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Chapter 13

My next craft was the Camillus, a ship that was bound to Greenock, via
Charleston. We got to the latter port without accident, and took in a
cargo of cotton. The ship was all ready for sailing of a Saturday, and the
captain had gone ashore, telling me he would be on board early in the
morning, when we could haul out and go to sea, should the wind be
favourable. I gave the people their Saturday's night, and went into the
cabin to freshen the nip, myself. I took a glass or two, and certainly had
more in me than is good for a man, though I was far from being downright
drunk. In a word, I had too much, though I could have carried a good deal
more, on a pinch. The steward had gone ashore, and there being no
second-mate, I was all alone.

In this state of things, I heard a noise, and went on deck to inquire
what was the matter. My old ship, the Franklin, was shifting her berth,
and her jib-boom had come foul of our taffrail. After some hailing, I got
on the taffrail to shove our neighbour off, when, by some carelessness of
my own, I fell head-foremost, hitting the gunwale of the boat, which was
hanging, about half way up to the davits, into the water. The tide set me
away, and carried me between the wharf and the ship astern of us, which
happened to be the William Thompson, Captain Thompson, owner Thompson,
mate Thompson, and all Thompson, as Mathews used to have it. Captain
Thompson was reading near the cabin windows, and he luckily heard me
groan. Giving the alarm, a boat was got round, and I taken in. As the
night was dark, and I lost all consciousness after the fall, I consider
this escape as standing second only to that from the shark in the West
Indies, and old Trant's gun, the night the Scourge went down. I did not
recover my recollection for several hours. This was not the effect of
liquor, but of the fall, as I remember everything distinctly that occurred
before I went from the taffrail. Still I confess that liquor did all the
mischief, as I had drunk just enough to make me careless.

In the morning, I found myself disabled in the left arm, and I went to a
doctor. This gentleman said he never told a fellow what ailed him until he
got his whack. I gave him a dollar, and he then let me into the secret. My
collar-bone was broken. "And, now," says he, "for another dollar I'll
patch you up." I turned out the other Spaniard, when he was as good as his
word. Going in the ship, however, was out of the question, and I was
obliged to get a young man to go on board the Camillus in my place; thus
losing the voyage and my berth.

I was now ashore, with two or three months of drift before me. Since the
time I joined the Washington, I had been going regularly ahead, and I do
think had I been able to stick by the Camillus, I might have brought up a
master. I had laid up money, and being employed while in port, I was
gradually losing my taste for sailor amusements, and getting more respect
for myself. That fall from the Jaffrail was a sad drawback for me, and I
never recovered the lee-way it brought about.

I was more than two months ashore, behaving myself rationally on account
of my arm. At the end of that time, I went on board the Sally, a ship also
bound to Greenock, as her second-mate. This vessel belonged to Charleston,
and it was intended she should return to her own port. The voyage turned
out well, and my arm got as strong as ever. On reaching Charleston, I left
the craft, which was laid up, and shipped in a schooner of the same name,
bound to St. Domingo, as her chief mate. This was no great craft,
certainly, though she proved a tight, wholesome sea-boat. We went out
without any accident, arriving in safety at Cape Henry. After discharging
cargo, and smuggling on board a quantity of doubloons--four hundred and
eighty, it was said--we got under way for the island of Cuba. We intended
to go into Matanzas, and kept along the coast. After crossing the Windward
Passage, we reached Cuba; and were standing on, with a light wind, under
our square-sail, the morning of the third day out, when we saw a large
boat, carrying two sails, standing out from the shore, evidently in chase
of the schooner. We had on board eight souls, viz. the owner, a Frenchman,
who had been a dragoon in the service of his own country, but who was now
between seventy and eighty; the captain, myself, a boy, the cook, and four
men forward. We could see that there were nine men in the boat. We had no
arms in the schooner, not even a pistol, and the men in the boat had
muskets. We did not ascertain this last fact, however, for some time. I
thought the strangers pirates the moment I saw them come out from under
the land, but the captain maintained that they were turtle-men. The boat
was rowing, and came up with us, hand over hand. When near, they commenced
firing muskets at us, to drive us below. All the crew forward, with the
cook, ran down into the forecastle, leaving no one on deck but the
captain, the old Frenchman, and myself. The boy got into the

What the others did on deck, as these gentry came alongside, amusing
themselves with keeping up a smart fire of musketry, I do not know; but my
own occupation was to dodge behind the foremast. It was not long, however,
before they came tumbling in, and immediately got possession of the
schooner. One or two came forward and secured the forecastle hatch, to
keep the people down. Then they probably felt that they were masters. One
chap drew a fearful-looking knife, long, slender, sharp and glittering,
and he cut the halyards of the square-sail. All the men I saw in the
schooner struck me as Americans, or English, affecting to be Spaniards.
There is such a difference in the height, complexion, and general
appearance of the people of Spain, and those of the two other countries,
without reference to the manner of speaking, that I do not think I could
be mistaken. I saw but one man among these pirates, whom I took for a real
Spaniard. It is true their faces were all blacked to disguise them, but
one could get enough glimpses of the skin to judge of the true colour.
There was no negro among them.

The chap who cut away the square-sail halyards, I felt certain was no
Spaniard. The sail was no sooner down, than he ran his knife along the
head, below the bolt-rope, as if to cut away the cloth with the least
trouble to himself. I was standing near, and asked him why he destroyed
the sail; if he wanted it, why he did not take it whole? At this, he
turned short round upon me, raised his arm, and struck a heavy blow at me
with his fearful-looking knife. The point of the deadly weapon struck
square on my breast-bone! I fell, partly through the force of the blow,
and partly from policy; for I thought it safest to be lying on my back. I
got several hearty kicks, in addition to this fierce attack, together with
sundry curses in broken Spanish. I spoke in English, of course; and that
the man understood me was clear enough by the expression of his
countenance, and his act. The wound was slight, though it bled a good
deal, covering my shirt and trowsers with blood, as much as if I had been
run through the heart. An inch or two, either way, in the direction of the
knife, would certainly have killed me.

I do not know what might haye been the end of this affair, had not one of
the pirates come forward, at this critical instant, and checked my
assailant by shaking a finger at him. This man, I feel very certain, I
knew. I will not mention his name, as there is a doubt; but I cannot think
I was mistaken. If I am right, he was a young man from Connecticut, who
sailed one voyage to Liverpool with me in The Sterling. With that young
man I had been very intimate, and was oftener with him ashore than with
any other of the crew. His face was blackened, like those of all his
companions, but this did not conceal his air, manner, size, eyes and
voice. When he spoke, it was in a jargon of broken English and broken
Spanish, such as no man accustomed to either language from infancy would
have used. The same was true as to all the rest I heard speak, with the
exception of an old fellow in the boat, whom I shall presently have
occasion to mention, again.

The man I took to be my old shipmate, also seemed to know me. I was but a
lad when I quitted the Sterling, it is true; but they tell me I have not
altered a great deal in general appearance. My hair is still black; and
then, when I was in the very prime of life, it must have been easy to
recognize me. So strongly was I impressed, at the time, that I saw an old
acquaintance, I was about to call him by name, when, luckily, it crossed
my mind this might be dangerous. The pirates wished clearly to be unknown,
and it was wisest to let them think they were so. My supposed shipmate,
however, proved my friend, and I received no more personal ill treatment
after he had spoken to his companion. I sometimes think he was the means,
indeed, of saving all our lives. He asked me if there was any money, and,
on my denying it, he told me they knew better: the schooner was in
ballast, and must have got something for her outward cargo. I refused to
tell, and he ordered me into their boat, whither the captain had been sent
before me. In doing all this, his manner wore an appearance, to me, of
assumed severity.

The poor old Frenchman fared worse. They seemed to know he was owner, and
probably thought he could give the best account of the money. At any rate,
he was unmercifully flogged, though he held out to the last, refusing to
betray his doubloons. The boy was next attacked-with threats of throwing
him overboard. This extracted the secret, and the doubloons were soon

The captain and myself had been stowed under a half-deck, in the boat, but
as soon as the money was found, the old Spaniard, who stood sentinel over
us, was told to let us out, that we might see the fun. There were the
eight scoundrels, paraded around the trunk of the schooner, dividing the
doubloons. As soon as this was done, we were told to come alongside with
our boat, which had been used to carry us to the piratical craft. The
captain got on board the Sally and I was ordered to scull the rogues, in
one gang, back to their own craft. The scamps were in high spirits,
seeming much pleased with their haul. They cracked a good many jokes at
our expense, but were so well satisfied with their gold, that they left
the square-sail behind them. They had robbed the cabin, however, carrying
off, for me, a quadrant, a watch, and a large portion of my clothes. The
forecastle had not been entered, though the men had four hundred dollars
lying under a pile of dirt and old junk, to keep them out of sight.

My supposed shipmate bore me in mind to the last. When we reached his
craft, he poured out a glass of brandy and offered it to me. I was afraid
to drink, thinking it might be poisoned. He seemed to understand me, and
swallowed it himself, in a significant manner. This gave me courage, and I
took the next nip without hesitation. He then told me to shove off, which
I did without waiting for a second order. The pirates pulled away at the
same time.

We were a melancholy party, as soon as we found ourselves left to
ourselves. The old Frenchman was sad enough, and all of us pitied him. He
made no complaint of the boy, notwithstanding, and little was said among
us about the robbery. My wound proved trifling, though the old man was so
bruised and beaten that he could scarcely walk.

As soon as a breeze came, we went into Charleston, having no means to buy
the cargo we had intended to get at Matanzas. This was the first time I
was ever actually boarded by a pirate, although I had had several narrow
escapes before. The first was in the Sterling, off the coast of Portugal;
the next was in the William and Jane, outward bound to Canton; the third
was on the bank, in the Trio, off the coast of Java; and the fourth, in
the Mechanic, on the other side of Cuba. It was not the last of my affairs
with them, however, as will be seen in the sequel.

I went out in the Sally again, making a voyage to Matanzas and back,
without any accident, or incident, worth mentioning. I still intended to
remain in this schooner, the captain and I agreeing perfectly well, had I
not been driven out of her by one of those unlucky accidents, of which so
many have laid me athwart-hawse.

We were discharging sugar at Charleston, in very heavy casks. The tide
being in, the vessel's rail was higher than the wharf, and we landed the
casks on the rail, from which they were rolled down some planks to the
shore. Two negroes were stationed on the wharf to receive the casks, and
to ease them down. One of these fellows was in the practice of running up
the planks, instead of standing at their side and holding on to the end of
the hogsheads. I remonstrated with him several times about the danger he
ran, but he paid no attention to what I said. At length my words came
true; a cask got away from the men, and rolled directly over this negro,
flattening him like a bit of dough.

This was clearly an accident, and no one thought of accusing me of any
connection with it. But the owner of the black looked upon him as one
would look upon a hack-horse that had been lamed, or killed; and he came
down to the schooner, on hearing that his man was done for, swearing I
should pay for him! As for paying the price of an athletic "nigger," it
was even more impossible for me, than it would seem it is for the great
State of Pennsylvania to pay the interest on its debt; and, disliking a
lawsuit, I carried my dunnage on board another vessel that same afternoon,
and agreed to work my passage to New York, as her second-mate.

The vessel I now went on board of was the Commodore Rodgers, a regular
liner between the two ports. We sailed next morning, and I paid for the
poor "nigger" with the fore-topsail. The ship's husband was on board as we
hauled out, a man who was much in the habit of abusing the mates. On this
occasion he was particularly abusive to our chief mate; so much so,
indeed, that I remonstrated with the latter on his forbearance. Nothing
came of it, however, though I could not forget the character of the man
who had used such language. When we reached New York, our chief mate left
us, and I was offered the berth. It was a little hazardous to go back to
Charleston, but wages were low, and business dull, the yellow fever being
in New York, and I thought, by a little management, I might give my
"nigger owner" a sufficient berth. I accordingly agreed to go.

When we got back to Charleston, our ship lay at her own wharf, and I saw
nothing of my chap. He worked up town, and we lay low down, But another
misfortune befel me, that led even to worse consequences. The ship's
husband, who was so foul-mouthed, was as busy as ever, blackguarding right
and left, and finding fault with everything. Our cargo was nearly out, and
this man and I had a row about some kegs of white lead. In the course of
the dialogue, he called me "a saucy son of a b--h." This was too much for
my temper, and I seized him and sent him down the hatchway. The fall was
not great, and some hemp lay in the wake of the hatch; but the chap's
collar-bone went. He sung out like a singing-master, but I did not stop to
chime in. Throwing my slate on deck in a high passion, I left the ship and
went ashore. I fell in with the captain on the wharf, told him my story,
got a promise from him to send me my clothes, and vanished. In an hour or
two, half the constables in Charleston were in chase of me. I kept so
close they could not find me, lying snug for a couple of days.

This state of things could not last for ever. The constables were not half
so ferocious as they seemed; for one of them managed to get me off, on
board a coaster, called the Gov. Russel; where I engaged, I may say, as
chief mate and all hands. The Gov. Russel was a Buford trader, making
trips about fifteen or twenty leagues long. This was the smallest
navigation, and the smallest craft, a gun-boat excepted, with which I ever
had anything to do. The crew consisted of two negroes, both slaves to the
owner, while the captain and myself were aft. Whether she would have held
so many, or not, I never knew, as the captain did not join, while I
belonged to her. The schooner lay three miles below the town; and, in so
much, was a good craft for me; as no one would think of following an old
Canton trader into such a 'long-shore-looking thing. We busied ourselves
in painting her, and in overhauling her rigging, while the ship's husband,
and his myrmidons, amused themselves in searching for me up in town.

I had been on board the Gov. Russel three days, when it came on to blow
from the southward and westward, in true southern style. The gale came on
butt-end foremost; and was thought to be as severe, as anything seen in
the port for many a year. Most of the shipping broke adrift from the
wharves; and everything that was anchored, a man-of-war and a
revenue-cutter excepted, struck adrift, or dragged. As for ourselves, we
were lying at single anchor; and soon began to walk down towards the bar.
I let go the spare anchor; but she snapped her cables, as if they had been
pack-thread; and away she went to leeward. Making sail was out of the
question, had any been bent, as ours were not; and I had to let her travel
her own road.

All this happened at night; when it was so dark, one could not see,
between the spray, the storm and the hour, the length of the craft. I knew
we were going towards the ocean; and my great cause of apprehension was
the bar. Looking for the channel, was out of the question; I did not know
it, in the first place; and, had I been a branch-pilot, I could not find
it in the dark. I never was more completely adrift, in my life, ashore or
afloat. We passed a most anxious hour, or two; the schooner driving,
broadside-to, I knew not whither, or to what fate. The two blacks were
frightened out of their wits; and were of no assistance to me.

At length, I felt the keel come down upon the sands; and then I knew we
were on the bar. This happened amid a whirlwind of spray; with nothing
visible but the white foam of the waters, and the breakers around us. The
first blow threw both masts out of the steps; ripping up the decks to a
considerable extent. The next minute we were on our beam-ends; the sea
making a clear breach over us. All we could do, was to hold on; and this
we did with difficulty. I and the two blacks got on the weather-quarter of
the schooner, where we lashed ourselves with the main-sheet. As this was a
stout rope, something must part, before we could be washed away. The craft
made but two raps on the bar, when she drifted clear.

I now knew we were at sea, and were drifting directly off the coast. As we
got into deep water, the sea did not make such terrible surges over us;
though they continued to break over our quarter. The masts were thumping
away; but for this I cared little, the hold being full of water already.
Sink we could not, having a wept hold, and being built, in a great
measure, of pine. The schooner floated with about five feet of her
quarter-deck above water. Her bows had settled the most; and this gave us
rather a better chance aft.

Fortunately, we got the worst of this blow at the first go off. The wind
began to lessen in strength soon after we passed the bar, and by day-light
it only blew a stiff breeze. No land was in sight, though I knew, by the
colour of the water, that we could not be a very great distance from the
coast. We had come out on an ebb-tide, and this had set us off the land,
but all that southern coast is so low, that it was not to be seen from the
surface of the ocean at any great distance.

The day that succeeded was sad and dreary enough. The weather was fine,
the sun coming out even hot upon us, but the wind continued to blow fresh
off the land, and we were drifting further out, every instant, upon the
bosom of the ocean. Our only hope was in falling in with some coaster, and
I began to dread drifting outside of their track. We were without food or
water, and were partly seated on the rail, and partly supported by the
main-sheet. Neither of us attempted to change his berth that day. Little
was said between us, though I occasionally encouraged the negroes to hold
on, as something would yet pick us up. I had a feeling of security on this
head that was unreasonable, perhaps; but a sanguine temperament has ever
made me a little too indifferent to consequences.

Night brought no change, unless it was to diminish the force of the wind.
A short time before the sun set, one of the negroes said to me, "Masser
Ned, John gone." I was forward of the two blacks, and was not looking at
them at the time; I suppose I may have been dozing; but, on looking up, I
found that one of the negroes had, indeed, disappeared. How this happened
I cannot say, as he appeared to be well lashed; but I suppose he worked
himself free, and being exhausted, he fell into the water, and sunk before
I could get a glimpse of him. There was nothing to be done, however, and
the loss of this man had a tendency to make me think our situation worse
than it had before seemed to be. Some persons, all good Christians I
should suppose, will feel some curiosity to know whether a man in my
situations had no disposition to take a religious view of his case, and
whether his conscience did not apprise him of the chances of perdition
that seemed to stare him in the face. In answer to this, I am compelled to
say that no such thoughts came over me. In all my risks and emergencies, I
am not sensible of having given a thought to my Maker. I had a sense of
fear, an apprehension of death, and an instinctive desire to save my life,
but no consciousness of the necessity of calling on any being to save my
soul. Notwithstanding all the lessons I had received in childhood, I was
pretty nearly in the situation of one who had never heard the name of the
Saviour mentioned. The extent of my reflections on such subjects, was the
self-delusion of believing that I was to save myself--I had done no great
harm, according to the notions of sailors; had not robbed; had not
murdered; and had observed the mariner's code of morals, so far as I
understood them; and this gave me a sort of _claim_ on the mercy of God.
In a word, the future condition of my soul gave me no trouble whatever.

I dare say my two companions on this little wreck had the same
indifference on this subject, as I felt myself. I heard no prayer, no
appeal to God for mercy, nothing indeed from any of us, to show that we
thought at all on the subject. Hunger gave me a little trouble, and during
the second night I would fall into a doze, and wake myself up by dreaming
of eating meals that were peculiarly grateful to me. I have had the same
thing happen on other occasions, when on short allowance of food. Neither
of the blacks said anything on the subject of animal suffering, and the
one that was lost, went out, as it might be, like a candle.

The sun rose on the morning of the second day bright and clear. The wind
shifted about this time, to a gentle breeze from the southward and
eastward. This was a little encouraging, as it was setting the schooner
in-shore again, but I could discover nothing in sight. There was still a
good deal of sea going, and we were so low in the water, that our range of
sight was very limited.

It was late in the forenoon, when the negro called out, suddenly, "Massa
Ned, dere a vessel!" Almost at the same instant, I heard voices calling
out; and, looking round I saw a small coasting schooner, almost upon us.
She was coming down before the wind, had evidently seen us some time
before we saw her, and now ranged up under our lee, and hove-to. The
schooner down boat, and took us on board without any delay. We moved with
difficulty, and I found my limbs so stiff as to be scarcely manageable.
The black was in a much worse state than I was myself, and I think twelve
hours longer would have destroyed both of us.

The schooner that picked us up was manned entirely with blacks, and was
bound into Charleston. At the time she fell in with us, we must have been
twenty miles from the bar, it taking us all the afternoon, with a fair
wind, to reach it. We went below, and as soon as I got in the cabin, I
discovered a kettle of boiled rice, on which I pounced like a hawk. The
negroes wished to get it away from me, thinking I should injure myself;
but I would not part with it. The sweetest meal I ever had in my life, was
this rice, a fair portion of which, however, I gave to my companion. We
had not fasted long enough materially to weaken our stomachs, and no ill
consequences followed from the indulgence. After eating heartily, we both
lay down on the cabin floor, and went to sleep. We reached the wharf about
eight in the evening. Just within the bar, the schooner was spoken by a
craft that was going out in search of the Gov. Russel. The blacks told her
people where the wreck was to be found, and the craft stood out to sea.

I was strong enough to walk up to my boarding-house, where I went again
into quarantine. The Gov. Russel was found, towed into port, was repaired,
and went about her business, as usual, in the Buford trade. I never saw
her or her captain again, however. I parted with the negro that was saved
with me, on the wharf, and never heard anything about him afterwards,
either. Such is the life of a sailor!

I was still afraid of the constables. So much damage had been done to more
important shipping, and so many lives lost, however, that little was said
of the escape of the Gov. Russel. Then I was not known in this schooner by
my surname. When I threw the ship's husband down the hold, I was Mr.
Myers; when wrecked in the coaster, only Ned.

James Fenimore Cooper

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