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 8

Jack Mallet had long known my history. He was my confidant, and entered
into all my feelings. The night we went to duty on board the transport, a
boat was lying alongside of the ship, and the weather being thick, it
afforded a good opportunity for gratifying my longing. Jack and myself got
in, after putting our heads together, and stole off undetected. I pulled
directly up to the wharf of Mr. Marchinton, and at once found myself at
home. I will not pretend to describe my sensations, but they were a
strange mixture of apprehension, disquiet, hope, and natural attachment. I
wished much to see my sister, but was afraid to venture on that.

There was a family, however, of the name of Fraser, that lived near the
shore, with which I had been well acquainted, and in whose members I had
great confidence. They were respectable in position, its head being called
a judge, and they were all intimate with the Marchintons. To the Frasers,
then, I went; Jack keeping me company. I was afraid, if I knocked, the
servant would not let me in, appearing, as I did, in the dress of a common
sailor; so I opened the street-door without any ceremony, and went
directly to that of the parlour, which I entered before there was time to
stop me. Jack brought up in the entry.

Mrs. Fraser and her daughter were seated together, on a settee, and the
judge was reading at a table. My sudden apparition astonished them, and
all three gazed at me in silence. Mr. Fraser then said, "In the name of
heaven, where did you come from, Edward!" I told him I had been in the
American service, but that I now belonged to an English transport that was
to sail in the morning, and that I had just come ashore to inquire how all
hands did; particularly my sister. He told me that my sister was living, a
married woman, in Halifax; that Mr. Marchinton was dead, and had grieved
very much at my disappearance; that I was supposed to be dead. He then
gave me much advice as to my future course, and reminded me how much I had
lost by my early mistakes. He was particularly anxious I should quit my
adopted country, and wished me to remain in Halifax. He offered to send a
servant with me to find my sister, but I was afraid to let my presence be
known to so many. I begged my visit might be kept a secret, as I felt
ashamed of being seen in so humble circumstances. I was well treated, as
was Jack Mallet, both of us receiving wine and cake, &c. Mr. Fraser also
gave me a guinea, and as I went away, Mrs. Fraser slipped a pound note
into my hand. The latter said to me, in a whisper--"I know what you are
afraid of, but I shall tell Harriet of your visit; she will be secret."

I staid about an hour, receiving every mark of kindness from these
excellent and respectable people, leaving them to believe we were to sail
in the morning. When we got back to the transport no one knew of our
absence, and nothing was ever said of our taking the boat. The Regulus did
not sail for twenty hours after this, but I had no more communication with
the shore. We got to sea, at last, two transports, under the convoy of
the Pictou.

During the whole passage, we eight prisoners kept a sharp look-out for a
chance to get possession of the ship. We were closely watched, there being
a lieutenant and his boat's crew on board, besides the Canadians, the
master, mate, &c. All the arms were secreted, and nothing was left at
hand, that we could use in a rising.

About mid passage, it blowing fresh, with the ship under double-reefed
topsails, I was at the weather, with one of the Canadians at the lee,
wheel. Mallet was at work in the larboard, or weather, mizen chains, ready
to lend me a hand. At this moment the Pictou came up under our lee, to
speak us in relation to carrying a light during the night. Her masts swung
so she could not carry one herself, and her commander wished us to carry
our top-light, he keeping near it, instead of our keeping near him. The
schooner came very close to us, it blowing heavily, and Mallet called out,
"Ned, now is your time. Up helm and into him. A couple of seas will send
him down." This was said loud enough to be heard, though all on deck were
attending to the schooner; and, as for the Canadian, he did not understand
English. I managed to get the helm hard up, and Mallet jumped inboard. The
ship fell off fast; but the lieutenant, who was on board as an agent, was
standing in the companion-way with his wife, and, the instant he saw what
I had done, he ran aft, struck me a sharp blow, and put the helm hard down
with his own hands. This saved the Pictou, though there was a great outcry
on board her. The lieutenant's wife screamed, and there was a pretty
uproar for a minute, in every direction. As the Regulus luffed-to, her
jib-boom-end just cleared the Pictou's forward rigging, and a man might
almost have jumped from the ship to the schooner, as we got alongside of
each other. Another minute, and we should have travelled over His
Majesty's schooner, like a rail-road car going over a squash.

The lieutenant now denounced us, and we prisoners were all put in irons. I
am merely relating facts. How far we were right, I leave others to decide;
but it must be remembered that Jack had, in that day, a mortal enmity to a
British man-of-war, which was a little too apt to lay hands on all that
she fell in with, on the high seas. Perhaps severe moralists might say
that we had entered into a bargain with the captain of the Regulus, not to
make war on him during the passage; in answer to which, we can reply that
we were not attacking _him_, but the Pictou. Our intention, it must be
confessed, however, was to seize the Regulus in the confusion. Had we been
better treated as prisoners, our tempers might not have been so savage.
But we got no good treatment, except for our own work; and, being hedged
in in this manner, common sailors reason very much as they feel. We were
not permitted to go at large again, in the Regulus, in which the English
were very right, as Jack Mallet, in particular, was a man to put his
shipmates up to almost any enterprise.

The anchor was hardly down, at Bermuda, before a signal was made to the
Goliah, raze, for a boat, and we were sent on board that ship. This was a
cruising vessel, and she went to sea next morning. We were distributed
about the ship, and ordered to go to work. The intention, evidently, was
to swallow us all in the enormous maw of the British navy. We refused to
do duty, however, to a man; most of our fellows being pretty bold, as
native Americans. We were a fortnight in this situation, the greater part
of the time playing green, with our tin pots slung round our necks. We
did so much of this, that the people began to laugh at us, as real Johnny
Raws, though the old salts knew better. The last even helped us along,
some giving us clothes, extra grog, and otherwise being very kind to us.
The officers treated us pretty well, too, all things considered. None of
us got flogged, nor were we even threatened with the gang-way. At length
the plan was changed. The boatswain was asked if he got anything out of
us, and, making a bad report, we were sent down to the lower gun-deck,
under a sentry's charge, and put at "six upon four," again. Here we
remained until the ship went into Bermuda, after a six weeks' cruise. This
vessel, an old seventy-four cut down, did not answer, for she was soon
after sent to England. I overheard her officers, from our berth near the
bulkhead, wishing to fall in with the President, Commodore Rodgers--a
vessel they fancied they could easily handle. I cannot say they could not,
but one day an elderly man among them spoke very rationally on the
subject, saying, they _might_, or they might _not_ get the best of it in
such a fight. For his part, he did not wish to see any such craft, with
the miserable crew they had in the Goliah.

We found the Ramilies, Sir Thomas Hardy, lying in Bermuda roads. This ship
sent a boat, which took us on board the Ardent, 64, which was then used as
a prison-ship. About a week before we reached this vessel an American
midshipman got hold of a boat, and effected his escape, actually making
the passage between Bermuda and Cape Henry all alone, by himself.[10] In
consequence of this unusual occurrence, a bright look out was kept on all
the boats, thus defeating one of our plans, which was to get off in the
same way. When we reached the Ardent, we found but four Americans in her.
After we had been on board her about a week, three men joined us, who had
given themselves up on board English men-of-war, as native Americans. One
of these men, whose name was Baily, had been fourteen years in the English
service, into which he had been pressed, his protection having been torn
up before his face. He was a Connecticut man, and had given himself up at
the commencement of the war, getting three dozen for his pains. He was
then sent on the Halifax station, where he gave himself up again. He
received three dozen more, then had his shirt thrown over his back and was
sent to us. I saw the back and the shirt, myself, and Baily said he would
keep the last to be buried with him. Bradbury and Patrick were served very
much in the same manner. I saw all their backs, and give the remainder of
the story, as they gave it to me. Baily and Bradbury got off in season to
join the Constitution, and to make the last cruise in her during this war.
I afterwards fell in with Bradbury, who mentioned this circumstance to me.

It is good to have these things known, for I do believe the English nation
would be averse to men's receiving such treatment, could they fairly be
made to understand it. It surely is bad enough to be compelled to fight
the battles of a foreign country, without being flogged for not fighting
them when they happen to be against one's own people. For myself, I was
born, of German parents, in the English territory, it is true; but America
was, and ever has been, the country of my choice, and, while yet a child,
I may say, I decided for myself to sail under the American flag; and, if
my father had a right to make an Englishman of me, by taking service under
the English crown, I think I had a right to make myself what I pleased,
when he had left me to get on as I could, without his counsel and advice.

After being about three weeks in the Ardent, we eight prisoners were sent
on board the Ramilies, to be tried as Englishmen who had been fighting
against their king. The trial took place on board the Asia, 74, a
flag-ship; but we lived in the Ramilies, during the time the investigation
was going on. Sir Thomas Hardy held several conversations with me, on the
quarter-deck, in which he manifested great kindness of feeling. He
inquired whether I was really an American; but I evaded any direct answer.
I told him, however, that I had been an apprentice, in New York, in the
employment of Jacob Barker; which was true, in one sense, as Mr. Barker
was the consignee of the Sterling, and knew of my indentures. I mentioned
him, as a person more likely to be known than Captain Johnston. Sir Thomas
said he had some knowledge of Mr. Barker; and, I think, I have heard that
they were, in some way, connected. This was laying an anchor to-windward,
as it turned out, in the end.

We were all on board the Asia, for trial, or investigation, two days,
before I was sent for into the cabin. I was very much frightened; and
scarce knew what I said, or did. It is a cruel thing to leave sailors
without counsel, on such occasions; though the officers behaved very
kindly and considerately to me; and, I believe, to all of us. There were
several officers seated round a table; and all were in swabs. They said,
the gentleman who presided, was a Sir Borlase Warren, the admiral on the
station.[11] This gentleman, whoever he was, probably saw that I was
frightened. He slewed himself round, in his chair, and said to me; "My
man, you need not be alarmed; we know _who_ you are, and _what_ you are;
but your apprenticeship will be of great service to you." This was not
said, however, until Sir Thomas Hardy had got out the story of my being an
apprentice in Jacob Barker's employ, again, before them all, in the cabin.
I was told to send for a copy of my indentures, by one of the white-washed
Swedes, that sailed between Bermuda and New York. This I did, that very
day. I was in the cabin of the Asia, half an hour, perhaps; and I felt
greatly relieved, when I got out of it. It was decided, in my presence, to
send me back among the prisoners, on board the Ardent. The same decision
was made, as to the whole eight of us, that had come on in the Regulus.

When we got back to the Ramilies, Sir Thomas Hardy had some more
conversation with me. I have thought, ever since, that he knew something
about my birth, and of my being the prince's godson. He wished me to join
the British service, seemingly, very much, and encouraged me with the hope
of being promoted. But, it is due to myself, to say, I held out against it
all. I do not believe America had a truer heart, in her service, than
mine; and I do not think an English commission would have bought me. I
have nothing to hope, from saying this, for I am now old, and a cripple
but, as I have sat down to relate the truth, let the truth be told,
whether it tell for, or against me.

We were now sent back to the Ardent; where we remained three weeks, or a
month, longer. During this time we got our papers from New York; I
receiving a copy of my indentures, together with the sum of ten dollars;
which reached me through Sir Thomas Hardy, as I understood. Nothing more
was ever said, to any of the eight, about their being Englishmen; the
whole of us being treated as prisoners of war. Prisoners arrived fast,
until we had four hundred in the Ardent. The old Ruby, a forty-four, on
two decks, was obliged to receive some of them. Most of these prisoners
were privateersmen; though there were a few soldiers, and some citizens
that had been picked up in Chesapeake Bay. Before we left Bermuda, the
crew of a French frigate was put into the Ardent, to the number of near
four hundred men. In the whole, we must have had eight hundred souls, and
all on one deck. This was close stowage, and I was heartily glad when I
quitted the ship.

Soon after the French arrived, four hundred of us Americans were put on
board transports, and we sailed for Halifax, under the convoy of the
Ramilies. A day or two after we got out, we fell in with an American
privateer, which continued hovering around us for several days. As this
was a bold fellow, frequently coming within gun-shot, and sporting his
sticks and canvass in all sorts of ways, Sir Thomas Hardy felt afraid he
would get one of the four transports, and he took all us prisoners into
the Ramilies. We staid in the ship the rest of the passage, and when we
went into Halifax it was all alone, the four transports having
disappeared. Two of them subsequently got in; but I think the other two
were actually taken by that saucy fellow.

The prisoners, at first, had great liberty allowed them, on board the
Ramilies. On all occasions, Sir Thomas Hardy treated the Americans well. A
party of marines was stationed on the poop, and another on the forecastle,
and the ship's people had arms; but this was all the precaution that was
used. The opportunity tempted some of our men to plan a rising, with a
view to seize the ship. Privateer officers were at the head of this
scheme, which was communicated to me, among others, soon after the plot
was laid. Most of the prisoners knew of the intention, and everybody
seemed to enter into the affair with hearty good-will. Our design was to
rise at the end of the second dog-watch, overcome the crew, and carry the
ship upon our own coast. If unable to pass the blockading squadrons, we
intended to run her ashore. The people of the Ramilies outnumbered us by
near one-half, and they had arms, it is true; but we trusted to the effect
of a surprise, and something to the disposition of most English sailors to
get quit of their own service. Had the attempt been made, from what I saw
of the crew, I think our main trouble would have been with the officers
and the marines. We were prevented from trying the experiment, however, in
consequence of having been betrayed by some one who was in the secret, the
whole of us being suddenly sent into the cable tiers and amongst the water
casks, under the vigilant care of sentinels posted in the wings. After
that, we were allowed to come on deck singly, only, and then under a
sentinel's charge. When Sir Thomas spoke to us concerning this change of
treatment, he did not abuse us for our plan, but was mild and reasonable,
while he reminded us of the necessity of what he was doing. I have no idea
he would have been in the least injured, had we got possession of the
ship; for, to the last, our people praised him, and the treatment they
received, while under his orders.

Before we were sent below, Sir Thomas spoke to me again, on the subject of
my joining the English service. He was quite earnest about it, and
reasoned with me like a father; but I was determined not to yield. I did
not like England, and I did like America. My birth in Quebec was a thing I
could not help; but having chosen to serve under the American flag, and
having done so now for years, I did not choose to go over to the enemy.

At Halifax, fifteen or twenty of us were sent on board the old Centurion,
44, Lord Anson's ship, as retaliation-men. We eight were of the number. We
found something like thirty more in the ship, all retaliation-men, like
ourselves. Those we found in the Centurion did not appear to me to be
foremast Jacks, but struck me as being citizens from ashore. We were well
treated, however, suffering no other confinement than that of the ship. We
were on "six upon four," it is true, like other prisoners, but our own
country gave us small stores, and extra bread and beef. In the way of
grub, we fared like sailor kings. At the end of three weeks, we eight
lakesmen were sent to Melville Island, among the great herd of prisoners.
I cannot explain the reason of all these changes; but I know that when the
gate was shut on us, the turnkey said we had gone into a home that would
last as long as the war lasted.

Melville is an island of more than a mile in circumference, with low,
rocky shores. It lies about three miles from the town of Halifax, but not
in sight. It is connected with the main by a bridge that is thrown across
a narrow passage of something like a quarter of a mile in width. In the
centre of the island is an eminence, which was occupied by the garrison,
and had some artillery. This eminence commanded the whole island. Another
post on the main, also, commanded the prisoners' barracks. These barracks
were ordinary wooden buildings, enclosed on the side of the island with a
strong stone wall, and on the side of the post on the main, by high, open
palisades. Of course, a sufficient guard was maintained.

It was said there were about twelve hundred Americans on the island, when
I passed the gate. Among them were a few French, some of whom were a part
of the crew of the Ville de Milan, the ship that had been taken before I
first left Halifax; or more than eight years previously to this time. This
did, indeed, look like the place's being a home to a poor fellow, and I
did not relish the circumstance at all. Among our people were soldiers,
sailors, and 'long-shore-men'. There was no difference in the treatment,
which, for a prison, was good. We got only "six upon four" from the
English, of course; but our own country made up the difference here, as on
board the Centurion. They had a prison dress, with one leg of the trowsers
yellow and the other blue, &c.; but we would not stand that. Our agent
managed the matter so that we got regular jackets and trowsers of the true
old colour. The poor Frenchmen looked like peacocks in their dress, but we
did not envy them their finery.

I had been on the island about a fortnight, when I was told by Jack
Mallet that a woman, whom he thought to be my sister, was at the gate.
Jack knew my whole history, and came to his opinion from a resemblance
that he saw between me and the person who had inquired for me. I refused
to go to the gate, however, to see who it was, and Jack was sent back to
tell the woman that I had been left behind at Bermuda. He was directed to
throw in a few hints about the expediency of her not coming back to look
for me, and that it would be better if she never named me. All this was
done, I getting a berth from which I could see the female. I knew her in a
moment, although she was married, and had a son with her, and my heart was
very near giving way, especially when I saw her shedding tears. She went
away from the gate, however, going up on the ramparts, from which she
could look down into the prison-yard. There she remained an hour, as if
she wished to satisfy her own eyes as to the truth of Jack's story; but I
took good care to keep out of her sight.

As I knew there was little hope of an exchange of prisoners, I now began
to think of the means of making my escape. Jack Mallet dared not attempt
to swim, on account of the rheumatism and cramps, having narrowly escaped
drowning at Bermuda, and he could not join in our schemes. As for myself,
I have been able to swim ever since danger taught me the important lesson,
the night the Scourge went down. Money would be necessary to aid me in
escaping, and Jack and I put our heads together, in order to raise some. I
had still the ten dollars given me by Sir Thomas Hardy, and I commenced
operations by purchasing shares in a dice-board, a _vingt et un_ table,
and a quino table.[12] Jack Mallet and I, also, set up a shop, on a
capital of three dollars. We sold smoked herring, pipes, tobacco, segars,
spruce beer, and, as chances of smuggling it in offered, now and then a
little Jamaica. All this time, the number of the prisoners increased,
until, in the end, we got to have a full prison, when they began to send
them to England. Only one of the Julias was sent away, however, all the
rest remaining at Melville Island, from some cause I cannot explain.

I cannot say we made money very fast. On every shilling won at dice, we
received a penny; at _vingt et un_, the commission was the same; as it was
also at the other games. New cards, however, brought a little higher rate.
All this was wrong I _now_ know, but _then_ it gave me very little
trouble. I hope I would not do the same thing over again, even to make my
escape from Melville Island, but one never knows to what distress may
drive him.

Some person among the American prisoners--a soldier it was said--commenced
counterfeiting Spanish dollars. I am afraid most of us helped to circulate
them. We thought it no harm to cheat the people of the canteens, for we
knew they were doing all they could to cheat us. This was prison morality,
in war-time, and I say nothing in its favour; though, for myself, I will
own I felt more of the consciousness of wrong-doing in holding the shares
in the gambling establishments, than in giving bad dollars for poor rum.
The counterfeiting business was destroyed by one of the dollars happening
to break, as some of the officers were pitching them; when, on
examination, it turned out that most of the money in the prison was bad.
It was said the people of the canteens had about four hundred of the
dollars, when they came to overhaul their lockers. A good many found their
way into Halifax.

My trade lasted all winter--(that of 1813--14,) and by March I had gained
the sum of eighty French crowns. Dollars I was afraid to hold on account
of the base money. The ice now began to give way, and a few of us, who had
been discussing the matter all winter, set about forming serious plans to
escape. My confederates were a man of the name of Johnson, who had been
taken in the Snapdragon privateer, and an Irishman of the name of
Littlefield. Barnet, the Mozambique man, joined us also, making four in
all. It was quite early in the month, when we made the attempt. Our
windows were long, and had perpendicular bars of wrought iron to secure
them, but no cross-bars. There was no glass; but outside shutters, that we
could open at our pleasure. Outside of the windows were sentinels, and
there were two rows of pickets between us and the shore.

I put my crowns in a belt around my waist. Another belt, or skin, was
filled with rum, for the double purpose of buoying me in the water, and
of comforting me when ashore. At that day, I found rum one of the great
blessings of life; now I look upon it as one of the greatest evils. My
companions made similar provisions of money and rum, though neither was as
rich as myself. I left Mallet and Leonard Lewis my heirs at law if I
escaped, and my trustees should I be caught. Lewis was a young man of
better origin than most in the prison, and I have always thought some
calamity drove him to the seas. He was in ill health, and did not appear
to be destined to a long life. He would have joined us, heart and hand,
but was not strong enough to endure the fatigue which we well knew we must
undergo, before we could get clear.

The night selected for the attempt was so cold, dark, and dismal, as to
drive all the sentinels into their boxes. It rained hard, in the bargain.
About eight, or as soon as the lights were out, we got the lanyards of our
hammocks around two of the window bars, and using a bit of fire-wood for a
heaver, we easily brought them together. This left room for our bodies to
pass out, without any difficulty. Jack Mallet, and those we left behind,
hove the bars straight again, so that the keepers were at a loss to know
how we had got off. We met with no obstacle between the prison and the
water. The pickets we removed, having cut them in the day-time. In a word,
all four of us reached the shore of the Island in two or three minutes
after we had taken leave of our messmates. The difficulty lay before us.
We entered into the water, at once, and began to swim. When I was a few
rods from the place of landing, which was quite near the guard-house, on
the main, Johnson began to sing out that he was drowning. I told him to be
quiet, but it was of no use. The guard on the main heard him, and
commenced firing, and of course we swam all the harder. Three of us were
soon ashore, and, knowing the roads well, I led them in a direction to
avoid the soldiers. By running into the woods, we got clear, though poor
Johnson fell again into the hands of the enemy. He deserved it for bawling
as he did; it being the duty of a man in such circumstances to lie with a
shut mouth.

James Fenimore Cooper

Sorry, no summary available yet.