Sufferings In Africa

by James Riley

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Chapter II

Voyage in the Commerce from Connecticut River to New Orleans.

After the close of the war, in April 1815, being then in my native state, I was employed as master and supercargo of the brig Commerce of Hartford, in Connecticut; a vessel nearly new, and well fitted, of about two hundred and twenty tons burden, belonging to Messrs. Riley & Brown, Josiah Savage & Co. and Luther Savage, of that city. A light cargo was taken on board, and I shipped a crew, consisting of the following persons, namely; George Williams, chief mate, Aaron R. Savage, second mate, William Porter, Archibald Robbins, Thomas Burns, and James Clark, seamen, Horace Savage, cabin boy, and Richard Deslisle, (a black man) cook. This man had been a servant during the late war to Captain Daniel Ketchum,of the 25th regiment of United Sates’ infantry, who distinguished himself by taking prisoner the English Major-General Rial, at the dreadful battle of Burlington heights, in upper Canada, and by several other heroic achievements.

With this crew I proceeded to sea from the mouth of Connecticut River, on the sixth day of May, 1815, bound for New-Orleans. We continued to steer for the Bahama Islands, as winds and weather permitted, until the twentieth of the same month, when we saw the southernmost part of the island of Abaco, and passing the Hole in the Wall, on the twenty-first, entered on the Grand Bahama Bank to the leeward of the northernmost Berri Islands; from thence, with a fair wind and good breeze, we steered W. S. W. twelve leagues; then S. S. W. about forty leagues, crossing the Bank, in from three to four fathoms water. On the morning of the twenty-second we saw the Orange Key on our starboard beam; altered our course, and ran off the Bank, leaving them on our starboard hand, distant one league. The water on this Great Bank, in most places, appears as white as milk, owing to the white sand at the bottom gleaming through it, and is so clear that an object, the size of a dollar, can be easily seen lying on the bottom in four fathoms water, in a still time. Having got off the Bank, we steered W. S. W. for the Double-headed Shot Bank, and at meridian found ourselves, by good observations, in the latitude of 24. 30. being nearly that of the Orange Keys. In the afternoon it became nearly calm, but a good breeze springing up, we continued our course all night W. S. W. I remained on deck myself, on a sharp look out for the Double-headed Shot Bank, or Keys, until four o’clock A. M. when judging by outdistance we must be far past them, and consequently clear of that danger, I ordered the chief mate, who had charge of the watch, to keep a good look out, on all sides, for land, white water and breakers; and after repeating the same to the people, I went below to take a nap. At about five (then fair daylight) I was awakened by a shock, and thought I felt the vessel touch bottom. I sprang on deck, put the helm to starboard, had all hands called in an instant, and saw breakers ahead and to southward, close on board; apparently a sound on our right, and land to the northward, at about two leagues distance. The vessel’s head was towards the S. W. and she running at the rate of ten miles the hour. I instantly seized the helm, put it hard to port, ordered all sails to be let run, and the anchors cleared away. The vessel touched lightly, three or four times; when I found she was over the reef, let go an anchor, which brought her up in two and a half fathoms, or fifteen feet of water, which was quite smooth. We now handed all the sails, and lowered down the boat. I went in her with four hands, and sounded out a passage; found plenty of water to leeward of the reef; returned and got under way, and at seven o’clock A. M. was in the open sea again, with a fresh breeze.

This being the first time, in the course of my navigating, that any vessel which I was in had struck the bottom unexpectedly, I own I was so much surprised and shocked, that my whole frame trembled, and I could scarcely believe that what had happened was really true, until by comparing the causes and effects of the currents in the Gulph Stream, I vfrqs convinced that during the light winds, the day before, when in the Santarem Channel, the vessel had been drifted by the current that runs N. N. W. (and at that time very strong) so far north of the Doubleheaded Shot Bank; that my course in the night, though the only proper one I could have steered, was such as kept the current on the larboard bow of the vessel, which had horsed her across it sixty miles out of her course in sixteen hours, and would have landed her on the S. W. part of the Carysford Reef in two minutes more, where she must have been totally lost. As so many vessels of all nations who navigate this stream have perished with their cargoes, and oftentimes their crews, I mention this incident to warn the navigator of the danger he is in when his vessel is acted upon by these currents, where no -calculation can be depended upon, and where nothing but very frequent castings of the lead, and a good look out, can secure him from their too often fatal consequences.

Having settled this point in my own mind, I became tranquil, and we continued to run along the Florida Keys from W. S. W. to West by South, in from thirty to forty fathoms water, about four leagues distant, seeing from one to two leagues within us many rocks and little sandy islands, just above the waters’ edge, with a good depth of water all around them, until noon on the 24 th, when we doubled the dry Tortugas Islands in ten fathoms, and on the 26th arrived in the Mississippi River, passed Fort St. Philip at Pluquemines the same night, having shown my papers to the commanding officer of that post (as is customary.)

My previous knowledge of the river and the manner of getting up it, enabled me to pass nearly one hundred sail of vessels that were in before me, and by dint of great and continued exertions, to arrive with my vessel before the city of New-Orleans, on the first day of June. Here we discharged our cargo, and took another on board, principally on freight, in which I was assisted by Messrs. Talcott & Bowers, respectable merchants in that city. This cargo consisted of tobacco and flour. The two ordinary seamen, Francis Bliss and James Carrington, now wished for a discharge, and received it. I then shipped in their stead John Hogan and James Barrett, both seamen and natives of the state of Massachusetts.

With this crew and cargo we sailed from New- Orleans on the twenty-fourth of June; left the river on the twenty-sixth, and proceeded for Gibraltar, where we arrived on the ninth of August following, and landed our cargo. About the thirteenth the Schooner-, Capt. Price, of and from New-York, in a short passage, came into the Bay, and the captain on his landing told me he was bound up to Barcelona, and that if I would go on board his vessel, which was then standing off and on in the Bay, he Would give me a late New-York Price Current, and some newspapers. I was in great want of a Price Current for my guide in making purchases, and accordingly went on board. The wind blowing strong in, and the vessel far out, I had to take four men with me, namely, James Clark, James Barrett, William Porter, and John Hogan. Having received the Price Current &e. I left the schooner about sunset, when they immediately filled her sails and stood on. As we were busied in stepping the boat’s mast to sail back, a toppling sea struck her, and nearly filled her with water; we all jumped instantly overboard, in the hope of preventing her from filling, but she filled immediately. Providentially the captain of the schooner heard me halloo, though at least a mile from us; put his vessel about, came near us, sent his boat, and saved our lives and our boat, which being cleared of water, and it being after dark, we returned safe alongside of the brig by ten o’clock at night. When the boat filled, we were more than three miles from the Rock, in the Gut, where the current would have set us into the Mediterranean, and we must have inevitably perished before morning, but we were spared, in order to suffer a severer doom, and miseries worse than death', on the barbarous shores of Africa.

We now took on board part of a cargo of brandies and wines, and some dollars, say about two thousand, and an old man, named Antonio Michel, a native of New-Orleans who had previously been wrecked on the island of Teneriffe, and was recommended to my charity by Mr. Gavino, who at that time exercised the functions of American Consul at Gibraltar.


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