Autobiography of Joseph Bates, 1792-1872. Chapters II-IV.
Shipwrecked in the Ice - An attempt to throw the Captain Overboard - Deliverance - Arrive in Ireland - Pursuing our Voyage - British Convoy - Part our Cable - Taken by Privateers - Nature of an Oath, and the Box - Ship Condemned - Voyage up the Baltic - Arrive in Ireland - Pressed into the British Service.
PROCEEDING on another voyage from New York to Archangel, in Russia, about the middle of May, in the afternoon, we discovered a number of islands of ice, many of them appearing like large cities. This was an unmistakable sign that we were nearing the banks of New Foundland, about one thousand miles on the mariner's track from Boston to Liverpool. These large masses, or islands of ice, are driven by wind and current from the ice-bound regions of the North, and strike the bottom more than three hundred feet from the surface of the sea, and in some seasons they are from two to three months dissolving and tumbling to pieces, which lightens them of their prodigious burdens, and they are driven onward over this deep water into the fathomless part of the ocean, and are soon dissolved in warm sea water.
A strong westerly gale was wafting us rapidly in our onward course, and as the night set in we were past this cluster. The fog then became so dense that it was impossible to see ten feet before us. About this time, while one W. Palmer was steering the ship, he overheard the chief mate expostulating with the captain, desiring him to round the ship to, and lay by until morning light. The captain decided that we were past all the ice, and said the ship must continue to run, and have a good lookout ahead. Midnight came, and we were relieved from our post by the captain's watch, to retire below for four hours. In about an hour from this we were aroused by the dreadful cry from the helmsman, "An island of ice!" The next moment came the dreadful crash! When I came to my senses from the blow I received from being tossed from one side of the forecastle to the other, I found myself clinched by Palmer. The rest of the watch had made their escape on deck, and shut down the scuttle. After several unsuccessful attempts to find the ladder to reach the scuttle, we gave up in despair. We placed our arms around each other's necks, and gave up to die. Amid the creaking and rending of the ship with her grappled foe, we could once in a while hear the screams and cries of some of our wretched companions on the deck above us begging God for mercy, which only augmented our desperate feelings. Thoughts came rushing like the light, that seemed to choke, and for a few moments block up all way to utterance.
Oh, the dreadful thought!--here to yield up my account and die, and sink with the wrecked ship to the bottom of the ocean, so far from home and friends, without the least preparation, or hope of Heaven and eternal life, only to be numbered with the damned, and forever banished from the presence of the Lord. It seemed that something must give way to vent my feelings of unutterable anguish.
In this agonizing moment the scuttle was thrown open, with a cry, "Is there any one below?" In a moment we were both on deck. I stood for a moment surveying our position, the ship's bow partly under a shelf of ice, everything gone but her stem, all her square sails filled with the wind, and a heavy sea rushing her onward in closer connection with her unyielding antagonist. Without some immediate change, it was evident that our destiny and hers would be sealed in a few moments.
With some difficulty I made my way to the quarter-deck, where the captain and second mate were on their knees begging God for mercy. The chief mate, with as many as could rally around him, were making fruitless efforts to hoist the long boat, which could not have been kept from dashing against the ice for two minutes. Amid the crash of matter and cry of others, my attention was arrested by the captain's crying out, "What are you going to do with me, Palmer?" Said P., "I am going to heave you overboard!" "For God's sake let me alone," he said; "for we shall all be in eternity in less than five minutes!" Said P., with a dreadful oath, "I don't care for that, you have been the cause of all this! It will be some satisfaction to me to see you go first!"
I laid fast hold of him and entreated him to let go of the captain and go with me to try the pump. He readily yielded to my request, and to our utter astonishment the pump sucked! This unexpected good news arrested the attention of the chief mate, who immediately turned from his fruitless labor, and after a moment's survey of the ship's crashing position, cried out with a stentorian shout, "Let go the top-gallant and the top-sail halyards! let go the tacks and sheets! haul up the courses! clew down and clew up the top-sails!" Perhaps orders were never obeyed in a more prompt and instantaneous manner. The wind thrown out of the sails relieved the ship immediately, and like a lever sliding from under a rock, she broke away from her disastrous position, and settled down upon an even keel broadside to the ice.
We now saw that our strongly-built and gallant ship was a perfect wreck forward of her foremast, and that mast, to all appearances, about to go too; but what we most feared was, the ship's yards and mast coming in contact with the ice, in which case the heavy sea on her other side would rush over her deck, and sink us in a few moments. While anxiously waiting for this, we saw that the sea which passed by our stern bounded against the western side of the ice, and rushed back impetuously against the ship, and thus prevented her coming in contact with the ice, and also moved her onward toward the southern extremity of the island, which was so high that we failed to see the top of it from the mast-head.
In this state of suspense we were unable to devise any way for our escape, other than that which God in his providence was manifesting to us as above described. Praise his holy name! "His ways are past finding out." About four o'clock in the morning, while all hands were intensely engaged in clearing away the wreck, a shout was raised, "Yonder is the eastern horizon, and it's daylight!" This was indication enough that we were just passing from the western side, beyond the southern extremity of the ice, where the ship's course could be changed by human skill. "Hard up your helm," cried the captain, "and keep the ship before the wind! Secure the foremast! clear away the wreck!" Suffice it to say that fourteen days brought us safely into the river Shannon, in Ireland, where we refitted for our Russian voyage.
"They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep. . . . . Their soul is melted because of trouble, . . then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. . . . Oh! that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men." Ps. 107.
Dear friends, whatever be your calling here, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness" (Matt. 6:33), and get your feet planted on board the gospel ship. The Owner of this majestic, homeward-bound vessel, shows the utmost care for every mariner on board, even to the numbering of the hairs of his head. He not only pays the highest wages, but has promised every one who faithfully performs his duty an exceeding great reward. That all the perils of this voyage may be passed in safety, he has commanded his holy ones (Heb. 1:14) to attend and watch over this precious company, who fail not to see through all the mists and fogs, and give warning of all the dangers in the pathway. Moreover, he has invested his dear Son with all power, and given him for a commander and skillful pilot, to convey this good ship and her company into her destined haven. Then he will clothe them with immortality, and give them the earth made new for an everlasting inheritance, and make them kings and priests unto God, to "reign on the earth."
After repairing damages in Ireland, we sailed again on our Russian voyage, and in a few days we fell in with and joined an English convoy of two or three hundred sail of merchant vessels, bound into the Baltic Sea, convoyed by British ships of war, to protect them from their enemies. On reaching a difficult place called the "Mooner Passage," a violent gale overtook us, which, in spite of our efforts, was driving us on a dismal, shelterless shore. With the increasing fury of the gale and darkness of the night, our condition became more and more alarming, until finally our commodore hoisted the "lighted lantern," a signal for all the fleet to anchor without delay.
The long-wished-for morning at length came, which revealed to us our alarming position. All that were provided with cables were contending with the boisterous seas driven against us by the furious gale. It seemed almost a miracle to us that our cables and anchors still held. While watching one after another as they parted their cables and were drifting toward the rocks to be dashed in pieces, our own cable broke! With all haste we crowded what sail we dared on the ship, and she being a fast sailer, we found by the next day that we had gained some distance in the offing. Here a council was called, which decided that we should make sail from the convoy and take a lone chance through the sound by the coast of Denmark.
Not many hours from this, while we were congratulating ourselves respecting our narrow escape from shipwreck, and for being out of reach of the commodore's guns, two suspicious-looking vessels were endeavoring to cut us off from the shore. Their cannon balls soon began to fall around us, and it became advisable for us to round to and let them come aboard. They proved to be two Danish privateers, who captured and took us to Copenhagen, where ship and cargo were finally condemned, in accordance with Bonaparte's decrees, because of our intercourse with the English.
In the course of a few weeks we were all called to the court-house to give testimony respecting our voyage. Previous to this, our supercargo and part owner had promised us a handsome reward if we would testify that our voyage was direct from New York to Copenhagen, and that we had no intercourse with the English. To this proposition we were not all agreed. We were finally examined separately, my turn coming first. I suppose they first called me into court because I was the only youth among the sailors. One of the three judges asked me in English if I understood the nature of an oath. After answering in the affirmative, he bade me look at a box near by (about 15 inches long, and 8 high), and said, "That box contains a machine to cut off the two fore-fingers and thumb of every one who swears falsely here. Now," said he, "hold up your two fore-fingers and thumb on your right hand." In this manner I was sworn to tell the truth, and regardless of any consideration, I testified to the facts concerning our voyage. Afterward, when we were permitted to go aboard, it was clear enough that the "little box" had brought out the truthful testimony from all; viz., that we had been wrecked by running against an island of ice fourteen days from New York; refitted in Ireland, after which we joined the British convoy, and were captured by the privateers. After this, some of our crew, as they were returning from a walk where they had been viewing the prison, said that some of the prisoners thrust their hands through the gratings, to show them that they had lost the two fore-fingers and thumb of their right hand. They were a crew of Dutchmen, who were likewise taken, and had sworn falsely. We now felt thankful for another narrow escape by telling the truth.
"We want the truth on every point,
With the condemnation of our ship and cargo and the loss of our wages, in company with a strange people who had stripped us of all but our clothing, ended our Russian voyage. But before winter set in, I obtained a berth on board a Danish brig, bound to Pillau, in Prussia, where we arrived after a both tedious and perilous passage, our vessel leaking so badly that it was with difculty we kept her from sinking until we reached the wharf. In this extremity I obtained a berth on an American brig from Russia, bound to Belfast, Ireland.
We want it, too, to practice by."
Our voyage from Prussia to Ireland was replete with trials and suffering. It was a winter passage down the Baltic Sea, and through the winding passages of the Highlands of Scotland, under a cruel, drunken, parsimonious captain, who denied us enough of the most common food allowed to sailors. And when, through his neglect to furnish such, we were in a famishing condition and almost exhausted with pumping to keep us from sinking, he would swear and threaten us with severer usage if we failed to comply with his wishes. Finally, after putting in to an island and obtaining a fresh supply of provisions, we sailed again for Belfast, in Ireland, where the voyage ended. From thence two of us crossed the Irish Channel to Liverpool, to seek a voyage to America.
A few days after our arrival, a "press-gang" (an officer and twelve men) entered our boarding-house in the evening and asked to what country we belonged. We produced our American protections, which proved us to be citizens of the United States. Protections and arguments would not satisfy them. They seized and dragged us to the "rendezvous," a place of close confinement. In the morning we were examined before a naval lieutenant, and ordered to join the British navy. To prevent our escape, four stout men seized us, and the lieutenant, with his drawn sword, going before, we were conducted through the middle of one of the principal streets of Liverpool like condemned criminals ordered to the gallows. When we reached the river side, a boat well manned with men was in readiness, and conveyed us on board the Princess, of the royal navy. After a rigid scrutiny, we were confined in the prison room on the lower deck, with about sixty others who claimed to be Americans, impressed in like manner as ourselves. This eventful epoch occurred April 27, 1810.
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Attempt to Escape - Flogging - Ship St. Salvadore - Attempt to Swim Away - Rodney 74 - Spanish War Ship - A Levanter - Image Worship - Another Attempt for Freedom - Battle - Storm - Shipwreck - Blockading Squadron - Church Service on Board a King's Ship - Port Mahon - Subterranean Passage - Holy-stone - Wash Days - Threatened Punishment - Storm - New Station.
ON board of this ship one feeling seemed to pervade the minds of all who claimed to be Americans, viz., that we were unlawfully seized without any provocation on our part, hence, any way by which we could regain our liberty would be justifiable. In a few days the greater portion of the officers and crew took one of their number on shore to be buried. It was then suggested by some that this was a favorable time for us to break the iron bars and bolts in the port-hole, and make our escape by swimming in the strong current that was rushing by us. In breaking the bars we succeeded beyond our expectation, and when all ready to cast ourselves overboard, one after another, the boats came along-side with the officers, and our open place was discovered. For this, they began by taking one after another and whipping them on their naked backs in a most inhuman manner. This dreadful work was in progress for several hours, and ceased about nine o'clock at night, the officers intending to finish next day. But they did not have time to carry out their cruel work; for orders were given to transship us all on board a frigate near by, that was weighing her anchors to put to sea.
In a few days we came to Plymouth, where we were re-examined, and all such as were pronounced in good condition for service in the British navy were transferred to one of their largest-sized stationary ships, called the "Saint Salvadore Del Mondo." On this monstrous floating castle were fifteen hundred persons in the same condition as myself.
Here, in conversation with a young man from Massachusetts, we agreed to try to make our escape if we perished in the attempt. We prepared us a rope, and closely watched the soldiers and sailors on guard till they were being relieved from their posts at midnight. We then raised the "hanging port" about eighteen inches, and put the "tackle fall" into the hands of a friend in the secret, to lower it down when we were beyond the reach of the musket balls. Our rope and blanket, about thirty feet long, reached the water. Forbes, my companion, whispered, "Will you follow?" I replied, "Yes." By the time he reached the water, I was slipping down after him, when the alarm ran through the ship, "A man overboard." Our friend dropped the "port" for fear of being detected, which left me exposed to the fire of the sentinels. But I was soon in the water, and swam to a hiding-place under the "accommodation ladder" by the time the boats were manned with lanterns to hunt us out. We watched for an opportunity to take an opposite direction from our pursuers, who were repeatedly hailed from the ship to know if they had found any one. We had about three miles to swim with our clothes on, except our jackets and shoes; these I had fastened on the back of my neck to screen me from a chance shot from the ship. An officer with men and lanterns descended the accommodation ladder, and sliding his hand over the "slat" he touched my hand, and immediately shouted, "Here is one of them! Come out of that, you sir! Here is another! Come out, you sir!" We swam round to them, and were drawn upon the stage. "Who are you?" demanded the officer. "An American." "How dare you undertake to swim away from the ship? Did you not know that you were liable to be shot?" I answered that I was not a subject of King George, and had done this to gain my liberty. "Bring them up here!" was the order from the ship. After another examination we were put into close confinement with a number of criminals awaiting their punishment.
After some thirty hours of close confinement, I was separated from my friend, and hurried away with about one hundred and fifty sailors (all strangers to me), to join His Majesty's ship, "Rodney," of 74 guns, whose crew numbered about seven hundred men. As soon as we had passed our muster on the quarter-deck of the Rodney, all were permitted to go below and get their dinners but Bates. Commander Bolton handed the first lieutenant a paper, on reading which he looked at me and muttered, "Scoundrel." All the boats' crews, amounting to more than one hundred men, were immediately assembled on the quarter-deck. Said Capt. Bolton, "Do you see that fellow?" "Yes, sir." "If you ever allow him to get into one of your boats, I will flog every one of the boats' crew." "Do you understand me?" "Yes, sir, yes, sir," was the reply. "Then go down to your dinners; and you may, too, sir."
I now began to learn something of the nature of my punishment for attempting in a quiet and peaceable manner to quit His Majesty's service. In the commanding officer's view this seemed to amount to an unpardonable crime, and one never to be forgotten. In a few hours the Rodney, under a cloud of sail, was leaving old Plymouth in the distance, steering for the French coast to make war with the Frenchmen. "Hope deferred makes the heart sick;" thus my hope of freedom from this oppressive state seemed to wane from my view like the land we were leaving in the distance.
As our final destination was to join the British squadron in the Gulf of Lyons, in the Mediterranean Sea, we made a stop at Cadiz, in Spain. Here the French troops of Napoleon Bonaparte were bombarding the city and British and Spanish ships of war in the harbor. These comprised a part of the Spanish fleet that finally escaped from the battle of Trafalgar, under Lord Nelson, in 1805, and were now to be refitted by their ally, the English, and sail for Port Mahon in the Mediterranean. Unexpectedly, I was one of fifty selected to refit and man one of them, the "Apollo." A few days after passing the Straits of Gibraltar, we encountered a most violent gale of wind called a "levanter," common in those seas, which caused our ship to labor so excessively that it was with the utmost exertion at the pumps that we kept her from sinking. We were finally favored to return back to Gibraltar and refit.
A number of Spanish officers with their families still belonged to the ship. It was wonderful and strange to us to see how tenaciously these people hung around their images, surrounded with burning wax candles, as though they could save them in this perilous hour, when nothing short of our continual labor at the pumps prevented the ship from sinking with us all.
After refitting at Gibraltar, we sailed again, and arrived safely at the island of Mahon. Here I made another attempt to regain my liberty with two others, by inducing a native to take us to land in his market boat. After some two days and nights of fruitless labor to escape from the island by boats or otherwise, or from those who were well paid for apprehending deserters, we deemed it best to venture back. Our voluntary return to the ship was finally accepted as evidence that we did not design to desert from the service of King George III. Thus we escaped from being publicly whipped.
Our crew was now taken back to Gibraltar to join the Rodney, our own ship, which had just arrived in charge of another Spanish line-of-battle ship for Port Mahon, having a crew of fifty of the Rodney's men. In company with our Spanish consort, we sailed some eighty miles on our way to Malaga, where we discovered the combined armies of the English and Spanish in close engagement with the French army on the seaboard. Our ship was soon moored broadside to the shore. As the orders for furling the sails were not promptly obeyed, by reason of the Frenchmen's shot from the fort, all hands were ordered aloft, and there remained exposed to the enemy's shot until the sails were furled. This was done out of anger. While in this condition, a single well-directed shot might have killed a score, but fortunately none were shot till all had reached the deck. Our thirty-two pound balls made dreadful havoc for a little while in the enemy's ranks. Nevertheless, they soon managed to bring their enemies between us, and thereby check our firing. Then, with a furious onset they drove them to their fortress; and many seeing our boats near the shore rushed into the sea, and were either shot by the French or drowned, except what the boats floated to our ship. This work commenced about 2 P. M. and closed with the setting sun. After disposing of the dead, and washing their blood from the decks, we sailed away with our Spanish consort for Port Mahon. Just before reaching there, another levanter came on so suddenly that it was with much difficulty that we could manage our newly built ship. Our Spanish consort, unprepared for such a violent gale, was dashed to pieces on the island of Sardinia, and nearly every one of the crew perished.
After the gale we joined the British fleet, consisting of about thirty line-of-battle ships, carrying from eighty to one hundred and thirty guns apiece, besides frigates and sloops of war. Our work was to blockade a much larger fleet of French men-of-war, mostly in the harbor of Toulon. With these we occasionally had skirmishes, or running fights. The French squadron was not prepared, neither disposed, to meet the English fleet in battle.
To improve our mental faculties, when we had a few leisure moments from ship duty and naval tactics, we were furnished with a library of two choice books for every ten men. We had seventy of these libraries in all. The first book was an abridgement of the life of Lord Nelson, calculated to inspire the mind to deeds of valor, and to teach the most summary way of disposing of an unyielding enemy. This, one of the ten men could read, when he had leisure, during the last six days of each week. The second was a small Church-of-England prayer-book, for special use about one hour on the first day of the week.
CHURCH SERVICE ON BOARD A KING'S SHIP.
As a general thing, a chaplain was allowed for every large ship. When the weather was pleasant, the quarter-deck was fitted with awnings, flags, benches, &c., for meeting. At 11 A. M., came the order from the officer of the deck, "Strike six bells there!" "Yes, sir." "Boatswain's mate!" "Sir." "Call all hands to church! Hurry them up there!" These mates were required to carry a piece of rope in their pocket with which to start the sailors. Immediately their stentorian voices were heard sounding on the other decks, "Away up to church there--every soul of you--and take your prayer-books with you!" If any one felt disinclined to such a mode of worship, and attempted to evade the loud call to church, then look out for the men with the rope! When I was asked, "Of what religion are you?" I replied, "A Presbyterian." But I was now given to understand that there was no religious toleration on board the king's war ships. "Only one denomination here--away with you to church!" The officers, before taking their seats, unbuckled their swords and dirks, and piled them on the head of the capstan in the midst of the worshiping assembly, all ready to grasp them in a moment, if necessary, before the hour's service should close. When the benediction was pronounced, the officers clinched their side arms, and buckled them on for active service. The quarter-deck was immediately cleared, and the floating bethel again became the same old weekly war ship for six days and twenty-three hours more.
Respecting the church service, the chaplain, or in his absence, the captain, reads from the prayer-book, and the officers and sailors respond. And when he read about the law of God, the loud response would fill the quarter-deck, "O Lord, incline our hearts to keep thy law." Poor, wicked, deluded souls! how little their hearts were inclined to keep the holy law of God, when almost every other hour of the week their tongues were employed in blaspheming his holy name; and at the same time learning and practicing the best manner of shooting, slaying, and sinking to the bottom of the ocean all who refused to surrender and become their prisoners, or who dared to array themselves in opposition to a proclamation of war issued by their good old Christian king.
King George III. not only assumed the right to impress American seamen to man his war ships and fight his unjust battles, but he also required them to attend his church, and learn to respond to his preachers. And whenever the band of musicians on shipboard commenced with "God save the king!" they, with all his loyal subjects, were also required to take off their hats in obeisance to his royal authority.
At that time I felt a wicked spirit toward those who deprived me of my liberty, and held me in this state of oppression, and required me in their way to serve God, and honor their king. But I thank God, who teaches us to forgive and love our enemies, that through his rich mercy, in Jesus Christ, I have since found forgiveness of my sins; that all such feelings are subdued, and my only wish is, that I could teach them the way of life and salvation.
The winter rendezvous of the Mediterranean British squadron was in the Isle of Minorca, harbor of Port Mahon. Sailing, after the middle of the seventh month, is dangerous. See St. Paul's testimony, Acts 27:9, 10.
While endeavoring to escape the vigilance of our pursuers, after we stepped out of the Spaniard's market boat, as before narrated, away beyond the city, at the base of a rocky mountain, we discovered a wooden door, which we opened; and away in the distance it appeared quite light. We ventured on through this subterranean passage till we came to a large open space, where the light was shining down through a small hole wrought from the top of the mountain down through the dome. This subterranean passage continued on in a winding direction, which we attemped to explore as far as we dared to for the want of light to return to the center. On both sides of this main road we discovered similar passages all beyond our exploration. Afterward we were told that this mountain had been excavated in past ages for the purpose of sheltering a besieged army. In the center, or light place, was a large house chiseled out of a rock, with doorway and window frames, designed undoubtedly for the officers of the besieged, and rallying place of the army.
After a close survey of this wonderful place, we became satisfied that we had now found a secure retreat from our pursuers, where we could breathe and talk aloud without fear of being heard, or seized by any of the subjects of King George III. But alas! our joy soon vanished when we thought again that there was nothing for us to eat.
When we ventured to a farm-house to seek for bread, the people eyed us with suspicion, and fearing they would seize us, and hand us over to our pursuers, we avoided them, until we became satisfied that it was in vain to attempt an escape from this place, and so we returned to the ship. The stone of this mountain is a kind of sandstone, much harder than chalk, called "holy-stone," which is abundant on the island, and made use of by the British squadron to scour or holy-stone the decks with every morning to make them white and clean.
In the mild seasons, the sailors' uniform was white duck frocks and trowsers, and straw hats. The discipline was to muster all hands at nine o'clock in the morning, and if our dress was reported soiled or unclean, then all such were doomed to have their names put on the "black list," and required to do all kinds of scouring brass, iron, and filthy work, in addition to their stated duty, depriving them of their allotted time for rest and sleep in their morning watch below. There was no punishment more dreaded and disgraceful than this, to which we were daily liable.
If sufficient changes of dress had been allowed us, and sufficient time to wash and dry the same, it would have been a great pleasure, and also a benefit to us, to have appeared daily with unsoiled white dresses on, notwithstanding the dirty work we had to perform. I do not remember of ever being allowed more than three suits at one time to make changes, and then we had only one day in the week to cleanse them; viz., about two hours before daylight once a week, all hands (about seven hundred) were called on the upper decks to wash and scrub clothes. Not more than three-quarters of these could be accommodated to do this work for themselves at a time; but no matter, when daylight came, at the expiration of the two hours we were ordered to hang all washed clothes on the clothes-lines immediately. Some would say, "I have not been able to get water nor a place to wash mine yet." "I can't help that! clear out your clothes, and begin to holy-stone and wash the decks." Orders were most strict, that whoever should be found drying his clothes at any other but this time in the wash day, should be punished.
To avoid detection and punishment, I have scrubbed my trowsers early in the morning, and put them on and dried them. Not liking this method, I ventured at one time to hang up my wet trowsers in a concealed place behind the maintop sail; but the sail was ordered to be furled in a hurry, and the lieutenant discovered them. The maintop men (about fifty) were immediately ordered from their dinner hour to appear on the quarter-deck. "All here, sir," said the under-officer that mustered us. "Very well, whose trowsers are these found hanging in the maintop?" I stepped forward from the ranks and said, "They are mine, sir." "Yours, are they? you ___ ___!" and when he had finished cursing me, he asked me how they came there. "I hung them there to dry, sir." "You ___ ___, see how I will hang you, directly. Go down to your dinner, the rest of you," said he, "and call the chief boatswain's mate up here." Up he came in great haste from his dinner. "Have you got a rope's end in your pocket?" He began to feel, and said, "No, sir." "Then away down below directly and get one, and give that fellow there one of the ___ floggings he ever had." "Yes, sir, bear a hand."
Thus far I had escaped all his threats of punishment, from my first introduction into the ship. I had often applied for more clothes to enable me to muster with a clean dress, but had been refused. I expected now, according to his threats, that he would wreak his vengeance on me by having the flesh cut off my back for attempting to have a clean dress, when he knew I could not have it without venturing some way as I had done.
While thoughts of the injustice of this matter were rapidly passing through my mind, he cried out, "Where is that fellow with the rope? why don't he hurry up here?" At this instant he was heard rushing up from below. The lieutenant stopped short and turned to me, saying, "If you don't want one of the ___ floggings you ever had, do you run." I looked at him to see if he was in earnest. The under-officer, who seemed to feel the injustice of my case, repeated, "Run!" The lieutenant cried to the man with the rope, "Give it to him!" "Aye, aye, sir." I bounded forward, and by the time he reached the head of the ship, I was over the bow, getting a position to receive him near down by the water, on the ship's bobstays. He saw at a glance it would require his utmost skill to perform his pleasing task there. He therefore commanded me to come up to him. "No," said I, "if you want me, come here."
In this position, the devil, the enemy of all righteousness, tempted me to seek a summary redress of my grievances; viz., if he followed me and persisted in inflicting on me the threatened punishment, to grasp him and plunge into the water. Of the many that stood above looking on, none spoke to me, that I remember, but my pursuer. To the best of my memory, I remained in this position more than an hour. To the wonder of myself and others, the lieutenant issued no orders respecting me, neither questioned me afterward, only the next morning I learned that I was numbered with the black-list men for about six months. Thanks to the Father of all mercies for delivering me from premeditated destruction by his overruling providence in that trying hour.
Ships belonging to the blockading squadron in the Mediterranean Sea were generally relieved and returned to England at the expiration of three years; then the sailors were paid their wages, and twenty-four hours' liberty given them to spend their money on shore. As the Rodney was now on her third year out, my strong hope of freedom from the British yoke would often cheer me while looking forward to that one day's liberty, in the which I was resolving to put forth every energy of my being to gain my freedom. About this time the fleet encountered a most dreadful storm in the Gulf of Lyons. For awhile it was doubted whether any of us would ever see the rising of another sun. Those huge ships would rise like mountains on the top of the coming sea, and suddenly tumble again in the trough of the same, with such a dreadful crash that it seemed almost impossible they could ever rise again. They became unmanageable, and the mariners were at their wits' end. See the psalmist's description, Ps. 107:23-30.
On our arrival at Port Mahon, in the island of Minorca, ten ships were reported much damaged. The Rodney was so badly damaged that the commander was ordered to get her ready to proceed to England. Joyful sound to us all! "Homeward bound! Twenty-four hours' liberty!" was the joyous sound. All hearts were glad. One evening after dark, just before the Rodney's departure for England, some fifty of us were called out by name and ordered to get our baggage ready and get into the boats. "What's the matter? Where are we going?" "On board the Swiftshore, 74." "What, that ship that has just arrived for a three years' station?" "Yes." A sad disappointment, indeed; but what was still worse, I began to learn that I was doomed to drag out a miserable existence in the British navy. Once more I was among strangers, but well known as one who had attempted to escape from the service of King George III.
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Impressing American Seamen - Documents of Citizenship - War - Voluntary Surrender as Prisoners of War - Preparation for a Battle - Unjust Treatment - Close Confinement - Relieved - British Fleet Outgeneraled - Prisoners Sent to England - London Newspaper - Successful Movement - Without Bread.
THE Swiftshore was soon under way for her station off Toulon. A few days after we sailed, a friend of my father's arrived from the United States, bringing documents to prove my citizenship, and a demand for my release from the British government.
One of the most prominent causes of our last war with England, in 1812, was her oppressive and unjust acts in impressing American seamen on sea or land, wherever they could be found. This was denied by one political party in the United States. The British government also continued to deny the fact, and regard the passports, or protection, of American citizens of but little importance. Such proofs of American citizenship were required by them as were not very readily obtained. Hence their continued acts of aggression until the war. Another additional and grievous act was, that all letters to friends were required to be examined by the first lieutenant before leaving the ship. By accident I found one of mine torn and thrown aside, hence the impossibility of my parents' learning even that I was among the living. With as genuine a protection as could be obtained from the collector of the custom-house at New York, I nevertheless was passed off for an Irishman, because an Irish officer declared that my parents lived in Belfast, Ireland.
Previous to the war of 1812, one of my letters reached my father. He wrote to the President of the United States (Mr. Madison), presenting him with the facts in my case, and for proof of his own citizenship referred him to the archives in the War Department for his commissions returned and deposited there after his services closed with the Revolutionary War. The president's reply and documents were satisfactory. Gen. Brooks, then governor of Massachusetts, who was intimately acquainted with my father as a captain under his immediate command in the Revolutionary War, added to the foregoing another strong document.
Capt. C. Delano, townsman and friend of my father, preparing for a voyage to Minorca, in the Mediterranean, generously offered his services as bearer of the above-named documents, and so sanguine was he that no other proof would be required, that he really expected to bring me with him on his return voyage.
On his arrival at Port Mahon, he was rejoiced to learn that the Rodney, 74, was in port. As he approached the R. in his boat, he was asked what he wanted. He said he wished to see a young man by the name of Joseph Bates. The lieutenant forbade his coming alongside. Finally, one of the under-officers, a friend of mine, informed him that I had been transferred to the Swiftshore, 74, and that she had sailed to join the British fleet off Toulon. Capt. D. then presented my documents to the United States consul, who transmitted them to Sir Edward Pelew, the commander-in-chief of the squadron. On the arrival of the mail, I received a letter from Capt. D., informing me of his arrival and visit to the R., his disappointment, and what he had done, and of the anxiety of my parents. I think this was the first intelligence from home for over three years.
I was told that the captain had sent for me to see him on the quarter-deck. I saw that he was surrounded by signal men and officers, replying by signal flags to the admiral's ship, which was some distance from us. Said the captain, "Is your name Joseph Bates?" "Yes, sir." "Are you an American?" "Yes, sir." " To what part of America do you belong?" "New Bedford, in Massachusetts, sir." Said he, "The admiral is inquiring to know if you are on board this ship. He will probably send for you," or something of the like import. "You may go below." The news spread throughout the ship that Bates was an American, and his government had demanded his release, and the commander-in-chief was signalizing our ship about it, etc. What a lucky fellow he was, etc.
Weeks and months rolled away, however, bringing nothing but anxious suspense and uncertainty in my case, till at length I received another letter from Capt. D., informing me that my case was still hanging in uncertainty. It was probable that war had commenced, and as he was obliged to leave, he advised me, if I could not obtain an honorable discharge, to become a prisoner of war.
It was now the fall of 1812. On our arrival at Port Mahon to winter, the British consul sent me what money I then needed, saying that it was Capt. D.'s request that he should furnish me with money and clothing while I needed. Owing to sickness in the fleet, it was ordered that each ship's company should have 24 hours' liberty on shore. I improved this opportunity to call at the offices of the British and American consuls. The former furnished me with some more money. The latter said that the admiral had done nothing in my case, and now it was too late, for it was ascertained that war was declared between the United States and Great Britian.
There were about two hundred Americans on board the ships in our squadron, and twenty-two on board the Swiftshore. We had ventured several times to say what we ought to do, but the result appeared to some very doubtful. At last some six of us united and walked to the quarter-deck with our hats in hand, and thus addressed the first lieutenant:--
"We understand, sir, that war has commenced between Great Britain and the United States, and we do not wish to be found fighting against our own country; therefore it is our wish to become prisoners of war." "Go below," said he. At dinner hour all the Americans were ordered between the pumps, and not permitted to associate with the crew. Our scanty allowance was ordered to be reduced one-third, and no strong drink. This we felt we could endure, and were not a little comforted that we had made one effectual change, and the next would most likely free us from the British navy.
From our ship the work spread, until about all the Americans in the fleet became prisoners of war. During eight dreary months we were thus retained, and frequently called upon the quarter-deck, where we were harangued, and urged to enter the British navy. I had already suffered on for thirty months an unwilling subject; I was therefore fully decided not to listen to any proposal they could make.
A few months after our becoming prisoners of war, our lookout ships appeared off the harbor, and signalized that the French fleet (which we were attempting to blockade) were all out and making the best of their way down the Mediterranean. With this startling information orders were immediately issued for the squadron to be ready to proceed in pursuit of them at an early hour in the morning. The most of the night was spent preparing for this expected onset. The prisoners were invited to assist. I alone refused to aid or assist in any way whatever, it being unjustifiable except when forced to do so.
In the morning the whole fleet was sailing out of the harbor in line of battle. Gunners were ordered to double-shot the guns, and clear away for action. The first lieutenant was passing by where I stood reading the Life of Nelson (one of the library books). "Take up that hammock, sir, and carry it on deck," said he. I looked off from the book and said, "It's not mine, sir." "Take it up." "Its not mine, sir." He cursed me for a scoundrel, snatched the book from me, and dashed it out of the gun-port, and struck me down with his fist. As soon as I got up, said he, "Take that hammock [some one's bed and blankets lashed up] on deck." "I shall not do it, sir! I am a prisoner of war, and hope you will treat me as such." "Yes, you ___ Yankee scoundrel, I will. Here," said he to two under-officers, "take that hammock and lash it on to that fellow's back, and make him walk the poop deck twenty-four hours." And because I put my hands on them to keep them from doing so, and requested them to let me alone, he became outrageous, and cried out, "Master-at-arms! take this fellow into the gun-room and put him double legs in irons!" "That you can do, sir," said I, "but I shall not work." "When we come into action I'll have you lashed up in the main rigging for a target for the Frenchmen to fire at!" "That you can do, sir, but I hope you will remember that I am a prisoner of war." Another volley of oaths and imprecations followed, with an inquiry why the master-at-arms did not hurry up with the irons. The poor old man was so dismayed and gallied that he could not find them.
The lieutenant then changed his mind, and ordered him to come up and make me a close prisoner in the gun-room, and not allow me to come near any one, nor even to speak with one of my countrymen. With this he hurried up on the upper gun-deck, where orders were given to throw all the hammocks and bags into the ship's hold, break down all cabin and berth partitions, break up and throw overboard all the cow and sheep pens, and clear the deck fore and aft for action. Every ship was now in its station for battle, rushing across the Mediterranean for the Turkish shore, watching to see and grapple with their deadly foe.
When all the preparation was made for battle, one of my countrymen, in the absence of the master-at-arms, ventured to speak with me through the musket gratings of the gun-room, to warn me of the perilous position I should be placed in when the French fleet hove in sight, unless I submitted, and acknowledged myself ready to take my former station (second captain of one of the big guns on the fore-castle), and fight the Frenchmen, as he and the rest of my countrymen were about to do. I endeavored to show him how unjustifiable and inconsistent such a course would be for us as prisoners of war, and assured him that my mind was fully and clearly settled to adhere to our position as American prisoners of war, notwithstanding the perilous position I was to be placed in.
In the course of a few hours, after the lieutenant had finished his arrangements for battle, he came down to my prison-room. "Well, sir," said he, "will you take up a hammock when you are ordered again?" I replied that I would take one up for any gentleman in the ship. "You would, ha?" "Yes, sir." Without inquiring who I considered gentlemen, he ordered me released. My countrymen were somewhat surprised to see me so soon a prisoner at large.
The first lieutenant is next in command to the captain, and presides over all the duties of the ship during the day, and keeps no watch, whereas all other officers do. As we had not yet seen the French fleet, the first lieutenant was aware that my case would have to be reported to the captain; in which case if I, as an acknowledged prisoner of war, belonging to the United States, were allowed to answer for myself, his unlawful, abusive, and ungentlemanly conduct would come to the captain's knowledge. Hence his willingness to release me.
The British fleet continued their course across the Mediterranean for the Turkish coast, until they were satisfied that the French fleet was not to the west of them. They then steered north and east (to meet them), until we arrived off the harbor of Toulon, where we saw them all snugly moored, and dismantled in their old winter quarters; their officers and crews undoubtedly highly gratified that the ruse they had practiced had so well effected their design, viz., to start the British squadron out of their snug winter quarters to hunt for them over the Mediterranean Sea. They had remantled, and sailed out of their harbor, and chased our few lookout ships a distance down the Mediterranean, and then, unperceived by them, returned and dismantled again.
After retaining us as prisoners of war about eight months, we, with others who continued to refuse all solicitation to rejoin the British service, were sent to Gibraltar, and from thence to England, and finally locked up on board an old sheer-hulk, called the Crown Princen, formerly a Danish 74-gun ship, a few miles below Chatham dockyard, and seventy miles from London. Here were many others of like description, many of them containing prisoners. Here about seven hundred prisoners were crowded between two decks, and locked up every night, on a scanty allowance of food, and in crowded quarters. Cut off from all intercourse except floating news, a plan was devised to obtain a newspaper, which often relieved us in our anxious, desponding moments, although we had to feel the pressing claims of hunger for it. The plan was this: One day in each week we were allowed salt fish; this we sold to the contractor for cash, which we paid to one of our enemies to smuggle us in one of the weekly journals from London. This being common stock, good readers were chosen to stand in an elevated position and read aloud. It was often interesting and amusing to see the perfect rush to hear every word of American news, several voices crying out, "Read that over again, we could not hear it distinctly;" and the same from another and another quarter. Good news from home often cheered us more than our scanty allowance of food. If more means had been required for the paper, I believe another portion of our daily allowance would have been freely offered rather than give it up.
Our daily allowance of bread consisted of coarse brown loaves from the bakery, served out every morning. At the commencement of the severe cold weather, a quantity of ship biscuit was deposited on board for our use in case the weather or ice should prevent the soft bread from coming daily. In the spring, our first lieutenant or commander ordered the biscuit to be served out to the prisoners, and directed that one-quarter of the daily allowance should be deducted, because nine ounces of biscuit were equal to twelve ounces of soft bread. We utterly refused to receive the biscuit, or hard bread, unless he would allow us as many ounces as he had of the soft. At the close of the day he wished to know again if we would receive the bread on his terms. "No! no!" "Then I will keep you below until you comply." Hatchways unlocked in the morning again. "Will you come up for your bread?" "No!" At noon again, "Will you have your meat that is cooked for you?" "No!" "Will you come up for your water?" "No; we will have nothing from you until you serve us out our full allowance of bread." To make us comply, the port-holes had been closed, thus depriving us of light and fresh air. Our president had also been called up and conferred with (we had a president and committee of twelve chosen, as we found it necessary to keep some kind of order). He told the commander that the prisoners would not yield.
By this time, hunger and the want of water, and especially fresh air, had thrown us into a state of feverish excitement. Some appeared almost savage, others endeavored to bear it as well as they could. The president was called for again. After awhile the port where he messed was thrown open, and two officers from the hatchway came down on the lower deck and passed to his table, inquiring for the president's trunk. "What do you want with it?" said his friends. "The commander has sent us for it." "What for?" "He is going to send him on board the next prison ship." "Do you drop it! He shall not have it!" By this time the officers became alarmed for their safety, and attempted to make their escape up the ladder to the hatchway. A number of the prisoners, who seemed fired with desperation, stopped them, and declared on the peril of their lives that they should go no farther until the president was permitted to come down. Other port holes were now thrown open, and the commander appeared at one of them, demanding the release of his officers. The reply from within was, "When you release our president we will release your officers." "If you do not release them," said the commander, "I will open these ports [all of them grated with heavy bars of iron] and fire in upon you." "Fire away!" was the cry from within, "we may as well die this way as by famine; but, mark, if you kill one prisoner we will have two for one as long as they last." His officers now began to beg him most pitifully not to fire, "for if you do," said they, "they will kill us; they stand here around us with their knives open, declaring if we stir one foot they will take our lives."
The president, being permitted to come to the port, begged his countrymen to shed no blood on his account, for he did not desire to remain on board the ship any longer, and he entreated that for his sake the officers be released.
Double-plank bulk-heads at each end of our prison rooms, with musket holes in them to fire in upon us if necessary, separated us from the officers, sailors, and soldiers. Again we were asked if we would receive our allowance of bread. "No." Some threats were thrown out by the prisoners that the commander would hear from us before morning. About ten o'clock at night, when all were quiet but the guard and watch on deck, a torch-light was got up by setting some soap grease on fire in tin pans. By the aid of this light, a heavy oak stanchion was taken down, which served us for a battering-ram. Then, with our large, empty, tin water cans for drums, and tin pails, kettles, pans, pots, and spoons for drum-sticks, and whatever would make a stunning noise, the torch-lights and battering-ram moved onward to the after bulk-head that separated us from the commander and his officers, soldiers and their families. For a few moments the ram was applied with power, and so successfully that consternation seized the sleepers, and they fled, crying for help, declaring that the prisoners were breaking through upon them. Without stopping for them to rally and fire in upon us, a rush was made for the forward bulk-head, where a portion of the ship's company, with their families, lived. The application of the battering-ram was quite as successful here, so that all our enemies were now as wide awake as their hungry, starving prisoners, devising the best means for their defense. Here our torch-lights went out, leaving us in total darkness in the midst of our so-far-successful operations. We grouped together in huddles, to sleep, if our enemies would allow us, until another day should dawn to enable us to use our little remaining strength in obtaining, if possible, our full allowance of bread and water.
The welcome fresh air and morning light came suddenly upon us by an order from the commander to open our port-holes, unbar the hatchways, and call the prisoners up to get their bread. In a few moments it was clearly understood that our enemies had capitulated by yielding to our terms, and were now ready to make peace by serving us with our full allowance of bread.
While one from each mess of ten was up getting their three days' allowance of brown loaves, others were up to the tank filling their tin cans with water, so that in a short space of time, a great and wonderful change had taken place in our midst. On most amicable terms of peace with all our keepers, grouped in messes of ten, with three days' allowance of bread, and cans filled with water, we ate and drank, laughed and shouted immoderately over our great feast and vanquished foe. The wonder was that we did not kill ourselves with over-eating and drinking.
The commissary, on hearing the state of things in our midst, sent orders from the shore to the commander, to serve out our bread forthwith.
Go to CHAPTER V.
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