Sufferings In Africa

by James Riley

Previous Chapter


Observations on the winds, currents, fyc. in some parts of the At lantic ocean, developing the causes of so many shipwrecks on the Western coast of Africa :—a mode pointed out for visiting the famous city of Tombucioot, on the river Niger, together with some original and official letters, &c. &c.

>Being safely at sea on board a good ship, and on my way to join my family, my mind was more tranquilized than it had before been since my redemption, and I turned my thoughts to the natural causes which had produced my late disaster. Upon taking a full view of the subject according to the best of my capacity, I felt convinced that not only my own vessel was driven on shore by a common current, but that most of the others that are known to have been wrecked from time to time on the same coast, have been operated upon by the same natural causes. In order briefly to illustrate my position, 1 shall begin by stating, that to men who are conversant with maritime affairs, and particularly practical navigators wbo have fora number of years traversed the Atlantic ocean to Madeira and the Canary Islands, the West Indies, or Cape de Verds; who have sailed along the African coast——from thence South-eastward towards the negro or Guinea settlements, and to those who have been .ccustomed to navigate towards the continent of South America, sailing along the coast of Brazil, and between that coast and the West coast of Africa, and North of the Cape of Good Hope to the Equator, it is well known that when sailing Southwardly from Europe near the coast of Africa, and in fact nearly across the Northern Atlantic ocean, the trade winds, as they are called, set in and generally prevail, blowing from North to N. E. or East from about latitude 32. N. on the African coast:—that farther westward, they only begin in the latitudes from 30. to 26. -—in the last mentioned latitude near the coast of America, they generally blow from the N. E. to the parallel of 23. of North latitude, when they turn more to the Eastward as you gain the offing from the African continent. The coast of Africa from Cape Spar- tel in latitude 34. 40, to Cape Blanco, in about latitude 33, tends about S. W. thence about S. S. W. to Santa Cruz de Berberia, or Agader— the Southern and Westernmost port in the Empire of Morocco, in about the latitude 30. N. and longitude 10. W. from London—-it then turns abruptly offto the W. S. Westward to Cape Nuii, and continues nearly the same course, about W. S. W. with little variation to Cape Bajador, about latitude 26. N. longitude 16. W.—The whole length of this coast the wind blows either diag^ onally, or directly on shore perpetually—the reason of this I take to be that the Empire of Morocco west of the Atlas ridge of mountains is very dry and very hot, having few rivers, and those very small, during the greatest part of the year. There are no lakes of consequence, except one near Laresch, to cool the atmosphere, nor any showers of rain, except in winter, to refresh the thirsty earth. From Santa Cruz west through what was formerly the kingdom of Suse, it blows right on shore, from the same causes operating in a stronger degree together, with a variation in the tending of the coast and thence to Bajador, and along the coast of the great desart to the latitude of 17. North, and the trade wind continues to haul round, and actually near the land blows Eastward into the gulf of Guinea. This desart is scorched for about one half of the year by the rays of a vertical sun—-here nature denies the refreshing rains that fall in other regions ; the smooth even surface strongly reflecting the rapid sun’s beams, while there are no trees or other objects to intercept the rays and prevent the most powerful accumulation of solar heat, which consequently becomes so excessive during the day-time that it scorches like fire, and the air you breathe seems like the dry and suffocating vapour from glowing embers : here the wind ceases in the day-time, being literally consumed by the sun ; the whole surface thus becomes heated and baked in the day-time, and when the sun disappears from above the horizon, the cooling w ind rushes on to the'desart from the ocean to restore the equilibrium of the atmosphere.

The sea-breeze begins about six o’clock in the evening, and continues to increase gradually all along this coast until four o’clock in the morning, at which period it has risen to a strong gale, so that vessels navigating near the land are frequently forced to take in all their light sails by midnight, and to reef down snug before morning, when it begins to lull a little, and about mid-day becomes very moderate and sometimes quite calm. Every practical man knows that the winds drive a current before them on the bosom of the ocean as well as along its shores, that becomes more or less strong in proportion as the gale is light or heavy, and of long or short duration. On this coast the current sets before the wind against the shore—it there meets with unconquerable resistance, and is turned Southward : it is always felt from about Cape Blanco, (lat. 33.) Southward, and grows stronger and stronger until it passes Cape Bajador, because it is more and more compressed—thence it strikes off, one part to the S. W. towards the Cape de Verd Islands, and the remainder keeps along the coast to Cape de Verd, whence it spreads itself towards the Equator, and some part follow's the windings of the coast round the gulf of Guinea.

The S. E. trade winds which blow almost continually from the latitude of 30. S. in the Atlantic Ocean to the Equator, and often to the 5th degree of Northern latitude—these S. E. trades assist those from the N. E. in heaping up the water in the equatorial region, when both the N. E. and S. E. winds uniting, blow from the eastward, bearing the whole mass of water on this surface towards the American continent: it strikes that continent to the northward of Cape la Roque, between the parallels of 6 degrees south latitude and the Equator, on the coast of Brazil, where the coast turns to the westward -being much compressed, it runs strongly along this coast to the mouth of the mighty river Amazon, with whose current it is united and borne down along the coast of Cayenne, Surinam, and Guyanna, receiving in its way all the waters brought against those coasts by the constant trade-winds from the east and N. E., and all the great rivers which flow in from the southward, among which is the Oronoko, one of the longest on the continent of South America, and that rolls, in the rainy season, an immense body of water to the ocean : I have asc'ended that river five hundred miles. The current runs so strong at times towards the west along this whole line of coast, (which is mostly low land, and has principally been made on the sea-board by the alluvial qualities of the waters in the rivers brought down by freshes, which are then thick with mud, like those of the Missisippi) as to render it impossible for any vessel, to get to the windward or eastward by beating against the wind. Its velocity has been known to exceed three miles an hour. This great current is driven westward along the coast between it and the West India Islands, a great part of it entering the Gulf of Paria. south of the Island of Trinidad, where it receives and is. strengthened by the utters of the western branch of the Oronoko River;-here the highland, that evidently joined this island to the continent formerly, has been burst asunder, perhaps indeed assisted by an earthquake or some other convulsion of nature : there are here several passages for the current, I think, four, (for I write entirely from memory) through the same mountain, which is of an equal height on the islands and on the continent, and the fragments, of rocks which have been torn out and rolled away by this tremendous shock or current, leave no doubt in the mind of the beholder of the reality of such an event. The widest passage is not more than two miles over, the narrowest not more than one-fourth of a mile : these passages are called by the Spaniards, who first explored and settled that part of the country, (as well as the Island of Trinidad, i. e. Trinity,) Las Bocas del Dragon, or the Dragon’s Mouths. This body of water rushes through these passages with such force, that it is next to impossible at times for a fast-sailing vessel to enter against the current, with a strong trade wind in her favbur, and I have known many vessels bound to Trinidad, obliged to bear up and try for the Leeward Islands, and scarcely able to fetch Hispaniola or Jamaica. This, with what passes northward of Trinidad, is pent in and forced against' the Spanish coast of Terra-Firma, following its windings round the Bay of Honduras to Cape Catoche : by the conslant trade winds which blow from the N. E. to east, they are then driven through between that Cape and Cape St. Antonio, or the western part of the Island of Cuba into the Gulf of Mexico. From the similarity in the appearance of Cape Catoche and Cape St. Antonio, the lowness of the land on both sides, the strait that divides them being only about sixty miles wide, and the fact of Soundings being found nearly or quite across the channel, it has been thought, and with every probability of truth in its favour, that the Island of Cuba was once attached to this point of the continent, and the waters heaped up by the foregoing causes in that great bay south of Cuba, at some remote period broke over the low sandy land, tore it down, and formed for themselves a free passage into the great gulf of Mexico.

The circumstance of the Island of Cuba stretching nearly east and west about seven hundred miles in length, and in many places very high, with the well-known faelofthe powerful currents already mentioned setting in upon the coast south and west of it, and the constant easterly winds that prevail on its southern side, leaves very little room to doubt that these strong trade winds, rpposing the passage of the current up the south side of that once vast peninsula, have raised them to such a pitch that they have formed a«cban- Bel for themselves. This immense mass of water, thus forced int® the Bay of Mexico, runs to the N. W. to its northern border, and strikes that shore a few leagues west of the Missisippi river’s mouth— thence taking a circular direction round south towards Vera Cruz and along the south coast of the gulf, see^y; to lose itself near where it entered at Cape Catoche. In sailing in the gulf, of Mexico, you meet with wbirlpoolsand very strong currents in every part of it, sometimes setting one way, and sometimes another: the gulf being of a circular form, there is no certainty in the currents. During the summer months it is visited by the most dreadful squalls @f thunder and lightning, and by water-spouts that have often des-. troyed vessels. Storms or hurricanes are also very frequent, and calms of a month or two often occur : here that astonishing body of water is joined by that of all the rivers that empty into the gulf, particularly those borne down by that father of rivers, the Missisippi ;—thus accumulated and become much higher in the Bay of Mexico than in any other* part of the Atlantic Ocean, it forces its way eastward between Cape Florida and the northern side of the Island of Cuba, until meeting the great bank of Bahama in its front, with its numerous keys and rocks, it is turned northwardly along the coast of Florida. Its velocity there in the narrowest part, where it is only about lorty miles wide, has been ascertained (and, indeed, I have known it myself) to exceed five miles an hour at some particular seasons. After leaving this narrow passage, it keeps its course northwardly, spreading a little as it proceeds, until it strikes soundings off Savannah and Charleston—the coast then narrows in its western edge again until it approaches Cape Hatteras, where the stream is not more than fifty miles broad, and frequently rqn 3 with almost as great rapidity as between the Bahama Bank and Florida shore. From Cape Hatteras its course isN E. to the shoals off Nantucket Island and George’s Bank, where its velocity is about two ipiles an hour; these obstructions give it a more, easterly direction, until it strikes the Great Bank of Newfoundland in the latitude of 42. N. or thereabouts: h^ijp, it meets with the resistance of the bank, and is turned by it teethe 'E. S.-BHfhere is in this pjirt of the ocean a current which perpetqpllj^fcNfom the northward, south-eastwardly along the east coast of loun^and; it is this current which brings from the coast of* Labrador and Hudson’s Straits the islands of ice that are so often met with by ships on and about the Grand Newfoundland Bank in the first part of the summer, and which have proved fatal to so many ships and their crews: the appearance of these islands proves beyond a possibility of doubt the existence of that currdht, which pressing upon, is joined to that of the Gulf Stream and the whole sets away together towards the Azores, or Western Islands, at the rate of from one to two and a half miles an hour :—this current is felt by all vessels bound from the United States to the Western Islands and Madeira, or the Canaries, that sail in the parallels of the Azores, which all those vessels bound to Madeira, the Canaries, or the coast of Spain and Portugal, and the Mediterranean Sea, generally do. Those vessels that make the Western Islands when bound to Europe generally feel it until they lose sigb^of those Islands ; when in standing away for the northern or central ports of Europe they feel it no more, and it has therefore generally been thought to lose itself near the Azores in the ocean. This is a mistake—for it continues its course for the coast ot Africa, making no account of the island of Madeira, though the most of it passes northward of that island in a south easterly direction, and strikes the African continent from Cape Blanco to the latitude of 29° North. When it comes near this coast, it is again contracted as it feels the effects of the trade winds near the coast, and rushes forward at times with great velocity against the coast between Cape Blanco and the • island ofLanzarote, the northmm and easternmost of the Canary Islands, being attracted, as ifwere, by the vacuum occasioned by the trade winds and currents which have been before noticed, and which have in a measure drained the waters from the coast, and the continuation of the Gulf Stream increasing in velocity, restores the waters nearly to their former level, which still are kept rolling along before the wind, against and along the coast towards the Equator, and are again driven by the same causes to the coast ot America into the Gulf of Mexico and back again, in what is usually termed the Gulf Stream to the coasts of West and South Pgrbary, making their continual round. Ships bound from Europe, say Erfgland, France, Holland, &c. to the West Indies, the Cape de Verd Islands, the coast of Guinea, Brazils, or India voyages, or to the west toast of America, generally steer southward- along the coast of Portugal, until they cross the motth of the straits of Gibraltar, where if they meet with •• southerly winds, they are ‘drawn towards the coast of Africa by a small indraft setting towards the strait, where a current always runs in » for the waters of the rivers which empty into the MediterrSnean*Sea are not sufficient to supply the loss from eva- poratioijp^fih’dered necessary in order to moisten in some measure the ^Brchejfr earth and sand un its southern border, and to cool the heated atmosphere, and support by dews the scanty vegetation on the coast, during the greater part of the year, where no rain falls except a little in winter ; so that the surface of the Mediterranean Sea is always lower than that of the adjoining Atlantic. The same causes, viz. great evaporations, tend also to reduce the quantity of water in the open‘ocean near the west coast of Africa, and particularly that part bordering on the desart, where very little or no rain ever falls, and the smooth surface of which, baked almost as hard as stone by the heat of a. vertical sun, is during the night in some degree refreshed by the strong winds and vapours which come irom the sea, as before noticed. These reasons, together with the lacts which I have before stated, demonstrate to my understanding, satisfactorily, that in the offing all along (his coast, the water must incline towards it, contrary to any general principle of currents ; and this is proved, if any doubt did exist, by the vast number of vessels that have from time to time been wrecked on these wild and inhospitable shores, generally near Cape Nun, and from thence to Cape Bajador, and as far south as Cape de Verd. Shyas from Europe bound round the southern Capes of Africa and America, •generally stop at Madeira or Tenerifife for refreshments, and are not untrequently obliged to run for Madeira after they get in its latitude, and their reckoning by account is up one, and sometimes two degrees westward before they find that island ; when, had they kept on the courses which they would naturally have steered to reach Tenerifife, they would have been sucked or drawn in by the currents between Lanzarote and Cantin, and driven ashore neat Cape Nun before they could suspect they had reached the latitude of that island, and in the firm belief that they were near the longitude of Tenerifife, and consequently two hundred and fifty i’.yiles from the coast where they in fact, are, and where no human Effort can save them from either perishing in the sea, or becoming slaves to the Bereberies, Moors, or Arabs, who inhabit this country. Most merchant vessels steer courses that ought to carry them within sight of the Canary Islands when bound to the southward, or from the strait of Gibraltar ; they generally experience a southerly current after passing the latitude of Cape Blanco, and have a fair wind when near the coast, with thick hazy weather, 'so' that they cannot get an altitude of the sun : this is a sure sign they are in the S. E. current, over which hangs a vapour similar to that observed over the Gulf Stream near the American Continent, and when these portending signs occur they should stand directly off "W. N. W. or N. W. until they reach the longitude of Madeira, and never pass the latitude of Teneriffe or Palma, without seeing one of them. Near these Islands the atmosphere is more clear, and they can be seen from sixty to one hundred miles distant in clear weather. I am particular in advising those ship-masters who are bound that way, by all means to make the Island of Madeira : it takes them but little out of their route, and from thence they will be sure of making Teneriffe or Palma, in steering the regular courses, when by due precaution against indraughts southward of those Islands, they avoid the dangers of this terrible coast, and the dreadful sufferings or deaths which await all that are so unfortunate as to be wrecked on them : I have learned from a long experience in trading and navigating from Europe as well as America, to the Madeira and Canary Islands, to the coast of Brazil and South America in general, thence northward across the southern Atlantic, all along the coast of Guyanna and Terra Firma, from the river Amazon to the Bay of Honduras, through the passages between Trinidad and the Main, Cape Catoche and the Isttnd of Cuba—in the gulf of Mexico, and in the Missisippi River, to Cuba ;—through the Gulf Stream backwards and forwards—along the coasts of Florida to and from different ports in the United States, thence to and from all the West India Islands, and to and from almost every part of Europe, and I can assert, without fear of contradiction from any practical man, that the particular currents I have here mentioned do in reality exist in all those parts of the ocean. I have endea* voured to find out their causes, and now give the reader those I judge to be the correct ones—I presume no man ever took more pains to examine and ascertain the facts on which this theory is founded ; having tried the currents whenever 1 had an opportunity, in different parts of the Atlantic, and very few men have had better opportunities : how far I have succeeded, must hereafter be determined.

When I took my departure from Cape Spartel bound to the Cape de Verd Islands on my last voyage, 1 steered W, N. W. by compass, until that Cape bore E. S. E. distant ten or twelve leagues, to give the coask a good birth ; then I shaped my course W. S. W. and took §are to have the vessel always steered a little westward of her course—she was a very fast sailer, and steered extremely easy, and what little she did vary from her course was to the westward : we had a constant fair wind, and generally a good breeze, and were only three days northward’of the Canary Islands. I had frequently tried the compasses on the outward bound passage, and found {hem to be correct, their variation being no more than is generally calculated, i. e. bearly two points about the straits ot Gibraltar; I therefore made, all the allowance I could suppose necessary, and my courses steered ought to have carried my vessel to the westward of Teneriffe ; but I was near the coast, and the indraught so strong setting at the rate of at least two miles an hour £. S. E. or two and a half S. E. that my vessel was carried by it out of her course in three days nearly two hundred miles directly east broad-side towards Africa, and she must have entered the passage between Lanzarote and Fuertaventura (the easternmost of the Canaries) and the coast of Africa, and so far from the Islands, that we could not discover them, though the Island of Fuertaventura is very high. The current here ran more to the south, sweeping my vessel along with great rapidity towards Cape Nun and the coast— hut my course being so far westward, I was carried by the help of the current, which is turned by the coast to S. W. near to the pitch of Cape Bajador, before I could suppose it was possible that we were near it.

Of the great number of vessels wrecked on this part of the coast, very few get as far down ; almost ail go on shore near Cape Nun, and before they believe themselves, in the latitude of Lanzarote, being drawn in by this fatal current and indraught, when they think they are far to the westward, and are many times on the look-out for Teneriffe. The weather is always extremely thick and foggy along this coast within the vortex of this current. If the crews of vessels, even in the day-time, discover land to leeward, westward of Santa Cruz de Berberia, as it tends in some places nearly east and west, having always a strong wind, swell, and current, right on shore, and a tremendous sea rolling on, it is next to impossible for the fastest sailer to escape total destruction by running on shore, where the crew must either miserably perish in the sea, starve to death after landing, be massacred by, or become slaves to the ferocious inhabitants, the most savage race of men, perhaps to be found in the universe. These barbarians know and obey no law but their own will; their avarice alone sometimes prompts them to save the lives of their fellow mortals when in the deepest distress, in the hope of gaining by the sale the labour or the future ransom of their captives, whom they say God has placed in their hands as a reward for some of their virtues or good actions; and it is a sacred duty they owe to themselves, as well as to the Supreme Being, to make the most they can by them. Not less than six American vessels are known to have been lost on this part of the coast since the year 1800, besides numbers of English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, &c. which are also known to have been wrecked there, and no doubt many other vessels that never have been heard from—but it is only Americans and Englishmen that are ever beard from after the first news of the shipwreck. The French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian governments, it is said, seldom ransom their unfortunate shipwrecked subjects, and they are thus doomed to perpetual slavery and misery—no friendly hand is ever stretched forth to relieve their distresses and to heal their bjeeding wounds, nor any voice of humanity to soothe their bitter pangs, till worn out with sufferings not to be described by mortal man, they resign their souls to the God who gave them, and launch into the eternal world with pleasure, as death is the only relief from their sufferings.

I cannot omit to inform my readers, that on the 1st of January, 1816, when in Mogadore, I went in company with Mr. Wiltshire, to pay a complimentary visit to Don Estevan Leonardi, an old man, a Genoese by birth, who had lived a long time in Mogadore —be has, I was informed, exercised the functions of French Vice- Consul there for a number of years—he received us with the compliments of the season ; congratulated me coldly on my redemption from slavery ; inquired some particulars, &c. &c. after which, and when we had refreshed ourselves with a glass of wine, he told me, that “ about the years 1810, II, he receiveda long letterfrom Suse, brought to him by an Arab, written by a Frenchman: this stated that the writer and another Frenchman, whom he named, had escaped from a prison in Teneriffe a few weeks previously, where they had been long confined as prisoners of war * that they stole an open boat in the night, and set sail in the hope of escaping from the Spaniards, who had treated them with great harshness and cruelty ; that they steered to the eastward, expecting to land on the coast of Morocco, where they trusted they might regain their liberty, and get home through the aid of the French Consuls; that they made the coast of Suse, and landed a few leagues below Santa Cruz or Agader, after great sufferings and hardships, where they were seized on as slaves, and stripped naked; and the letter concluded by begging of him to ransom them, and thus save the lives of two unfortunate men, who must otherwise soon perish, &c. &c.—but, said Leonardi, 1 had no orders from the Consul-General to expend money on account of his government, and accordingly persuaded the Arab who brought the letter to stop with me a few days—his price was two hundred dollars for the two, and he was their sole proprietor. In the mean time I sent off a Courier express to Tangier, for orders from the Consul-General, who returned at the end of thirty-five days, with leave to pay one hundred dollars a man for them, but no other expenses. The Arab stayed fifteen days with me, and then returned home in disgust; he could not believe 1 would ransom them, as I did not do it immediately , but when my express returned from Tangier, giving me leave to buy them, I sent a Jew down with the money to pay their ransom, but when he came to their master, he would not sell them at his former price, for he said he, bad found them to be mechanics, and demanded three hundred dollars for the two, or one hundred and fifty dollars each. The Jew said, he saw the men; they were naked, hard at work, and appeared to be much exhausted, very miserable, and dejected :—he might have bought one for one hundred and fifty dollars, but would not, as he had no orders to do so. When the Jew was about to return, their master told him if fie went away without the men, and the Consul wanted them, be must pay four hundred dollars for them :—now on the Jew’s arrival at Mogadore with this news, (continued Leonardi,) I sent off another express to Tangier, who brought back leave to pay the four hundred dollars, at the same time cautioned me not to make any further expenses on their account. I sent down the four hundred dollars-to Suse again, and ordered the messenger to buy one, if he could not get both; but their master said, he had been played with and deceived until that time ; that if I wanted them, I must pay Jive hundred dollars, and that he would then escort them up to.Swearah, and be answerable for their safety until they arrived there, but he would not take the four hundred dollars, nor would he separate them; and so the messenger returned without them. The negotiation had already taken-up near a year. 1 have expended (said he,) abouf two hundred dollars that 1 shall never get again, and I suppose the men are dead, as I have not heard from them since.” This, if not in the precise words, was the substance of what he said, and 1 could scarcely suppress th'e indignation I felt at this recital, nor avoid contrasting the behaviour of this man with that of my noble friend Wiltshire. This old man is very rich; has no family but himself, and is one of the most zealous Christians, in professions at least, in Barbary ; but a sordid wretch, who never knew the pleasure arising from the consciousness of having done a good deed.

While I remained at Mogadore, a schooner arrived there, as 1 have before observed, from Gibraltar: she was a Genoese vessel, but sailed under English colours, as the King of Sardinia was at war with all the Barbary powers, or at least they were at war with him:—the captain, officers, and crew, were Genoese and Spaniards. She had been more than twenty days on her passage from Gibraltar, having been carried by the current down the coast below Santa Cruz or Agader. The captain told me, be must inevitably have gone ashore near Cape Nun, had not God in his mercy favoured him with a south wind, out of the usual course of nature, on that coast, when he was close to the land : he bad been beating for three days against the trade-wind, nearing the coast every day, and could not fetch off either way, though his vessel was a fast sailer, and only in ballast trim. He arrived at Mogadore about the 1st of December, after the wind had been blowing strong, with some rain from the south, for four days : it is only in December and January that these winds occur, and always bring a storm with them, either of wind or rain : this schooner was the vessel in which my second mate and three men went round from Mogadore to Gibraltar.

As the geography of that part of Africa lying in the equatorial regions eastward of that extensive ridge of mountains which borders its western coast from the latitude 18. N. to the Congo River, and westward of the mountains of the Moon in which the Nile has its sources, has exciied much speculation and interest in the learned world, (though it does not come strictly within my province,) I will, nevertheless, make a few brief observations on the practicability of exploring those hitherto unknown countries, in the hope that they may hereafter be useful. And first, it is my decided opinion, that no European or civilized armed force, however large or well appointed, can ever penetrate far into the interior of these wild and dismal recesses by land, either from the shores of the Atlantic ocean, or the Mediterranean Sea; because an army on such an expedition, would not only have to encounter powerful hosts of savage enemies at every turn, and undergo the severest privations, fatigues, and hardships, but would besides have to encounter the raging beat of this scorching climate, surpassing any thing they may ever have experienced, and the pestilential disorders incident thereto:—these circumstances taken together, could scarcely fail to produce its total annihilation in a short period, and thus frustrate the boldest and best planned military attempt.— Individual bravery, enterprise, skill, and prudence, in the ordinary way, by travelling unprotected, are also, in my opinion, entirely unequal to the task, and such enterprises must, I think, always prove abortive. Something might, perhaps, be done by black travellers, natives of that country, tutored expressly for that purpose, and sent off singly from different stations and on different routes; but owing to their confined education and particular train of ideas, nothing very valuable could be expected from their researches. Steam Boats strongly built, and of a suitable construction, well armed and appointed, might ascend the river Congo, (which I am induced from many considerations to believe is the outlet of the river Niger,) and traffic up that river, making important discoveries; but the whole of their officers, as well as all the men employed on board them, should first be inured to such climates, and be persons accustomed to fatigues, privations, hardships, and sufferings; and, above all, should be guided by the greatest degree of human prudence. A plain and very simple method for visiting Tombuctop in safety, and returning again, might be pointed out by either the American or English Consuls residing at Tahgier, Algiers, Tunis, or Tripoli:—to accomplish this journey, the traveller, after being duly qualified, has only to become a slave by his own consent, and a secret understanding with his hired master; being bargained away by the Consul t# one of the principal merchants trading to that city in the yearly caravans, and who might be induced to enter into the project for an ample remuneration.

I have been induced to publish the following letters, because they relate to, and throw some light on the subject of my late disaster, &c. and contain some information respecting that part of my crew who were left in slavery on the great Desart. William Porter was redeemed by my invaluable friend, Mr. Willshire, and arrived in Mogadore, October 18th, 1816:—he landed in Boston on the 11th of December following,- from the brig Adriano of Dux- bury, captain R. Motley, direct from Mogadore, and is now with me in New-York.

These are private and friendly letters, and were never intended for publication by their respective writers. 1 must rely, therefore, on their good-will and friendship to excuse me for the liberty I take in giving them to the public.

Mogadore, March 10, 1816.

My dear sir and brother,

The perusal of your several favours of the 21st and 23d January, from Tangier, and'1st and 2d February, from Gibraltar, afforded, and will continue to produce as long as the sun enlightens my days, a serenity of mind, an inexpressible something that I have never before felt; a kind of thrilling pleasure unmixed with the usual bitter draught generally attendant on the occurrences of mortals in this world. In rescuing you from the hands of the Arabs, I have raised up a friend, and I am more than doubly repaid for my texertions (a common act due from one fellow-Chris- tian to another) by the kind and overwhelming expressions of gratitude contained in your letters, and the prayers of a good man for my future welfare ; a reward above all price. Your letters will always be dear to me, as wrjtten by the friend of my heart, and preserved among my family letters.

Our friend, Mr. Simpson, informs me you sailed on the 2d ult. iri the ship Rapid, for New York—may the Ruler of the waves befriend her, and give her a safe and quick voyage, and grant to you a happy meeting with your family and friends.

On the 30th January 1 received news of an English vessel being Wrecked on Cape Nun ; the crew and passengers consist of twenty- one. In consequence of the orders of Mr. Green, and the merchants being called up to Morocco with their annual presents, F went on the part of the Christians, and for the purpose of making an application to his Imperial Majesty. I succeeded in obtaining his Majesty’s letter to the governor of Taruaant, with orders to purchase them ; it unfortunately happens, that between him and Sidi Ishena (the Moor who has eighteen of them in his possession,) there exists a mortal hatred, and I am now fearful that Sidi Ishera, sooner than sell the Christians at any price, will destroy them, or immediately march them into the Desart; or at least three or four months will elapse before they are redeemed; when had I orders to pay the ransom money, (say three thousand five hundred dollars,) I could bring them all up in eight or ten days.

I am obliged to close this without adding several subjects I wished to dilate upon, in consequence of Mr. O’Sullivan’s being ready to go on board, and intends to sail this afternoon.

I remaim with sentiments of the greatest esteem, &c.


P. S. On re-perusing what I have written, I discover I have omitted to mention any thing respecting the remainder of your erew—I have not heard from Sidi Hamet since you left this place, nor have I received the least information respecting them : l trust in God soon to hear of them, when 1 will give you the earliest information of the same.—Rais bel Cossim, Nahory, Bel Mooden, &c. all beg their remembrances. Yours, kc.

W. W.

Mogadore, April 14, 1816.

My dear sir,

I had the satisfaction on the 10th ult. by a vessel bound to ISew-York, to write you a few lines, covering a Vocabulary of the Arabic language, ahd under the charge of Mr. O’Sullivan. 1 forwarded the feathers given to you by Sidi Hamet, to which I took the liberty of adding six others, and which 1 hope will arrive safe, and meet you in the midst of your family, enjoying health, liberty, and content.

Knowing the very great interest you have to hear of the release, or a probability of the redemption of your remaining friends and companions in distress, it is to me a source of the truest pleasure to be able now to inform you, that four of your crew are now supposed to be near Widnoon. Two days ago 1 received a scrap of paper, signed William Porter , dated from the same place ; but as he can scarcely write his name, I obtained no information from him; nor does he inform me of any but himself being there :—it is through the medium of travellers from- those parts, that I learn three persons calling themselves Americans are in the neighbourhood of Wid- noon.' I have forwarded orders down to purchase them if possible at one hundred dollars per man, or a few dollars more ; the only- step I could pursue, as no sum is mentioned. I shall obtain an answer in twelve or fifteen days, when I shall be able to form an opinion of the probable cost, and when it is likely they will obtain their liberty. I wrote a consolatory letter to Porter, assuring him of my best exertions being used in his behalf.

The affair of the British brig Surprise, which I informed you of in my last, that is, as it respects the redemption of the crew, is now involved in a mass of difficulties; the amount demanded for eighteen persons being upwards of seven thousand dollars. This sum the Governor of Tarudant is not inclined to pay for them, until he receives the instructions from his Imperial Majesty, who I am certain Will not agree to pay so exorbitant a price ; and the effect will be, his majesty will countermand the orders given, and they must eventually be redeemed by British funds. His Excellency the Governor acknowledges it is not in his power to obtain them by force , as they are not within the jurisdiction of the Emperor. The first cost to their present owner was four thousand seven hundred dollars ; on which amount he demands fifty per cent, profit. They might now have been on their way. to England, if the business had not been taken out of my hands by his Majesty and the orders of the Consul-General, as the owner of them offered them to me at the first cost, say four thousand five hundred dollars, and would have been contented to receive for his trouble a double-barrelled gun, and a little tea and sugar. The business being in the hands of the Mugizene, (merchants) natives of Suse, is fontey bezef, (bad enough). It is now impossible to determine what length of time the captivity of those unfortunate men may be extended to. These circumstances will, I hope, be sufficient to demonstrate the truth of my opinion, so often expressed on this subject.

I shall feel greatly obliged by your communications on the success of your application to your government on the subject of your own captivity, and of the future footing on which the redemption of American citizens in slavery in this country is to be established. I am eagerly and anxiously expecting to hear, I trust, of your safe arrival amongst your friends and countrymen, as the interest 1 feel for your future welfare and prosperity will always be near my heart. 1 cannot enjoy the smiles of fortune (if they are ever so kind as to attend me in my passage through this life) without I know my friend is blessed with them also.

I beg to inform you, in the hope you may feel an inducement to visit this country, not only as a probable source of profit, but from a wish of again inhaling the breezes w'here you first found yourself at liberty, both in body and mind, that our market is again improving, &c.

With best respects to your friends and acquaintances, and in particular to Mr. Savage, 1 subscribe myself, with sincerest regard and friendship,

Your very obedient servant,


Captain James Riley.

Tangier, 27th April, 1816.


I hare not earlier acknowledged the receipt of your favour, dated Gibraltar, 1st February, desirous of being able to give you some satisfactory intelligence regarding the men whom circumstances compelled you to separate from on the Desart. Until yesterday, not any tidings of them had reached me.—Mr. Willshire, in his letter of the 13th this month, advises me he had received from Widnoon a note written by William Porter, but such as did not afford any information respecting his fellow sufferers, as the poor man seems to be but an indifferent scribe. Mr. Willshire adds,

“ It however affords me the sincerest pleasure to acquaint you that by intelligence from Moorish acquaintances, I have received news that there are three others in that neighbourhood.”

Mr. Willshire had already taken the necessary measures for the redemption of the four—had he known the names of the three he would have mentioned them. In a few days I may expect to receive further intelligence, at the return of an express I sent to that gentleman on the 3d instant. 1 must, in the mean time, tell you, that i very much dread we shall have difficulties to encounter, in regard to the rate of redemption, because of the unguarded (though, it must be admitted,' very natural) conduct of the passengers who were on board the Glasgow brig, in making great promises, in the view of accelerating their emancipation. These, and five seamen, had already unfortunately fallen into the hands of Sidi Ishem ; he was endeavouring to obtain possession of the remainder, and had demanded of the Governor of Tarudant better than seven thousand dollars for the seventeen persons. Should he not be authorized by the Emperor to pay this sum, I am persuaded the owners of the brig will do it, rather than allow their relations to continue in the deplorable situation you so well know. It matters not from what source this villanous demand may be satisfied ; the event will operate for a time against the liberation of Christians in similar situations at the usual rates. It grieves me to think that we run the risk of being made early partakers of that more than probable consequence, so much to be deplored.

My family are thankful for your remembrances, and encharge me to assure you of their good wishes.

I am, with regard, Sir,

Your most obedient Servant,


Captain James Riley.

Mogadore, May 6, 1816.

My dear sir,

I had the pleasure on the 14th ult. of informing you of four men of the crew of the late brig Commerce being near Widnoon.

I have since received a letter from William Porter, who acquainted me of Archibald Robins being one of them ; the names of the others he does not allude to, nor that they are in the vicinity—it is very unfortunate that he scarcely knows how to write, and I can hardly make out his letters.

I am sincerely sorry to observe, that Porter mentions two men to have unfortunately died, and who have gone to “ that bourne from whence no traveller returns;” but 'whom, when, and where, he does not state. I am still inclined to believe, that the four I first mentioned, are in the neighbourhood of Widnoon, as I have received several letters from those parts, in all of which four Americans are stated to be in that vicinity. As the above circumstances, if made public, will only be the cause of regret to the friends in general of those unfortunate men, I consider it advisable not to make the same known at present, until 1 can transmit the names of those two unfortunate men, who have been released from the troubles and miseries of this world, I trust for a better state of existence. I expect shortly to hear from my friend in Suse, respecting the sum demanded for the ransom of Porter and Robins, and the other two, if they are still living. I assure you that in all my communications respecting the English crew in captivity, I always call the attention of my friends to their liberation,' and I trust shortly to hear something favourable in regard to their release.

This letter I have the pleasure to forward you, per the ship Wanderer, of Middletown, Captain Daniel Hubbard, from whom, being your townsman, 1 have received the sincerest satisfaction, by hearing mention made of my friend, in terms the most flattering, and grateful to my heart; and this has been a further cause of congratulation to myself; and I am thankful that under the care of an all ruling Providence, 1 was the means of rescuing from the hands of barbarians, a fellow-Christian and a friend. The English crew have been upwards of four months in captivity. I have used every exertion for their redemption in my power, but they have proved unavailing, from the want of that prompt and decisive assistance which 1 should have afforded, had not the funds in my possession been under the restriction of first making on their behalf an application to his Imperial Majesty of Morocco. The Governor of Tarudant refuses to pay their ransom, say 6 to 7000 dollars, and he appears to throw obstacles in my way, not being willing to pay (hemoney, or allow me to doit.

I beg my dear friend to reiterate my good wishes for your future welfare, under the blessing of divine Providence, and remain unalterably, my dear Sir,

Your very obedient servant,


fUtptam James Riley.

Tangier, May 27, 1816.

Dear Sir,

This day month I had the satisfaction of writing to you in duplicate, by way of Gibraltar and Cadiz.

Yesterday I received a letter from Mr. Willsbire, dated 12tb this month, informing me he had received a second note from Porter, but without any further intelligence of his former companions, save the unhappy circumstance of two of them having paid the debt of nature—unfortunately he does not mention when, where, or even their names.

Mr. Wiltshire has received a confirmation of there being four, including Porter, of the crew of the Commerce, in the district of Widnoon ; which, as he states, are in fact all that remain.,

It does not appear whether it be your former master that has brought the men to Widnoon, or not, but i should suppose it is, and that he does not fulfil his promise to you, as Mr. Willsbire acquainted me, one hundred and fifty dollars ransom was demanded for each. This I have instantly determined to pay, and set the unfortunate men at liberty, persuaded government will approve of my not writing for instructions, at tbe imminent risk of the people’s lives.

The crew of the Glasgow brig were still with Sidi Ishem. After many delays started on the part of the Governor of Tarudant, Mr. Willsbire, on the pressing invitation of the Messrs. Blacks, has taken upon himself to pay the ransom, and had sent down five thousand dollars in part, in full confidence the people would be sent him. I am persuaded iheir ransom and expenses will exceed your’s in proportion to numbers.

Consul Green’s application to the Emperor has occasioned them full three months prolongation of their misery. I have for many years experienced the uncertainty of that mode. However pure his Majesty’s intentions, his servant’s dread of expending monies of the Treasury, but for ostensible public purposes, will thwart them.

I am, dear Sir,

Your most obedient servant,


Captain James Riley.

P. S. Mr. Willshire mentions that Archibald Robins is one <5f the three he has heard of, besides Porter.

Mogadore, 11 thJune, 1816. ■


These few lines 1 forward by the schooner Rebecca, David Eaton master, bound for Boston, on which I have loaded 220 bales goat skins.

I am expecting the four men, formerly part of your crew, up from Widnoon, in about twenty days. I am not acquainted with their names, except those of William Porter and Archibald Robins. On the 8th inst. 1 had the pleasure to effect the release of the cap. tain, passengers, and crew, seventeen in number, of the British brig Surprise, wrecked on the coast of Suse, the 28tb December last, when bound from Glasgow to Jamaica. The ransom money paid was five thousand dollars, and with expenses of presents, &c. &c. I calculate will amount ultimately to more than seven thousand dollars.'

I am anxiously expecting to hear of your safe arrival, as that will afford me the greatest satisfaction.

I remain, in great haste, but with the greatest esteem, my dear friend,

Your very obedient servant,


Captain James Riley.

Department of State, 24 th June, 1816.

Dear Sir,

We have just received a letter from Mr. Simpson, Consul at Tangier, dated 10th May, in which he says Mr. Willshire had written to him on the 13th April, that he had received a note from “ William Porter,” one of your crew, written at Widnoon, and information from a Moor that three others of your crew had got to the same place. Mr. Willshire knew not how they had been enabled to get there, or whether they bad or had not changed masters. He had taken measures to convey information to Widnoon that he would ransom these men. It is therefore to be hoped that they will be ultimately restored to their country and their families ; more particularly, as instructions have been sent to Mr. Simpson, authorizing him to pay what may be necessary to accomplish that object. As 1 have supposed that this information would be satisfactory to you and the friends of the persons to whom it relates, I have hastened to communicate it to you.

With great respect,

I am, dear Sir,

Your most obedient Servant, JOHN GRAHAM.

Captain James Riley.

Note—Mr. John Graham, the writer of the above, is Chief

r k in the Department of State, Washington City.

Tangier, 2itk July, 1816.

Dear Sir,

Yesterday I received by way of Gibraltar and Tariffa your favour of the 28th April.—Since my last to you of 27th May, forwarded in duplicate under care of Messrs. Hall & Co. of Cadiz.

I bare not received any further certain intelligence of your people, save that Mr. Willsbire says in his last, of 27th June, Porter’s master had not answered a letter, in which he invited him to bring the man to Mogadore.

I availed of the earliest opportunity of sending Mr. Willshire eight hundred dollars, and authorized him to pay in the country, the sum of one hundred and fifty dollars each, for the ransom of Porter, and the three others he had heard of. He has acknowledged the receipt of this money, and I am persuaded you will believe he will have lost no time in employing it for the good purpose it was intended.

On the lllh Inst. I received the authority which the Honourable the Secretary of State informed you would be handed to me, respecting the redemption of citizens of the United States, from the cruel bondage that Christians experience whilst in the power of the Arabs. It is extremely satisfactory to me, that I had in a great degree anticipated those orders in the directions given Mr. Willshire : however, I have sent an express with further instructions, in order to expedite the good work the most in my power.

I am infinitely obliged by your kind offers of service, and will certainly avail myself thereof, but being pressed for time to-day, and anxious to send this by return of the boat, must beg your indulgence for further particulars until my next.

His Imperial Majesty, Muley Soliman, arrived here on Monday . hitherto we do not know what stay be may make.

I remain, with great regard.

Dear Sir,

Your most obedient Servant, JAMES SIMPSON.

Captain James Riley.

Mogadore, October 29, 1816.


I have had the extreme pleasure to receive your esteemed letter of the 27th April, (the others you allude to have never come to hand,) and the interesting account of your meeting with your family and friends, produced in my breast sensations of the most pleasing nature, such as words cannot fully describe. The interest I take in your welfare makes every circumstance of importance ; let me request of you not to allow an opportunity to pass without writing to me. I cannot find words to express the sensations I feel ■when I come to that passage of your letter where you inform me your youngest son, by the general request of Mrs. Riley, your family and friends, has been named William Willshire—the compliment thus paid to my family 1 shall always consider as one of the most honourable circumstances I can ever experience in my life.

I know not what to say. May your son grow up into manhood, adorned with every virtue, and may the choicest blessings of an all ruling Providence be particularly extended to him in this life, and continued through a never ending eternity.

I have now to acquaint you that I redeemed William Porter o» the 27th ultimo, (redemption money, one hundred and sixty-three dollars,) and yesterday 1.agreed for the ransom of Archibald Robint. If nothing extraordinary intervenes, l expect he will arrive here in about sixteen days from this time. 1 have also news of two men who I think must be a part of your crew, being in the vicinity of Widnoon—their names 1 do not know, but 1 have sent a courier to them to bring up information, and if possible, to obtain their band-writing. 1 have also heard of another man being a considerable way down on the Desart, and I have ordered my agent in Suse to send a Moor to purchase him if possible, t have the greatest pleasure to acquaint you, that at last 1 ain not tied down to a few dollars, more or less, as Mr. Simpson has limited me only to the average price which was paid for yourself and companions.

I beg you will excuse my not writing more fully by this occasion, which is that of the brig Adriano, Captain Richard Motley, bound to Boston. William Porter takes his passage in the vessel. This letter will be forwarded on to New-York, and also a Moorish bridle, as you requested. 1 do trust you will not hesitate to command me at all times without reserve, in these parts, as it will afford me the greatest pleasure to execute your wishes, and I expect it from the friendsinp existing between us. 1 intend shortly* to write you a long letter on the manners and customs of this country, with a more particular account of tne stations for the caravans in crossing the Desart of Sahara to Tombuctoo, than is at present extant.

I remain, with every good wish and prayers for your prosperity, most unfeignedly and truly,

My dearest Friend,

Your well wisher,


Captain James Riley.

I have no time to re-peruse what I have written.—Adieu.

This Vocabulary was furnished the author by his benefactor, Wieliam Willshire, Esft. British Vice Consul and American Consular Agent at Mogadore, or Swearah. It has since been revised in New-York by the Baron Lescalikr, late Consul General of the French empire in the United States of America, who is versed in the Oriental languages.

As it was penned by Europeans, and from the apparent sounds of words, it must naturally be cfefilbtive, and not so correct as if formed by a native Arab t who understood both languages perfectly, yet it is presumed to be sufficiently correct to enable the studious scholar to obtain a very considerably knowledge both of the genius and structure of this parent qf

An easy method for attaining the Arabic language, as it is spoken by the Moors and the Arabs of Morocco, and understood by the Moors and Arabs of South Barbary and the great Western Desart, though the language of the wandering Arabs of the Desart is the pure and sonorous ancient Arabic tongue. The letters with which this Vocabulary is written, pronounced and sounded as the Spaniards pronounce them; that is, every letter has its full sound, and most of them are spoken with the mouth open, thus:

[Editors Note: I did not include the pages of vocabulary and pronunciation aids]


Previous Chapter      

Return to the Sufferings In Africa Summary Return to the James Riley Library

© 2022