Sufferings In Africa

by James Riley

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Chapter XXIV

The author and his companions are cleansed, clothed, and fed—he becomes delirious, but is again restored to reason—the kindness of Mr. Wiltshire—letter from Horatio Sprague, Esq. of Gibraltar — author's reflections on his past sufferings and on the providential chain of events that had fitted him for enduring them, and miraculously supported and restored him and his four companions to their liberty.

Upon our arrival at Mr. Willshire’s house,some Jews were ready to shave off our beards, and as the hair of our heads was also in a very unpleasant condition; being literally filled with vermin; that, as well as our beards, underwent the operation of the scissors and razor: the hair was cut off at least as close as the horrible state of our skin and flesh would admit of: this may be imagined, but it is absolutely too shocking for description. Our squalid and emaciated frames were then purified with soap and water, and our humane and generous friend furnished us with some of his own clothing, after our bodies, which were still covered with sores, had been rubbed with sweet oil. Mr. Willshire’s cook had by this time prepared a repast, which consisted of beef cut into square pieces, just large enough for a mouthful before it was cooked; these were then rolled in onions, cut up fine, and mixed with salt and pepper; they were in the next place put on iron skewers and laid horizontally across a pot of burning charcoal, and turned over occasionally, until it was perfectly roasted: this dish is called Cubbub, and in my opinion far surpasses in flavour the so much admired beef-steak; as it is eaten hot from the skewers, and is indeed an excellent mode of cooking beef.—W^.ate sparingly of this delicious food, which was accompanied with some good wheaten bread and butter, and followed by a quantity of exquisite pomegranates; for our stomachs were contracted to such a degree by long fastings, that they had lost their tone, and could not receive the usual allowance for a healthy man.—A doctor then appeared and administered to each of us a dose of physic, which he said was to prepare our stomachs for eating. He was a Jew, who had been bred at Moscow in Russia, had studied medicine there, and had since travelled through Germany, Italy, and Spain; he spoke the Spanish language fluently, and I was convinced, before I left Mogadore, that he possessed much medical as well as surgical skill. He had only been in Swearah or Mogadore two months, and there was no other physician in that city, or in that part of the country, except jugglers or quacks.

Good beds had been fitted up for myself and Mr. Savage in the same room, and after being welcomed by Mr. John Foxcroft and Don Pablo Riva, who had heard of our arrival, we retired to rest.

My mind, which (though my body was worn down to a skeleton) had been hitherto strong, and supported me through all my trials, distresses, and sufferings, and enabled me to encourage and keep up the spirits of my frequently despairing fellow-sufferers, could no longer sustain me: my sudden change of situation seemed to have relaxed the very springs of my soul, and all my faculties fell into the wildest confusion. The unbounded kindness, the goodness, and whole attention of Mr. Wiltshire, who made use of all the soothing language of which the most affectionate brother or friend is capable, tended but to ferment the tempest that was gatheringnn my brain. I became delirious—was bereft of my senses—and for the space of three* days knew not where I was.— When my reason returned, I found I had been constantly attended by Mr. Willshire,and generally kept in my room, though he would sometimes persuade me to walk in the gallery with him, and used every means in his power to restore and compose my bewildered senses: that I had remained continually bathed in tears, and shuddering at the sight of every human being, fearing I should again be carried into slavery. I had slunk into the darkest corner of my room ; but though insensible, I seemed to know the worth of my friend and deliverer, and would agree to, and comply with his advice and directions.

In the mean time, this most estimable and noble minded young man, had neither spared pains nor expense in procuring for us every comfort, and in administeririg, with his own hands, night and day, such relief and refreshment as our late severe sufferings and present debility required. He had sent off persons on mules to the vicinity of the city of Morocco, more than one hundred miles, and procured some of the most delicious fruits that country can produce, such as dates, figs, grapes, pomegranates, &c.—He gave us for drink the best of wines, and I again began to have an appetite for my food, which was prepared with the greatest care. My men were furnished with shirts, trowsers, and jackets, and being fed with the most nourishing soups and other kinds of food, gained a considerable degree of strehgth. Captain Wallace, of the English brig Pilot, then being in the port, furnished us with some pork, split peas, and potatoes, and seemed very friendly, dark and Burns were but the skeletons of men—Mr. Savage and Horace were nearly as much reduced, but not having been diseased in so great a degree, they were consequently stronger.. Many of my bones, as well as my ribs,had been divested entirely, not only of flesh, but of skin, and had appeared white like dry bones when on the desart; but they were now nearly covered again, though we still might with some reason be termed the dry skeletons of Moorish slaves. At the instance of Mr. Willshire I was weighed, and fell short of ninety pounds, though my usual weight, for the last ten years, had been over two hundred and forty pounds: the Weight of my companions wax less than I dare to mention, for I apprehend it would not be believed, that the bodies of men retaining the vital spark, should not weigh forty pounds.

The sight of my face in a glass called to my recollection all the trying scenes I had passed through since my shipwreck;—I could contemplate with pleasure and gratitude the power, and wisdom, and foreknowledge of the Supreme Being, as well as his mercy and unbounded goodness. I could plainly discover that the train of events which, in my former life, I had always considered as great misfortunes, had been directed by unerring wisdom, and had fitted me for running the circle marked out by the Omnipotent. When I studied the French and Spanish languages, I did it from expectations of future gain in a commercial point of view. All the exertions I had hitherto made to become acquainted with foreign languages, and to store my mind with learning and a knowledge of mankind, had procured for me no wealth ; without which acquirement a man is generally considered on the stage of the world as a very insignificant creature, that may be kicked off or trampled upon by the pampered worms of his species, who sport around him with all the upstart pride of (in many instances) ill-gotten treasure. I had been cheated and swindled out of property by those whom I considered my friends; yet my mind was formed for friendship;—I do not speak of this in the way of boasting. My hand had never been slack in relieving the distresses of my fellow men whenever I had the power, in the different countries where I had beenj but 1 had almost become a stoic, and had very nearly concluded, (hat disinterested friendship and benevolence, out of the circle of a man’s own family, was not to be found; that the virtuous man, if poor,was not only despised, by his more fortunate fellow creatures, but forsaken almost by Providence itself. I now, however, had positive proof to the contrary of some of those hasty and ill-founded opinions; and I clearly saw that I had only been tutored in the school of adversity, in order that I might be prepared for fulfilling the purpose for which I had been created.

In the midst of those reflections I received, by a courier from Consul General Simpson, at Tangier, to Mr. Willshire, the following letter :—it speaks the soul of the writer, and needs no comment.

Gibraltar , 13th November, 1815.

,My dear Riley, ,

I will not waste a moment by unnecessary - preamble. I have wrote to Mr. Willshire, that-your draft on me for twelve hundred dollars, or more, shall be duly paid for the obtainment of your liberty, and those with you. I have sent him two double barrelled guns to meet hi9 promise to the Moor.—In a short time after the receipt of this, I hope to have the happiness to take you by the hand under my roof again. You. will come here by the way of Tangier.

Your assured friend, Horatio Sprague.

My sensations on reading this letter, and on seeing that written by Mr. Sprague to Mr. Willshire, I must leave to the reader to imagine, and only observe that my acquaintance with that gentleman was but very slight, say about ten days, while I remained at Gibraltar, immediately before my disaster—it was sufficient for him to know his fellow creatures were in distress, and that it was in his power to relieve them. Mr. Sprague is a native of Boston, the capital of the State of Massachusetts, and had established himself as a respectable merchant in Gibraltar a little before the breaking out of the late war.—In the early part of that war a number of American vessels were despatched by individuals with cargoes of provisions, &c. for Spain and Portugal—these vessels were navigated under enemies’ licenses, but from some cause or other, many of them were seized on the ocean by British ships of war, and conducted to Gibraltar; where both the vessels and their cargoes were condemned, and their crews turned adrift in the streets without a cent of money in their pockets, and left to the mercy of the elements. Mr. Gavino, the American consul, would not act in their behalf, because (as he stated) his functions had ceased by reason of the warwhen this humane and generous gentleman took them under his protection, hired the hulk of an old vessel for them to live in, furnished them with provisions and other necessaries and comforts for the term of one whole year or upwards, and in this manner supported for the greater part of that time as many as one hundred and fifty men—this he did from his own purse, and out of pure philanthropy—of this I was informed by Mr. Charles Moore, of Philadelphia, and other gentlemen of respectability and veracity. He alse furnished and sent a considerable sura of money to Algiers, which bought from hard labour our unfortunate countrymen, comprising the officers and crew of the brig-, Captain Smith, of Boston, who were made slaves by that regency;—in this he was assisted by Messrs. Charles H. Hall & Co. merchants at Cadiz, and several other worthy and respectable Americans; but the loss of the United States’ sloop of war the Epervier, when homeward bound, having on board all the redeemed slaves after the peace with Algiers, rendered it impossible for them to communicate their sense of gratitude for Mr. Sprague’s humanity. These facts were stated to me by several respectable individuals in Gibraltar, and can be authenticated beyond a doubt.

After my mind had been again tranquillized by a refreshing night’s sleep, my reflections returned to my providential preservation.

When my vessel was wrecked, I was endued with presence of mind, judgment, and prudence, whereby my whole crew was saved in the first instance, and safely landed. When I was seized on afterwards by the Arabs, a superior intelligence suddenly suggested to my mind a stratagem by which my life was saved, though one of my unfortunate companions was sacrificed to glut the brutal ferocity of the natives, whilst I was conducted to the wreck in safety through a tremendous surf that rolled over me every instant. The ways of Providence were next traced out to my wondering eyes in the smoothing down of the sea, so that we were enabled to row our crazy boat out with safety to the ocean, and in our preservation in an open boat amidst violent g^Jes of wind, though her timbers and planks seemed only to hold together by the pressure of the sea acting upon their outer side. When destitute of provisions and water, worn down with privations and fatigues, we were again landed on the coast, carried on the top of a dreadful wave over the heads of craggy rocks that must have dashed us and our boat to atoms without a particular divine protection. We were next forced to climb over the most formidable precipices and db- structions, before it was possible to arrive on the dreary desart above us: these delays were necessary to bring us, at a proper time, within sight of fires kindled by Arabs, who had arrived there that day, (and who were the first, as I was afterwards informed, who had been there to water their camels within the last thirty days,) and who were providentially sent to save our lives, as we could not have existed a day longer without drink. Though my skin was burned off by the sun’s rays, and myself given as a slave to those wandering wretches—the same Almighty power still preserved my life, endowed me with intelligence to comprehend a language I had never before heard spoken, and enabled me to make myself understood by that people, and in some degree respected. Sidi Hamet (though a thievish Arab) had been sent from the confines of the Moorish Empire before I left Gibraltar: he was conducted by the same unerring wisdom to my master’s tent; his heart was softened at the recital of my distresses, and instead of trading in the article of ostrich feathers, (which was his whole business there, as he believed) he was persuaded by a wretched naked skeleton of a slave, merely retaining the glimmering of the vital spark, against his own judgment, and directly and strenuously opposed by his brother and partner, who insisted that if even I told the truth, and had a friend in Morocco to purchase me on my arrival there, yet my death must certainly happen long before it was possible to get me to that place : yet this same brother, one of the most barbarous of men, was forced, though against his will, to agree, and to lend the aid of his property in effecting the purchase, and to exert himself to support and to defend myself and four .companions through the desart, whilst all his schemes for selling and separating us had constantly proved abortive. A Spanish barque had been destroyed by the natives on the coast of Sum-, north of Cape Nun, and nineteen men had been either massacred by the natives, or were groaning out a miserable existence in the worst kind of barbarian slavery—this event alone had furnished a piece of paper on. which I wrote the note, at a venture, to Mogadore: my note fell into the hands of a perfect stranger, whose name I had never even heard of, and who was as ignorant of mine. This excellent young man was touched by the same power who had hitherto protected me: he agreed to pay the sum demanded without reflection, though his utter ruin might have been the consequence, trusting implicitly to the written word of a wretched naked §lave; a person of whom he had no knowledge, and who w'as then three hundred miles distant, and even out of the power of the government that protected him; and his impatience to relieve my distresses was so great, that he instantly paid the money demanded by my master, on his simply agreeing to stay in Swearah (Mogadore) until we came up, but without the power to keep him one instant if he chose to go away; nor would he allow time to the magnanimous Moor, who kindly volunteered to go down after us, at the imminent risk of his life, scarcely to take leave of his family: mounting him on his own mule, and begging him to hurry on, day and night, until he reached us, and to spare neither pains or expense in fetching us to Mogadore.

I cannot here omit mentioning the manner in which Mr. Willshire got my first note. Sidi Hamet (the bearer of it) was one of those Arabs belonging to a tribe, surnamed by the Moors sons of Lions, on account of their unconquerable spirit; when he came to the gate of Swearah or Mogadore, he providentially was met by Rais bel Cossim, who though a perfect stranger, asked him, “ From whence come you, son of a lion?” Upon which Sidi Hamet stopped, and made known his business. This Moor was the only one which Mr. Willshire placed confidence in, or treated as a friend: he conducted Sidi Hamet to Mr. Willshire’s house, and offered to leave his family, who were then sick, and to do his utmost to restore me and my men to liberty. Providence had also caused us to be stopped at Stuka, where we had time to recover, in part, from our illness, and to gain strength enough to support us through the remainder of our journey; had turned the contrivances of Sheick Ali into nothingness, and finally provided for us such a friend as Mr. Sprague of Gibraltar, one of the most feeling and best of men.

This providential chain of events, thus planned and executed, even against the will of the principal agents employed, filled my mind with unutterable thankfulness and wonder at the wisdom, the goodness, and the mercy of God towards me; and the emotions which these reflections excited kept me almost constantly bathed in tears for the greatest part of a month. When I retired to rest, and sleep had closed my eyes, my mind still retaining the strong impression of my past sufferings, made them the subjects of my dreams. I used to rise in my sleep, and think I was driving camels up and down the sandy hills near the desart, or along the craggy steeps of Morocco: obeying my master’s orders in putting on my fetters, or beckets, on the legs and knees of his camels, and in the midst of my agonizing toils and heart-sickening anxieties, while groping about my room, I would hit my head against Something, which would startle and awaken me: then I would throw myself on my bed again to sleep, and dream, and act over similar scenes. Fearing I should get out of my chamber and injure myself in my sleep, I always locked the door, and hid the key before I went to bed. There was a grating to the windows of the apartments I slept in, and I often tiWoke and found myself trying to get out. My thind at length became more composed and serene as my strength increased, and by the first of December I Was able to ride out, and to walk about the city. Mr. Willshire, whose whole attention had bteten shown to me and my companions, tried every, means to divert my mind from the subject of my reflections, and would ride out with me to a garden two miles out of the city, accompanied by a Moor, where we passed away many pleasant hours, which were endeared by every feeling and sentiment of gratitude and esteem on the one part, and of generous sympathy and god-like benevolence on the other.

In this garden stood a venerable fig-tree, whose body and boughs were covered with the names, and initials of the names, of almost all the Europeans and Americans who had visited Swearah, or Moga- dore, carved out with knives in the thick bark, accompanied with the dates of their several visits, &c. This was a kind of monument I delighted to examine; it seemed to say that Swearah was once a flourishing city, when its commerce was fostered by the Moorish government; but now, that superstition,fanaticism, and tyranny bear sway, they have swept away, with th^ir pernicious breath, the whole wealth of its once industrious and highly favoured inhabitants;— have driven the foreigner from their shores, and it seems as if the curse of Heaven had fallen on the whole land, for in spite of all the exertions of its cultivators and the fertility of the soil, severe droughts, and the ravages of the locusts, have frequently caused a famine in that country, from whence wheat was exported in immense quantities but a few years past for Spain and Portugal, at half a dollar per bushel. Not a single bushel had been shipped for some years past, and at this time none was to be had at any price, except now and then a few bags, brought from the province of Duquella, which could only be purchased by the most wealthy: the others were provided with scanty portions of barley* ©f which they made their coos-coo-soo.

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