Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 1

In consenting to lay before the world the experience of a common seaman,
and, I may add, of one who has been such a sinner as the calling is only
too apt to produce, I trust that no feeling of vanity has had an undue
influence. I love the seas; and it is a pleasure to me to converse about
them, and of the scenes I have witnessed, and of the hardships I have
undergone on their bosom, in various parts of the world. Meeting with an
old shipmate who is disposed to put into proper form the facts which I can
give him, and believing that my narrative may be useful to some of those
who follow the same pursuit as that in which I have been so long engaged,
I see no evil in the course I am now taking, while I humbly trust it may
be the means of effecting some little good. God grant that the pictures I
shall feel bound to draw of my own past degradation and failings,
contrasted as they must be with my present contentment and hopes, may
induce some one, at least, of my readers to abandon the excesses so common
among seamen, and to turn their eyes in the direction of those great
truths which are so powerful to reform, and so convincing when regarded
with humility, and with a just understanding of our own weaknesses.

I know nothing of my family, except through my own youthful recollections,
and the accounts I have received from my sister. My father I slightly
remember; but of my mother I retain no distinct impressions. The latter
must have died while I was very young. The former, I was in the habit of
often seeing, until I reached my fifth or sixth year. He was a soldier,
and belonged to the twenty-third regimen of foot, in the service of the
King of Great Britain.[1] The fourth son of this monarch, Prince Edward as
he was then called, or the Duke of Kent as he was afterwards styled,
commanded the corps, and accompanied it to the British American colonies,
where it was stationed for many years.


I was born in Quebec, between the years 1792 and 1794; probably in 1793.
Of the rank of my father in the regiment, I am unable to speak, though I
feel pretty confident he was a commissioned officer. He was much with the
prince; and I remember that, on parade, where I have often seen him, he
was in the habit of passing frequently from the prince to the ranks--a
circumstance that induces my old shipmate to think he may have been the
adjutant. My father, I have always understood, was a native of Hanover,
and the son of a clergyman in that country. My mother, also, was said to
be a German, though very little is now known of her by any of the family.
She is described to me as living much alone, as being occupied in pursuits
very different from those of my father, and as being greatly averse to the
life of a soldier.

I was baptized in the Church of England, and, from earliest boyhood, have
always been given to understand that His Royal Highness, Prince Edward,
the father of Queen Victoria, stood for me at the font; Major Walker, of
the same regiment, being the other god-father, and Mrs. Walker, his wife,
my god-mother. My real names are Edward Robert Meyers; those received in
baptism having been given me by my two sponsors, after themselves. This
christening, like my birth, occurred in Quebec. I have, however, called
myself Edward, or Ned, Myers, ever since I took to the sea.

Before I was old enough to receive impressions to be retained, the
regiment removed to Halifax. My father accompanied it; and, of course, his
two children, my sister Harriet and myself, were taken to Nova Scotia. Of
the period of my life that was passed in Halifax, I retain tolerably
distinct recollections; more especially of the later years. The prince and
my father both remained with the regiment for a considerable time; though
all quitted Halifax several years before I left it myself. I remember
Prince Edward perfectly well. He sometimes resided at a house called The
Lodge, a little out of town; and I was often taken out to see him. He
also had a residence in town. He took a good deal of notice of me;
raising me in his arms, and kissing me. When he passed our house, I would
run to him; and he would lead me through the streets himself. On more than
one occasion, he led me off, and sent for the regimental tailor; directing
suits of clothes to be made for me, after his own taste. He was a large
man; of commanding presence, and frequently wore a star on the breast of
his coat. He was not then called the Duke of Kent, but Prince Edward, or
_The_ Prince. A lady lived with him at the Lodge; but who she was, I
do not know.

At this time, my mother must have been dead; for of _her_ I retain no
recollection whatever. I think, my father left Halifax some time before
the prince. Major Walker, too, went to England; leaving Mrs. Walker in
Nova Scotia, for some time. Whether my father went away with a part of the
regiment to which he belonged, or not, I cannot say but I well remember a
conversation between the prince, the major and Mrs. Walker, in which they
spoke of the loss of a transport, and of Meyers's saving several men. This
must have been at the time when my father quitted Nova Scotia; to which
province, I think, he never could have returned. Neither my sister, nor
myself, ever saw him afterwards. We have understood that he was killed in
battle; though when, or where, we do not know. My old shipmate, the
editor, however, thinks it must have been in Canada; as letters were
received from a friend in Quebec, after I had quitted Nova Scotia,
inquiring after us children, and stating that the effects of my father
were in that town, and ought to belong to us. This letter gave my sister
the first account of his death; though it was not addressed to her, but to
those in whose care she had been left. This property was never recovered;
and my shipmate, who writes this account, thinks there may have been legal
difficulties in the way.

Previously to quitting the province of Nova Scotia, my father placed
Harriet and myself in the house of a Mr. Marchinton, to live. This
gentleman was a clergyman, who had no regular parish, but who preached in
a chapel of his own. He sent us both to school, and otherwise took charge
of us. I am not aware of the precise time when the prince left Halifax,
but it must have been when I was five or six years old--probably about the
year 1798 or 1799.[2]

From that time I continued at Mr. Marchinton's, attending school, and
busied, as is usual with boys of that age, until the year 1805. I fear I
was naturally disposed to idleness and self-indulgence, for I became
restive and impatient under the restraints of the schoolmaster, and of the
gentleman in whose family I had been left. I do not know that I had any
just grounds of complaint against Mr. Marchinton; but his rigorous
discipline disgusted me; principally, I am now inclined to believe,
because it was not agreeable to me to be kept under any rigid moral
restraint. I do not think I was very vicious; and, I know, I was far from
being of a captious temperament; but I loved to be my own master; and I
particularly disliked everything like religious government. Mr.
Marchinton, moreover, kept me out of the streets; and it was my
disposition to be an idler, and at play. It is possible he may have been a
little too severe for one of my temperament; though, I fear, nature gave
me a roving and changeful mind.

At that time the English cruisers sent in many American vessels as prizes.
Our house was near the water; and I was greatly in the habit of strolling
along the wharves, whenever an opportunity occurred; Mr. Marchinton owning
a good deal of property in that part of the town. The Cambrian frigate had
a midshipman, a little older than myself, who had been a schoolmate of
mine. This lad, whose name was Bowen, was sent in as the nominal
prize-master of a brig loaded with coffee; and I no sooner learned the
fact, than I began to pay him visits. Young Bowen encouraged me greatly,
in a wish that now arose within me, to become a sailor. I listened eagerly
to the history of his adventures, and felt the usual boyish emulation. Mr.
Marchinton seemed averse to my following the profession, and these visits
became frequent and stealthy; my wishes, most probably, increasing, in
proportion as they seemed difficult of accomplishment.

I soon began to climb the rigging of the brig, ascending to the
mast-heads. One day Mr. Marchinton saw me quite at the main-truck; and,
calling me down, I got a severe flogging for my dexterity and enterprise.
It sometimes happens that punishment produces a result exactly opposite to
that which was intended; and so it turned out in the present instance. My
desire to be a sailor increased in consequence of this very flogging; and
I now began seriously to think of running away, in order to get to sea, as
well as to escape a confinement on shore, that, to me, seemed
unreasonable. Another prize, called the Amsterdam Packet, a Philadelphia
ship, had been sent in by, I believe, the Cleopatra, Sir Robert Laurie. On
board this ship were two American lads, apprentices. With these boys I
soon formed an intimacy; and their stories of the sea, and their accounts
of the States, coupled with the restraints I fancied I endured, gave rise
to a strong desire to see their country, as well as to become a sailor.
They had little to do, and enjoyed great liberty, going and coming much as
they pleased. This idleness seemed, to me, to form the summit of human
happiness. I did not often dare to play truant; and the school became
odious to me. According to my recollections, this desire for a change must
have existed near, or quite a twelvemonth; being constantly fed by the
arrival and departure of vessels directly before my eyes, ere I set about
the concocting of a serious plan to escape.

My project was put in execution in the summer of 1805, when I could not
have been more than eleven years old, if, indeed, quite as old. I was in
the market one day, and overheard some American seamen, who had been
brought in, conversing of a schooner that was on the point of leaving
Halifax, for New York. This vessel belonged to North Carolina, and had
been captured by the Driver, some time before, but had been liberated by a
decision of the Admiralty Court. The men I overheard talking about her,
intended taking their passages back to their own country in the craft.
This seemed to me a good opportunity to effect my purpose, and I went from
the market, itself, down to the schooner. The mate was on board alone, and
I took courage, and asked him if he did not want to ship a boy. My
dress and appearance were both against me, as I had never done any work,
and was in the ordinary attire of a better class lad on shore. The mate
began to laugh at me, and to joke me on my desire to go to sea,
questioning me about my knowledge. I was willing to do anything; but,
perceiving that I made little impression, I resorted to bribery. Prince
Edward had made me a present, before he left Halifax, of a beautiful
little fowling-piece, which was in my own possession; and I mentioned to
the mate that I was the owner of such an article, and would give it to him
if he would consent to secrete me in the schooner, and carry me to New
York. This bait took, and I was told to bring the fowling, piece on board,
and let the mate see it. That night I carried the bribe, as agreed on, to
this man, who was perfectly satisfied with its appearance, and we struck a
bargain on the spot. I then returned to the house, and collected a few of
my clothes. I knew that my sister, Harriet, was making some shirts for me,
and I stole into her room, and brought away two of them, which were all I
could find. My wardrobe was not large when I left the house, and I had
taken the precaution of carrying the articles out one at a time, and of
secreting them in an empty cask in the yard. When I thought I had got
clothes enough, I made them into a bundle, and carried them down to the
schooner. The mate then cleared out a locker in the cabin, in which there
were some potatoes, and told me I must make up my mind to pass a few hours
in that narrow berth. Too thoughtless to raise any objections, I
cheerfully consented, and took my leave of him with the understanding that
I was to be on board, again, early in the morning.

Before going to bed, I desired a black servant of Mr. Marchinton's to call
me about day-break, as I desired to go out and pick berries. This was
done, and I was up and dressed before any other member of the family was
stirring. I lost no time, but quitted the house, and walked deliberately
down to the schooner. No one was up on board of her, and I was obliged to
give the mate a call, myself. This man now seemed disposed to draw back
from his bargain, and I had to use a good deal of persuasion before I
could prevail on him to be as good as his word. He did not like to part
with the fowling-piece, but seemed to think it would be fairly purchased,
could he persuade me to run away. At length he yielded, and I got into the
locker, where I was covered with potatoes.

I was a good while in this uncomfortable situation, before there were any
signs of the vessel's quitting the wharf. I began to grow heartily tired
of the confinement, and the love of change revived within me in a new
form. The potatoes were heavy for me to bear, and the confined air
rendered my prison almost insupportable. I was on the point of coming out
of prison, when the noise on deck gave me the comfortable assurance that
the people had come on board, and that the schooner was about to sail. I
could hear men conversing, and, after a period of time that seemed an age,
I felt satisfied the schooner was fairly under way. I heard a hail from
one of the forts as we passed down the harbour, and, not long after, the
Driver, the very sloop of war that had sent the vessel in, met her, and
quite naturally hailed her old prize, also. All this I heard in my prison,
and it served to reconcile me to the confinement. As everything was right,
the ship did not detain us, and we were permitted to proceed.

It was noon before I was released. Going on deck, I found that the
schooner was at sea. Nothing of Halifax was visible but a tower or two,
that were very familiar objects to me. I confess I now began to regret the
step I had taken, and, could I have been landed, it is probable my roving
disposition would have received a salutary check. It was too late,
however, and I was compelled to continue in the thorny and difficult path
on which I had so thoughtlessly entered. I often look back to this moment,
and try to imagine what might have been my fortunes, had I never taken
this unlucky step. What the prince might have done for me, it is
impossible to say; though I think it probable that, after the death of my
father, I should have been forgotten, as seems to have been the case with
my sister, who gradually fell from being considered and treated as one of
the family in which she lived, into a sort of upper servant.

I have learned, latterly, that Mr. Marchinton had a great search made for
me. It was his impression I was drowned, and several places were dragged
for my body. This opinion lasted until news of my being in New York
reached the family.

My appearance on deck gave rise to a great many jokes between the captain
of the schooner, and his mate. I was a good deal laughed at, but not badly
treated, on the whole. My office was to be that of cook--by no means a
very difficult task in that craft, the camboose consisting of two pots set
in bricks, and the dishes being very simple. In the cabin, sassafras was
used for tea, and boiled pork and beef composed the dinner. The first day,
I was excused from entering on the duties of my office, on account of
sea-sickness; but, the next morning, I set about the work in good earnest.
We had a long passage, and my situation was not very pleasant. The
schooner was wet, and the seas she shipped would put out my fire. There
was a deck load of shingles, and I soon discovered that these made
excellent kindling wood; but it was against the rules of the craft to burn
cargo, and my friend the mate had bestowed a few kicks on me before I
learned to make the distinction. In other respects, I did tolerably well;
and, at the end of about ten days, we entered Sandy Hook.

Such was my first passage at sea, or, at least, the first I can remember,
though I understand we were taken from Quebec to Halifax by water. I was
not cured of the wish to roam by this experiment, though, at that age,
impressions are easily received, and as readily lost. Some idea may be
formed of my recklessness, and ignorance of such matters, at this time,
from the circumstance that I do not remember ever to have known the name
of the vessel in which I left Nova Scotia. Change and adventure were my
motives, and it never occurred to me to inquire into a fact that was so
immaterial to one of my temperament. To this hour, I am ignorant on
the subject.

The schooner came up, and hauled in abreast of Fly Market. She did not
come close to the wharf, but made fast, temporarily, at its end, outside
of two or three other vessels. This took place not long after breakfast. I
set about the preparations for dinner, which was ready, as usual, at
twelve o'clock. While the crew were eating this meal, I had nothing to do,
and, seeing a number of boys on the wharf, I went ashore, landing for the
first time in this, my adopted country. I was without hat, coat, or
shoes; my feet having become sore from marching about among the shingles.
The boys were licking molasses from some hogsheads, and I joined in the
occupation with great industry. I might have been occupied in this manner,
and in talking with the boys, an hour or more, when I bethought me of my
duty on board. On looking for the schooner, she was gone! Her people, no
doubt, thought I was below, and did not miss me, and she had been carried
to some other berth; where, I did not know. I could not find her, nor did
I ever see her again.

Such, then, was my entrance on a new scene. Had I known enough to follow
the wharves, doubtless I should have found the vessel; but, after a short
search, I returned to the boys and the molasses.

That I was concerned at finding myself in a strange place, without a
farthing in my pockets--without hat, shoes or coat, is certain--but it is
wonderful how little apprehension I felt. I knew nothing, and feared
nothing. While licking the molasses, I told the boys my situation; and I
met with a great deal of sympathy among them. The word passed from one to
the other, that a "poor English boy had lost his vessel, and did not know
where to go to pass the night." One promised me a supper; and, as for
lodgings, the general opinion seemed to be, that I might find a berth
under one of the butchers' stalls, in the adjacent market. I had different
projects for myself, however.

There was a family of the name of Clark, then residing in New York, that I
had known in Halifax. I remembered to have heard my sister, Harriet,
speaking of them, not long before I quitted home, and that she said they
lived in, or near, Fly Market. I knew we were at Fly Market; and the name
recalled these people. I inquired, accordingly, if any one knew such a
family; but met with no success in discovering them. They were strangers;
and no one knew them. It was now near sunset; and I determined to look for
these people myself. On this errand, then, I set off; walking up the
market until I reached Maiden Lane. While strolling along the street, I
heard a female voice suddenly exclaim: "Lord! here is Edward Myers,
without anything on him!" At the next instant, Susan Clark, one of the
daughters, came running into the street; and presently I was in the
house, surrounded by the whole family.

Of course, I was closely questioned; and I told the whole truth. The
Clarks were extremely kind to me, offering me clothes, and desiring to
keep me with them; but I did not like the family, owing to old quarrels
with the boys, and a certain sternness in the father, who had made
complaints of my stealing his fruit, while in Halifax. I was innocent; and
the whole proceeding had made me regard Mr. Clark as a sort of enemy. My
principal motive, in inquiring for the family, was to learn where a
certain Dr. Heizer[3] lived. This gentleman was a German, who had formerly
been in the army; and I knew he was then in New York. In him I had more
confidence; and I determined to throw myself on his kindness.

After declining a great many offers, I got the address of Dr. Heizer, and
proceeded in quest of his residence, just as I was. It was moonlight, and
I went through the streets with boyish confidence. My route lay up
Broadway, and my destination was one of its corners and Hester Street. In
1805, this was nearly out of town, being near Canal street. I had been
told to look for a bridge, which then stood in Broadway, and which
answered for a landmark, in my new navigation. The bridge I found easily;
and, making inquiries at a house, I was told the family I sought lived
next door.

The Heizers were greatly surprised at my appearance. I was questioned, of
course; and told them the naked truth. I knew concealment would be
useless; was naturally frank, notwithstanding what I had just done; and I
began to feel the want of friends. I was fed; and that same evening, Dr.
and Mrs. Heizer led me down Broadway, and equipped me in a neat suit of
clothes. Within a week, I was sent regularly to school.

I never knew what Dr. Heizer did, in relation to my arrival. I cannot but
think that he communicated the circumstances to Mr. Marchinton, who was
well known to him; though, Harriet tell me, the first intelligence they
got of me was of a much later date, and came from another source. Let this
be as it might, I was kindly treated; living, in all respects, as if I
were one of the family. There was no son; and they all seemed to consider
me as one.

I remained in this family the autumn of 1805, and the winter and spring of
1806. I soon tired of school, and began to play truant; generally
wandering along the wharves, gazing at the ships. Dr. Heizer soon learned
this; and, watching me, discovered the propensity I still retained for the
sea. He and Mrs. Heizer now took me aside, and endeavoured to persuade me
to return to Halifax; but I had become more and more averse to taking this
backward step. To own the truth, I had fearful misgivings on the subject
of floggings; and I dreaded a long course of severity and discipline. It
is certain, that, while rigid rules of conduct are very necessary to some
dispositions, there are others with which they do not succeed. Mine was of
the latter class; for, I think, I am more easily led, than driven. At all
events, I had a horror of going back; and refused to listen to the
proposal. After a good deal of conversation, and many efforts at
persuasion, Dr. Heizer consented to let me go to sea, from New York; or
affected to consent; I never knew which.

The Leander, Miranda's flag-ship, in his abortive attempt to create a
revolution in Spanish-America, was then lying in the Hudson; and Dr.
Heizer, who was acquainted with some one connected with her, placed me in
this ship, with the understanding I was to go in her to Holland. I passed
the day on board; going up to my new employer's house, for my meals, and
to sleep. This course of life may have lasted a fortnight; when I became
heartily tired of it. I found I had a mistress, now, as well as a master.
The former set me to cleaning knives, boots, candlesticks, and other
similar employments; converting me into a sort of scullion. My pride
revolted at this. I have since thought it possible, all this was done to
create disgust, and to induce me to return to Mr. Marchinton; but it had a
very contrary effect.

My desire was to be a sailor. One Sunday I had been on board the ship,
and, after assisting the mate to show the bunting fore and aft, I went
back to the house. Here my mistress met me with a double allowance of
knives to clean. We had a quarrel on the subject; I protesting against all
such work. But to clean the knives I was compelled. About half were thrown
over the fence, into the adjoining yard; and, cleaning what remained, I
took my hat, went to the doctor's, and saw no more of my mistress, or of
the Leander.


James Fenimore Cooper

Sorry, no summary available yet.