Sufferings In Africa

by James Riley

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Chapter XXXV

Moorish captives—Of Tangier and Christian Consuls--passage to Gibraltar, reception there—embarks for America—observations on Gibraltar—passage in the ship Rapid—arrival at New-York—visits his family —goes to Washington City, the seat of government, and concludes with brief remarks on slavery.

During my stay at Tangier, I was made acquainted with Mr. Green, the English Consul General, a gentleman of talents, high respectability, and worth; and with Mr. Agrill, the Swedish Consul General, who had lately arrived there from Sweden. On his arrival, he found the crew of the before-mentioned Russian brig, in Tangier prison, and finding there was no one to claim or redeem them, and that they were natives of what once was Swedish Pomerania, he purchased them from the Sultan for about two thousand dollars, which he paid out of his own private funds, and set them at liberty. I saw and conversed with the master and most .pf the crew of that vessel, who told me they had^been imprisoned at Laresch about a year; had been robbed of most of their clothing, and. then brought to Tangier, where Mr. Agrill had the charity to redeem them, though they were captured under the Russian flag, and did not owe allegiance to the Swedish government. Mr. Agrill kept them in his own house, waiting for a Swedish vessel of war, which was daily expected, and by which he meant to send them to their country. The captain mentioned to me that his vessel was in fact English property covered by the Russian flag, in order to avoid capture by the American cruisers. I had before known Mr. Agrill in St. Petersburg, Russia—then in a public character—he is a man of much real worth.

Tangier bay is said to be the best harbour in the Moorish dominions ; its bottom is clear, and it might contain at one time one thousand sail of large vessels, which would ride in safety, being sheltered from all but the northerly winds, which have only the rake of the breadth of the strait, and the holding ground is excellent : the best anchorage is in seven and a half fathoms water ; where the Portuguese flag-staff (which is the westernmost and near the water) is on a line with the American flag-staff, which latter is high, and can always be known by having its flag hoisted when an American vessel approaches the bay. The city of Tangier is built on' the west side and near the mouth of the bay, on the declivity of a hill, two miles east of Cape Spartel, rising like an amphitheatre ; the houses are built of stone, and whitewashed, and the town, when seen from the bay or strait, has a very handsome appearance; but it is badly built; the houses being generally small, and but one story high, with flat terraced roofs: the streets are narrow, crooked, badly paved, and commonly Very dirty. There are however some handsome buildings in Tangier; among which are the Spanish, Swedish, Dutch, French, Danish, and Portuguese consular houses : the old English consular house has been lately abandoned on account of its bad construction, but they are now building a very elegant one, that is said to have already cost the British government ten thousand pounds sterling, and will cost nearly as much more by the time it is finished^ atid furnished. The American government has no consular house at Tangier; the consul general resides in a house that was formerly attached to that of the Swedish consulate: it was purchased by Mr. Simpson, on his own private account for his own use, and for an office for the use of the United States, in order to save the expense of house-rent, and the dwelling part is so small and inconvenient, that when his own children visit him from abroad, he is forced to hire lodgings for them in Jews or others houses. I believe every government having a consul residing at Tangier, except that of my own country, has either built or purchased a mansion for the accommodation of that officer. Mr. Simpson’s eldest son with his lady were now on a visit to their parents; and the consul had to hire apartments in a Jew’s house for a few days to accommodate them: he was also under the necessity of procuring lodgings for me in a Jew’s house during a few nights of my stay there.

Tangier is an irregularly built walled town ot about one mile in circuit, including the fortress which overlooks and commands it: it is well supplied with water by a covered aqueduct, and generally well furnished with provisions: the several batteries are lined with many pieces of ordnance, among which are two pieces of long brass cannon of fourteen inches caliber; they are mounted on carriages, and stand in a battery near the landing without the city- gate : these two enormous brass pieces were made by the Portuguese, and are (judging by the eye) about eighteen feet in length.

' Tangier was taken from the Moors in the year 1441, by the Portuguese, who gave it to King Charles the II. of England, in a dowry for Catha-- rine of Portugal, his queen. The English kept possession of it for about twenty years; but, finding it subject to the continual attacks of the ferocious Moors, from whom it was with great difficulty defended, they blew up its fine mole or basin, (which* had before rendered it a safe harbour for small vessels,) to low-water-mark, together with some of the fortifications, and abandoned the place: the mole has not since been rebuilt. I walked over it at low water: a great quantity of the large blocks of hewn stone are now to be seen lying on the solid foundations, which still remain almost entire. On the east side of, and near the bottom of the bay, are to be seen the ruins of an old town, which is said to have been built by the Romans. It must formerly have been very extensive, from the present appearance of its ruins, and was watered by n small river that runs into the bay near its site. There are several forts and batteries on the eastern shore of the bay, and on Cape Malibat, but they are so badly garrisoned as not to be formidable to their enemies, if any should chance to take shelter in the bay during bad weather : they have only to keep out of the reach of the shot from Tangier. All the Christian consuls near the Emperor of Morocco reside at Tangier, where their persons are protected by order of the Sultan. Those at Tangier are—for the United States of America, James Simpson, Esq.; Great-Britain, Mr. Green; France, Mr.Sourdian ; Sweden, Mr. Agrill; Spain, Don Orne, vice-consul; Denmark, Mr. Scom- boe; Holland, Mr. Nijsoin ; and Portugal, Mr. Co- loso. The consuls at Tangier keep up a sort of etiquette, in celebrating the memorable epochs in the history of their respective countries, and their particular national holidays, which custom is peculiar to Tangier. They also keep up the long established custom of giving consular dinners all in turn round on the arrival of any new consul, or when an old one is recalled, &c. These customs are extremely expensive, but have now become absolutely necessary in order to impress the minds of the Moors with respect for the dignity of the respective nations which those consuls represent. The Christian consuls general, near the Emperor of Morocco, are, generally speaking, men eminent on account of character, talents, and learning, and have a large salary; for, like foreign ministers plenipotentiary, they are not allowed to derive any emolument whatever from commerce. By accepting of this-appointment, they exclude themselves from the society and comforts of the civilized world, and live besides in exile, and in continual jeopardy, being always in the power of real barbarians. They are under the necessity of sending to Europe for all their clothing, liquors, stores, furniture, &c. except a few articles of provisions, and those who have families are obliged to send their children to other countries for their education, though at a very heavy expense. Mr. Simpson left a lucrative commercial establishment at Gibraltar, in 1798, and went to Tangier, merely to serve our government, at a time when war was intended by the Moorish Sultan against our commerce. He succeeded in averting the threatened blow, and in establishing our present treaty with that sovereign. He is a gentleman of unblemished character, and pleasing manners, and has expended a handsome fortune in the service of the United States, over and above his consular salary. He has passed the best of his days in the service of his adopted country, and, in my opinion, deserves a handsome maintenance from government during the remainder of his life, free from the cares, vexations, and anxieties that are always attached to a consulate in such barbarous countries. Mr. Simpson is a native of Scotland, but a firm American in principle, and an enthusiastic admirer of our excellent institutions.

The whole sea force of the Emperor of Morocco, as I before observed, consists of two frigates of 32 guns each, and the brig Mogadore of 18 guns : the onl^ port he has which can shelter and secure them from the reach of an enemy, is Laresch, which they can neither enter nor sail from when equipped, except at high-water spring tides. There are no corsairs or small vessels belonging to individuals as formerly, nor is there even a merchant-vessel belonging to the Moors. In order to show how much value the present Sultan sets on his ships of war, I must relate in what manner he sometimes disposes of them. About two years since, the Dey of Tripoli sent as a present to the emperor of Morocco, a beautiful Circassian girl: she was a virgin, and possessed charms with which the old Sultan was so enraptured, that he asked the ambassador who escorted her from Tripoli, what he could send to his friend, the Bashaw, in return for this jewel ?—I have nothing but wheat, said he, of which the Dey, your master, can always have as much as he pleases. The Dey, my master, said the ambassador, is always in want of wheat; but, returned the Emperor, 1 would return him something more valuable ; he has made me a most superb present, and I wish to return the compliment in a handsome manner. Your majesty has frigates, said the ambassador:—so I have, indeed, answered the Sultan, and that gives me much pleasure; go to Laresch, and make choice of one from among my navy: I will have her fitted out in the best manner, and sent round to the Dey directly : the ambassador did not wait a second bidding, but went in haste to Laresch, for fear the sovereign might change his mind; chose a fine new frigate of 32 guns that had but a short time previou been coppered to the bends, which was immediately fitted according to promise, and sent to Tripoli, with the ambassador on board, and where she arrived in safety, being escorted by an English vessel of war. Both Mr. Simpson and Mr. Green assured me, that this statement was correct. The emperor’s squadron might be blockaded, at all times, by a very small force—his large ships are, therefore, not at all to be dreaded by any maritime power who has timely notice of his hostile intentions, as they are badly equipped and manned, having now no maritime commerce, and consequently no nursery for seamen. The only port from which he could do any mischief of importance to Christian commerce is Tangier. Should this, or any future Sultan, think proper to declare war against any maritime state, he has only to send money over to Cadiz, Algeciras, or Gibraltar, and purchase fast sailing latteen rigged boats; fit and man them in Tangier immediately, and send them to cruise in the mouth of the straits: thus they might seize on the unsuspecting and unarmed merchant ships, as they pass along—conduct them into Tangier bay, or to any place along the coast, where they would soon unload and run the vessels on shore, keeping their crews as slaves. In this light alone can the emperor of Morocco be reckoned foamidable to commercial states, and this game could only be played for a short time, until the nation thus attacked could send a force sufficient to destroy the marauders. It would be good policy, however, to keep at peace with the Moorish sovereign, as his rovers, lying. at the door of the Mediterranean, might do much mischief; and to be a slave to the Moors, is, indeed, dreadful to a Christian.

Tangier has but little commerce with Europe, and this is chiefly carried on by the Jews; but the English government get their supplies of cattle and other fresh provisions for the garrison of Gibraltar from that place and Tetuan: this and the other trifling trade is carried on in Gibraltar-boats and Spanish small craft. There is a considerable Coral Fishery along the Moorish coast, about Cape Spar- tel, and while I remained at Tangier, two Spanish boats came into the port with what coral they had been able to procure for the last six months: it was of a beautiful colouf 1 , and of an excellent quality; I was informed by one of the boatmen, that in order to get the coral, they anchor in deep water, amongst the rocks, and let down their nets, which soon become entangled amongst the coral, and they then draw it on board: this man said, that they came over from Tariffa, and obtained leave from the Alcayd of Tangier to fish on the coast, by agreeing to give him one-third of the coral they should obtain; that he put two Moors on board their boats (one each) to assist them in procuring provisions, water, &c. and serve as safeguards: he said, the whole of the coral they then had was to be divided the next day, when they should sell their share at public sale to the highest bidder, and I afterwards understood from Mr. Simpson, that the French Consul purchased it for twelve hundred dollars , and there were twelve fishermen t® share the money.

On the 29th of January, 1816, a small schooner being ready to sail for Gibraltar, I took my leave of Mr. Simpson and family, and proceeded on to the mole, in order to embark. This vessel had been hired by a certain Jew, named Torrel, to carry his family across to. Gibraltar, which, with two or three other families of European Jews, who would not conform to the dress in which all Jews in Moorish Barbary had been ordered to appear, nor pay the tribute lately levied on them by the Sultan, were ordered to depart forthwith from his dominions. These families came out of the gates of the city, in order to embark together, and proceeded with their baggage to the ruins of the old mole, to go off in the boat, it being low water: they were accompanied by a considerable number of Jews and Jewesses. A few of the latter, very decently dressed, wished to escort them to the boat, and there to take their leave, &c.—but the Moorish captains of the port, without ceremony, began to brush them back with big staffs they carried for the purpose : these sticks were about five feet in length, and one inch in diameter, and they applied them so unmercifully, and with such singular dexterity, peculiar to the Moors, as to lay many decent-looking Jewish females, as well as males, prostrate upon the beach; when they renewed their blows, in order to raise them on their feet again, and drive them into the city-gate, like so many of the brute creation.

At about 8 o’clock A. M. I got on board this vessel in company with Mr. John Simpson and his lady, who were on a return from a visit to their parents, and after waiting nearly three hours for a letter which the Governor wished to send to Gibraltar, we set sail and left the bay with a fair but light breeze. The scene of inhumauity and oppression I had just witnessed, prompted me to thank my God again that I was not a Jew, and that I was once more free from a country inhabited by the worst of barbarians.

Passing up the strait, which in one place is only eight miles broad, we arrived safe in Gibraltar bay in the evening; but as we did not get up before the town until the gates of the garrison were closed, we were obliged to remain, (40 in number) on board the vessel during the night. On the 30th we were visited very early by a boat from the health office, and permitted to land. I went on shore immediately, and was received by my friend Sprague with demonstrations of unfeigned joy, and heartily welcomed to that portion of the civilized world, and treated with all the attention that flows from thp warmest friend* ship, and the tenderest commiseration. The American Consul was also attentive to me, and he had also paid attention to the wants of my companions in distress, who had arrived there from Mogadore by sea a few days before me. An acquaintance told me that Mr. Sprague had received Mr. Wiilshire’s letter, informing him of my captivity, on one Monday morning at the moment of his return from Aigeciras, a famous Spanish town on the opposite side of the bay, about ten miles from Gibraltar, where he generally spent the Sabbath; that he opened the jetterin the presence of, and read its contents to Mr. Henry, United States Consul, a Mr. Kennedy of Baltimore, and some other American gentlemen: that Mr. Henry suggested that a subscription should be opened and sent up to all the Consuls in the Mediterranean, in order to raise money as soon as possible, and transmit is to Mogadore to release us: that Mr. Sprague made no answer whatever to this proposition, but sent his trusty young man (Mr. Leach) out with orders to purchase two double-barrelled guns, while he hastily wrote a few lines to Mr. Will- shire and myself, as before mentioned : that there was but one double-barrelled fowling-piece to be procured in the garrison: this was bought at the price of eighty dollars, and taking it together with his own, which was a very highly finished, and favourite piece, he mounted his horse and proceeded as fast as possible to Algeciras, carrying the guns along with him ; from whence he immediately despatched a courier to Tariffa with the guns and his letters, ordering them to be sent by an express-boat to Tangier, and to the care of Mr. Simpson, to be again forwarded by express to Mogadore. Such disinterested goodness, and such prompt and animated exertions to relieve a fellow-creature in distress, have seldom been recorded, and are above all praise : they are examples of pure benevolence, that do honour to human nature; and ever honoured and beloved shall he be, who has the heart and the spirit to imitate them.

Mr. Sprague had already paid the bills I had drawn on him in Mogadore for my ransom, &c. and He now furnished me with provisions and stores, for my voyage home, I having determined to go by the first vessel for the United States. The ship Rapid of New-York, Captain Robert Williams, being in readiness to sail for that port, I embarked in her, accompanied by Mr. Savage and Horace; Clark and Burns having been previously accommodated on board the ship Rolla, Captain Brown, of Newbury- port, that was to proceed to the United States by way of Cadiz. We set sail for our native country on the 2d of February, 1816, with a fair breeze, and on the 3d were safe without the straits.

As Gibraltar has been so frequently mentioned in my narrative, a few descriptive observations respecting it may not be uninteresting to some of my readers. Gibraltar is situated at the entrance of the Mediterranean Sea, and is attached to the continent of Europe by a low and narrow neck of sandy land, which, as it lies neither in Spain nor Gibraltar, is called the neutral ground. The rock appears to me to have been originally an island, and the beach, or neutral ground, to have been formed by the heaving up of sand and gravel from the Mediterranean Sea on the one side, and from the bay of Gibraltar on the other. The rock is about two miles in length from north to south, and one mile in breadth from east to west. Ft rises from the south point in abrupt cliffs, one above another, for about half a mile, when it comes to its extreme height, which is said by some to measure fourteen hundred feet, and by others, seventeen hundred feet from the surface of the water: the top extends, in uneven craggy points, for about one mile to the northward, when it'breaks off in one sudden cliff, which is nearly perpendicular to the neutral ground, forming a face nearly as wide as the rock itself, and completely inaccessible. This rock forms probably the strongest fortress in Europe: it has been long in the hands of the English; and is surmounted with batteries of heavy cannon in every direction, and is strongly walled in at every accessible point, so as to be considered impregnable. The western side of the rock, near its b.ise, is more flatted and less inaccessible : here the town is built, which consists of about two thousand stone houses, and is said now to contain thirty thousand inhabitants, who may be said to compose a very heterogeneous mass : for, as it is a free port, where the ves sels and subjects of all nations who are at peace with England, enter with their goods, traffic and depart at pleasure, and are wholly free from governmental duties and impositions. People of all nations, tongues, and kindred, are there to be found. The bay is very spacious, and is capable of containing a vast number of shipping, which may ride in safety, except in heavy gales from the east or south. This fortress is held by the English government as a key, or rather a lock and key to the Mediterranean Sea, the door of which the Moors and Spaniards consider as their property. Its garrison is composed of native English troops, which, in time of war, ought t® be seven thousand strong: it is commanded by a military governor, and is always under martial law. The British, with indefatigable industry and immense labour, have formed roads up its steep western side, and constructed batteries, which are mounted with heavy artillery, on its very summit. Its eastern side is steep and inaccessible. In its northern side, next the neutral ground, but some hundred feet above it, excavations have been formed in the massy rock, in which heavy artillery is placed, and pointed through port-hol^s penetrating the solid front: these batteries completely command the land side, and are of course bomb proof—they are called the upper and lower galleries, and are of great extent. Among its natural curiosities, St. Michael’s cave is the most remarkable :—this commences near the top of the rock, and no bottom to it has ever yet been found by the English, though it has been explored (such is the popular story) for many miles, and the Moors have a notion that it forms a passage under the strait to the coast of Morocco. Thousands of monkeys also inhabit the summit and recesses of this barren rock, but which in time of war is the emporium of the Mediterranean trade.

After beating about for several days, near Cape St. Vincent, with heavy gales of wind from the westward, we steered to the southward into the latitude of Madeira, and I found that the reckonings of the officers on board were up fifty miles before we saw that island, though they had good opportunities to get meridian and other altitude^ jvhich further confirmed me in the opinions I had already formed respecting the Gulf-stream, as elucidated in the Appendix. After passing Madeira, we made the best of our way into the latitude of the constant trade winds, say from 25 to 28 degrees, and ran down as far as about the longitude of 70° : then steered northward, and arrived in New-York on the 20th of March, 1816, where I was received by my friends and fellow-citizens with demonstrations of joy and commiseration. 1 hastened to Middletown, Connecticut, to visit my family, whom I found in good health. Our meeting was one of those that language is inadequate to describe. I spent only a week with them,our hearts beating in unison, and swelling with gratitude to God for his mercies; when what I owed to my friend Sprague, and the remainder of my fellow-sufferers, called me to the seat of government. On my arrival in Washington, I was introduced by the Hon. Samuel W. Dana, Senator in Congress, to the Hon. James Monroe, Secretary of State, who received me in the most kind and feeling manner. The Administration paid from the Treasury my own and my crew’s ransom, thus far, amounting to one thousand eight hundred and fifty-two dollars and forty-five cents , and assured me that provision should be immediately made to meet the amount that might be demanded for the remainder of the crew, should they ever be found alive. The Secretary, together with many distinguished members of both houses of Congress, advised me to publish a Narrative of my late disasters, which I have faithfully performed, and shall now close my labors with a few brief remarks.

I have spent my days, thus far, amidst the bustle and anxieties incident to the life of a seaman and a merchant, and being now fully persuaded that the real wants of human nature are very few, and easily satisfied, I shall henceforth remain, if it is God’s will in my native country. I have been taught in the school of adversity to be contented with my lot, whatever future adversities I may have to encounter, and shall endeavour to cultivate the virtues of charity and universal benevolence. I have drank deep of the bitter cup of sufferings and wo; have been dragged down to the lowest depths of human degradation and wretchedness; my naked frame exposed without shelter to the scorching skies and chilling night winds of the desart, enduring the most excruciating torments, and groaning, a. wretched*slave, under the stripes inflicted by the hands of barbarous monsters, bearing indeed the human form, but unfeeling, merciless, and malignant as demons; yet when near expiring with my various and inexpressible sufferings; when black despair had seized on my departing soul, amid the agonies of the most cruel of all deaths, I cried to the Omnipotent for mercy, and the outstretched hand of Providence snatched me from the jaws of destruction. Unerring wisdom and goodness has since restored me to the comforts of civilized life, to the. bosom of my family, and to the blessings of my native land, whose political and moral institutions are in themselves the very best of any that prevail in the civilized portions of the globe, and ensure to her citizens the greatest share of personal liberty, protection, and happiness; and yet, strange as it must appear to the philanthropist, my proud-spirited and free countrymen still hold a million of the human species in the most cruel bonds of slavery, who are kept at hard labour and smarting under the savage lash of inhuman mercenary drivers, and in many instances enduring besides the miseries of hunger, thirst, imprisonment, cold, nakedness, and even tortures. This is no picture of the imagination : for the honour of human nature I wish its likeness were indeed no where to be found ; but I myself have witnessed such scenes in different parts of my own country, and the bare recollection now chills my blood with horror. Adversity has taught me some noble lessons: I haye now learned to look with compassion on my enslaved and oppressed fellow creatures, and my future life shall be devoted to their cause:—I will exert all my remaining faculties to redeem the enslaved, and to shiver in pieces the rod of oppression ; and I trust I shall be aided in that holy work by every good and every pious, free, and high-minded citizen in the community, and by the friends of mankind throughout the civilized world.

The present situation of the slaves in our country ought to attract an uncommon degree of commiseration, and might be essentially ameliorated without endangering the public safety, or even causing the least injury to individual interest. I am far from being of opinion that they should all be emancipated immediately, and at once. I am aware that such a measure would not only prove ruinous to great numbers of my fellow citizens, who are at present slave holders, and to whom this species of property descended as an inheritance; but that it would also turn loose upon the face of a free and happy country, a race of men incapable of exercising the necessary occupations of civilized life, in such a manner as to ensure to themselves an honest and comfortable subsistence ; yet it is my earnest desire that such a plan should be devised, founded on the firm basis and the eternal principles of justice and humanity, and developed and enforced by the general government, as will gradually, but not less effectually, wither and extirpate the accursed tree of slavery, that has been suffered to take such deep root in our otherwise highly-favoured soil; while, at the same time, it shall put it out of the power of either the bone or the released slave, or their posterity, ever to endanger our future domestic peace or political tranquility.



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