On foot they trudged day after day in the direction of Muscat, and how they suffered and what they endured was told by one of the survivors, young Daniel Saunders. Soon they began to drop out and die in their tracks in the manner of "Benjamin Williams, William Leghorn, and Thomas Barnard whose bodies were exposed naked to the scorching sun and finding their strength and spirits quite exhausted they lay down expecting nothing but death for relief." The next to be left behind was Mr. Robert Williams, merchant and part owner, "and we therefore with reluctance abandoned him to the mercy of God, suffering ourselves all the horrors that fill the mind at the approach of death." Near the beach and a forlorn little oasis, they stumbled across Charles Lapham, who had become separated from them. He had been without water for five days "and after many efforts he got upon his feet and endeavored to walk. Seeing him in so wretched a condition I could not but sympathize enough with him in his torments to go back with him" toward water two miles away, "which both my other companions refused to do. Accordingly they walked forward while I went back a considerable distance with Lapham until, his strength failing him, he suddenly fell on the ground, nor was he able to rise again or even speak to me. Finding it vain to stay with him, I covered him with sprays and leaves which I tore from an adjacent tree, it being the last friendly office I could do him."
Eight living skeletons left of eighteen strong seamen tottered into Muscat and were cared for by the English consul. Daniel Saunders worked his passage to England, was picked up by a press-gang, escaped, and so returned to Salem. It was the fate of Juba Hill, the black cook from Boston, to be detained among the Arabs as a slave. It is worth noting that a black sea-cook figured in many of these tales of daring and disaster, and among them was the heroic and amazing figure of one Peter Jackson who belonged in the brig Ceres. While running down the river from Calcutta she was thrown on her beam ends and Peter, perhaps dumping garbage over the rail, took a header. Among the things tossed to him as he floated away was a sail-boom on which he was swiftly carried out of sight by the turbid current. All on board concluded that Peter Jackson had been eaten by sharks or crocodiles and it was so reported when they arrived home. An administrator was appointed for his goods and chattels and he was officially deceased in the eyes of the law. A year or so later this unconquerable sea-cook appeared in the streets of Salem, grinning a welcome to former shipmates who fled from him in terror as a ghostly visitation. He had floated twelve hours on his sail-boom, it seemed, fighting off the sharks with his feet; and finally drifting ashore. "He had hard work to do away with the impressions of being dead," runs the old account, "but succeeded and was allowed the rights and privileges of the living."
The community of interests in these voyages of long ago included not only the ship's company but also the townspeople, even the boys and girls, who entrusted their little private speculations or "adventures" to the captain. It was a custom which flourished well into the nineteenth century. These memoranda are sprinkled through the account books of the East Indiamen out of Salem and Boston. It might be Miss Harriet Elkins who requested the master of the Messenger "please to purchase at Calcutta two net beads with draperies; if at Batavia or any spice market, nutmegs or mace; or if at Canton, two Canton shawls of the enclosed colors at $5 per shawl. Enclosed is $10."
Again, it might be Mr. John R. Tucker who ventured in the same ship one hundred Spanish dollars to be invested in coffee and sugar, or Captain Nathaniel West who risked in the Astrea fifteen boxes of spermaceti candles and a pipe of Teneriffe wine. It is interesting to discover what was done with Mr. Tucker's hundred Spanish dollars, as invested for him by the skipper of the Messenger at Batavia and duly accounted for. Ten bags of coffee were bought for $83.30, the extra expenses of duty, boat-hire, and sacking bringing the total outlay to $90.19. The coffee was sold at Antwerp on the way home for $183.75, and Mr. Tucker's handsome profit on the adventure was therefore $93.56, or more than one hundred per cent.
It was all a grand adventure, in fact, and the word was aptly chosen to fit this ocean trade. The merchant freighted his ship and sent her out to vanish from his ken for months and months of waiting, with the greater part of his savings, perhaps, in goods and specie beneath her hatches. No cable messages kept him in touch with her nor were there frequent letters from the master. Not until her signal was displayed by the fluttering flags of the headland station at the harbor mouth could he know whether he had gained or lost a fortune. The spirit of such merchants was admirably typified in the last venture of Elias Hasket Derby in 1798, when unofficial war existed between the United States and France.
American ships were everywhere seeking refuge from the privateers under the tricolor, which fairly ran amuck in the routes of trade. For this reason it meant a rich reward to land a cargo abroad. The ship Mount Vernon, commanded by Captain Elias Hasket Derby, Jr., was laden with sugar and coffee for Mediterranean ports, and was prepared for trouble, with twenty guns mounted and fifty men to handle them. A smart ship and a powerful one, she raced across to Cape Saint Vincent in sixteen days, which was clipper speed. She ran into a French fleet of sixty sail, exchanged broadsides with the nearest, and showed her stern to the others.
"We arrived at 12 o'clock [wrote Captain Derby from Gibraltar] popping at Frenchmen all the forenoon. At 10 A.M. off Algeciras Point we were seriously attacked by a large latineer who had on board more than one hundred men. He came so near our broadside as to allow our six-pound grape to do execution handsomely. We then bore away and gave him our stern guns in a cool and deliberate manner, doing apparently great execution. Our bars having cut his sails considerably, he was thrown into confusion, struck both his ensign and his pennant. I was then puzzled to know what to do with so many men; our ship was running large with all her steering sails out, so that we could not immediately bring her to the wind, and we were directly off Algeciras Point from whence I had reason to fear she might receive assistance, and my port Gibraltar in full view. These were circumstances that induced me to give up the gratification of bringing him in. It was, however, a satisfaction to flog the rascal in full view of the English fleet who were to leeward."
CHAPTER V. YANKEE VIKINGS AND NEW TRADE ROUTES
Soon after the Revolution the spirit of commercial exploration began to stir in other ports than Salem. Out from New York sailed the ship Empress of China in 1784 for the first direct voyage to Canton, to make the acquaintance of a vast nation absolutely unknown to the people of the United States, nor had one in a million of the industrious and highly civilized Chinese ever so much as heard the name of the little community of barbarians who dwelt on the western shore of the North Atlantic. The oriental dignitaries in their silken robes graciously welcomed the foreign ship with the strange flag and showed a lively interest in the map spread upon the cabin table, offering every facility to promote this new market for their silks and teas. After an absence of fifteen months the Empress of China returned to her home port and her pilgrimage aroused so much attention that the report of the supercargo, Samuel Shaw, was read in Congress.
Surpassing this achievement was that of Captain Stewart Dean, who very shortly afterward had his fling at the China trade in an eighty-ton sloop built at Albany. He was a stout-hearted old privateersman of the Revolution whom nothing could dismay, and in this tiny Experiment of his he won merited fame as one of the American pioneers of blue water. Fifteen men and boys sailed with him, drilled and disciplined as if the sloop were a frigate, and when the Experiment hauled into the stream, of Battery Park, New York, "martial music and the boatswain's whistle were heard on board with all the pomp and circumstance of war." Typhoons and Malay proas, Chinese pirates and unknown shoals, had no terrors for Stewart Dean. He saw Canton for himself, found a cargo, and drove home again in a four months' passage, which was better than many a clipper could do at a much later day. Smallest and bravest of the first Yankee East Indiamen, this taut sloop, with the boatswain's pipe trilling cheerily and all hands ready with cutlases and pikes to repel boarders, was by no means the least important vessel that ever passed in by Sandy Hook.
In the beginnings of this picturesque relation with the Far East, Boston lagged behind Salem, but her merchants, too, awoke to the opportunity and so successfully that for generations there were no more conspicuous names and shipping-houses in the China trade than those of Russell, Perkins, and Forbes. The first attempt was very ambitious and rather luckless. The largest merchantman ever built at that time in the United States was launched at Quincy in 1789 to rival the towering ships of the British East India Company. This Massachusetts created a sensation. Her departure was a national event. She embodied the dreams of Captain Randall and of the Samuel Shaw who had gone as supercargo in the Empress of China. They formed a partnership and were able to find the necessary capital.
This six-hundred-ton ship loomed huge in the ayes of the crowds which visited her. She was in fact no larger than such four-masted coasting schooners as claw around Hatteras with deck-loads of Georgia pine or fill with coal for down East, and manage it comfortably with seven or eight men for a crew. The Massachusetts, however, sailed in 411 the old-fashioned state and dignity of a master, four mates, a purser, surgeon, carpenter, gunner, four quartermasters, three midshipmen, a cooper, two cooks, a steward, and fifty seamen. The second officer was Amasa Delano, a man even more remarkable than the ship, who wandered far and wide and wrote a fascinating book about his voyages, a classic of its kind, the memoirs of an American merchant mariner of a breed long since extinct.
While the Massachusetts was fitting out at Boston, one small annoyance ruffled the auspicious undertaking. Three different crews were signed before a full complement could be persuaded to tarry in the forecastle. The trouble was caused by a fortune-teller of Lynn, Moll Pitcher by name, who predicted disaster for the ship. Now every honest sailor knows that certain superstitions are gospel fact, such as the bad luck brought by a cross-eyed Finn, a black cat, or going to sea on Friday, and these eighteenth century shellbacks must not be too severely chided for deserting while they had the chance. As it turned out, the voyage did have a sorry ending and death overtook an astonishingly large number of the ship's people.
Though she had been designed and built by master craftsmen of New England who knew their trade surpassingly well, it was discovered when the ship arrived at Canton that her timbers were already rotting. They were of white oak which had been put into her green instead of properly seasoned. This blunder wrecked the hopes of her owners. To cap it, the cargo of masts and spars had also been stowed while wet and covered with mud and ice, and the hatches had been battened. As a result the air became so foul with decay that several hundred barrels of beef were spoiled. To repair the ship was beyond the means of Captain Randall and Samuel Shaw, and reluctantly they sold her to the Danish East India Company at a heavy loss. Nothing could have been more unexpected than to find that, for once, the experienced shipbuilders had been guilty of a miscalculation.
The crew scattered, and perhaps the prediction of the fortune-teller of Lynn followed their roving courses, for when Captain Amasa Delano tried to trace them a few years later, he jotted down such obituaries as these on the list of names:
"John Harris. A slave in Algiers at last accounts. Roger Dyer. Died and thrown overboard off Cape Horn. William Williams. Lost overboard off Japan. James Crowley. Murdered by the Chinese near Macao. John Johnson. Died on board an English Indiaman. Seth Stowell. Was drowned at Whampoa in 1790. Jeremiah Chace. Died with the small-pox at Whampoa in 1791. Humphrey Chadburn. Shot and died at Whampoa in 1791. Samuel Tripe. Drowned off Java Head in 1790. James Stackpole. Murdered by the Chinese. Nicholas Nicholson. Died with the leprosy at Macao. William Murphy. Killed by Chinese pirates. Larry Conner. Killed at sea."
There were more of these gruesome items—so many of them that it appears as though no more than a handful of this stalwart crew survived the Massachusetts by a dozen years. Incredible as it sounds, Captain Delano's roster accounted for fifty of them as dead while he was still in the prime of life, and most of them had been snuffed out by violence. As for his own career, it was overcast by no such unlucky star, and he passed unscathed through all the hazards and vicissitudes that could be encountered in that rugged and heroic era of endeavor. Set adrift in Canton when the Massachusetts was sold, he promptly turned his hand to repairing a large Danish ship which had been wrecked by storm, and he virtually rebuilt her to the great satisfaction of the owners.
Thence, with money in his pocket, young Delano went to Macao, where he fell in with Commodore John McClure of the English Navy, who was in command of an expedition setting out to explore a part of the South Seas, including the Pelew Islands, New Guinea, New Holland, and the Spice Islands. The Englishman liked this resourceful Yankee seaman and did him the honor to say, recalls Delano, "that he considered I should be a very useful man to him as a seaman, an officer, or a shipbuilder; and if it was agreeable to me to go on board the Panther with him, I should receive the some pay and emoluments with his lieutenants and astronomers." A signal honor it was at a time when no love was lost between British and American seafarers who had so recently fought each other afloat.
And so Amasa Delano embarked as a lieutenant of the Bombay Marine, to explore tropic harbors and goons until then unmapped and to parley with dusky kings. Commodore McClure, diplomatic and humane, had almost no trouble with the untutored islanders, except on the coast of New Guinea, where the Panther was attacked by a swarm of canoes and the surgeon was killed. It was a spirited little affair, four-foot arrows pelting like hail across the deck, a cannon hurling grapeshot from the taffrail, Amasa Delano hit in the chest and pulling out the arrow to jump to his duty again.
Only a few years earlier the mutineers of the Bounty had established themselves on Pitcairn Island, and Delano was able to compile the first complete narrative of this extraordinary colony, which governed itself in the light of the primitive Christian virtues. There was profound wisdom in the comment of Amasa Delano: "While the present natural, simple, and affectionate character prevails among these descendants of the mutineers, they will be delightful to our minds, they will be amiable and acceptable in the sight of God, and they will be useful and happy among themselves. Let it be our fervent prayer that neither canting and hypocritical emissaries from schools of artificial theology on the one hand, nor sensual and licentious crews and adventurers on the other, may ever enter the charming village of Pitcairn to give disease to the minds or the bodies of the unsuspecting inhabitants."
Two years of this intensely romantic existence, and Delano started homeward. But there was a chance of profit at Mauritius, and there he bought a tremendous East Indiaman of fourteen hundred tons as a joint venture with a Captain Stewart and put a crew of a hundred and fifty men on board. She had been brought in by a French privateer and Delano was moved to remark, with an indignation which was much in advance of his times: "Privateering is entirely at variance with the first principle of honorable warfare.... This system of licensed robbery enables a wicked and mercenary man to insult and injure even neutral friends on the ocean; and when he meets an honest sailor who may have all his earnings on board his ship but who carries an enemy's flag, he plunders him of every cent and leaves him the poor consolation that it is done according to law.... When the Malay subjects of Abba Thule cut down the cocoanut trees of an enemy, in the spirit of private revenge, he asked them why they acted in opposition to the principles on which they knew he always made and conducted a war. They answered, and let the reason make us humble, 'The English do so.'"
In his grand East Indiaman young Captain Delano traded on the coast of India but soon came to grief. The enterprise had been too large for him to swing with what cash and credit he could muster, and the ship was sold from under him to pay her debts. Again on the beach, with one solitary gold moidore in his purse, he found a friendly American skipper who offered him a passage to Philadelphia, which he accepted with the pious reflection that, although his mind was wounded and mortified by the financial disaster, his motives had been perfectly pure and honest. He never saw his native land with so little pleasure as on this return to it, he assures us, and the shore on which he would have leaped with delight was covered with gloom and sadness.
Now what makes it so well worth while to sketch in brief outline the careers of one and another of these bygone shipmasters is that they accurately reflected the genius and the temper of their generation. There was, in truth, no such word as failure in their lexicon. It is this quality that appeals to us beyond all else. Thrown on their beam ends, they were presently planning something else, eager to shake dice with destiny and with courage unbroken. It was so with Amasa Delano, who promptly went to work "with what spirits I could revive within me. After a time they returned to their former elasticity."
He obtained a position as master builder in a shipyard, saved some money, borrowed more, and with one of his brothers was soon blithely building a vessel of two hundred tons for a voyage into the Pacific and to the northwest coast after seals. They sailed along Patagonia and found much to interest them, dodged in and out of the ports of Chili and Peru, and incidentally recaptured a Spanish ship which was in the hands of the slaves who formed her cargo.
This was all in the day's work and happened at the island of Santa Maria, not far from Juan Fernandez, where Captain Delano's Perseverance found the high-pooped Tryal in a desperate state. Spanish sailors who had survived the massacre were leaping overboard or scrambling up to the mastheads while the African savages capered on deck and flourished their weapons. Captain Delano liked neither the Spaniard nor the slavetrade, but it was his duty to help fellow seamen in distress; so he cleared for action and ordered two boats away to attend to the matter. The chief mate, Rufus Low, was in charge, and a gallant sailor he showed himself. They had to climb the high sides of the Tryal and carry, in hand-to-hand conflict, the barricades of water-casks and bales of matting which the slaves had built across the deck. There was no hanging back, and even a mite of a midshipman from Boston pranced into it with his dirk. The negroes were well armed and fought ferociously. The mate was seriously wounded, four seamen were stabbed, the Spanish first mate had two musket balls in him, and a passenger was killed in the fray.
Having driven the slaves below and battened them down, the American party returned next morning to put the irons on them. A horrid sight confronted them. Thirsting for vengeance, the Spanish sailors had spread-eagled several of the negroes to ringbolts in the deck and were shaving the living flesh from them with razor-edged boarding lances. Captain Delano thereupon disarmed these brutes and locked them up in their turn, taking possession of the ship until he could restore order. The sequel was that he received the august thanks of the Viceroy of Chili and a gold medal from His Catholic Majesty. As was the custom, the guilty slaves, poor wretches, were condemned to be dragged to the gibbet at the tails of mules, to be hanged, their bodies burned, and their heads stuck upon poles in the plaza.
It was while in this Chilean port of Talcahuano that Amasa Delano heard the tale of the British whaler which had sailed just before his arrival. He tells it so well that I am tempted to quote it as a generous tribute to a sailor of a rival race. After all, they were sprung from a common stock and blood was thicker than water. Besides, it is the sort of yarn that ought to be dragged to the light of day from its musty burial between the covers of Delano's rare and ancient "Voyages and Travels."
The whaler Betsy, it seems, went in and anchored under the guns of the forts to seek provisions and make repairs. The captain went ashore to interview the officials, leaving word that no Spaniards should be allowed to come aboard because of the bad feeling against the English. Three or four large boats filled with troops presently veered alongside and were ordered to keep clear. This command was resented, and the troops opened fire, followed by the forts. Now for the deed of a man with his two feet under him.
"The chief officer of the Betsy whose name was Hudson, a man of extraordinary bravery, cut his cable and his ship swung the wrong way, with her head in shore, passing close to several Spanish ships which, with every vessel in the harbor that could bring a gun to bear, together with three hundred soldiers in boats and on ship's decks and the two batteries, all kept up a constant fire on him. The wind was light, nearly a calm. The shot flew so thick that it was difficult for him to make sail, some part of the rigging being cut away every minute.
"He kept his men at the guns, and when the ship swung her broadside so as to bear upon any of the Spanish ships, he kept up a fire at them. In this situation the brave fellow continued to lie for three-quarters of an hour before he got his topsails sheeted home. The action continued in this manner for near an hour and a half. He succeeded in getting the ship to sea, however, in defiance of all the force that could be brought against him. The ship was very much cut to pieces in sails, rigging, and hull; and a considerable number of men were killed and wounded on board.
"Hudson kept flying from one part of the deck to the other during the whole time of action, encouraging and threatening the men as occasion required. He kept a musket in his hand most part of the time, firing when he could find the leisure. Some of the men came aft and begged him to give up the ship, telling him they should all be killed—that the carpenter had all one side of him shot away—that one man was cut in halves with a double-headed shot as he was going aloft to loose the foretopsail and the body had fallen on deck in two separate parts—that such a man was killed at his duty on the forecastle, and one more had been killed in the maintop—that Sam, Jim, Jack, and Tom were wounded and that they would do nothing more towards getting the ship out of the harbor.
"His reply to them was, 'then you shall be sure to die, for if they do not kill you I will, so sure as you persist in any such cowardly resolution,' saying at the same time, 'OUT SHE GOES, OR DOWN SHE GOES.'"
By this resolute and determined conduct he kept the men to their duty and succeeded in accomplishing one of the most daring enterprises perhaps ever attempted.
An immortal phrase, this simple dictum of first mate Hudson of the Betsy, "Out she goes, or down she goes," and not unworthy of being mentioned in the same breath with Farragut's "Damn the torpedoes."
Joined by his brother Samuel in the schooner Pilgrim, which was used as a tender in the sealing trade, Amasa Delano frequented unfamiliar beaches until he had taken his toll of skins and was ready to bear away for Canton to sell them. There were many Yankee ships after seals in those early days, enduring more peril and privation than the whalemen, roving over the South Pacific among the rock-bound islands unknown to the merchant navigator. The men sailed wholly on shares, a seaman receiving one per cent of the catch and the captain ten per cent, and they slaughtered the seal by the million, driving them from the most favored haunts within a few years. For instance, American ships first visited Mas a Fuera in 1797, and Captain Delano estimated that during the seven years following three million skins were taken to China from this island alone. He found as many as fourteen vessels there at one time, and he himself carried away one hundred thousand skins. It was a gold mine for profit while it lasted.
There were three Delano brothers afloat in two vessels, and of their wanderings Amasa set down this epitome: "Almost the whole of our connections who were left behind had need of our assistance, and to look forward it was no more than a reasonable calculation to make that our absence would not be less than three years... together with the extraordinary uncertainty of the issue of the voyage, as we had nothing but our hands to depend upon to obtain a cargo which was only to be done through storms, dangers, and breakers, and taken from barren rocks in distant regions. But after a voyage of four years for one vessel and five for the other, we were all permitted to return safe home to our friends and not quite empty-handed. We had built both of the vessels we were in and navigated them two and three times around the globe." Each one of the brothers had been a master builder and rigger and a navigator of ships in every part of the world.
By far the most important voyage undertaken by American merchantmen during the decade of brilliant achievement following the Revolution was that of Captain Robert Gray in the Columbia, which was the first ship to visit and explore the northwest coast and to lead the way for such adventurers as Richard Cleveland and Amasa Delano. On his second voyage in 1792, Captain Gray discovered the great river he christened Columbia and so gave to the United States its valid title to that vast territory which Lewis and Clark were to find after toiling over the mountains thirteen years later.
CHAPTER VI. "FREE TRADE AND SAILORS' RIGHTS"
When the first Congress under the new Federal Constitution assembled in 1789, a spirit of pride was manifested in the swift recovery and the encouraging growth of the merchant marine, together with a concerted determination to promote and protect it by means of national legislation. The most imperative need was a series of retaliatory measures to meet the burdensome navigation laws of England, to give American ships a fair field and no favors. The Atlantic trade was therefore stimulated by allowing a reduction of ten per cent of the customs duties on goods imported in vessels built and owned by American citizens. The East India trade, which already employed forty New England ships, was fostered in like manner. Teas brought direct under the American flag paid an average duty of twelve cents a pound while teas in foreign bottoms were taxed twenty-seven cents. It was sturdy protection, for on a cargo of one hundred thousand pounds of assorted teas from India or China, a British ship would pay $27,800 into the custom house and a Salem square-rigger only $10,980.
The result was that the valuable direct trade with the Far East was absolutely secured to the American flag. Not content with this, Congress decreed a system of tonnage duties which permitted the native owner to pay six cents per ton on his vessel while the foreigner laid down fifty cents as an entry fee for every ton his ship measured, or thirty cents if he owned an American-built vessel. In 1794, Congress became even more energetic in defense of its mariners and increased the tariff rates on merchandise in foreign vessels. A nation at last united, jealous of its rights, resentful of indignities long suffered, and intelligently alive to its shipping as the chief bulwark of prosperity, struck back with peaceful weapons and gained a victory of incalculable advantage. Its Congress, no longer feeble and divided, laid the foundations for American greatness upon the high seas which was to endure for more than a half century. Wars, embargoes, and confiscations might interrupt but they could not seriously harm it.
In the three years after 1789 the merchant shipping registered for the foreign trade increased from 123,893 tons to 411,438 tons, presaging a growth without parallel in the history of the commercial world. Foreign ships were almost entirely driven out of American ports, and ninety-one per cent of imports and eighty-six per cent of exports were conveyed in vessels built and manned by Americans. Before Congress intervened, English merchantmen had controlled three-fourths of our commerce overseas. When Thomas Jefferson, as Secretary of State, fought down Southern opposition to a retaliatory shipping policy, he uttered a warning which his countrymen were to find still true and apt in the twentieth century: "If we have no seamen, our ships will be useless, consequently our ship timber, iron, and hemp; our shipbuilding will be at an end; ship carpenters will go over to other nations; our young men have no call to the sea; our products, carried in foreign bottoms, will be saddled with war-freight and insurance in time of war—and the history of the last hundred years shows that the nation which is our carrier has three years of war for every four years of peace."
The steady growth of an American merchant marine was interrupted only once in the following decade. In the year 1793 war broke out between England and France. A decree of the National Convention of the French Republic granted neutral vessels the same rights as those which flew the tricolor. This privilege reopened a rushing trade with the West Indies, and hundreds of ships hastened from American ports to Martinique, Guadeloupe, and St. Lucia.
Like a thunderbolt came the tidings that England refused to look upon this trade with the French colonies as neutral and that her cruisers had been told to seize all vessels engaged in it and to search them for English-born seamen. This ruling was enforced with such barbarous severity that it seemed as if the War for Independence had been fought in vain. Without warning, unable to save themselves, great fleets of Yankee merchantmen were literally swept from the waters of the West Indies. At St. Eustatius one hundred and thirty of them were condemned. The judges at Bermuda condemned eleven more. Crews and passengers were flung ashore without food or clothing, were abused, insulted, or perhaps impressed in British privateers. The ships were lost to their owners. There was no appeal and no redress. At Martinique an English fleet and army captured St. Pierre in February, 1794. Files of marines boarded every American ship in the harbor, tore down the colors, and flung two hundred and fifty seamen into the foul holds of a prison hulk. There they were kept, half-dead with thirst and hunger while their vessels, uncared for, had stranded or sunk at their moorings. Scores of outrages as abominable as this were on record in the office of the Secretary of State. Shipmasters were afraid to sail to the southward and, for lack of these markets for dried cod, the fishing schooners of Marblehead were idle.
For a time a second war with England seemed imminent. An alarmed Congress passed laws to create a navy and to fortify the most important American harbors. President Washington recommended an embargo of thirty days, which Congress promptly voted and then extended for thirty more. It was a popular measure and strictly enforced by the mariners themselves. The mates and captains of the brigs and snows in the Delaware River met and resolved not to go to sea for another ten days, swearing to lie idle sooner than feed the British robbers in the West Indies. It was in the midst of these demonstrations that Washington seized the one hope of peace and recommended a special mission to England.
The treaty negotiated by John Jay in 1794 was received with an outburst of popular indignation. Jay was damned as a traitor, while the sailors of Portsmouth burned him in effigy. By way of an answer to the terms of the obnoxious treaty, a seafaring mob in Boston raided and burned the British privateer Speedwell, which had put into that port as a merchantman with her guns and munitions hidden beneath a cargo of West India produce.
The most that can be said of the commercial provisions of the treaty is that they opened direct trade with the East Indies but at the price of complete freedom of trade for British shipping in American ports. It must be said, too, that although the treaty failed to clear away the gravest cause of hostility—the right of search and impressment—yet it served to postpone the actual dash, and during the years in which it was in force American shipping splendidly prospered, freed of most irksome handicaps.
The quarrel with France had been brewing at the same time and for similar reasons. Neutral trade with England was under the ban, and the Yankee shipmaster was in danger of losing his vessel if he sailed to or from a port under the British flag. It was out of the frying-pan into the fire, and French privateers welcomed the excuse to go marauding in the Atlantic and the Caribbean. What it meant to fight off these greedy cutthroats is told in a newspaper account of the engagement of Captain Richard Wheatland, who was homeward bound to Salem in the ship Perseverance in 1799. He was in the Old Straits of Bahama when a fast schooner came up astern, showing Spanish colors and carrying a tremendous press of canvas. Unable to run away from her, Captain Wheatland reported to his owners:
"We took in steering sails, wore ship, hauled up our courses, piped all hands to quarters and prepared for action. The schooner immediately took in sail, hoisted an English Union flag and passed under our lee at a considerable distance. We wore ship, she did the same, and we passed each other within half a musket. A fellow hailed us in broken English and ordered the boat hoisted out and the captain to come aboard, which he refused. He again ordered our boat out and enforced his orders with a menace that in case of refusal he would sink us, using at the same time the vilest and most infamous language it is possible to conceive of. ... We hauled the ship to wind and as he passed poured a whole broadside into him with great success. Sailing faster than we, he ranged considerably ahead, tacked and again passed, giving us a broadside and furious discharge of musketry, which he kept up incessantly until the latter part of the engagement. His musket balls reached us in every direction but his large shot either fell short or went considerably over us while our guns loaded with round shot and square bars of iron were plied so briskly and directed with such good judgment that before he got out of range we had cut his mainsail and foretopsail all to rags and cleared his decks so effectively that when he bore away from us there were scarcely ten men to be seen. He then struck his English flag and hoisted the flag of The Terrible Republic and made off with all the sail he could carry, much disappointed, no doubt, at not being able to give us a fraternal embrace. We feel confidence that we have rid the world of some infamous pests of society."
By this time, the United States was engaged in active hostilities with France, although war had not been declared. The news of the indignities which American commissions had suffered at the hands of the French Directory had stirred the people to war pitch. Strong measures for national defense were taken, which stopped little short of war. The country rallied to the slogan, "Millions for defense but not one cent for tribute," and the merchants of the seaports hastened to subscribe funds to build frigates to be loaned to the Government. Salem launched the famous Essex, ready for sea six months after the keel was laid, at a cost of $75,000. Her two foremost merchants, Elias Hasket Derby and William Gray, led the list with ten thousand dollars each. The call sent out by the master builder, Enos Briggs, rings with thrilling effect:
"To Sons of Freedom! All true lovers of Liberty of your Country! Step forth and give your assistance in building the frigate to oppose French insolence and piracy. Let every man in possession of a white oak tree be ambitious to be foremost in hurrying down the timber to Salem where the noble structure is to be fabricated to maintain your rights upon the seas and make the name of America respected among the nations of the world. Your largest and longest trees are wanted, and the arms of them for knees and rising timber. Four trees are wanted for the keel which altogether will measure 146 feet in length, and hew sixteen inches square."
This handsome frigate privately built by patriots of the republic illuminates the coastwise spirit and conditions of her time. She was a Salem ship from keel to truck. Captain Jonathan Haraden, the finest privateersman of the Revolution, made the rigging for the mainmast at his ropewalk in Brown Street. Joseph Vincent fitted out the foremast and Thomas Briggs the mizzenmast in their lofts at the foot of the Common. When the huge hemp cables were ready for the frigate, the workmen carried them to the shipyard on their shoulders, the parade led by fife and drum. Her sails were cut from duck woven in Daniel Rust's factory in Broad Street and her iron work was forged by Salem shipsmiths. It was not surprising that Captain Richard Derby was chosen to command the Essex, but he was abroad in a ship of his own and she sailed under Captain Edward Preble of the Navy.
The war cloud passed and the merchant argosies overflowed the wharves and havens of New England, which had ceased to monopolize the business on blue water. New York had become a seaport with long ranks of high-steeved bowsprits soaring above pleasant Battery Park and a forest of spars extending up the East River. In 1790 more than two thousand ships, brigs, schooners, and smaller craft had entered and cleared, and the merchants met in the coffee-houses to discuss charters, bills-of-lading, and adventures. Sailors commanded thrice the wages of laborers ashore. Shipyards were increasing and the builders could build as large and swift East Indiamen as those of which Boston and Salem boasted.
Philadelphia had her Stephen Girard, whose wealth was earned in ships, a man most remarkable and eccentric, whose career was one of the great maritime romances. Though his father was a prosperous merchant of Bordeaux engaged in the West India trade, he was shifting for himself as a cabin-boy on his father's ships when only fourteen years old. With no schooling, barely able to read and write, this urchin sailed between Bordeaux and the French West Indies for nine years, until he gained the rank of first mate. At the age of twenty-six he entered the port of Philadelphia in command of a sloop which had narrowly escaped capture by British frigates. There he took up his domicile and laid the foundation of his fortune in small trading ventures to New Orleans and Santo Domingo.
In 1791 he began to build a fleet of beautiful ships for the China and India trade, their names, Montesquieu, Helvetius, Voltaire, and Rousseau, revealing his ideas of religion and liberty. So successfully did he combine banking and shipping that in 1813 he was believed to be the wealthiest merchant in the United States. In that year one of his ships from China was captured off the Capes of the Delaware by a British privateer. Her cargo of teas, nankeens, and silks was worth half a million dollars to him but he succeeded in ransoming it on the spot by counting out one hundred and eighty thousand Spanish milled dollars. No privateersman could resist such strategy as this.
Alone in his old age, without a friend or relative to close his eyes in death, Stephen Girard, once a penniless, ignorant French cabin-boy, bequeathed his millions to philanthropy, and the Girard College for orphan boys, in Philadelphia, is his monument.
The Treaty of Amiens brought a little respite to Europe and a peaceful interlude for American shipmasters, but France and England came to grips again in 1803. For two years thereafter the United States was almost the only important neutral nation not involved in the welter of conflict on land and sea, and trade everywhere sought the protection of the Stars and Stripes. England had swept her own rivals, men-of-war and merchantmen, from the face of the waters. France and Holland ceased to carry cargoes beneath their own ensigns. Spain was afraid to send her galleons to Mexico and Peru. All the Continental ports were begging for American ships to transport their merchandise. It was a maritime harvest unique and unexpected.
Yankee skippers were dominating the sugar trade of Cuba and were rolling across the Atlantic with the coffee, hides, and indigo of Venezuela and Brazil. Their fleets crowded the roadsteads of Manila and Batavia and packed the warehouses of Antwerp, Lisbon, and Hamburg. It was a situation which England could not tolerate without attempting to thwart an immense traffic which she construed as giving aid and comfort to her enemies. Under cover of the so-called Rule of 1756 British admiralty courts began to condemn American vessels carrying products from enemies' colonies to Europe, even when the voyage was broken by first entering an American port. It was on record in September, 1805, that fifty American ships had been condemned in England and as many more in the British West Indies.
This was a trifling disaster, however, compared with the huge calamity which befell when Napoleon entered Berlin as a conqueror and proclaimed his paper blockade of the British Isles. There was no French navy to enforce it, but American vessels dared not sail for England lest they be snapped up by French privateers. The British Government savagely retaliated with further prohibitions, and Napoleon countered in like manner until no sea was safe for a neutral ship and the United States was powerless to assert its rights. Thomas Jefferson as President used as a weapon the Embargo of 1807, which was, at first, a popular measure, and which he justified in these pregnant sentences: "The whole world is thus laid under interdict by these two nations, and our own vessels, their cargoes, and crews, are to be taken by the one or the other for whatever place they may be destined out of our limits. If, therefore, on leaving our harbors we are certainly to lose them, is it not better as to vessels, cargoes, and seamen, to keep them at home?"
A people proud, independent, and pugnacious, could not long submit to a measure of defense which was, in the final sense, an abject surrender to brute force. New England, which bore the brunt of the embargo, was first to rebel against it. Sailors marched through the streets clamoring for bread or loaded their vessels and fought their way to sea. In New York the streets of the waterside were deserted, ships dismantled, countinghouses unoccupied, and warehouses empty. In one year foreign commerce decreased in value from $108,000,000 to $22,000,000.
After fifteen months Congress repealed the law, substituting a Non-Intercourse Act which suspended trade with Great Britain and France until their offending orders were repealed. All such measures were doomed to be futile. Words and documents, threats and arguments could not intimidate adversaries who paid heed to nothing else than broadsides from line-of-battle ships or the charge of battalions. With other countries trade could now be opened. Hopefully the hundreds of American ships long pent-up in harbor winged it deep-laden for the Baltic, the North Sea, and the Mediterranean. But few of them ever returned. Like a brigand, Napoleon lured them into a trap and closed it, advising the Prussian Government, which was under his heel: "Let the American ships enter your ports. Seize them afterward. You shall deliver the cargoes to me and I will take them in part payment of the Prussian war debt."
Similar orders were executed wherever his mailed fist reached, the pretext being reprisal for the Non-Intercourse Act. More than two hundred American vessels were lost to their owners, a ten-million-dollar robbery for which France paid an indemnity of five millions after twenty years. It was the grand climax of the exploitation which American commerce had been compelled to endure through two centuries of tumult and bloodshed afloat. There lingers today in many a coastwise town an inherited dislike for France. It is a legacy of that far-off catastrophe which beggared many a household and filled the streets with haggard, broken shipmasters.
It was said of this virile merchant marine that it throve under pillage and challenged confiscation. Statistics confirm this brave paradox. In 1810, while Napoleon was doing his worst, the deep-sea tonnage amounted to 981,019; and it is a singular fact that in proportion to population this was to stand as the high tide of American foreign shipping until thirty-seven years later. It ebbed during the War of 1812 but rose again with peace and a real and lasting freedom of the seas.
This second war with England was fought in behalf of merchant seamen and they played a nobly active part in it. The ruthless impressment of seamen was the most conspicuous provocation, but it was only one of many. Two years before hostilities were openly declared, British frigates were virtually blockading the port of New York, halting and searching ships as they pleased, making prizes of those with French destinations, stealing sailors to fill their crews, waging war in everything but name, and enjoying the sport of it. A midshipman of one of them merrily related: "Every morning at daybreak we set about arresting the progress of all the vessels we saw, firing off guns to the right and left to make every ship that was running in heave to or wait until we had leisure to send a boat on board to see, in our lingo, what she was made of. I have frequently known a dozen and sometimes a couple of dozen ships lying a league or two off the port, losing their fair wind, their tide, and worse than all, their market for many hours, sometimes the whole day, before our search was completed."
The right of a belligerent to search neutral vessels for contraband of war or evidence of a forbidden destination was not the issue at stake. This was a usage sanctioned by such international law as then existed. It was the alleged right to search for English seamen in neutral vessels that Great Britain exercised, not only on the high seas but even in territorial waters, which the American Government refused to recognize. In vain the Government had endeavored to protect its sailors from impressment by means of certificates of birth and citizenship. These documents were jeered at by the English naval lieutenant and his boarding gang, who kidnapped from the forecastle such stalwart tars as pleased their fancy. The victim who sought to inform an American consul of his plight was lashed to the rigging and flogged by a boatswain's mate. The files of the State Department, in 1807, had contained the names of six thousand American sailors who were as much slaves and prisoners aboard British men-of-war as if they had been made captives by the Dey of Algiers. One of these incidents, occurring on the ship Betsy, Captain Nathaniel Silsbee, while at Madras in 1795, will serve to show how this brutal business was done.
"I received a note early one morning from my chief mate that one of my sailors, Edward Hulen, a fellow townsman whom I had known from boyhood, had been impressed and taken on board of a British frigate then being in port.... I immediately went on board my ship and having there learned all the facts in the case, proceeded to the frigate, where I found Hulen and in his presence was informed by the first lieutenant of the frigate that he had taken Hulen from my ship under a peremptory order from his commander to visit every American ship in port and take from each of them one or more of their seamen.... I then called upon Captain Cook, who commanded the frigate, and sought first by all the persuasive means that I was capable of using and ultimately by threats to appeal to the Government of the place to obtain Hulen's release, but in vain.... It remained for me only to recommend Hulen to that protection of the lieutenant which a good seaman deserves, and to submit to the high-handed insult thus offered to the flag of my country which I had no means either of preventing or resisting."
After several years' detention in the British Navy, Hulen returned to Salem and lived to serve on board privateers in the second war with England.
Several years' detention! This was what it meant to be a pressed man, perhaps with wife and children at home who had no news of him nor any wages to support them. At the time of the Nore Mutiny in 1797, there were ships in the British fleet whose men had not been paid off for eight, ten, twelve, and in one instance fifteen years. These wooden walls of England were floating hells, and a seaman was far better off in jail. He was flogged if he sulked and again if he smiled flogged until the blood ran for a hundred offenses as trivial as these. His food was unspeakably bad and often years passed before he was allowed to set foot ashore. Decent men refused to volunteer and the ships were filled with the human scum and refuse caught in the nets of the press-gangs of Liverpool, London, and Bristol.
It is largely forgotten or unknown that this system of recruiting was as intolerable in England as it was in the United States and as fiercely resented. Oppressive and unjust, it was nevertheless endured as the bulwark of England's defense against her foes. It ground under its heel the very people it protected and made them serfs in order to keep them free. No man of the common people who lived near the coast of England was safe from the ruffianly press-gangs nor any merchant ship that entered her ports. It was the most cruel form of conscription ever devised. Mob violence opposed it again and again, and British East Indiamen fought the King's tenders sooner than be stripped of their crews and left helpless. Feeling in America against impressment was never more highly inflamed, even on the brink of the War of 1812, than it had long been in England itself, although the latter country was unable to rise and throw it off. Here are the words, not of an angry American patriot but of a modern English historian writing of his own nation: * "To the people the impress was an axe laid at the foot of the tree. There was here no question, as with trade, of the mere loss of hands who could be replaced. Attacking the family in the person of its natural supporter and protector, the octopus system of which the gangs were the tentacles, struck at the very foundations of domestic life and brought to thousands of households a poverty as bitter and a grief as poignant as death. ... The mutiny at the Nore brought the people face to face with the appalling risks attendant on wholesale pressing while the war with America, incurred for the sole purpose of upholding the right to press, taught them the lengths to which their rulers were still prepared to go in order to enslave them." *
* The Press Gang Afloat and Ashore, by J. R. Hutchinson.
CHAPTER VII. THE BRILLIANT ERA OF 1812
American privateering in 1812 was even bolder and more successful than during the Revolution. It was the work of a race of merchant seamen who had found themselves, who were in the forefront of the world's trade and commerce, and who were equipped to challenge the enemy's pretensions to supremacy afloat. Once more there was a mere shadow of a navy to protect them, but they had learned to trust their own resources. They would send to sea fewer of the small craft, slow and poorly armed, and likely to meet disaster. They were capable of manning what was, in fact, a private navy comprised of fast and formidable cruisers. The intervening generation had advanced the art of building and handling ships beyond all rivalry, and England grudgingly acknowledged their ability. The year of 1812 was indeed but a little distance from the resplendent modern era of the Atlantic packet and the Cape Horn clipper.
Already these Yankee deep-water ships could be recognized afar by their lofty spars and snowy clouds of cotton duck beneath which the slender hull was a thin black line. Far up to the gleaming royals they carried sail in winds so strong that the lumbering English East Indiamen were hove to or snugged down to reefed topsails. It was not recklessness but better seamanship. The deeds of the Yankee privateers of 1812 prove this assertion to the hilt. Their total booty amounted to thirteen hundred prizes taken over all the Seven Seas, with a loss to England of forty million dollars in ships and cargoes. There were, all told, more than five hundred of them in commission, but New England no longer monopolized this dashing trade. Instead of Salem it was Baltimore that furnished the largest fleet—fifty-eight vessels, many of them the fast ships and schooners which were to make the port famous as the home of the Baltimore clipper model. All down the coast, out of Norfolk, Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans, sallied the privateers to show that theirs was, in truth, a seafaring nation ardently united in a common cause.
Again and more vehemently the people of England raised their voices in protest and lament, for these saucy sea-raiders fairly romped to and fro in the Channel, careless of pursuit, conducting a blockade of their own until London was paying the famine price of fifty-eight dollars a barrel for flour, and it was publicly declared mortifying and distressing that "a horde of American cruisers should be allowed, unresisted and unmolested, to take, burn, or sink our own vessels in our own inlets and almost in sight of our own harbors." It was Captain Thomas Boyle in the Chasseur of Baltimore who impudently sent ashore his proclamation of a blockade of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, which he requested should be posted in Lloyd's Coffee House.
A wonderfully fine figure of a fighting seaman was this Captain Boyle, with an Irish sense of humor which led him to haunt the enemy's coast and to make sport of the frigates which tried to catch him. His Chasseur was considered one of the ablest privateers of the war and the most beautiful vessel ever seen in Baltimore. A fleet and graceful schooner with a magical turn for speed, she mounted sixteen long twelve-pounders and carried a hundred officers, seamen, and marines, and was never outsailed in fair winds or foul. "Out of sheer wantonness," said an admirer, "she sometimes affected to chase the enemy's men-of-war of far superior force." Once when surrounded by two frigates and two naval brigs, she slipped through and was gone like a phantom. During his first cruise in the Chasseur, Captain Boyle captured eighteen valuable merchantmen. It was such defiant rovers as he that provoked the "Morning Chronicle" of London to splutter "that the whole coast of Ireland from Wexford round by Cape Clear to Carrickfergus, should have been for above a month under the unresisted domination of a few petty fly-by-nights from the blockaded ports of the United States is a grievance equally intolerable and disgraceful."
This was when the schooner Syren had captured His Majesty's cutter Landrail while crossing the Irish Sea with dispatches; when the Governor Tompkins burned fourteen English vessels in the English Channel in quick succession; when the Harpy of Baltimore cruised for three months off the Irish and English coasts and in the Bay of Biscay, and returned to Boston filled with spoils, including a half million dollars of money; when the Prince de Neuchatel hovered at her leisure in the Irish Channel and made coasting trade impossible; and when the Young Wasp of Philadelphia cruised for six months in those same waters.
Two of the privateers mentioned were first-class fighting ships whose engagements were as notable, in their way, as those of the American frigates which made the war as illustrious by sea as it was ignominious by land. While off Havana in 1815, Captain Boyle met the schooner St. Lawrence of the British Navy, a fair match in men and guns. The Chasseur could easily have run away but stood up to it and shot the enemy to pieces in fifteen minutes. Brave and courteous were these two commanders, and Lieutenant Gordon of the St. Lawrence gave his captor a letter which read, in part: "In the event of Captain Boyle's becoming a prisoner of war to any British cruiser I consider it a tribute justly due to his humane and generous treatment of myself, the surviving officers, and crew of His Majesty's late schooner St. Lawrence, to state that his obliging attention and watchful solicitude to preserve our effects and render us comfortable during the short time we were in his possession were such as justly entitle him to the indulgence and respect of every British subject."
The Prince de Neuchatel had the honor of beating off the attack of a forty-gun British frigate—an exploit second only to that of the General Armstrong in the harbor of Fayal. This privateer with a foreign name hailed from New York and was so fortunate as to capture for her owners three million dollars' worth of British merchandise. With Captain J. Ordronaux on the quarterdeck, she was near Nantucket Shoals at noon on October 11, 1814, when a strange sail was discovered. As this vessel promptly gave chase, Captain Ordronaux guessed-and as events proved correctly—that she must be a British frigate. She turned out to be the Endymion. The privateer had in tow a prize which she was anxious to get into port, but she was forced to cast off the hawser late in the afternoon and make every effort to escape.
The breeze died with the sun and the vessels were close inshore. Becalmed, the privateer and the frigate anchored a quarter of a mile apart. Captain Ordronaux might have put his crew on the beach in boats and abandoned his ship. This was the reasonable course, for, as he had sent in several prize crews, he was short-handed and could muster no more than thirty-seven men and boys. The Endymion, on the other hand, had a complement of three hundred and fifty sailors and marines, and in size and fighting power she was in the class of the American frigates President and Constitution. Quite unreasonably, however, the master of the privateer decided to await events.
The unexpected occurred shortly after dusk when several boats loaded to the gunwales with a boarding party crept away from the frigate. Five of them, with one hundred and twenty men, made a concerted attack at different points, alongside and under the bow and stern. Captain Ordronaux had told his crew that he would blow up the ship with all hands before striking his colors, and they believed him implicitly. This was the hero who was described as "a Jew by persuasion, a Frenchman by birth, an American for convenience, and so diminutive in stature as to make him appear ridiculous, in the eyes of others, even for him to enforce authority among a hardy, weatherbeaten crew should they do aught against his will." He was big enough, nevertheless, for this night's bloody work, and there was no doubt about his authority. While the British tried to climb over the bulwarks, his thirty-seven men and boys fought like raging devils, with knives, pistols, cutlases, with their bare fists and their teeth. A few of the enemy gained the deck, but the privateersmen turned and killed them. Others leaped aboard and were gradually driving the Americans back, when the skipper ran to the hatch above the powder magazine, waving a lighted match and swearing to drop it in if his crew retreated one step further. Either way the issue seemed desperate. But again they took their skipper's word for it and rallied for a bloody struggle which soon swept the decks.
No more than twenty minutes had passed and the battle was won. The enemy was begging for quarter. One boat had been sunk, three had drifted away filled with dead and wounded, and the fifth was captured with thirty-six men in it of whom only eight were unhurt. The American loss was seven killed and twenty-four wounded, or thirty-one of her crew of thirty-seven. Yet they had not given up the ship. The frigate Endymion concluded that once was enough, and next morning the Prince de Neuchatel bore away for Boston with a freshening breeze.
Those were merchant seamen also who held the General Armstrong against a British squadron through that moonlit night in Fayal Roads, inflicting heavier losses than were suffered in any naval action of the war. It is a story Homeric, almost incredible in its details and so often repeated that it can be only touched upon in this brief chronicle. The leader was a kindly featured man who wore a tall hat, side-whiskers, and a tail coat. His portrait might easily have served for that of a New England deacon of the old school. No trace of the swashbuckler in this Captain Samuel Reid, who had been a thrifty, respected merchant skipper until offered the command of a privateer.
Touching at the Azores for water and provisions in September, 1814, he was trapped in port by the great seventy-four-gun ship of the line Plantagenet, the thirty-eight-gun frigate Rota, and the warbrig Carnation. Though he was in neutral water, they paid no heed to this but determined to destroy a Yankee schooner which had played havoc with their shipping. Four hundred men in twelve boats, with a howitzer in the bow of each boat, were sent against the General Armstrong in one flotilla. But not a man of the four hundred gained her deck. Said an eyewitness: "The Americans fought with great firmness but more like bloodthirsty savages than anything else. They rushed into the boats sword in hand and put every soul to death as far as came within their power. Some of the boats were left without a single man to row them, others with three or four. The most that any one returned with was about ten. Several boats floated ashore full of dead bodies.... For three days after the battle we were employed in burying the dead that washed on shore in the surf."
This tragedy cost the British squadron one hundred and twenty men in killed and one hundred and thirty in wounded, while Captain Reid lost only two dead and had seven wounded. He was compelled to retreat ashore next day when the ships stood in to sink his schooner with their big guns, but the honors of war belonged to him and well-earned were the popular tributes when he saw home again, nor was there a word too much in the florid toast: "Captain Reid—his valor has shed a blaze of renown upon the character of our seamen, and won for himself a laurel of eternal bloom."
It is not to glorify war nor to rekindle an ancient feud that such episodes as these are recalled to mind. These men, and others like them, did their duty as it came to them, and they were sailors of whom the whole Anglo-Saxon race might be proud. In the crisis they were Americans, not privateersmen in quest of plunder, and they would gladly die sooner than haul down the Stars and Stripes. The England against which they fought was not the England of today. Their honest grievances, inflicted by a Government too intent upon crushing Napoleon to be fair to neutrals, have long ago been obliterated. This War of 1812 cleared the vision of the Mother Country and forever taught her Government that the people of the Republic were, in truth, free and independent.
This lesson was driven home not only by the guns of the Constitution and the United States, but also by the hundreds of privateers and the forty thousand able seamen who were eager to sail in them. They found no great place in naval history, but England knew their prowess and respected it. Every schoolboy is familiar with the duels of the Wasp and the Frolic, of the Enterprise and the Boxer; but how many people know what happened when the privateer Decatur met and whipped the Dominica of the British Navy to the southward of Bermuda?
Captain Diron was the man who did it as he was cruising out of Charleston, South Carolina, in the summer of 1813. Sighting an armed schooner slightly heavier than his own vessel, he made for her and was unperturbed when the royal ensign streamed from her gaff. Clearing for action, he closed the hatches so that none of his men could hide below. The two schooners fought in the veiling smoke until the American could ram her bowsprit over the other's stern and pour her whole crew aboard. In the confined space of the deck, almost two hundred men and lads were slashing and stabbing and shooting amid yells and huzzas. Lieutenant Barrette, the English commander, only twenty-five years old, was mortally hurt and every other officer, excepting the surgeon and one midshipman, was killed or wounded. Two-thirds of the crew were down but still they refused to surrender, and Captain Diron had to pull down the colors with his own hands. Better discipline and marksmanship had won the day for him and his losses were comparatively small.
Men of his description were apt to think first of glory and let the profits go hang, for there was no cargo to be looted in a King's ship. Other privateersmen, however, were not so valiant or quarrelsome, and there was many a one tied up in London River or the Mersey which had been captured without very savage resistance. Yet on the whole it is fair to say that the private armed ships outfought and outsailed the enemy as impressively as did the few frigates of the American Navy.
There was a class of them which exemplified the rapid development of the merchant marine in a conspicuous manner—large commerce destroyers too swift to be caught, too powerful to fear the smaller cruisers. They were extremely profitable business ventures, entrusted to the command of the most audacious and skillful masters that could be engaged. Of this type was the ship America of Salem, owned by the Crowninshields, which made twenty-six prizes and brought safely into port property which realized more than a million dollars. Of this the owners and shareholders received six hundred thousand dollars as dividends. She was a stately vessel, built for the East India trade, and was generally conceded to be the fastest privateer afloat. For this service the upper deck was removed and the sides were filled in with stout oak timber as an armored protection, and longer yards and royal masts gave her a huge area of sail. Her crew of one hundred and fifty men had the exacting organization of a man-of-war, including, it is interesting to note, three lieutenants, three mates, a sailingmaster, surgeon, purser, captain of marines, gunners, seven prize masters, armorer, drummer, and a fifer. Discipline was severe, and flogging was the penalty for breaking the regulations.
During her four cruises, the America swooped among the plodding merchantmen like a falcon on a dovecote, the sight of her frightening most of her prey into submission, with a brush now and then to exercise the crews of the twenty-two guns, and perhaps a man or two hit. Long after the war, Captain James Chever, again a peaceful merchant mariner, met at Valparaiso, Sir James Thompson, commander of the British frigate Dublin, which had been fitted out in 1813 for the special purpose of chasing the America. In the course of a cordial chat between the two captains the Briton remarked:
"I was once almost within gun-shot of that infernal Yankee skimming-dish, just as night came on. By daylight she had outsailed the Dublin so devilish fast that she was no more than a speck on the horizon. By the way, I wonder if you happen to know the name of the beggar that was master of her."
"I'm the beggar," chuckled Captain Chever, and they drank each other's health on the strength of it.
Although the Treaty of Ghent omitted mention of the impressment of sailors, which had been the burning issue of the war, there were no more offenses of this kind. American seafarers were safe against kidnapping on their own decks, and they had won this security by virtue of their own double-shotted guns. At the same time England lifted the curse of the press-gang from her own people, who refused longer to endure it.
There seemed no reason why the two nations, having finally fought their differences to a finish, should not share the high seas in peaceful rivalry; but the irritating problems of protection and reciprocity survived to plague and hamper commerce. It was difficult for England to overcome the habit of guarding her trade against foreign invasion. Agreeing with the United States to waive all discriminating duties between the ports of the two countries—this was as much as she was at that time willing to yield. She still insisted upon regulating the trade of her West Indies and Canada. American East Indiamen were to be limited to direct voyages and could not bring cargoes to Europe. Though this discrimination angered Congress, to which it appeared as lopsided reciprocity, the old duties were nevertheless repealed; and then, presto! the British colonial policy of exclusion was enforced and eighty thousand tons of American shipping became idle because the West India market was closed.
There followed several years of unhappy wrangling, a revival of the old smuggling spirit, the risk of seizure and confiscations, and shipping merchants with long faces talking ruin. The theory of free trade versus protection was as debatable and opinions were as conflicting then as now. Some were for retaliation, others for conciliation; and meanwhile American shipmasters went about their business, with no room for theories in their honest heads, and secured more and more of the world's trade. Curiously enough, the cries of calamity in the United States were echoed across the water, where the "London Times" lugubriously exclaimed: "The shipping interest, the cradle of our navy, is half ruined. Our commercial monopoly exists no longer; and thousands of our manufacturers are starving or seeking redemption in distant lands. We have closed the Western Indies against America from feelings of commercial rivalry. Its active seamen have already engrossed an important branch of our carrying trade to the Eastern Indies. Her starred flag is now conspicuous on every sea and will soon defy our thunder."
It was not until 1849 that Great Britain threw overboard her long catalogue of protective navigation laws which had been piling up since the time of Cromwell, and declared for free trade afloat. Meanwhile the United States had drifted in the same direction, barring foreign flags from its coastwise shipping but offering full exemption from all discriminating duties and tonnage duties to every maritime nation which should respond in like manner. This latter legislation was enacted in 1828 and definitely abandoned the doctrine of protection in so far as it applied to American ships and sailors. For a generation thereafter, during which ocean rivalry was a battle royal of industry, enterprise, and skill, the United States was paramount and her merchant marine attained its greatest successes.
There is one school of modern economists who hold that the seeds of decay and downfall were planted by this adoption of free trade in 1828, while another faction of gentlemen quite as estimable and authoritative will quote facts and figures by the ream to prove that governmental policies had nothing whatever to do with the case. These adversaries have written and are still writing many volumes in which they almost invariably lose their tempers. Partisan politics befog the tariff issue afloat as well as ashore, and one's course is not easy to chart. It is indisputable, however, that so long as Yankee ships were better, faster, and more economically managed, they won a commanding share of the world's trade. When they ceased to enjoy these qualities of superiority, they lost the trade and suffered for lack of protection to overcome the handicap.
The War of 1812 was the dividing line between two eras of salt water history. On the farther side lay the turbulent centuries of hazard and bloodshed and piracy, of little ships and indomitable seamen who pursued their voyages in the reek of gunpowder and of legalized pillage by the stronger, and of merchant adventurers who explored new markets wherever there was water enough to float their keels. They belonged to the rude and lusty youth of a world which lived by the sword and which gloried in action. Even into the early years of the nineteenth century these mariners still sailed—Elizabethan in deed and spirit.
On the hither side of 1812 were seas unvexed by the privateer and the freebooter. The lateen-rigged corsairs had been banished from their lairs in the harbors of Algiers, and ships needed to show no broadsides of cannon in the Atlantic trade. For a time they carried the old armament among the lawless islands of the Orient and off Spanish-American coasts where the vocation of piracy made its last stand, but the great trade routes of the globe were peaceful highways for the white-winged fleets of all nations. The American seamen who had fought for the right to use the open sea were now to display their prowess in another way and in a romance of achievement that was no less large and thrilling.
CHAPTER VIII. THE PACKET SHIPS OF THE "ROARING FORTIES"
It was on the stormy Atlantic, called by sailormen the Western Ocean, that the packet ships won the first great contest for supremacy and knew no rivals until the coming of the age of steam made them obsolete. Their era antedated that of the clipper and was wholly distinct. The Atlantic packet was the earliest liner: she made regular sailings and carried freight and passengers instead of trading on her owners' account as was the ancient custom. Not for her the tranquillity of tropic seas and the breath of the Pacific trades, but an almost incessant battle with swinging surges and boisterous winds, for she was driven harder in all weathers and seasons than any other ships that sailed. In such battering service as this the lines of the clipper were too extremely fine, her spars too tall and slender. The packet was by no means slow and if the list of her record passages was superb, it was because they were accomplished by masters who would sooner let a sail blow away than take it in and who raced each other every inch of the way.
They were small ships of three hundred to five hundred tons when the famous Black Ball Line was started in 1816. From the first they were the ablest vessels that could be built, full-bodied and stoutly rigged. They were the only regular means of communication between the United States and Europe and were entrusted with the mails, specie, government dispatches, and the lives of eminent personages. Blow high, blow low, one of the Black Ball packets sailed from New York for Liverpool on the first and sixteenth of every month. Other lines were soon competing—the Red Star and the Swallow Tail out of New York, and fine ships from Boston and Philadelphia. With the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 the commercial greatness of New York was assured, and her Atlantic packets increased in size and numbers, averaging a thousand tons each in the zenith of their glory.
England, frankly confessing herself beaten and unable to compete with such ships as these, changed her attitude from hostility to open admiration. She surrendered the Atlantic packet trade to American enterprise, and British merchantmen sought their gains in other waters. The Navigation Laws still protected their commerce in the Far East and they were content to jog at a more sedate gait than these weltering packets whose skippers were striving for passages of a fortnight, with the forecastle doors nailed fast and the crew compelled to stay on deck from Sandy Hook to Fastnet Rock.
No blustering, rum-drinking tarpaulin was the captain who sailed the Independence, the Ocean Queen, or the Dreadnought but a man very careful of his manners and his dress, who had been selected from the most highly educated merchant service in the world. He was attentive to the comfort of his passengers and was presumed to have no other duties on deck than to give the proper orders to his first officer and work out his daily reckoning. It was an exacting, nerve-racking ordeal, however, demanding a sleepless vigilance, courage, and cool judgment of the first order. The compensations were large. As a rule, he owned a share of the ship and received a percentage of the freights and passage money. His rank when ashore was more exalted than can be conveyed in mere words. Any normal New York boy would sooner have been captain of a Black Ball packet than President of the United States, and he knew by heart the roaring chantey
It is of a flash packet, A packet of fame. She is bound to New York And the Dreadnought's her name. She is bound to the west'ard Where the stormy winds blow. Bound away to the west'ard, Good Lord, let her go.
There were never more than fifty of these ships afloat, a trifling fraction of the American deep-water tonnage of that day, but the laurels they won were immortal. Not only did the English mariner doff his hat to them, but a Parliamentary committee reported in 1837 that "the American ships frequenting the ports of England are stated by several witnesses to be superior to those of a similar class among the ships of Great Britain, the commanders and officers being generally considered to be more competent as seamen and navigators and more uniformly persons of education than the commanders and officers of British ships of a similar size and class trading from England to America."
It was no longer a rivalry with the flags of other nations but an unceasing series of contests among the packets of the several lines, and their records aroused far more popular excitement than when the great steamers of this century were chipping off the minutes, at an enormous coal consumption, toward a five-day passage. Theirs were tests of real seamanship, and there were few disasters. The packet captain scorned a towboat to haul him into the stream if the wind served fair to set all plain sail as his ship lay at her wharf. Driving her stern foremost, he braced his yards and swung her head to sea, clothing the masts with soaring canvas amid the farewell cheers of the crowds which lined the waterfront.
A typical match race was sailed between the Black Ball liner Columbus, Captain De Peyster, and the Sheridan, Captain Russell, of the splendid Dramatic fleet, in 1837. The stake was $10,000 a side, put up by the owners and their friends. The crews were picked men who were promised a bonus of fifty dollars each for winning. The ships sailed side by side in February, facing the wild winter passage, and the Columbus reached Liverpool in the remarkable time of sixteen days, two days ahead of the Sheridan.
The crack packets were never able to reel off more than twelve or fourteen knots under the most favorable conditions, but they were kept going night and day, and some of them maintained their schedules almost with the regularity of the early steamers. The Montezuma, the Patrick Henry, and the Southampton crossed from New York to Liverpool in fifteen days, and for years the Independence held the record of fourteen days and six hours. It remained for the Dreadnought, Captain Samuel Samuels, in 1859, to set the mark for packet ships to Liverpool at thirteen days and eight hours.
Meanwhile the era of the matchless clipper had arrived and it was one of these ships which achieved the fastest Atlantic passage ever made by a vessel under sail. The James Baines was built for English owners to be used in the Australian trade. She was a full clipper of 2515 tons, twice the size of the ablest packets, and was praised as "the most perfect sailing ship that ever entered the river Mersey." Bound out from Boston to Liverpool, she anchored after twelve days and six hours at sea.
There was no lucky chance in this extraordinary voyage, for this clipper was the work of the greatest American builder, Donald McKay, who at the same time designed the Lightning for the same owners. This clipper, sent across the Atlantic on her maiden trip, left in her foaming wake a twenty-four hour run which no steamer had even approached and which was not equaled by the fastest express steamers until twenty-five years later when the greyhound Arizona ran eighteen knots in one hour on her trial trip. This is a rather startling statement when one reflects that the Arizona of the Guion line seems to a generation still living a modern steamer and record-holder. It is even more impressive when coupled with the fact that, of the innumerable passenger steamers traversing the seas today, only a few are capable of a speed of more than eighteen knots.
This clipper Lightning did her 436 sea miles in one day, or eighteen and a half knots, better than twenty land miles an hour, and this is how the surpassing feat was entered in her log, or official journal: "March 1. Wind south. Strong gales; bore away for the North Channel, carrying away the foretopsail and lost jib; hove the log several times and found the ship going through the water at the rate of 18 to 18 1/2 knots; lee rail under water and rigging slack. Distance run in twenty-four hours, 436 miles." The passage was remarkably fast, thirteen days and nineteen and a half hours from Boston Light, but the spectacular feature was this day's work. It is a fitting memorial of the Yankee clipper, and, save only a cathedral, the loveliest, noblest fabric ever wrought by man's handiwork.
The clipper, however, was a stranger in the Atlantic and her chosen courses were elsewhere. The records made by the James Baines and the Lightning were no discredit to the stanch, unconquerable packet ships which, year in and year out, held their own with the steamer lines until just before the Civil War. It was the boast of Captain Samuels that on her first voyage in 1853 the Dreadnought reached Sandy Hook as the Cunarder Canada, which had left Liverpool a day ahead of her, was passing in by Boston Light. Twice she carried the latest news to Europe, and many seasoned travelers preferred her to the mail steamers.
The masters and officers who handled these ships with such magnificent success were true-blue American seamen, inspired by the finest traditions, successors of the privateersmen of 1812. The forecastles, however, were filled with English, Irish, and Scandinavians. American lads shunned these ships and, in fact, the ambitious youngster of the coastwise towns began to cease following the sea almost a century ago. It is sometimes forgotten that the period during which the best American manhood sought a maritime career lay between the Revolution and the War of 1812. Thereafter the story became more and more one of American ships and less of American sailors, excepting on the quarter-deck.
In later years the Yankee crews were to be found in the ports where the old customs survived, the long trading voyage, the community of interest in cabin and forecastle, all friends and neighbors together, with opportunities for profit and advancement. Such an instance was that of the Salem ship George, built at Salem in 1814 and owned by the great merchant, Joseph Peabody. For twenty-two years she sailed in the East India trade, making twenty-one round voyages, with an astonishing regularity which would be creditable for a modern cargo tramp. Her sailors were native-born, seldom more than twenty-one years old, and most of them were studying navigation. Forty-five of them became shipmasters, twenty of them chief mates, and six second mates. This reliable George was, in short, a nautical training-school of the best kind and any young seaman with the right stuff in him was sure of advancement.
Seven thousand sailors signed articles in the counting-room of Joseph Peabody and went to sea in his eighty ships which flew the house-flag in Calcutta, Canton, Sumatra, and the ports of Europe until 1844. These were mostly New England boys who followed in the footsteps of their fathers because deep-water voyages were still "adventures" and a career was possible under a system which was both congenial and paternal. Brutal treatment was the rare exception. Flogging still survived in the merchant service and was defended by captains otherwise humane, but a skipper, no matter how short-tempered, would be unlikely to abuse a youth whose parents might live on the same street with him and attend the same church.
The Atlantic packets brought a different order of things, which was to be continued through the clipper era. Yankee sailors showed no love for the cold and storms of the Western Ocean in these foaming packets which were remorselessly driven for speed. The masters therefore took what they could get. All the work of rigging, sail-making, scraping, painting, and keeping a ship in perfect repair was done in port instead of at sea, as was the habit in the China and California clippers, and the lore and training of the real deep-water sailor became superfluous. The crew of a packet made sail or took it in with the two-fisted mates to show them how.
From these conditions was evolved the "Liverpool packet rat," hairy and wild and drunken, the prey of crimps and dive-keepers ashore, brave and toughened to every hardship afloat, climbing aloft in his red shirt, dungaree breeches, and sea-boots, with a snow-squall whistling, the rigging sheathed with ice, and the old ship burying her bows in the thundering combers. It was the doctrine of his officers that he could not be ruled by anything short of violence, and the man to tame and hammer him was the "bucko" second mate, the test of whose fitness was that he could whip his weight in wild cats. When he became unable to maintain discipline with fists and belaying-pins, he was deposed for a better man.
Your seasoned packet rat sought the ship with a hard name by choice. His chief ambition was to kick in the ribs or pound senseless some invincible bucko mate. There was provocation enough on both sides. Officers had to take their ships to sea and strain every nerve to make a safe and rapid passage with crews which were drunk and useless when herded aboard, half of them greenhorns, perhaps, who could neither reef nor steer. Brutality was the one argument able to enforce instant obedience among men who respected nothing else. As a class the packet sailors became more and more degraded because their life was intolerable to decent men. It followed therefore that the quarterdeck employed increasing severity, and, as the officer's authority in this respect was unchecked and unlimited, it was easy to mistake the harshest tyranny for wholesome discipline.
Reenforcing the bucko mate was the tradition that the sailor was a dog, a different human species from the landsman, without laws and usages to protect him. This was a tradition which, for centuries, had been fostered in the naval service, and it survived among merchant sailors as an unhappy anachronism even into the twentieth century, when an American Congress was reluctant to bestow upon a seaman the decencies of existence enjoyed by the poorest laborer ashore.
It is in the nature of a paradox that the brilliant success of the packet ships in dominating the North Atlantic trade should have been a factor in the decline of the nation's maritime prestige and resources. Through a period of forty years the pride and confidence in these ships, their builders, and the men who sailed them, was intense and universal. They were a superlative product of the American genius, which still displayed the energies of a maritime race. On other oceans the situation was no less gratifying. American ships were the best and cheapest in the world. The business held the confidence of investors and commanded an abundance of capital. It was assumed, as late as 1840, that the wooden sailing ship would continue to be the supreme type of deep-water vessel because the United States possessed the greatest stores of timber, the most skillful builders and mechanics, and the ablest merchant navigators. No industry was ever more efficiently organized and conducted. American ships were most in demand and commanded the highest freights. The tonnage in foreign trade increased to a maximum of 904,476 in 1845. There was no doubt in the minds of the shrewdest merchants and owners and builders of the time that Great Britain would soon cease to be the mistress of the seas and must content herself with second place.