per head “Hospital money,” and thus is procured a fund, from which is supplied to sailors the means of subsistence in any port where there is a consul. How well these officers sometimes discharge their duties will be seen in the following pages.
When I recovered I coasted for sometime, until the French ships frightened us off, though we began again at their departure in Jan., 1798. This was at first between Baltimore and New York, on the “Sea Lion,” schooner, Capt. Butler.
The frigate Constellation was now building at Baltimore, under the
superintendence of Commodore Truxton. I was present at the
launching in HarrisCreek
When we had cleared for the night, and properly hauled our sails, we bore down up on her. She fired first, opening with a whole broadside, which we returned. The action continued two hours and twenty minutes, when the enemy hauled down her colors and became our prize. She proved to be “L'Insurgente,” mounting 38 guns and carrying 350 men; and this victory over a superior force—for the Constellation mounted but 36 guns and carried only 250 men—considerably elated us, notwithstanding our losses of 12 killed and 25 wounded. Their loss was over 100.
In this conflict Lieutenant Rodgers showed himself a man of the most intrepid courage, and I cannot believe him guilty of the cowardice with which he has since, in the war of 1812, been charged. The prisoners on board “L'Insurgente” were removed to our vessel, a crew put on board, and she ordered to Philadelphia; but peach having been made, she was sent to France. She never reached there, or was at all afterwards heard of.
Upon the arrival of the Constellation at Philadelphia we were paid
off and returned to Baltimore, where we enjoyed ourselves greatly,
riding about in carriages, and rejoicing over the victory in many
ways, until the latter part of June.
I then shipped on the brig “America,” Capt. Denison, for London. We had a safe passage, but on the voyage I became completely disgusted with the captain. He was always cursing and swearing and knocking the sailors around, just as his whims prompted him. We anchored at Limehouse Hole, the highest place on the river Thames that foreign vessels could then go. On Sunday all hands asked leave to go on shore, but were refused. An hour afterwards the captain went, accompanied by one man and a boy. As soon as he was gone we all went below and packed up our clothes—ready for a start. We hailed a wherry lying at London dock, brought it alongside, and began to get in. The mate came up and inquired what we were about. W told him we were all going ashore. He said he did not blame us, for he knew it would be useless to try to prevent it. On the wharf we hired a man to carry our things to a public house, and spent the day cruising around the city of London, seeing nothing but a crowd of people. The next day we separated, looking for situations on vessels.
I made my way to a part of the city now called “Irish-town,”
then “Poplar,” and passing through an apple-orchard,
around which was no fence, I began to help myself, the
more readily as I saw at a little distance other boys gathering the
Seeing a ship lying off Blackwekk stairs, on inquiry, I found it to
be the “Hillsborough,” bound for Botany Bay with convicts.
A waterman carried me aboard, and after applying to the captain, I
shipped with him for 3£ 10 shillings a month, or about
According to law, when the prisoners behaved themselves, they were single-ironed and allowed to go on deck in gangs. Part in the forenoon and part in the afternoon were brought up and chained to a large chain which ran from mast to mast; they looked very much like a string of beads.
When we were on the edge of the Bay of Biscay a severe gale of wind
arose, which lasted six days. During this gale, as we soon
afterwards learned, the convicts planned the capture of the vessel
and their own release. There was one among their number—Holmes,
by name—an educated man, who, on account of his pedigree, was
permitted to walk the deck. He was entrusted with the formation of
their plans, and one day, when they were complete and all written
down, he handed the paper to the captain. The captain called all
hands aft, and then shutting down the hatches, read us the paper.
The convicts had already succeeded in removing their irons. They
were to kill the captain, and wash their hands in his blood;
The captain, desirous to see whether Holmes had deceived him, determined to take no immediate steps in the affair, except to arm all hands with a brace of pistols and a cutlass. Thus prepared, we took our station next morning behind the hatchways. Clark, the steward, opened them to go down and serve out the “bergoo,” a kind of food resembling our hasty pudding. At that instant the prisoners rushed up the hatchway, and the crew fired upon them, killing two and wounding several more, when the remainder retreated. We locked the gratings forward, and the captain calling us aft told us that he should not give the convicts a mouthful to eat until they were all brought on deck, ironed and flogged, hinting at the same time that some would be hanged.
The carpenter was sent down to read the ship's articles to them. By
these, power was given to the captain to hang them all or sink them
with the vessel. Clark, the steward, before mentioned, went to call
up the first mess—for the convicts were divided into
messes—but none of them would come.
About latitude 18° N. the ships parted company. We sailed on
regularly, and in the fore part of March arrived at the isle of
Myo, on the African coast, where we took in fresh provisions. From
here to the Cape of Good Hope we had a long and boisterous passage.
Once the vessel sprung and leaked so badly that we had hard work to
keep her free.
The last of April we anchored in Table Bay with sickness raging amongst the prisoners. May 13th the flagstaff on “Lion's Rump” was struck, and we sailed for False Bay—a three weeks' voyage. There we buried eighty-nine convicts. From hence to Botany Bay we encountered many severe gales, in one of which the man at the wheel was thrown under it by a wave, and the spokes passing through his body, killed him instantly. The vessel still leaked badly, and it was ten months from the time we left London till our arrival in Sydney. The irons were knocked off the convicts, they were sent ashore, and we were paid off.
We lay at Sydney three weeks, caulked the ship, and sailed for Desolation Island after elephant oil. The fourth day out we encountered a heavy gale, sprung a leak, and only by keeping all hands at the pumps could we float, till we were able to get back to Sydney. I ran away from the ship at Sydney, and remained several weeks secreted at Barramatta, working for an old Irishman who kept a distillery under ground. Then I went again to Sydney, wheeling wood for a baker, where I saw, much of the convicts, and learned a great deal about their labors and sufferings.
While here, a cast of almost miraculous preservation occurred.
There were two farmers—once convicts, but then reformed, and
considered good men—who borrowed fifty dollars of a clergyman,
promising to pay the same in a few weeks. A day or two after they
requested him to call at their house and receive his money. As he
entered the gate one of the farmers stood there with an axe in his
hand, but did not molest him, though evidently stationed there with
that intention. When he entered the house, however, the other
stabbed him with a carving-knife, and his wife cut out his tongue.
They threw the body into a saw-pit half filled with underbrush,
where a gipsey kept his hoe, pick-axe, and other tools. When the
gipsey came for his pick-axe he pulled up with it a man's leg, and
the farmers, who were watching, immediately seized him and carried
him to the authorities, accusing him of murder. He was tried, and
though innocent, condemned to be executed instantly. When first
swung off, the rope broke. The sheriff ordered it to be doubled,
but this time the noose slipped over his head, and he fell to the
An American vessel came into port one day with colors flying. She
was the “Resource,” of Providence. Every vessel, on coming
into Sydney, is obliged to receive on board a corporal and six
soldiers for preventing the escape of convicts, and in order for
any one to enter the ship a pass is necessary. I procured one from
the Sergeant of the Rangers, whom I knew, and with this was
admitted. Capt. McGee, the owner, expressed his willingness that
Capt. Mitchell, the commander, should give me a passage to Canton,
China. We took in a load of mahogany and started away the 3d of
December—the Governor's birth-day—with a guard of soldiers,
who left us when well out to sea. After their departure convicts
began to make their appearance, and we found that no less than 21
had contrived to escape, notwithstanding the vigilance of the
Not being willing to work for such wages as were offered me on the “Resource,” I called a boat and went ashore. There were some Englishmen there, blacksmithing in a tent, and I asked what ship they were working for. They answered, the “Connecticut,” and told me I could get a place aboard of her. She lay off in the stream. I hailed her, and they sent a boat, which took me on board. I found the mate on deck, who inquired who I was, where I came from, and what I wanted; to all these I answered correctly. He set me to work, but would make no agreement with me till the captain came aboard from Canton. On this ship I found three old shipmates of the “Hillsborough,” who, like myself, had run away. They called me the “little Yankee.”
When I had been at work about four days, the mate, Heavysides, called me to him, and said, “Seeing you are a pretty smart chap, I shall make you captain of the after guard and give you able seaman's wages, 2£ 10s a month.” This was in my seventeenth year.
We lay at Whampoa, taking in tea, till the 2d of February, and then
set sail for England. We saw no land until we made the Isle of
France, and after that none till April 24th, when we anchored in
I staid aboard the “Connecticut” with mate Heavysides for
three weeks, on river pay. At London we made fast at
“Blackwall,” and I went with Heavysides to the East India
House in a “Mile End” coach, where we received our pay, and
I bade the mate “Good bye.” I took a stage for
“Ratcliff Highway,” in the suburbs of London, and procured
quarters in a boarding house. Here I remained four weeks, during
which time I contrived to waste all my money—about
$140—and then went on a cruise after employment. For three
or four days I was unsuccessful, but at last met an old Jew, who
wanted me to ship on an East Indiaman. I told him I could ship
myself as well, and proceeded to the East India House, where I
found that a fleet of ships was preparing for Bombay and China, one
of which was to be commanded by my old friend, Heavysides. I met
him at the “Jerusalem Coffee House,” a great resort for
Yankee sailors, and told him I did not care where I went to, but
would like to ship with him. We closed at once, and I became
quarter-master of the “Elphastern,” at 3£ a month
wages, and 5£ bounty money.
I paid my landlord, went up to Billingsgate and took a little boat, which carried me aboard the ship, where I worked till about the 1st of February, 1801; then we dropped down to the “lower hope.” Next day the crew came down, and the clerk, to pay advance and bounty. I got two months advance, and spent that night with the rest of the crew, drinking and gambling, when I won over one hundred and fifty dollars. This was the first time I recollect of ever gambling.
On the 6th of February we set sail for the East Indies, stopping at Portsmouth two days for a convoy, and on the 11th our fleet of five ships, with one man-of-war, being all in readiness, we bade adieu once more to old England.
After twenty-one days we hove to off Madeira for wine and provisions, and then proceeded on our voyage without farther event worthy of record, till we arrived in Table Bay, about the middle of May. Here we remained three days, and then started for Bombay. Five hundred miles north of the Isle of France our convoy left us, and on the 21st of July we made soundings in twenty-seven fathoms of water, 300 miles from Bombay, which gradually decreased to eight fathoms, and so continued until we discovered land.
We all moored in Bombay, and our ship having remained eight weeks,
taking in 13,000 bales of cotton, and a hundred tons of pearl
oyster shells, we embarked for China. We made the Straits of
Malacca after a pleasant run, and anchored in Pula-Pinang, where we
received a freight of dragon's blood and rattan, and then steered
We came to anchor again at Whampoa, and began discharging our cargo off Junk River. This was done entirely by means of junks, which answered for lighters, and occupied nearly six weeks. When unloaded the crew had to leave to go to Canton, half and half, on three days' liberty. The streets in Canton are named, from the business carried on in them, as “Shoe Lane,” where their shoes and boots are made, and are so narrow that a man can easily stride across them. Of course they have no horses or wagons, but carry their burdens or each other above their heads. In their market place, situated in “Hog Lane,” pork and strings of cats are numerous—and these are not the only strange things we saw.
Two of our men engaged a man to carry them across a creek in his
boat for two dollars, but when the Chinaman had them on board he
threatened to capsize them unless they paid him more.
On our return to the ship we began taking in teas, and when we were all ready for sea, the Chinaman having recovered, our two men were released and brought on board. They were as weak as cats, and looked like skeletons—good evidence that their mode of treating prisoners is not preferable to that of some other countries.
While we were lying here, a Chinaman—John Tuck by name—came
down to measure our ship and see how much she could carry. As all
their vessels have two eyes painted on their bows, he was much
surprised to find ours without them, and exclaimed, “Hi! yah!
how English ship see? not have no eye.” His boat, in which he
came off to us, was an elegant craft, sculled by women, and
everything cleared from before its path, for he had a gallows on
board to hang all those who did not get out of his way, and his
generosity was displayed by the presents he made to all who showed
We spent Christmas in revelry, and on the 26th of Dec. started for England. We ran under a stiff breeze to Singapore, remained there several days, and left for the Straits of Sunda. Here we encountered a severe gale, and, though we weathered it in safety, one of our fleet lost all her spars, and we were by this delayed at Java-head, near Batavia, some time longer, before we were able fairly to set sail for St. Helena, where, however, we finally arrived after a pleasant passage.
Seven weeks we spent in St. Helena waiting for convoy, and at last joined the Bengal and Madras fleet with convoy “Menelaus,” under the command of Lord Elphastern Flaming.
One day, as the “Menelaus” was taking in provisions, a
quarter of beef accidentally fell overboard. The commander, much
enraged, called up the steward, had his head partly shaved, and
gave him three dozen lashes. His first lieutenant, Sir John
Singleton, highly indignant at this outrage, went to Lord D'Courcy,
commander of the “Plantagenet,” then in port, gave up his
commission, and requested leave to return to England in a whaler
about to sail, and to take the steward with him—which was
We left St. Helena January 20th, 1802—more than a year after our departure from Canton—and made “Downs” on the 13th of March, arriving at “Long-Reach” four days after. The vessel was anchored, and we received our pay. I remained on board till we were all unloaded, and the ship hauling into Greenland Docks, I left her and went back to my old boarding place in Ratcliff Highway. I had at this time 46£, or $230, which lasted me but six weeks, nearly the whole being spent in carousing and other such like foolish ways.
About the 6th of July, hearing of a vessel that wanted hands, I crossed London Bridge to her moorings, but on inquiry found I was too late—her complement being made up. Returning home I passed over Tower Hill, and met a press-gang of four or five men, with an officer, who stopped me and demanded,
“Who are you?”
“A man,” I replied.
‘Where are you going?” was the next question.
“Where I think best,” was my answer.
His Majesty wants men, and you must come with us,” said the
I refused to go, declaring that I was an American, and produced my protection papers from a tin box, where I always carried them, but the officer taking them to the rendezvous, and, an hour afterward, aboard the tender.
The next day I was placed on a royal cutter, and the third day
after transferred to the gun brig. “Nattey,” 16 guns. We
got away immediately and dropped down the channel as far as
Portsmouth, where we lay several days awaiting orders from the Lord
High Admiral. When these came we started for the West Indies.
At Madeira we touched for grapes and wine for cabin use, and running down past Guadaloupe and the Saints, steered into Antigua.
Our business was to cruise among these islands and protect English ships, seizing any French or Spanish vessels that came in our way. This we did about three months, and then hauled into port for provisions and repairs. While here, dispatches came from the Admiral, who was at the Saints, and we immediately got under way for the purpose of carrying them. About midnight, the first night, we suddenly brought up and found ourselves on a coral reef.
We landed our sick and provisions, threw overboard our guns, having first attached buoys to them, and for all the next day and night worked constantly at the pumps. On the morning of the second day the King's lighter, with provisions for the “Saints,” came up, by whose help we got off, and taking on our guns, with all else that had been carried away, we put back into “English Harbor.”
In the transportation of our goods from shore to ship we were
assisted by the negroes with their canoes.
At the “Harbor” our vessel was condemned, and the crew all drafted into the “Lightning,” gun ship, which sailed the next day for a cruise, with us on board. While sailing in Point Peter's bay, a flag of truce came off, bearing a challenge from the captain of a French ship of 28 guns, the “Gen. Renute,” to our commander, Moses Doyle. It was accepted, and the acceptance welcomed by the crew with three cheers.
Next morning we hauled off a few miles from land, and waited till the Frenchman came out. When she was within two miles, we hauled up our courses and all hands lay down to quarters. My station was with five others, all fully armed, in the main-top. The captain called out,
“Lay close to the deck and hold your fire until we are right on
With all sail set they came nearing us, and when within half a mile, hauled up their courses, rounded to, and gave us a full broadside of round and grape. We brought our starboard guns to bear upon her, and as she tacked, while in stays, opened on her, raking her fore and aft, and cutting up her rigging tremendously. She gave us another broadside, which we returned immediately, and it then was broadside for broadside for about twenty minutes, when we ran under her quarter and fired again, bringing down her colors. At this juncture the English brig “Emerant” came up and carried off our prize to the nearest British port. Her loss included the captain, two lieutenants, 26 killed and 45 wounded. Ours was 12 killed and 24 wounded—their crew outnumbering ours by 80 men. The French officers who were slain were carried ashore for burial, the bodies of the men being disposed of in the usual summary manner.
We sailed back into Antigua, and as we entered the harbor, carrying
the English flag over the French, the fort welcomed us with a
salute. Discovering that peace had been declared, and our vessel
having several shot holes through her, we were drafted into the 74
line-of-battle-ship. “Dragon,” with orders to proceed to
England, where we arrived in February, 1803.
On the voyage two men were knocked off the main-top-gallant-yard. One lived only about ten minuted, but the other received no injury. The former was sown up in his hammock, with several shot tied to his feet, and then thrown overboard. The latter was pensioned at the rate of 18£ a year.
Arriving at Portsmouth, we found that, instead of peace, there was merely a cessation of hostilities; so, taking in provisions, we set out on a three months cruise in the North seas, returning to England in August.
The frigate “Amphion” was waiting for men, and one hundred of us, including myself, were sent to her. Her destination was round Cape Horn, to lie off Chili and Peru. We doubled the Horn in December, capturing on the way two valuable Spanish vessels, which we manned and sent to Rio Janeiro for a convoy.
On the 3d of January we fell in and a French frigate, mounting 42
guns, two more than we carried, off the coast of Chili, and both
vessels immediately cleared for action. At half a mile distance
from her we gave her a broadside, and the two ships kept up a close
fight with broadsides, drawing nearer together all the time, for
almost two hours and a half, when the wind died away, rendering it
impossible to work the vessels. We kept up our fire, however, all
the time, though with little apparent execution.
There was one man on board, named Joskins, who turned away his head every time he fired his gun. The captain, going up to him, took him by the shoulder and whirling him round, said to him, “Look, man, see who you are firing at.”
Just then a ball passed through Joskins' body, and dislocated the captain's arm. The captain went below to repair his damage, but soon returned on deck and ordered “All boarders away!”
Four boats were instantly lowered and manned with men, armed to the
teeth with swords, pistols, tomahawks and guns. We went up at the
same moment to the enemy, in four different places, on both bows
and quarters, and thus threw them into great confusion. The
Frenchmen, by this time, had their boarding nettings up all around,
as high as the cat-harpings. We cut these away with our cutlasses
and drew ourselves on board with our tomahawks. I succeeded in
reaching the gunwale of the vessel, when I was struck three times
with a hatchet, once on the left foot and twice on the right, and
then received a gash on my hand with a sword. I fired a pistol at
the man who wounded me with the sword, and at that instant a
boarding-pike passed through me, at the groin, and I fell back into
the boat, breaking off the pike by the weight of my body.
Our crew were soon on board, and in ten minutes had carried the vessel.
On our return to the frigate the surgeon dressed my wounds, telling me that my recovery was impossible, and I had better make my peace at once. I did not despair, but kept up a good heart.
Our losses were 40 killed and 72 wounded. The French lost 98 killed and 60 wounded. Both vessels were very much weakened, being completely riddled. The prize had forty shot above the water's edge, so we took her in tow and sailed for Rio. There we got fresh provisions and more men and ran up to Halifax, where I was carried into the Navy Hospital, while the ship went on her way. Here I lay twenty-three weeks on my back, suffering greatly all the time. I received every attention. My appetite was very good, and besides all other victuals, I was allowed a bottle of port wine, and as much London Porter as I could drink, every day.
The latter part of August, having recovered, contrary to the prediction of the “Amphibion's” surgeon, I joined the English frigate “Yolus,” on which were also sent all those who were then ready to be dismissed from the Hospital, and after a few months' cruise of Grand Bank we left for England. The “Yolus” was laid up, and all hands stored in the receiving ship “Trinidad,” at Sheerness. May 17th, 1805, a draft of one hundred men was made for the “Royal Charlotte,” one of Lord Nelson's fleet.
We went from Sheerness to Plymouth and lay there till June, when we, numbering 27 sail of the line and two repeating frigates, 29 in all, were collected together, ready for sea. On the 20th Lord Nelson came on board the flag-ship, and the signal being given, we got under way and ran toward the Western Islands under easy sail, looking out for the combined fleet of France and Spain.
We spoke several vessels, but hearing nothing of the object of our
search, on the 4th of August the Admiral gave signal to tack ship
and steer for Spain. The repeating frigates were ordered to go, one
North, the other South, lest the enemy should pass us,
The Admiral sent in a repeating frigate to tow us out. The “Superb” managed to keep in the action, but the “Renown” sank beneath their fire, though all the living men were rescued.
About half-past one Lord Nelson received his mortal wound. Before his death he made this signal:
“England expects every man to do his duty.”
He was rather tyrannical in the government of his men, and only half an hour before this battle had punished two of them severely for some trifling misdemeanor, but he lived and died a hero. He was shot by one of his own crew, on his own ship, for the manner in which the ball struck him made it evident that it was never fired from another.
At half-past two the thundering of cannon ceased, the clouds of
smoke rolled away, and the battle of Trafalgar was over. Our number
of ships was 27, as before mentioned; the enemy's was 32—five
more than ours—but notwithstanding their superiority in numbers,
our victory was complete.
After the action there arose a heavy gale of wind, which drove some of our vessels ashore. Five of the prizes were also wrecked, and four escaped. The gale was very severe, and lasted twelve hours. We were scarcely able to rig jury-masts to save ourselves, but finally, with the above exception, weathered the storm and made sail for England. On the voyage five of the prizes sunk, making a loss of 14 vessels from the captured fleet.
The “Royal Charlotte” was condemned shortly after our
arrival, and I again became an inmate of a receiving ship, where I
lay till the 14th of March, 1806. I was then sent to Plymouth
aboard the “Queen,” of 98 guns, and on the 6th day of May
17 of the line got under way, under orders for the West Indies, in
pursuit of a Spanish fleet. July 9th we made the island of
Barbadoes, the most eastern of the group, and lay in that harbor
two days. On the 11th we ran down the channel, close into Porto
Rico, to reconnoitre, but seeing nothing, bore away and passed on
to Cape Nickerlins, where we remained at anchor until the last of
August, rowing a guard of two boats around the ship every night to
prevent night attacks.
I had always expressed my intention never to row guard, let the consequences be what they might; and when it came my turn and my name was called, I went on deck and asked if that was my name. Lt. Shannon said it was. I answered that I was unable to go. On his inquiring the reason, I told him I was sick. “Why,” said he, “you have been in the boat all day; have you been to the doctor?” I answered, “No.” Just then the boatswain piped all hands to supper, and I went down. The pint of grog we always had, on this occasion nerved me up and made me feel better, so that, when the roll was called to man the boats, I remained below till it had been read twice, when, fearing lest the boatswain or his mates would be whipping me up, I went on deck. When I got in the gangway, Shannon asked me what I was not in the boat. I told him I had always done my duty since I had been in the service—had fought in three severe actions—but as to fighting against my own country and my countrymen, that I never could, and never would do.
He raised his fist and struck me in the face, knocking me against
the hammock nettings, and calling me “a damned Yankee,”
ordered me into the boat. I returned his epithet and blows with
interest, and rolled him down into the waist of the ship. A
sergeant's guard immediately took me below and chained me to the
Two days after I was called up to take hold of a rope to hang two men who had been guilty of the same crime as myself. One was hung to a one yard-arm and one to the other, as a sort of example to me of the fate I merited.
I remained in close confinement till the 2d of September. At 8 o'clock A. M. a gun was fired and signal made for a general court-martial. The master-at-arms came to me and bade me prepare for trial. Lt. Shannon, the man I struck, but who showed himself my friend throughout, informed me that I had a right to object to any two sitting in the court. I told him I did not know any of them. He advised me to reject the Judge Advocate and one other, whose name I have forgotten. When called into court and asked by the President whether I objected to any there, I mentioned these two, and they were ordered to withdraw. Being asked whom I could choose in their places, I said I had as yet chosen no one. He gave me till next morning to decide, and I was remanded to prison. During the day, at the advice of Lt. Shannon, I selected Dr. Sconce and Lt. Parker, of the “Renown.”
I sent my guard to inform the officer of the deck whom I had chosen, and accordingly the “Renown” was signaled, and the Doctor came on board. I told him everything relating to the case—that I was an American, and my reasons for acting as I had done. He asked if there were any more Americans on board, and learning that there were upwards of forty, inquired if any of them had known me in the United States. I mentioned two, who had been acquainted with me ever since I first went to sea. Then he said,
“If these men are allowed their oaths they can save your life.”
The next morning, at 9 o'clock, I was called into court again. The crime and its consequences were then read, and I was asked what I had to say for myself. I replied that I had always done my duty under all circumstances—that I had been in three heavy actions in which I had received several wounds; that I was a pressed man, and though, when pressed, I offered my protection paper, it was torn up before my face, and I, in spite of it, forced into the British Navy.
To this the court answered that they had no proof of my citizenship in America. Dr. Sconce said they had proof, and the President, having inquired into the character of the two men I had known, and receiving from the captain a high recommendation of their honesty and obedience, commanded them to be summoned. One of these was the first quarter-master, and the other the first gunner's mate, and being placed upon the witness-stand, testified as follows:
President.—“Are you an American?”
P.—“How long have you been in the service?”
Q. M.—“Almost eight years.”
P.—“Do you know the prisoner?”
Q. M.—“Yes, Sir.”
P.—“Do you know him to be an American?”
Q. M.—“I do, Sir.”
P.—“Where did you first know him?”
Q. M.—“In Baltimore, when he was a boy between 12 and 13. I shipped on the schooner ‘Fox,’ of Hartford, Capt. Mitchell, with him.”
The President then asked me,
“How long have you been to sea?”
“Since the 1st of August, 1796.”
President to Quarter-Master:
“Where did you go when shipped with the prisoner?”
Q. M.—“To Guadaloupe.”
P.—“How long was you with him?”
Q. M.—“About four months.”
P.—“Where did you see him next?”
Q. M.—“About two years after in China.”
P.—“What was he in?”
Q. M.—“The ‘Resource,’ of Providence.”
P.—“What was you in?”
Q. M.—“An English East Indiaman.”
P.—“Did you ever see him after this?”
Q. M.—“Yes, Sir; I saw him about four years after on board the ‘Dragon,’ 74.”
P.—“Do you know anything further about him?”
Q. M.—“No, Sir; I never saw him after until I met him on this ship. He has been my messmate ever since.”
P.—“That will do. Call Holmes, the gunner's mate.”
P. to H.—“What do you know about the prisoner?”
H.—“When a boy he was a shipmate of mine on board the schooner ‘Fox,’ of Hartford.”
P.—“Where did you see him afterward?”
H.—“On the schooner ‘Polly,’ of Baltimore.”
P.—“What vessel were you on at the time?”
H.—“The brig ‘Porpoise,’ of Philadelphia.”
P.—“Did you ever see him afterwards?”
H.—“Not until I met him on this ship.”
P.—“How long have you been in this service?”
H.—“Nearly six years.”
P. (to prisoner,)—“Have you any more to call upon?”
I.—“No, Sir; there are a number of Americans on board, but none that knew me at home.”
P. (to Holmes.)—“That is all we want of you.”
P. (to me.)—“What have you to say for yourself?”
I.—“I acknowledge my crime, but being an American, I was tempted to commit what I have done. I have always sworn never to lift my arm against my country. I have been in three great battles in the English service, and done my duty, but not against my native land.”
P.—“What actions have you been in?”
I.—“I was in the ‘Lightning,’ 16 gun brigantine, when she captured a French brig of 28 guns; next in the ‘Amphion,’ around Cape Horn, with a French frigate, when I received several severe wounds.”
P.—“How many were killed aboard the ‘Lightning’?”
I.—“12 killed and 24 wounded.”
P.—“Have you anything more to say?”
I.—“No, Sir; I am unable to say any more myself—the case is now before the court.”
The Judge Advocate then arose and addressed the court, to the
effect “That I had no business in the service, being an
American and a pressed man. He mentioned a case in England, where
an Englishman was pressed, and on the voyage assaulted an officer,
The President then ordered the sentry to take me to the quarter-deck, where I remained about half an hour, and was brought in to receive sentence. It was this:—
“William Williams, (this was the name I took when Pressed,) you are found guilty of the crime charged against you, being a breach of the 11th Article of the 15th section of the Articles of war, but since you are proved to belong to the United States, it is the judgment of this court, that you be left at the disposal of the Admiral, whose sentence is, that you receive three hundred lashes through the British fleet.” This was on the 3d of September, 1806.
The Judge Advocate then came down to me and told me I had better petition the Admiral's lady. I said I could not write, but he kindly promised to do so for me, and present it that afternoon.
The next day I was called up on the deck and informed that half my
punishment was to be omitted; the other half I should receive on my
own ship the following morning at seven bells.
Nearly at the appointed time the officer whom I struck sent me a cartridge of gunpowder and a gill of liquor, to be drank about quarter of an hour before punishment, for benumbing my flesh. I also had a musket ball, which I put in my mouth, when I heard all hands called. The master-at-arms took me out of irons, and, just as the bell struck seven, took me to the waist gangway, when the crime was once more read, and I ordered to strip. I obeyed, and was immediately lashed up to the gratings.
The captain then reported to the Admiral that all was ready—returned, and commanded the boatswain's mate to do his duty.
At the first blow I thought they were pouring hot water over me, but the second fell on raw flesh, and before I had received twenty-five my shoes were full of blood. After that I remember nothing till I was let down and carried into the sick-bay.
Lt. Douglass sent his servant forward to tell the doctor to give me
an emetic to rid me of the rum and gunpowder I had taken. The
surgeon then proceeded to an examination of my wounds. He found the
flesh completely torn off my back from my shoulders to my hips, the
terrible effect of that most terrible of all instruments of
punishment, “the cat.”
About one o'clock on the morning of the 20th I wrenched away one of the irons of the forward port, and determined to escape. I tied two large blankets together, and with three yarns of spun yarn bound to the iron in the port, one end of the blankets, and thus lowered myself into the water. I was obliged to “tread water” and “float” for more than a hundred yards from the ship for fear of the marines, and then struck out for the harbor's mouth as hard as I could. It was about seven miles distant, and as I had on a pair of duck trowsers and a frock in my hat, it was hard work, and four hours passed by before I reached the shore, so weak that I could not stand up. I crept upon my hands and knees into the bushes and commenced ascending the mountain, where I lay nine days, living on fruit and berries, till the fleet sailed. I found afterwards that the waters of the harbor were full of sharks, but I was mercifully preserved.
On the 30th, the day after the departure of the fleet, I crawled
through the bushes to the town. Two American vessels were then
lying in the harbor. I hired a boat and boarded the “Amy,”
of Philadelphia, whose captain kindly got me a berth on the other,
the “Polly,” of Baltimore, homeward bound. We sailed Oct.
I staid in Baltimore until the 27th, and then shipped in the brig “Rover,” Capt. Palmer, bound on a trading voyage, with a full cargo of “Yankee Notions.” We left the Capes Nov. 4th, called at Madeira, where the captain took on two pipes of wine, then ran down the Cape de Verdes, and anchored off the Isle of Mayo for hogs and fowls for ship use. Leaving here we laid a course for the Brazils. Dec. 15th we met a tremendous storm, which lasted three days, and broke off our fore and main-topmasts, the fall of which killed one man. After the gale was over we managed to rig up jury-masts and get into Rio Janeiro, where we underwent repairs and then laid away for the Cape of Good Hope. Once, on the passage, we were delayed by some English East Indiamen, who boarded us for provisions, and once by a heavy tornado, which, however, we weathered without much difficulty.
Feb. 9th we made the “Lion's Rump,” the most southern point
of Africa, and ran up in to Table Bay.
While here an incident occurred, which might have altered the whole
course of my life. A Dutchman and his daughter, a young lady about
25 years of age, were taking a pleasure sail, one fine day, in the
harbor. Just as they came near our vessel, one of those hard flaws
that sweep across that immense table land struck the boat and
capsized it, throwing them both into the water. They struggled a
few moments, and the lady was just sinking for the last time, when
I leaped overboard, and swimming up to her caught and carried her
to the boat, and then went to the rescue of the father. By my help
they clung to the boat till they were taken safely off. The old man
was most grateful to me, and offered me one thousand rix dollars
and his daughter's hand in marriage, if I would leave the ship. I
asked a dismissal from the captain, but he would not give it to me,
and when I petitioned the consul I met with no more success. What
sufferings it might have saved me, and what comforts it might have
procured for me, I may not think. But it was an opportunity offered
Leaving Table Bay, we made sail for St. Helena, where we were detained by the English consul three weeks, as a false trader, but on the arrival of the man-of-war “Plantagenet,” under Lord De Courcy, we were acquitted and all damages paid. We put eighty thousand dollars into the “Porpoise,” of Philadelphia, which came in at this time, but owing to immediately succeeding circumstances I never learned whether it reached the owners in safety or not. Next we went to the island of Sicily, run down the coast of Africa to the Isle of Mayo for more fresh provisions, and stretched away to sea. Calms and storms followed each other for several days, and then came a tremendous gale, which carried away many of our spars, and prevented all attempts to repair damages or cook. When the storm abated we procured extra spars of a Danish East Indiaman whom we met, and the captain, taking an observation, reported that we were drifting on to the coast of Africa.
Not long afterwards it again clouded up, and we were enveloped by
fogs and tossed about by storms for many days, until one morning,
when the fog lifted, we spied two galleys pulling toward us.
They pulled alongside and boarded us like a parcel of bull-dogs, with their “tolwals” or short scimetars in their hands. One, who spoke a little English, asked for money; the others went round ransacking everything they could lay their hands on. The captain of one of the galleys ordered the men aloft to send down the fore and main-to-sails, but as he spoke Tripolitan none understood him. Our captain turned to me and asked if I knew what he said. I translated the order, and it was instantly obeyed. They got the money out of her—as near as I could learn, about thirty thousand dollars—and drove us into their galleys. Their arms were principally blunderbusses and swords. We had none at all, and were forced to submit.
All these galleys carry a lug-sail, and never come out in rough weather. These had, one 28 oars and the other 32. As we pulled away, one of the pirates went below and set our brig a-fire, fore and aft. The blaze was the last we saw of our good old vessel.
An hour after we made land dead ahead, about fifteen miles distant,
which we reached at sundown. We were all taken ashore and put into
a kind of cell, ten feet square, where we lay, eleven of us, that
night, next day and next night, without food or drink.
Next day we were again compelled to almost starve, as we had only half as much as the day before. The fourth day they chained us from the block and set us to work breaking out and carrying stone down to the water to build a fort, until noon, when the “Sadi” shouted out, “Konakow,” or “dinner.” At night we were again chained to the block. This was not for fear of our escape, but lest the wandering Arabs should steal us. The former is simply impossible, but in spite of the utmost precaution, the latter sometimes occurs.
The next morning brought no change, and by night we all wished
ourselves dead. One man—John Perkins by name, from Oxford,
Conn.—cut his own throat, and though we tore up our shirts and
tried with them to staunch the blood, he refused to live, and soon
expired. His last words were, “We shall never get away. It is
better to die now than be tormented to death.” He was a fine
fellow, and we keenly felt his loss.
When our overseers found out that one was dead they were on the point of carrying away his allowance, but we would not suffer it; so they ran off to tell the Sadi. He came in a great rage, and abused us for not informing him when Perkins had wounded himself. He ordered us to carry him out of town and bury him, which we did as decently as we were able, tying a handkerchief over his face, covering him with banyan leaves, and filling up the grave with care. We turned back with heavy hearts of our labor.
In this manner two years went by. Hard work and partial starvation, joined to abuse and neglect, wore us down, till we were very thin and weak. Our fetters, which we constantly wore round our ankles, chafed away the skin and flesh, leaving great sores—and the pain thus caused us we could only relieve, without removing it, by tying them high on the leg that they might not wear still more on the naked bone.
The scenes we witnessed are almost as incredible as they are horrible. I will mention but one—the case of a negro slave, stripped and torn with hot irons in his thighs and shoulders, till pieces were pinched out and lay upon the ground. This was but one of many, some worse than even this.
These two years being at last over, we were brought into market to be sold again, and when we came to be separated, one to go this way and another that, it seemed as if my fate was sealed, and I, shut out for ever from kindred and from home, gave up all hopes of becoming free or happy again. While together we had suffered, it had been endurable—now death would have been relief.
I now had another overseer, under whom were fourteen other Christian slaves, but no Americans. We were carried about five miles from town and made to prune vineyards, cultivate sweet potatoes and yams, and, when the proper season arrived, were sent to the edge of the desert to gather wild honey. My clothes, by this time, were nearly gone. What pieces of cloth I could get I wound round my fetters to save my legs, which grew worse and worse continually.
This honey gathering was the hardest of our work. We were obliged
to carry on our heads jars containing two gallons of honey, and
with these walk fifteen miles through the burning sand,
Such things occur every day, more or less. One poor slave belonging to another gang, an Englishman, I think, was put into a place like stocks, and his feet so bastinadoed that they swelled up, mortified, and he died. In such employments and such miseries wore away two weary years.
I was then sold again for eight hundred dollars, and carried to
Buddhis, one hundred and fifty miles from Tripoli, where I remained
idle three or four days, and then went to work preserving almonds.
This fruit grows on trees as large as our apple trees, bearing
sometimes a hundred bushels, and when ripe is of a beautiful golden
color and resembles in shape a common pear.
As before, we were chained under our hovel every night. The cook brought us our breakfast, which consisted of rice, sweet potatoes and yams. Twelve ounces of these, with a piece of salt fish, was our daily allowance.
After a while we were sent off to the desert again gathering honey.
There were five gangs in all. One of these began to fight amongst
themselves, and their “Sadi” rushed in among them and
killed five on the spot. When we saw this we made a league in our
gang to kill the “Sadi” and clear out. I had heard some one
say that the caravan would soon pass by, and, having informed my
companions of this, told them to stand ready, and when I gave the
signal, come to my aid. I gave the signal, but his eyes were too
sharp for me, and mistrusting something he drew his
“tolwal,” and said, “beware!” This deterred the
others from doing as had been agreed—it passed off, the caravan
went by, and we were still in slavery.
One morning two slaves were brought out, bound together and shot. A little after a negro came up, from whose thigh they cut several large pieces, and then, casting them into the fire, held him over it to inhale the odor of his own consuming flesh. His wounds were seared with hot irons, and he sent back to town.
Three years and eleven months passed away in this dreary round of constant, though varied, suffering. I had lost nearly all reckoning of days and months and years, so that I could scarcely tell how long I had been a slave, but the above periods are, in the main, correct.
The “Sadi” one day told me I must go to Tripoli. He did not
know the reason, but upon inquiring how, he said I was to ride with
him. Of course I was all ready, and very soon, he on a camel and I
on an elephant, without irons for the first time in seven years, we
strode away to Tripoli. Our destination was the audience chamber of
the Grand Bashaw.
I ran out of the chamber and down to the beach very swiftly. Looking out across the harbor, I saw two vessels with Danish colors flying, from one of which a boat was coming toward the shore. I waited for it to strike the sand, and then, without leave or license, jumping in and found myself surrounded by English sailors, from an English ship, which had adopted the Dane flag for safety.
The captain asked me where I came from. I replied, “From slavery.” He informed me that Decatur was round at Tunis, where he had met him. This was the first I knew about his actions, or the war with England, or, indeed, of any events in the world at large during the seven long years of my captivity. I went aboard the ship, and on my expressing a wish to go to England, or any other Christian country, whence I could get home to America, he offered to leave me at the Downs on his return voyage. He gave me two shirts, a pair of pants, and the crew made me up a kit of clothes, for at this time all I had for garments was a mat with a hole in it for my head, and which barely covered my shoulders.
We arrived in England Oct. 18th, 1815. The captain landed me at
“Downs,” and made me a present of a guinea to carry me to
We reached port November 24th, 1815. The customs officer boarded
the ship, and when mustering us, said,
“You are a pretty expense to government. Two and sixpence a day for every one here.” When informed that we had received only the one shilling, embarkation money, he was greatly surprised, and immediately reported it, causing the consul's recall. It appeared he had swindled both us and the government, and but for a rich father-in-law, who refunded the money thus feloniously obtained, he would have passed his days in State's prison.
I tarried in New York some time, looking for a berth, but my leg was so sore I could find none. There was no conveyance to Norwich by land, and I could get no passage by boat, so I took my land tocks aboard and started afoot. It was very cold, snowing all the time, and being thinly clad, I suffered considerably. I got to Bridgeport at night, and went into a store for a place to lay down. I told my story to the owner, who brought out to me some victuals, and spreading some Buffalo skins by the fire, told me to lay down. I was as much surprised as pleased at this unexpected mark of confidence, for I could have stolen as much as I liked, and partly on that account, though more probably from fatigue, I slept soundly till morning.
The store-keeper gave me some bread and cheese to take with me on
the road, and by several days' walking, during which I had good
luck finding lodgings,
“Yes, ma'am, you have,” said I; “I saw him to-day in New London.”
“Oh, Lord!” she exclaimed, “shall I ever see him?”
I could keep in no longer, and cried out,
“Yes, mother; here I am!”
She fell into my arms and fainted away. At this moment my brother's wife came in and caught up the child. She did not know who or what I was, or what I had been doing, and ran out and called my brother. He came, but neither did he know me, till my mother told him. My sister, too, could not recognize me, so many years of hardship and suffering had made me old before my time.
They cared for me, dressed my wounds, which, from the time they
were first worn by the chains, had never healed, and I soon became
quite well and strong again.
I staid at home till the end of December, when my brother took me to the place where I had taken the gun when a boy, and here I worked till April. Then I came to Norwich and took passage to New York on my way to Richmond, Virginia, to visit my sister. I sailed from New York in the “Polly,” and remained with my sister five days. On leaving, she gave me some money, and I went to Baltimore in a schooner after employment.
Commodore Taylor, an officer in the Buenos Ayrean service, was now gathering and fitting out privateers to cruise against the Spaniards. The first one was still in port, the “Rio de la Plata,” Capt. Almedi, and I shipped in her. Three days after I went aboard I was made boatswain. We had seventy-five men before the mast, eighty-two all told.
May 23d, 1816, we left the Capes of Virginia and cruised off Cadiz
for two months, during which time we captured eight vessels, manned
and sent them to Buenos Ayres. Our crew, by these actions, being
considerably thinned, it became necessary for us to return home
after men. On the run we fell in with a three-mast schooner and put
chase. We overtook her, ran in under her quarter, and threw fifteen
men on board. The schooner's men immediately got below, leaving
their guns all loaded and primed, and the matches, all lit, lying
on the deck—the usual way in which the Spaniards repel boarders.
We clapped on hatches, manned her with sixteen men, and sent her
off to northward, as we saw a large vessel approaching.
We laid away to northward after our prize, and about two o'clock she was descried from the mast-head sailing up astern. We waited for her, took out the captives and $148,000 in money, with two gold bars of 17 lbs. each, and twenty-four pigs of silver of 20 lbs. each. She was loaded with cochineal and indigo.
A day or two after she left us for Buenos Ayres two large vessels hove in sight. We bore down and came nearly within gunshot, when, seeing them to be a frigate and seventy-four, we “about ship” and stood away. They chased us all day and all night, but the next morning gave it up. We ran back off Cadiz. A three-mast schooner came out, but on seeing us ran right back again.
We heard from Cadiz every day. Twenty thousand dollars was offered as a reward for our capture, and this very schooner was sent after us, but the cowardice of the captain saved us and lost him his life. Then we sailed direct for Buenos Ayres, and arrived in the harbor, 4 months and 20 days absent, with three millions and a half of money.
When moored, I started with another sailor to go ashore, but no
sooner had we stepped on land than a guard of soldiers seized us
and marched us off to the prison of the Castle.
One night there was a fandango at a small hotel, and I bribed the corporal to take me out, giving him two dollars. About midnight, when the merriment was at its height, I meant to kill the corporal and run, but at the persuasion of those around I let him alone. He went and brought down the soldiers, who broke up the dance, and carried me off. I was locked up and the corporal taken away under guard.
Next morning a triangle was brought out and set up, a company of soldiers drawn out, and the corporal tied up to the triangle. He was accused of taking money to let me go, and flogged till he was literally cut to pieces.
In a day or two, having liberty to go out again,
I went to the American Consul, Mr. Reed, and tried to send home seven thousand dollars to Mr. H. De Forest, then in New York. He placed it for me in the packet, which sailed but five days after, was cast away, and every soul perished. The rest of the money was secretly carried off to England, and by this piece of villainy I lost more than twenty-six thousand dollars—the other sailors suffering in proportion, also.
I lived in Buenos Ayres eight months, and then, having spent all my
money, shipped in the “Clifton” of 28 guns, whose shipping
master was Capt. Meech. She sailed in June, bound round the Horn.
Next day ran ashore in a fog and carried away all her forefoot,
In the course of two months we took four or five small prizes, returned to Buenos Ayres, and thence sailed for Baltimore. Off Western islands we saw two ships ahead, made for them, and coming up with them very fast, the captain said it was of no use to go after them. The 2d lieutenant was determined to go—the commander as determined not to, and we left them. Both proved to be Spanish Galleons, carrying only six guns, and when captured by another privateer, as they soon were, made for each sailor a share of more than eighteen hundred dollars. Thus the timidity of our captain lost us a mine of wealth, and on our arrival at Baltimore, he, with the 1st lieutenant, was hooted through the city, while the 2d lieutenant was promoted to the command of a sloop-of-war, of which Capt. Meech was 1st lieutenant. I staid on her to help fit her out, and when she was ready for sea abandoned her.
I shipped in a schooner to Richmond, and on arriving there got a
berth in the “Sea Lion,” of Staten Island, for New York,
where we landed Christmas eve, 1817.
When fully recovered, I returned to Baltimore, and went boatswain
on a Buenos Ayrean privateer, called the “Hornet,” Capt.
Beattie. On Christmas we were visited by a very severe gale of
wind. When it abated the captain went below, leaving orders to make
no more sail till the weather was settled. I was on deck, as was my
duty, and heard the order given. When he was asleep the lieutenant
ordered to make more sail. I refused. He ordered the after guard to
shake reefs out of the mainsail.
Next day we fell in with a brig bound for Havana, with a cargo of grindstones, &c.; took her and carried her into the island of Abaco, where we sold her cargo. In the gale of the day previous a Spanish sloop-of-war was cast away on the rocks, with $100,000 aboard. This the wreckers got possession of, but by the means of divers we procured some of her guns and then put to sea.
Cruising off Buenos Ayres we discovered a sail, and put chase. When
she saw us she ran for Porto Rico. We had a brass gun, which we
fired to bring her to, but she only rounded up long enough to give
us a broadside. We came alongside and had it broadside for
broadside in a running fight five hours and twenty minutes.
While lying at the island of Abaco, we had sent one of the officers home by another vessel, to be put ashore anywhere in this country. It so happened that he was landed in Savannah and reported us as pirating. As soon as we heard of it, we gave up the vessel and surrendered ourselves to the authorities, who immediately released us. The vessel cleared for Abaco, but though the cutter went in pursuit, she got away.
At Savannah, I shipped in the “Hut” of Boston, for
Liverpool. At Liverpool we stripped ship, and while I was unlashing
the cat-harpings of the mizen rigging, the strap which held the
block slipped. The captain, who was on the quarter-deck, swore at
me for trying, as he said, to kill him, and ordered me down. He
sent me forward, and as I went, tried to kick me, but I caught his
foot and laid him on his back. The mate ran at me and I knocked him
down. I knocked the captain down again, and when the mate picked
himself up I clenched him, the people on the wharves cheering me
on. The captain came to himself and sent me ashore. I went directly
to the consul's office and told him the whole story, but he paid no
attention. The following afternoon I went aboard, got my clothes
and wages, and sailed to Dublin. Here I found no ship, and footed
it down to Limerick, one hundred and four Irish miles. There being
no ship at Limerick, I walked to Cork, thence to Youghall, and
thence to Waterford, where I worked a fortnight. Next I returned to
Dublin, and remained there at work till November, when I crossed to
>From Liverpool to London I walked again to the consul, Mr. Aspinwal, who sent me to a boarding-house. I soon got tired of doing nothing, and told him I must ship somewhere. I took my land tacks aboard for Portsmouth, 72 miles distant, and there shipped for Swansea, in Wales. Just outside, we met a tremendous gale, and the captain went below with the mate, leaving the vessel entirely to me. We were out of water, and though, when the gale abated, a Swedish craft near by sent us some, I lost it getting it aboard. On our arrival at Swansea, safe and sound, the captain took me with him up to the town and discharged me, fearing I would report his conduct. I went aboard again, but they tried to shoot me; so, abandoning them, I started for Cardiff and thence to Cork.
>From Cork I went to Bristol, and then walked up to London. As I was leaving Bath I perceived a guard of soldiers coming along, and asking the reason, learned that the King, George IV, was coming to Bath. The royal coach speedily hove in sight, all covered with mud and the marks of stones, which had been thrown at it by the people along the road, who thus expressed their indignation at the trial of Queen Caroline.
I arrived in London Dec. 24th, 1819. One day I went to the trial of
I was in London till June, 1820. Then I heard that the letter
“R” was to be taken off the names of all runaways from the
service, so I went to Somerset House and got an address to the
purser of the “Princess Royal.” Next day I got all my pay
and a certificate for prize money, in all amounting to 35£,
which I spent immediately. In July I shipped on the
“Mohawk,” for St. Ubes, and thence to New York. At St. Ubes
we loaded up with salt, and were going to sea with but four half-casks
of provisions. To this the crew objected. The mate called it
right, and when the captain came he weighed the kedge. I asked him
if we were going to sea in this way. He told me it was none of my
business, and took up a capstan bar to knock me down. I caught up
another, and as he struck at me, parried his blow, and knocked him
down. The mate sent me forward, and gave word to heave anchor. I
told the pilot not to take us outside that night or he would go
In the morning the mate called me to get my things ready to go ashore. I obeyed, and got into the boat, the captain sitting in the farther end from me, and thus we went to the deputy consul. The captain told the consul I was not American. I referred to the London consul, and informed him of the trouble about provisions. It was of no use; the officers had it their own way, and paid me off.
Five weeks I waited in St. Ubes without a chance to go anywhere. My money was all gone, and no work to do, so I went to the consul for a passport to Lisbon. I had to go nine miles by land and nine by water, over the spot where old Lisbon formerly stood. I traveled on foot, and at a little distance from the shore met five Portuguese, who began to talk about murdering me. I sprang in among them, laid three on the ground, and made with all speed for the water.
At Lisbon I called on the consul. He was absent, but I laid my case
before his clerk, who told me to come again in the morning. I went
as appointed, and was informed that, as the deputy consul at St.
Ubes had taken me from my ship, he must look out for me. He gave me
another passport, and sent me back.
Cruising down Black Hawk Square, I saw an English vessel lying off the pier. A boat was coming ashore from her with a sick man in it. As they came up the steps, bringing this man, the captain asked me if I knew where he could get a hand. I inquired where he was going, and learning it was Pillau, in Prussia, I shipped, paid my board, and sailed with him in the “Twins,” of Sunderland.
We loaded with salt at St. Ubes, ran through Cattegat to Pillau, a twenty-one days' passage, discharged the cargo, took in wheat, and returned to London. The homeward voyage was very boisterous in both seas, and occupied 18 days.
I told the consul of all that had happened on board the
“Mohawk,” and its consequences to me, but got no
I heard that the possession of a certain ticket would secure me a
pint of soup and other food, every day. When I came to where the
victuals were distributed, I received a title to nine shillings a
week for my board in my old boarding-house, which I enjoyed till
December. On the 12th of that month I saw an American vessel coming
up the river. As soon as she stopped I got on to her and found her
to be the “London Packet.” Her commander, Capt. Tracy, whom
I had known at home, went with me to the consul's office and
procured for me assistance, until she left for Boston with me
aboard. We touched at the Isle of Wight for provisions, and arrived
in America April 5th, 1821. From Boston I went to Great Barrington
on a visit of several weeks to my nephew, and worked there a little
while, though I had to fight for my pay. Then I walked over to
Hudson, N.Y., and the next day forty-one miles down the North
I sailed in the sloop “Thames” from Norwich for the West
Indies. Going down the river I had some difficulty with the mate,
and running away at New London, shipped on a Middletown brig, the
“Condor,” for Santa Cruz. We arrived out safely, and having
taken the usual cargo of rum and sugar, returned to New London.
Here I was taken sick and sent to the hospital boarding-house. Upon
my recovery I sent on again to Boston and got a berth aboard the
The mate put me in irons and went ashore after the consul, whom he brought on board to examine the case. He asked if I knew what crime I had committed, and what would be its punishment. I told him I did, but did not think I had done wrong, for it was to save my own life. He ordered the mate to keep me prisoner till we were at sea, and then, if I was willing to do my duty, he might set me free. This accordingly was done, and I worked as usual during the return trip, till we reached New York, when I again became a prisoner, and an inmate of Bridewell.
The Superior Court was now sitting at New York. There were few
cases on the docket, and I was therefore speedily brought out for
trial. No prosecutors appeared, however, and the passengers bearing
witness in my favor, a lawyer was appointed for me,
I remained round home for four days, and shipped from New London for Antigua, in the brig “Roland,” with a cargo of horses and mules. I made one voyage in her, and afterward spent some time in New Hartford. While here I broke my thigh by a fall from a horse, and lay a month before it was set. This Spring (1823) I lived a few weeks at the Alms House in Norwich. In March I got a berth on sloop “Venus,” Norwich to N. York—went in her two trips; then in sloop “Hornet,” of Mystic, as cook and steward, for Georgetown, with 41 passengers.
At Georgetown I wanted a discharge, and the captain, being angry, got me into a quarrel and had me lodged in Georgetown jail. Another captain came and let me out, but the “Hornet” had sailed, leaving me to shift for myself. I went pilot on the river three or four months, then on a schooner to Norfolk, where I shipped on the “Protection,” for Holland.
We sailed from Hampton Roads for Amsterdam, but drawing too much
water to enter the harbor, lay at Meideppe, discharging and
receiving cargo on lighters. On return voyage brought two hundred
pipes of gin into Norfolk,
I rode down with the sheriff and found that the mate had cleared. I got my pay from the “Protection,” and went to Norfolk after him. He was not there, so I waited for him, but several weeks passing by without my succeeding, I shipped on the “Brothers,” of Greenock, Scotland, for Belfast, in Ireland. Made a voyage and a half, and sailed in her from Belfast for Mermechee, Canada, after timber. Made two voyages between these ports, and started on a third, but shortly before we made the Canadian coast encountered a heavy gale, with fog, which lasted two days, and when it lifted showed us land close ahead. There was no room to wear ship. We put her about, but she missed stays and went on to the rocks, giving us barely time to get ashore before she broke up. We lived on the rocks five days without food or drink, and were at last taken off by the “John Adams,” from Liverpool, and carried into Mermechee.
I got a day's work once in a while, for several months, but not
enough to keep me comfortable. I got tired by that time, and
determined to find my way home across the country on foot. It was
the middle of November, and there were no roads. I struck the
Mermechee river and followed it up about eighty miles,
Just below this place there was then opened a road to Eastport, but I did not know it, and the river being by this time frozen five feet in thickness, I walked up on the ice to Jacksontown, one hundred and fifty miles above Fredericton. On the way I went to a tavern for supper and lodging. As I had no money they were going to turn me out, although it was a bitter cold night, with a terribly sharp north-west wind, but a young woman there took pity on me, and gave me some skins to sleep on.
>From Jacksontown I went to Holton, Maine, fifty miles, which I
walked in one day. At night I entered a house and got a lodging and
supper. The snow was half leg deep. I worked at Holton ten days,
and started for home with two dollars in my pocket, came through
wilderness and snow, sleeping usually under the trees in the snow
banks. I reached a house one night, where I put up, and inquiring
the way to the next found it to be seventy miles.
Leaving him, I struck the Penobscot River, stopping sometimes a day
or two to work, and came to Old Town. There I left the river and
went to Bangor and Belfast by land. From Belfast I got a passage in
a vessel bound for Boston, but, putting into another port for fear
of a gale,
At Newburyport I bought some clothes and shipped for New Orleans, sailing March 24th, 1827. The first night out we had a tremendous gale, which burst away the topsail. I went up to furl it, taking a boy along with me. His hands froze very quickly, and I sent him down. We lay to six days, with no food but pickled meats—the cook being unable to do his duty on account of the storm. At New Orleans the vessel was unloaded and sold.
>From thence I shipped in a New York vessel for Liverpool, with cotton. As I went in another man's stead I did not sign the articles. We dropped down to Belize and ran aground on the bar. Lay there four days and then got off. Met a squall which laid us on our beam ends, and finally got to Liverpool. On the voyage we spent Sundays in turning over the bales on deck, though there was no need of it.
As soon as we arrived in Liverpool I went to the consul and
complained of the captain for bringing me out of the States without
signing the articles. The captain was sent for, and when the consul
heard how it was, he would not do or say nything
I stayed in Liverpool a week. Went to Hull and remained there a week. Shipped in an English vessel for Hamburg, and then was discharged to come home. I spent five days in Hamburg without anything to eat but a piece of gristle I found in the road, the sweetest morsel I ever tasted. The “Randeau,” from Baltimore, at length came in. I went to Capt. Wood, told him my story, and got a berth on his vessel. We were thirty days making three hundred miles, and eighty-three on the passage home, arriving in Baltimore, Nov. 18th, 1827. I received twenty dollars from Capt. Wood, and shipped for Boston in the “Thomas Jones.” Lay in Holmes' Hole a fortnight, wind bound. The crew wanted the last half of their advance, and as we could not get it we all left, and I went on the “Dray,” for Alexandria. I deserted her at Alexandria and took a place on the “Pearl,” with logwood, for Boston. While loading up, the long boat got adrift. Two men were sent after her in a smaller boat, but neither of them were ever heard of.
On our arrival at Boston I went by stage to New Hartford to visit
my relatives, and staid some months. Then I shipped from New Haven
on the “Melancthon,” Captain Fisher.
I spent the next year coasting from Norwich, and finally shipped with Capt. Tracy for West Indies in the “Post Captain.” I was employed all the way making ammunition, in case of pirates, being the only gunner aboard. We had no occasion to use it, however, though we were chased once by a couple of roguish looking craft. After her return to New York, the “Post Captain” made a voyage to Hamburg and back in 66 days, 17 days less than it took to go one way in the “Randeau,” two years before. Such a difference there is in vessels.
Then I coasted again from New York to Richmond and Norfolk, seven
trips in eighteen months, and came home to Norwich, which I worked
In November of that year I sailed from New London in the “Friends,” whaler, for Falkland Islands. Before reaching the Western Islands we lost three boats in a heavy gale, which we replaced from a ship lost at Peter Pico, thus saving us a return passage to New London. We stopped at Fayal to land passengers, and stretched away for Brazil Banks, where we whaled it, and had such good luck that, had the weather been good, we could have filled up on the spot.
One Sunday morning we were looking out and spied a whale. Two boats
instantly put chase, and that of which the chief mate had command
overhauled and struck him. It was my duty, at such times, to take
the wheel of the ship. I watched both the boats and the weather
very closely, and just as they got some distance from the vessel I
perceived a fog rising. I told the captain, but he took no notice
of it, and it soon came up, hiding them from our sight. I had kept
the bearings, and after waiting awhile we ran down N. N. E. after
them, and came to. In an hour, one boat came in sight, close
alongside, partly full of water, with one of the men bailing her
out. The other appeared very soon, and we took them all aboard. The
captain and all on the ship had been very much alarmed for their
As soon as this happened the whales came rolling up by the side of the vessel in great numbers, so near that we could throw a biscuit on them—but no boats went out.
We made sail for the island of Toby. This is on the west coast of Patagonia, and is inhabited only by Penguins. On the island is a large hole in the rocks where letters and other things are left by passing ships, to be taken off by others. We found here a letter from the captain of the “McDonough,” our tender, which had left New London in August with the letter, fifty barrels of oil. We took it all aboard the “Friends,” and started for the Falkland Islands, where we arrived in June. Lay there four months, stripped ship and overhauled. These islands have no permanent inhabitants, but are a great resort for whalemen. On one of them are rocks, where we used to go and watch for whales, and when we saw one, man the boats and chase. The “McDonough” lay here, and on Sunday our captain broke his promise and went over to visit her.
We left the Falkland Islands November, 1837, with 2,200 barrels,
for the Straits of Magellan. The “Mentor,” of New London,
and her tender, a New York brig and our tender, were in company.
Before the whaling season began we dug coal-pits and made us a
supply of coal. Here we fell in with the other Indians, who go
naked in all weathers, regardless of rain or sun or hail. We took
two aboard and dressed them up in European clothes. They acted like
monkeys, strutting about, looking at themselves and picking at
their finery. They seemed to feel very awkward in such confinement,
and when ashore and the novelty was over, soon cast it away.
We next ran to Port Famine, so named from the starvation of a colony of Spaniards, who, settling there, sent their ship home for provisions and stores. She never was heard from, and they died from hunger and privations.
At Port Otway we remained a month, then cruising off the coast of Patagonia, whaled and filled in three weeks. We returned to Chiloe Island and anchored in San Carlos for fresh provender and to recruit. While there I asked for a discharge, that I might to and live with a man whom I had been acquainted with. I got it, but two days afterward the captain sent a body of men after me. They took my chest, but I escaped that time.
It was not long though before they did capture me and took me aboard by force. I offered to go home in the “McDonough,” which they were loading to send off, but they denied my request, and I could not get away till Dec., in Valparaiso, when the consul sent me to a hospital.
I worked as cook in Valparaiso, in different employs, till the
arrival of the “North Carolina,” March 22d, 1839. I boarded
her, and got a berth for home. We touched at Rio Janeiro and lay
there fourteen days, arriving in New York the 30th of June. I came
on to Norwich and went to farming.
Then I went to Canterbury to keep out of temptation, and worked till March. During this time I began to think how wickedly I had lived all my days, throwing away time, and doing all kinds of evil, and wished to become better. I desired to go to church, but had no decent clothes—so, I staid home, still longing to go. In March I returned to West Hartford, arriving there just at the midst of the great revival. I attended the meetings every day regularly, and on the first Sunday in June was received into the Church.
In November I left Hartford for Norwich, and lived there and in
Canterbury till March. My leg, which had never recovered from the
injuries it had received during my slavery, now grew worse, and I
was forced to go to the Seaman's Retreat, when, after three months,
I was pronounced incurable. I returned to Norwich and lived at the
Alms House, providing for myself, all but the room, until 1844,
when I moved down to the Landing, and thence to the Retreat again,
being this time sick with St. Anthony's fire.
As I lay one night in great pain, I happened to think that houseleek and bitterwort made a cooling ointment, and the next morning, putting it to the test, it cured my disease immediately. Thus I worked along, cutting wood and paying my way till 1852. In August of that year, going to market, I procured part of a bass' liver. I eat it, and it tasted excellently, but poisoned me all over.
My sore broke out again. I had to go to the Retreat, and from thence to Sailors' Snug Harbor, where I remained two months and a half. It was a most wretched place, and when I could stay no longer I came home on leave and took a tenement on Washington street. Here I grew still worse and worse, suffering the most excruciating pain, till being unable to care for myself, or procure another house, I took refuge in the Alms House, Sept. 12, 1855.
Becoming still worse and nearly dying from the pain I endured, I at length resolved to have my leg taken off.
This was done the 16th of November, 1855, and though I was sorry to
part with what had done me such faithful service, I felt resigned
that what the Lord had given he also should take away.
I am now seventy-three years of age, by the blessing of God, in good health, and surrounded with kind and careful friends, at whose solicitation and for whose satisfaction I have given this record of my long and stormy life.