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Chapter 4

At length we got a new crew, and sailed for home. We had several
passengers on board, masters of American ships who could go back
themselves, but not carry their vessels with them, on account of certain
liberties the last had taken with the laws. These persons were called
"embargo captains." One of them, a Captain B----, kept Captain Johnston's
watch, and got so much into his confidence and favour, that he gave him
the vessel in the end. The passage home was stormy and long, but offered
nothing remarkable. A non-importation law had been passed during our
absence, and our ship was seized in New York in consequence of having a
cargo of English salt. We had taken the precaution, however, to have the
salt cleared in Liverpool, and put afloat before the day named in the law,
and got clear after a detention of two months. Salt rose so much in the
interval, that the seizure turned out to be a good thing for the owners.

While the ship was lying off the Battery, on her return from this voyage,
and before she had hauled in, a boat came alongside with a young man in
her in naval uniform. This was Cooper, who, in pulling across to go aboard
his own vessel, had recognised our mast-heads, and now came to look at us.
This was the last time I met him, until the year 1843; or, for
thirty-four years.

We now loaded with naval stores, and cleared again for Liverpool. Bill
Swett did not make this voyage with us, the cook acting as steward. We had
good passages out and home, experiencing no detention or accidents. In the
spring of 1810, Captain Johnston gave the ship to Captain B----, who
carried us to Liverpool for the third time. Nothing took place this
voyage either, worthy of being mentioned, the ship getting back in good
season. We now took in a cargo of staves for Limerick. Off the Hook we
were brought-to by the Indian sloop-of-war, one of the Halifax cruisers, a
squadron in company. Several vessels were coming out at the same time, and
among them were several of the clippers in the French trade. The Amiable
Matilda and the Colt went to windward of the Englishmen as if the last had
been at anchor; but the Tameahmeah, when nearest to the English, got her
yards locked in stays, and was captured. We saw all this, and felt, as was
natural to men who beheld such things enacted at the mouth of their own
port. Our passages both ways were pleasant, and nothing occurred out of
the usual course. I fell in with a press-gang, however, in Limerick, which
would have nabbed me, but for a party of Irishmen, who showed fight and
frightened the fellows so much that I got clear. Once before, I had been
in the hands of these vermin in Liverpool, but Captain Johnston had got me
clear by means of my indentures. I was acting as second-mate this voyage.

On our return home, the ship was ordered to Charleston to get a cargo of
yellow pine, under a contract. Captain B---- was still in command, my old
master, Captain Johnston, being then at home, occupied in building a new
ship. I never saw this kind-hearted and indulgent seaman until the year
1842, when I made a journey to Wiscasset expressly to see him. Captain
B---- and myself were never very good friends, and I was getting to be
impatient of his authority; but I still stuck by the ship.

We had an ordinary run to Charleston, and began to prepare for the
reception of our cargo. At this time, there were two French privateers on
the southern coast, that did a great deal of damage to our trade. One went
into Savannah, and got burned, for her pains; and the other came into
Charleston, and narrowly escaped the same fate. A mob collected--made a
fire-raft, and came alongside of our ship, demanding some tar. To own the
truth, though then clothed with all the dignity of a "Dicky," [5] I liked
the fun, and offered no resistance. Bill Swett had come in, in a ship
called the United States; and he was on board the Sterling, at the time,
on a visit to me. We two, off hatches, and whipped a barrel of tar on
deck; which we turned over to the raftsmen, with our hearty good wishes
for their success. All this was, legally, very wrong; but, I still think,
it was not so very far from being morally just; at least, as regards the
privateersmen. The attempt failed, however, and those implicated were
blamed a great deal more than they would have been, had they burned up the
Frenchmen's eye-bolts. It is bad to fail, in a legal undertaking; but
success is indispensable for forgiveness, to one that is illegal.

That night, Captain B---- and the chief mate, came down upon me, like a
gust, for having parted with the tar. They concluded their lecture, by
threatening to work me up. Bill Swett was by, and he got his share of the
dose. When we were left to ourselves, we held a council of war, about
future proceedings. Our crew had run, to a man, the cook excepted, as
usually happens, in Charleston; and we brought in the cook, as a
counsellor. This man told me, that he had overheard the captain and mate
laying a plan to give me a threshing, as soon as I had turned in. Bill,
now, frankly proposed that I should run, as well as himself; for he had
already left his ship; and our plan was soon laid. Bill went ashore, and
brought a boat down under the bows of the ship, and I passed my dunnage
into her, by going through the forecastle; I then left the Sterling, for
ever, never putting my foot on board of her again. I saw her, once or
twice, afterwards, at a distance, and she always looked like a sort of
home to me. She was subsequently lost, on the eastern coast, Captain
Johnston still owning her, and being actually on board her, though only as
a passenger. I had been out in her twelve times, from country to country,
besides several short runs, from port to port. She always seemed natural
to me; and I had got to know every timber and stick about her. I felt
more, in quitting this ship, than I did in quitting Halifax. This
desertion was the third great error of my life. The first was, quitting
those with whom I had been left by my father; the second, abandoning my
good friends, the Heizers; and the third, leaving the Sterling. Had
Captain Johnston been in the ship, I never should have dreamed of running.
He was always kind to me, and if he failed in justice, it was on the side
of indulgence. Had I continued with him, I make no doubt, my career would
have been very different from what it has since turned out to be; and, I
fear, I must refer one of the very bad habits, that afterwards marred my
fortunes, that of drinking too much, to this act. Still, it will be
remembered, I was only nineteen, loved adventure, and detested
Captain B----.

After this exploit, Swett and I kept housed for a week. He then got into a
ship called the President, and I into another called the Tontine, and both
sailed for New York, where we arrived within a few days of each other. We
now shipped together in a vessel called the Jane, bound to Limerick. This
was near the close of the year 1811. Our passage out was tremendously bad,
and we met with some serious accidents to our people. We were not far from
the mouth of the Irish channel when the ship broached-to, in scudding
under the foresail and main-top-sail, Bill Swett being at the helm. The
watch below ran on deck and hauled up the foresail, without orders, to
prevent the ship from going down stern foremost, the yards being square.
As the ship came-to, she took a sea in on her starboard side, which drove
poor Bill to leeward, under some water-casks and boards, beating in two of
his ribs. Both mates were injured also, and were off duty in consequence
for several weeks. The plank sheer was ripped off the vessel from aft to
amidships, as neatly as if it had been done by the carpenters. We could
look down among the timbers the same as if the vessel were on the stocks.

The men braced up the after-yards, and then the ship was lying-to under a
close-reefed main-top-sail. After this, she did well enough. We now passed
the hurt below, and got tarred canvass over the timber-heads, and managed
to keep out the water. Next day we made sail for our port. It blowing too
fresh to get a pilot, we ran into a roadstead at the mouth of the Shannon,
and anchored with both bowers. We rode out the gale, and then went up to
Limerick. Here all hands got well, and returned to duty. In due time, we
sailed for home in ballast. As we came into the Hook, we were hailed by a
gun-boat, and heard of the "Little Embargo."

The question now came up seriously between Bill and myself, what was best
to be done. I was for going to Wiscasset, like two prodigals, own our
fault, and endeavour to amend. Bill thought otherwise. Now we were cast
ashore, without employment, he thought it more manly to try and shift for
ourselves. He had an uncle who was a captain of artillery, and who was
then stationed on Governor's Island, and we took him into our councils.
This gentleman treated us kindly, and kept us with him on the island for
two days. Finding his nephew bent on doing something for himself, he gave
us a letter to Lt. Trenchard, of the navy, by whom we were both shipped
for the service. Swett got a master's-mate's berth, and I was offered the
same, but felt too much afraid of myself to accept it. I entered the navy,
then, for the first time, as a common Jack.

This was a very short time before war was declared, and a large flotilla
of gun-boats was getting ready for the New York station. Bill was put on
board of No. 112, and I was ordered to No. 107, Sailing-Master Costigan.
Soon after, we were all employed in fitting the Essex for sea; and while
thus occupied the Declaration of War actually arrived. On this occasion I
got drunk, for the second time in my life. A quantity of whiskey was
started into a tub, and all hands drank to the success of the conflict. A
little upset me, then, nor would I have drunk anything, but for the
persuasions of some of my Wiscasset acquaintances, of whom there were
several in the ship. I advise all young men, who feel no desire to drink,
to follow their own propensities, and not to yield themselves up, body and
soul, to the thoughtless persuasions of others. There is no real
good-fellowship in swilling rum and whiskey; but the taste, once acquired,
is hard to cure. I never drank much, as to quantity, but a little filled
me with the love of mischief, and that little served to press me down for
all the more valuable years of my life; valuable, as to the advancement of
my worldly interests, though I can scarcely say I began really to live, as
a creature of God's should live, to honour his name and serve his ends,
until the year 1839.

After the Essex was fitted out, the flotilla cruised in the Sound, and was
kept generally on the look-out, about the waters of New York. Towards the
end of the season, our boat, with several others, was lying abreast of
the Yard, when orders came off to meet the Yard Commander, Captain
Chauncey, on the wharf. Here, this officer addressed us, and said he was
about to proceed to Lake Ontario, to take command, and asking who would
volunteer to go with him. This was agreeable news to us, for we hated the
gun-boats, and would go anywhere to be quit of them. Every man and boy
volunteered. We got twenty-four hours' liberty, with a few dollars in
money, and when this scrape was over every man returned, and we embarked
in a sloop for Albany. Our draft contained near 140 men, and was commanded
by Mr. Mix, then a sailing-master, but who died a commander a few years
since. Messrs. Osgood and Mallaby were also with us, and two midshipmen,
viz: Messrs. Sands and Livingston. The former of these young gentlemen is
now a commander, but I do not know what became of Mr. Livingston. We had
also two master's-mates, Messrs. Bogardus and Emory.

On reaching Albany, we paid a visit to the Governor, gave him three
cheers, got some good cheer in return, and were all stowed in wagons, a
mess in each, before his door. We now took to our land tacks, and a merry
time we had of it. Our first day's run was to a place called Schenectady,
and here the officers found an empty house, and berthed us all together,
fastening the doors. This did not suit our notions of a land cruise, and
we began to grumble. There was a regular hard horse of a boatswain's-mate
with us, of the name of McNally. This man had been in the service a long
time, and was a thorough man-of-war's man. Fie had collected twenty-four
of us, whom he called his 'disciples,' and shamed am I to say, I was one.
McNally called all hands on the upper deck, as he called it, that is to
say, in the garret, and made us a speech. He said this was no way to treat
volunteers, and proposed that we should "unship the awning." We rigged
pries, and, first singing out, "stand from under," hove one half of the
roof into the street, and the other into the garden. We then gave three
cheers at our success. The officers now came down, and gave us a lecture.
But we made out so good a case, that they let us run till morning, when
every soul was back and mustered in the wagons. In this way we went
through the country, cracking our jokes, laughing, and noting all
oddities that crossed our course. I believe we were ten or twelve days
working our way through the state, to Oswego. At Onondago Lake we got into
boats, and did better than in the wagons. At a village on the lake shore,
the people were very bitter against us, and we had some difficulty. The
word went among us they were Scotch, from the Canadas, but of this I know
nothing. We heard in the morning, however, that most of our officers were
in limbo, and we crossed and marched up a hill, intending to burn, sink,
and destroy, if they were not liberated. Mischief was prevented by the
appearance of Mr. Mix, with the other gentlemen, and we pushed off without
coming to blows.

It came on to rain very hard, and we fetched up at a solitary house in the
woods, and tried to get quarters. These were denied us, and we were told
to shift for ourselves. This we did in a large barn, where we made good
stowage until morning. In the night, we caught the owner coming about with
a lantern to set fire to the barn, and we carried him down to a boat, and
lashed him there until morning, letting the rain wash all the combustible
matter out of him. That day we reached Oswego Falls, where a party of us
were stationed some time, running boats over, and carrying stores across
the portage.

When everything reached Oswego, all hands turned to, to equip some lake
craft that had been bought for the service. These were schooners, salt
droggers, of about sixty or eighty tons. All we did at Oswego, however,
was to load these vessels, some six or eight in all, and put to sea. I
went off in one of the first, a vessel called the Fair American. Having no
armaments, we sailed in the night, to avoid John Bull's cruisers, of which
there were several out at the time. As we got in with some islands, at no
great distance from Sackett's Harbour, we fell in with the Oneida's
launch, which was always kept in the offing at night, rowing, or sailing,
guard. Bill Swett was in her, and we then met for the first time on fresh
water. I now learned that Jack Mallet was on the station, too, whom I had
not fallen in with since we parted at Wiscasset, more than three years
before. A fortnight later I found him, acting as boatswain of the Julia,
Sailing-Master Trant, a craft I have every reason to remember as long as I
shall live.

The day after I reached the harbour, I was ordered on board the Scourge.
This vessel was English-built, and had been captured before the war, and
condemned, for violating the revenue laws, under the name of the Lord
Nelson, by the Oneida 16, Lt. Com. Woolsey--the only cruiser we then had
on the lake. This craft was unfit for her duty, but time pressed, and no
better offered. Bulwarks had been raised on her, and she mounted eight
sixes, in regular broadside. Her accommodations were bad enough, and she
was so tender, that we could do little or nothing with her in a blow. It
was often prognosticated that she would prove our coffin. Besides Mr.
Osgood, who was put in command of this vessel, we had Mr. Bogardus, and
Mr. Livingston, as officers. We must have had about forty-five souls on
board, all told. We did not get this schooner out that season, however.

The commodore arriving, and an expedition against Kingston being in the
wind, a party of us volunteered from the Scourge, to go on board the
Oneida. This was in November, rather a latish month for active service on
those waters. The brig went out in company with the Conquest, Hamilton,
Governor Tompkins, Port, Julia, and Growler, schooners. These last craft
were all merchantmen, mostly without quarters, and scarcely fit for the
duty on which they were employed. The Oneida was a warm little brig, of
sixteen 24 lb. carronades, but as dull as a transport. She had been built
to cross the bars of the American harbours, and would not travel
to windward.

We went off the False Ducks, where we made the Royal George, a ship the
English had built expressly to overlay the Oneida, two or three years
before, and which was big enough to eat us. Her officers, however, did not
belong to the Royal Navy; and we made such a show of schooners, that,
though she had herself a vessel or two in company, she did not choose to
wait for us. We chased her into the Bay of Quinté, and there we lost her
in the darkness. Next morning, however, we saw her at anchor in the
channel that leads to Kingston. A general chase now commenced, and we ran
down into the bay, and engaged the ship and batteries, as close as we
could well get. The firing was sharp on both sides, and it lasted a great
while. I was stationed at a gun, as her second captain, and was too busy
to see much; but I know we kept our piece speaking as fast as we could,
for a good bit. We drove the Royal George from a second anchorage, quite
up to a berth abreast of the town; and it was said that her people
actually deserted her, at one time. We gave her nothing but round-shot
from our gun, and these we gave her with all our hearts. Whenever we
noticed the shore, a stand of grape was added.

I know nothing of the damage done the enemy. We had the best of it, so far
as I could see; and I think, if the weather had not compelled us to haul
off, something serious might have been done. As it was, we beat out with
flying colours, and anchored a few miles from the light.

These were the first shot I ever saw fired in anger. Our brig had one man
killed and three wounded, and she was somewhat injured aloft. One shot
came in not far from my gun, and scattered lots of cat-tails, breaking in
the hammock-cloths. This was the nearest chance I ran, that day; and, on
the whole, I think we escaped pretty well. On our return to the harbour,
the ten Scourges who had volunteered for the cruise, returned to their own
schooner. None of us were hurt, though all of us were half frozen, the
water freezing as fast as it fell.

Shortly after both sides went into winter quarters, and both sides
commenced building. We launched a ship called the Madison, about this
time, and we laid the keel of another, that was named the Pike. What John
Bull was about is more than I can say, though the next season showed he
had not been idle. The navigation did not absolutely close,
notwithstanding, until December.

Our vessels were moored about the harbour, and we were all frozen in, as a
matter of course. Around each craft, however, a space was kept cut, to
form a sort of ditch, in order to prevent being boarded. Parties were
regularly stationed to defend the Madison, and, in the days, we worked at
her rigging, and at that of the Pike, in gangs. Our larboard guns were
landed, and placed in a block-house, while the starboard were kept
mounted. My station was that of captain of one of the guns that remained.

The winter lasted more than four months, and we made good times of it. We
often went after wood, and occasionally we knocked over a deer. We had a
target out on the lake, and this we practised on, making ourselves rather
expert cannoneers. Now and then they rowsed us out on a false alarm, but I
know of no serious attempt's being made by the enemy, to molest us.

The lake was fit to navigate about the middle of April. Somewhere about
the 20th[6] the soldiers began to embark, to the number of 1700 men. A
company came on board the Scourge, and they filled us chock-a-block. It
came on to blow, and we were obliged to keep these poor fellows, cramped
as we were, most of the time on deck, exposed to rain and storm. On the
25th we got out, rather a showy force altogether, though there was not
much service in our small craft. We had a ship, a brig, and twelve
schooners, fourteen sail in all. The next morning we were off Little York,
having sailed with a fair wind. All hands anchored about a mile from the
beach. I volunteered to go in a boat, to carry soldiers ashore. Each of us
brought across the lake two of these boats in tow, but we had lost one of
ours, dragging her after us in a staggering breeze. I got into the one
that was left, and we put half our soldiers in her, and shoved off. We had
little or no order in landing, each boat pulling as hard as she could. The
English blazed away at us, concealed in a wood, and our men fired back
again from the boat. I never was more disappointed in men, than I was in
the soldiers. They were mostly tall, pale-looking Yankees, half dead with
sickness and the bad weather--so mealy, indeed, that half of them could
not take their grog, which, by this time, I had got to think a bad sign.
As soon as they got near the enemy, however, they became wide awake,
pointed out to each other where to aim, and many of them actually jumped
into the water, in order to get the sooner ashore. No men could have
behaved better, for I confess frankly I did not like the work at all. It
is no fun to pull in under a sharp fire, with one's back to his enemy, and
nothing but an oar to amuse himself with. The shot flew pretty thick, and
two of our oars were split. This was all done with musketry, no heavy guns
being used at this place. I landed twice in this way, but the danger was
principally in the first affair. There was fighting up on the bank, but it
gave us no trouble. Mr. Livingston commanded the boat.

When we got back to the schooner, we found her lifting her anchors.
Several of the smaller craft were now ordered up the bay, to open on the
batteries nearer to the town. We were the third from the van, and we all
anchored within canister range. We heard a magazine blow up, as we stood
in, and this brought three cheers from us. We now had some sharp work with
the batteries, keeping up a steady fire. The schooner ahead of us had to
cut, and she shifted her berth outside of us. The leading schooner,
however, held on. In the midst of it all, we heard cheers down the line,
and presently we saw the commodore pulling in among us, in his gig. He
came on board us, and we greeted him with three cheers. While he was on
the quarter-deck, a hot shot struck the upper part of the after-port, cut
all the boarding-pikes adrift from the main-boom, and wounded a man named
Lemuel Bryant, who leaped from his quarters and fell at my feet. His
clothes were all on fire when he fell, and, after putting them out, the
commodore himself ordered me to pass him below. The old man spoke
encouragingly to us, and a little thing took place that drew his attention
to my crew. Two of the trucks of the gun we were fighting had been carried
away, and I determined to shift over its opposite. My crew were five
negroes, strapping fellows, and as strong as jackasses. The gun was called
the Black Joke. Shoving the disabled gun out of the way, these chaps
crossed the deck, unhooked the breechings and gun-tackles, raised the
piece from the deck, and placed it in the vacant port. The commodore
commended us, and called out, "that is quick work, my lads!" In less than
three minutes, I am certain, we were playing on the enemy with the
fresh gun.

As for the old man, he pulled through the fire as coolly as if it were
only a snow-balling scrape, though many a poor fellow lost the number of
his mess in the boats that day. When he left us, we cheered him again. He
had not left us long, before we heard an awful explosion on shore. Stones
as big as my two fists fell on board of us, though nobody was hurt by
them. We cheered, thinking some dire calamity had befallen the enemy. The
firing ceased soon after this explosion, though one English gun held on,
under the bank, for some little time.

James Fenimore Cooper

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