Lost Ships and Lonely Seas/Chapter 6
CAPTAIN PADDOCK ON THE COAST OF BARBARY
THE veterans of the Revolution of '76, who had won a war for freedom, were still young men when American sailors continued to be bought and sold as slaves for a few dollars a head on the farther side of the Atlantic. It was a trade which had flourished during the colonial period, and was unmolested even after the Stars and Stripes proclaimed the sovereign pride and independence of this Union of States. Indeed, while hundreds of American mariners were held in this inhuman bondage, their Government actually sent to the Dey of Algiers a million dollars in money and other gifts, including a fine new frigate, as humble tribute to this bloody heathen pirate in the hope of softening his heart.
It was the bitterest touch of humiliation that this frigate, the Crescent, sailed from the New England harbor of Portsmouth, whose free tides had borne a few years earlier the brave keels of John Paul Jones's Ranger and America.
The Christian nations of Europe deliberately granted immunity to these nests of sea-robbers in Algiers, Morocco, Tunis, and Tripoli in order that they might prey upon the ships and sailors of weaker countries and destroy their commerce. This ignoble spirit was reflected in a speech of Lord Sheffield in Parliament in 1784.
"It is not now probable that the American States will have a very free trade in the Mediterranean. It will not be to the interest of any of the great maritime powers to protect them from the Barbary States. If they know their interests, they will not encourage the Americans to be ocean carriers. That the Barbary States are advantageous to maritime powers is certain."
It was not until 1803 that the United States, a feeble nation with a little navy, resolved that these shameful indignities could no longer be endured. While Europe cynically looked on and forbore to lend a hand, Commodore Preble steered the Constitution and the other ships of his squadron into the harbor of Tripoli, smashed its defenses, and compelled an honorable treaty of peace. Of all the wars in which the American Navy had won high distinction, there is none whose episodes are more brilliant than those of the bold adventure on the coast of Barbary.
The spirit of it was typical of Preble, the fighting Yankee commodore, who fell in with a strange ship one black night in the Straits of Gibraltar. From the quarterdeck of the Constitution he trumpeted a hail, but the response was evasive, and both ships promptly manœuvered for the weather gage.
"I hail you for the last time. If you don't answer, I'll fire into you," roared Preble. "What ship is that?"
"His Britannic Majesty's eighty-four gun ship-of-the-line Donegal," came back the reply. "Send a boat on board."
Without an instant's hesitation the commodore thundered from his Yankee frigate:
"This is the United States forty-four-gun ship Constitution, Captain Edward Preble, and I'll be damned if I send a boat aboard any ship. Blow your matches, boys!"
Until the hordes of Moorish and Arab cutthroats and slavers were taught by force to respect the flag flown by American merchant-men, there was no fate so dreaded by mariners as shipwreck on the desert coast of northern Africa. For a hundred and fifty years they risked the dreadful peril of enslavement under taskmasters incredibly inhuman, who lashed and starved and slew them. In the seventeenth century it was no uncommon sight in the ports of Salem and Boston to see an honest sailor trudging from house to house to beg money enough to ransom or buy his shipmates held in Barbary.
The old records note many such incidents, as that in 1700:
Benjamin Alford and William Bowditch related that their friend Robert Carver was taken nine years before a captive into Sallee, that contributions had been made for his redemption, that the money was in the hands of a person here, and that if they had the disposal of it they could release Carver.
The expansion of American trade in far-distant waters which swiftly followed the Revolution increased the number of disasters of this kind, and among the old narratives of the sea that were written about 1800 no theme is more frequent, and few so tragic, as the sufferings of the survivors of some gallant American ship which laid her bones among the breakers of the African coast. These personal experiences, simply and movingly written by some intelligent master or mate and printed as thin books or pamphlets, were among the "best sellers" of their day when the world of fact was as wildly romantic as the art of fiction was able to weave for later generations.
Among these briny epics of the long ago is the story of Captain Judah Paddock and his crew of the ship Oswego. She sailed from Cork in March, 1800, for the Cape Verd Islands, to take on a cargo of salt and hides and then to complete the homeward voyage to New York. The Oswego was a fast and able vessel of 260 tons, absurdly small to modern eyes, and carried thirteen sailors, including boys. After passing Cape Finisterre, Captain Paddock began to distrust his reckoning because of much thick weather, but felt no serious concern until the ship was fairly in the surf, which pounded and hammered her hull with one tremendous blow after another.
Daylight disclosed what the old sea-songs called "the high coast of Barbary" no more than a few hundred yards distant. The Oswego was beating out her life among the rocks, and it was time to leave her. The boats were smashed in trying to land, and the only refuge was this cruel and ominous shore, the barren wastes of sand and mountain, the glaring sun, the evil nomads.
With a few bottles of water and such food as they could pack on their backs, these pilgrims set out to trudge along the coast in the direction of Mogador, where they hoped to find the protection of an English consul. It was not an auspicious omen when they discovered a group of roofless huts rudely built of stone, a heap of human bones, and the broken timbers of a large frigate washed up by the tide. These relics were enough to indicate the fate of a large company of seamen who had been cast away in this savage region.
There were men of all sorts among these hapless refugees of the Oswego, and most of them endured their hard lot with the patient courage of the deep-water mariner. The cook, however, was an exasperating rascal of an Irishman called Pat who had smuggled himself aboard at Cork as a ragged stowaway, and he lost no time in starting trouble on the coast of Barbary. In his pack was a bottle of gin, which had passed the skipper's inspection as water, and while on sentry duty at night to watch for prowling Arabs, Pat got uproariously drunk and fought a Danish foremast hand who was tippling with him. In the ruction they smashed several precious bottles of water, and were too tipsy next morning to resume the march.
The other sailors held an informal trial. This was their own affair, and Captain Paddock's protests were unheeded. Pat was so drunk that he could not appear in his own defense, and the sentence was that his share of the bread and water should be taken from him and he be left behind to die. He was accordingly abandoned, blissfully snoring on the sand, the empty gin bottle in his fist; but after a mile or so of painful progress two of the men relented and listened to the captain's appeal. Back they went, and dragged Pat along, damning him bitterly and swearing to kill him on the spot if he misbehaved again.
After three days the torments of thirst were severe, and the heat blistered their souls. In the wreck of the Oswego there was water in barrels, plenty of it, and this was all that the fevered minds of most of the sufferers could think of. Captain Paddock urged them to keep on with him to the eastward a few days longer toward Mogador, but they were ready to turn and struggle back to the ship, fifty miles, just to get enough water to drink. It mattered not to them that they were throwing away the hope of survival.
The captain was made of sterner stuff, and so they amiably agreed to part company. A black sailor, Jack, stepped forward and said with simple fidelity:
"Master, if you go on, I go, too."
The other negro of the crew grinned at his comrade and exclaimed:
"If you go, Jack, I reckon I 's obliged to stand by."
The scapegrace Pat, regarding the captain as his friend and protector, also elected to stay with him.
So Captain Judah Paddock was left to toil onward with Black Sam and Black Jack and the impossible Irish cook as his companions in misery while the mate and the rest of the crew turned westward to find the wreck of their ship. The parting scene has a certain nobility and pathos, as the captain's narrative describes it.
The generosity of my fellow sufferers ought not to pass by unnoticed. To a man they agreed that we should have a larger share of the water remaining than those returning to the ship. Furthermore, they invited us to join them in taking a drink from their own stock and at the conclusion, sailor-like, they proposed a parting glass, also from their own bottles. All things arranged and our packs made up, we took of each other an affectionate leave and thus we separated. The expression of every man on this truly trying occasion can never be erased from my memory as long as my senses remain. Some of us could hardly speak the word farewell. We shook hands with each other and silently moved in opposite directions.
Captain Paddock and his little party were captured by Arabs on the very next day. He met them calmly, his umbrella under one arm, spy-glass under the other, expecting instant death; but they were more intent on plunder, and the four men were stripped of their packs and most of their clothes in a twinkling. It was soon apparent that shipwrecked sailors were worth more alive than dead, and they were hustled along by their filthy captors, who gave them no more water and food than would barely keep soul and body together.
The Arabs traveled in haste to reach the wreck of the Oswego as a rare prize to be gutted. When they arrived on the scene, another desert clan, two hundred and fifty strong, had already swooped down and was in possession. There was much yelling and fighting and bloodshed before a truce was declared and the spoils were divided. Meanwhile Captain Paddock found opportunity to talk with the mate of the Oswego and the band of sailors who had returned to the wreck just in time to be made miserable captives. Presently Captain Paddock was dragged away from them. This was, indeed, a last farewell for of this larger party of American castaways only one was ever heard of again.
Flogged and starved and daily threatened with death, Captain Judah Paddock, Irish Pat, and the two black seamen were carried into the desert until their captors came to a wandering community of a thousand Bedouins, with their skin tents and camels and sheep and donkeys. Amid the infernal clamor the Americans heard a voice calling loudly in English:
"Where are they? Where are they? Where are the four sailors?" And then, as Captain Paddock tells it,
A young man once white pressed through the crowd, burnt with the sun, without hat or shoes, and his nakedness covered only with a few rags. The first words spoken to us by this frightful looking object were, "Who are you? My friends! My friends!"
I would have arisen to greet him but was too feeble. He sat down at my side, the tears streaming from his eyes, while he gave an account of himself. His name was George and he had been the steward of a ship called the Martin Hall of London, cast away upon that coast more than a year before. Part of the crew had been marched in a southeasterly direction to a place they called Elic, another part had been carried to Swearah and there ransomed, and four of them yet remained among the wandering Arabs who had been very cruel to them. He had no doubt that some of the men had been murdered because it was rumored that their owners could not find a ready sale for them, or the prices offered were too small.
A few days after this, the chief of the tribe, Ahamed, came back from a journey with two other lads of this same English crew. One was Jack, a cabin boy of thirteen, and the other was named Lawrence, a year or two older. Curiously enough, the English-born urchin, Jack, seemed contented among these wild Bedouins, and was rapidly forgetting his own people and the memories of childhood. These three youngsters from the Martin Hall had learned to speak Arabic quite readily, and they informed Captain Paddock that all the white slaves were to be sold at once and that bargaining had already begun.
The captain of the Oswego and his two black seamen were held at very high prices, and apparently there was no immediate market for them. In this year of 1800 thrifty New England skippers and merchants were piling up money in the African slave-trade, and there was logic in the argument of Ahamed, the Bedouin chief:
"I do not wish to sell these two black men at any price. They are used to our climate and can travel the desert without suffering. They are men that you Christian dogs stole from the Guinea coast, and you were going there to get more of them. You are worse than the Arabs who enslave you only when it is God's will to send you on our coast."
Captain Paddock confessed that never did he feel a reproach more sensibly; that a great many wearing the Christian name did force away from their homes and carry into perpetual slavery the poor African negroes, and thereby did make themselves worse than the Arabs. The English lads drove this truth home by secretly admitting to him that their ship, the Martin Hall, had been engaged in the Guinea slave-trade when wrecked on the coast of Barbary.
After much dickering with Ahamed, the captain agreed to purchase freedom at the rate of forty dollars per head, in addition to two looking-glasses, two combs, two pairs of scissors, a large bunch of beads, and a knife, as soon as he and his companions should be safely delivered at a friendly port. This price was not to include any official ransom which the crafty Arabs might squeeze out of the representatives of the British or American governments.
Several days of noisy haggling were necessary before Captain Paddock, Irish Pat, and the three English boys were transferred to a new owner, but the chief retained Black Sam and Black Jack, and his caravan moved off to the mountains with them. "The looks of these poor fellows were so dejected, it was painful to behold them," wrote the skipper, and in this forlorn manner vanished forever these two seamen of the Oswego's forecastle who had served with a cheerful fidelity and whose hearts were as white as their skins were black.
The Arabs drifted into a region more fertile, where there was grain to reap with sickles and grazing for the large flocks. The mariners were kept at unremitting toil on the scantiest rations, and they became mere skeletons; but their health bore up astonishingly well; and not one of them died by the wayside. The irrepressible Pat came "nearest to death when he sang Irish songs and danced jigs for the Arab women, and so delighted them that they fed him on porridge, or "stirabout," as he called it, until he swelled like a balloon.
That astute chieftain, Ahamed, reappeared on some important errand of tribal conference, and again held discourse with Captain Paddock concerning the ethics of the slave-trade. In his stately fashion he declaimed:
"You say that if I were in your country, your people would treat me better than I treat you. There is no truth in you; nothing but lies. If I were there, I should be doomed to a life-time of slavery and be put to the hardest labor in tilling your fields. You are too lazy yourselves to work in your fields, and therefore you send your ships to the negro coast, and in exchange for the worthless trinkets with which you cheat those poor blacks, you take away ship-loads of them to your country from, which never one returns. We pray earnestly to Almighty God, to send Christians ashore here in order that we may gain a little profit of the same kind, and God hears our prayers and often sends us some good ships."
It was this same masterful Bedouin, lord of the desert wastes, who enlightened Captain Paddock as to what had befallen the frigate which drove ashore where the Oswego's crew had discovered the sea-washed timbers, the roofless huts of stone, and the heap of human bones. It was a very large war-ship, French or British, and the crew of several hundred men were able to land much property and to make shelters for themselves before the Arabs found them. A small tribe went down to despoil them of all their belongings, as was righteous and proper, but the armed men-of-war's-men fired upon the Arab visitors, who were enraged at the resistance of these Christian dogs and fell upon them furiously. Many were killed on both sides, and the Arabs, finding the enemy so numerous and well disciplined, sent for help, and another tribe went down to the sea.
It was a great fight, for the Christian sailors shot very straight and often, and the Arabs were not able to close in with their long knives; so a third tribe was summoned, and the command was turned over to Ahamed. He said to Captain Paddock:
"At daylight I made signs to the infidel dogs to lay down their arms upon which their camp seemed all in confusion. At the moment we were preparing to attack them, they formed themselves in a close body and began to march off eastward. We formed ourselves in three divisions, according to the tribes, and the chief of each tribe led his own men. We attacked them in front and in rear, and after fighting a long time we killed half those dogs, and then the remnant left alive laid down their arms. We now all dropped our guns, and fell upon them with our knives, and every one of them was killed, and the whole number we found to be five hundred."
After several months of heartbreaking toil and hopes deferred, Ahamed concluded to take the business in hand and to see what could be done about getting rid of the captain and Pat and the three English boys at a satisfactory profit. The harvests had been gathered, and the demand for labor was not urgent. Ahamed had been greatly pestered by a hag of a sister who was anxious to get her hands on a looking-glass, comb, and scissors which had been mentioned as part of the bargain.
Accordingly they set out for the coast with Ahamed in charge of a small escort, all mounted on good Arab horses, the captives tortured by uncertainty, for "avarice was the ruling passion of our owners," says Captain Paddock, "and if they could have obtained as much money by putting us to death as by selling us, I verily believe they would not have hesitated to kill us on the spot, for of humane feelings toward Christians they were completely devoid."
Near the coast they met two horsemen, who halted to discuss conditions in the slave-marts, much as modern salesmen meet in the lobby of a hotel. One of these pilgrims advised Ahamed to stay away from Swearah, telling him:
This advice seemed plausible until Ahamed encountered two acquaintances afoot, one of them a very bald old man, who held an opinion quite the contrary, explaining:
"In Elic the plague still rages, and if you carry your Christian slaves there, they may all die before you get rid of them. And just now they would not fetch enough to reward you for the trouble of taking them there."
Evidently perplexed, Ahamed changed the course of his journey, to the dismay of Captain Paddock, who feared that he was to be conveyed into the interior of Barbary, beyond all chance of salvation. In a walled town Ahamed met his own brother, who was also a tribal chief, and for once the wretched captives were given enough to eat.
"Dear brother of mine," was Ahamed's greeting. "I am bound off to find a market for these vile Christians, who have been complaining incessantly of hunger. And I promised that they should have an abundance of victuals upon their arrival here."
The brother gravely assented, and his hospitality was so sincere that when one of his wives failed to cook sufficient stew for the evening meal he felled her with a club and proceeded to beat her to death by way of reproof.
"I will see if my orders cannot be obeyed," he remarked to Ahamed, who viewed it as no affair of his.
An exchange of gossip persuaded Ahamed to seek the little Moorish sea-port of Saint Cruz, or Agadir, and try to dispose of them to the best advantage. Four months after the wreck of the Oswego, Captain Judah Paddock beheld a harbor and ships riding at anchor. The governor of Agadir, a portly, courteous Moor, commanded Ahamed to take his captives to Mogador without delay and deliver them up to the British consul. To Captain Paddock he declared:
"These Arabs are a set of thieves, robbers, and murderers, and from time immemorial they have been at war with the Moors and with all others within their reach. If there is any more trouble, I will keep you here a few days, when I shall be going myself to Mogador."
The warlike Ahamed was somewhat abashed by this reception, but he made great haste to obey the governor's decree. Mounted on camels, the party crossed the mountain trails, and then halted to consider breaking back into the desert with the captives and seeking a more auspicious market for them. Ahamed regretted that he had not sold them before he foolishly strayed into the clutches of the accursed Moorish governor of Agadir. More than likely there would be no ransom forthcoming at Mogador.
In the nick of time another Moorish gentleman strolled into the little walled mountain town where they tarried for the night, and demanded to know what was going on. To him Ahamed sourly vouchsafed:
"These be Christians whom God in His goodness cast upon our coast. We bought them on the edge of the great desert from a tribe which had taken them from the wreck. We had intended to carry them on to Mogador, but to-day we have heard that the consul has no money to buy Christians with."
The Moor suggested that Captain Paddock dictate a letter to the British consul at Mogador, naming a ransom price of four hundred dollars each, which message could be sent on ahead of Ahamed, who might then await a reply before venturing into the city. The messenger galloped away on a spirited steed, but, alas! he soon came galloping back, having met a friend on the road who read the letter and swore that it would not do at all.
Captain Paddock was in the depths of despair when the friendly Moor came to the rescue with another plan. The American captain should be his own messenger into Mogador, with Ahamed and an escort to guard against escape, while the other sailors were held in the mountains as hostages.
This idea was favorably received, and after a wearisome journey Captain Judah Paddock rode into Mogador to find the British consul. When he entered the flat-roofed stone building above which flew the red cross of St. George, six or eight hearty-looking English sailors rushed forward to welcome him as a shipwrecked seamen. They were survivors of the Martin Hall, "and when I told them that three of their crew were with my party," relates Captain Paddock, "their joy was loud and boisterous. One lusty son of Neptune ran to the consul's door, shouting:
"‘Mr. Gwyn, Mr. Gwyn, an English captain is here from the Arab coast, and the Arabs with him!’"
The consul, an elderly man, hastened out in his shirt and breeches, for the hour was early in the morning, and to him Captain Paddock explained that he was really an American shipmaster whose only chance of rescue had been in calling himself an Englishman. Mr. Gwyn invited him to sit down to breakfast, and tactfully explained that there was supposed to be an American consular agent in Mogador, but the incumbent just then was a Genoese who spoke no English, and had been bundled aboard an outward-bound ship by command of the Emperor of Morocco, who had conceived a dislike for him. Mr. Gwyn went on to break the news that he had no funds with which to ransom captive sailors and that the nearest official resource would be the American consul-general at Tangier.
At this Ahamed was for dragging his slaves back to the desert, but the kindly Mr. Gwyn had no intention of permitting it, and he introduced Captain Paddock to a firm of British merchants, the brothers William and Alexander Court, who promptly offered to pay the amounts stipulated and to trust to the American government for repayment.
It then transpired that even after paying the price to the Arab tribes for the recovery of such shipwrecked waifs as these, it depended upon the whim and the pleasure of the Emperor of Morocco whether they should be allowed to go home from Barbary. He had been known to hold Christian wanderers as prisoners until it suited him to issue a special edict or passport of departure.
While dining at the house of a British resident in Mogador, Captain Paddock met a Jewish merchant recently returned from the Sahara coast who told a yarn which brought a gleam of humor into the bitter experience of the castaways. He had got wind of a shipwreck and posted off to the scene on the chance of a speculation. At the Oswego he found two or three hundred Arabs industriously despoiling the hulk of the ship. She had no cargo in her when she went ashore, being merely ballasted with Irish earth. The Arabs reasonably deduced that this stuff must be valuable or a ship would not be laden with it, and although they were unable to comprehend what it was, they thriftily proceeded to salvage every possible pound of it.
They requested the Jewish merchant to examine the treasure which had cost them much labor, as they had been compelled to dive for most of it. Every Arab had been carefully allotted his rightful share in order to prevent quarreling and bloodshed, and it was guarded in a little heap inside his tent. They were greatly mortified, the merchant recounted, when he laughed and told them the ballast was worth no more than the sand upon which they stood.
Ahamed returned to the mountain stronghold and fetched to Mogador the other mariners who were held as hostages awaiting the tidings of ransom. The little British lad called Jack had no desire to leave Barbary. He promptly ran away from Mr. Gwyn and the consulate and lived with Moorish friends in Mogador and even paraded an adopted father. Much distressed, Captain Paddock consulted the Moorish governor, who replied as follows:
You shall have all the indulgence that our laws permit, which is this: examine the boy in my presence from day to day, for three successive days, and if you can within that time persuade him to return to the Christian religion, you may receive him back. Otherwise, as he has voluntarily come among us and gone through our ceremonies, we are in duty bound to retain him.
The apostate sea urchin of the Martin Hall was accordingly examined in Arabic, and declared that he loved his adopted father, that he had become a Mohammedan, and would never change from it. Asked the reason, he said he liked this religion much better, because all Christians were to be eternally damned while a Mohammedan should see God and be saved. He repeated the long prayer of Ramadan in Arabic without stumbling over a word, and was otherwise so proficient in the new faith that the governor's verdict favored his plea. There was great rejoicing in Mogador over this conversion, and a procession of true believers escorted young Jack through the narrow streets.
Captain Judah Paddock waited in Mogador until the word came from the imperial palace in Fez that granted him the decree of liberty for himself and any of his men who should be detained elsewhere in Barbary. Soon after this an English brig stood into the harbor, but there was no room for passengers in her, and Captain Paddock lingered in tedious exile until a Portuguese schooner came in from Lisbon. Pat, the Irish cook, refused to leave Mogador, but the reasons had nothing to do with religion. He told his skipper that the mate and the men of the Oswego had sworn to kill him wherever they should cross his hawse, afloat or ashore, and if any of them were lucky enough to escape from Barbary, his life would not be worth a candle. He had discovered another Irishman in Mogador who was teaching him the cooper's trade, and the Moorish girls were very fond of his songs and his jig-steps.
From Lisbon Captain Paddock sailed homeward bound in the good ship Perseverance of Baltimore, and set foot on his native soil in November, almost a year after his disaster on the coast of Barbary. By invitation he called to see the Secretary of State, John Marshall, and told his story, besides filing the documents in the case.
Four years later than this he was walking through Water Street in New York when he met John Hill, one of the sailors of the ill-fated crew of the Oswego. He was the sole survivor of the party of the mate and a dozen men who had been carried away from the wreck into the Barbary desert. He had been sold separately, and often resold by one owner and another, so that he had heard never a word of his companions, who had been scattered among the wandering tribes of the desert.
He had chanced to meet and talk with one other Christian slave, a sailor from an American schooner out of Norfolk who had swum ashore on a spar when the vessel stranded, and was the only man saved. Seaman John Hill of the and this poor derelict from Norfolk had comforted each other for a little spell, and then they were parted. Hill had finally disguised himself as an Arab, and after a series of wonderful escapes and adventures had managed to reach Agadir, where he was promptly sold to a Jew, who kept him at hard labor for twelve months before the American consul-general heard of his plight and obtained his release.
In concluding his narrative, Captain Judah Paddock ventured this opinion, which was, no doubt, the truth:
"An that I was able to learn while a slave in Barbary confirmed my belief that many unfortunate mariners have been wrecked on that shore and there perished, who were supposed by their relatives and friends to have foundered at sea."
Another story, well known in its day, was that of Captain James Riley of the American brig Commerce which was lost on the Barbary coast in 1815. The torments of his crew while in the hands of their Arab captors are really too dreadful to describe in detail. Captain Riley, a herculean sailor weighing more than two hundred pounds, was a mere skeleton of ninety pounds when he gained his liberty at Tangier, but he recovered to command other ships and lived to a ripe old age. His soul wrung with the memories of the experience, he wrote:
"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, etc., 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 heard 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 bleeding wounds, nor any voice of humanity to soothe their bitter pangs,—till worn out with sufferings indescribable 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 miseries."
Farther to the southward on this African coast was the land of the black folk, and toward the Cape of Good Hope lay the country of the Kafirs, against whom the Boer settlers waged a war of extermination. All white men looked alike to these savage warriors, and it ill befell the ship that was cast away among them. There are scenes in the wreck of the Grosvenor, East Indiaman, lost on the Kafir coast in 1782, that are distinguished for haunting pathos and somber tragedy. It was a large ship's company, with a total number of one hundred and thirty-five men, women, and children, and no more than a dozen survivors succeeded in reaching the Dutch settlements after four months of terrible suffering.
All the rest were killed or died or were missing, and among those who vanished in the jungle were the captain and his party, with which were most of the women and children. There was no trace of these English women until a Colonel Gordon explored the country of the Kafir tribes in 1788, and there met a native who said that a white woman dwelt among his black people. "She had a child," related the informant, "which she frequently embraced, and wept bitterly."
Bad health compelled Colonel Gordon to return homeward, but he promised to reward the native if he would carry a letter to the white woman, and he accordingly wrote in French, Dutch, and English, desiring that some sign, such as a burnt stick or any other token, might be sent back to him, and he would make every exertion to rescue her. The Kafir undertook the mission with eagerness, but nothing more was ever heard of him. An account of the wreck of the Grosvenor written before 1812 stated:
"It is said by officers who have resided at the Cape that a general belief prevailed of the existence of some of the unfortunate females who survived the wreck. It was surmised that they might have it in their power to return and leave the Kaffirs but, apprehending that their place in society was lost and that they should be degraded in the eyes of their equals after spending so great a portion of their lives with savages who had compelled them to a temporary union, they resolved not to forsake the fruits of that union and therefore abode with the chiefs who had protected them."
In 1796 the American ship Hercules, Captain Benjamin Stout, was wrecked on this same coast where the Grosvenor had been lost. These castaways were more fortunate, for the Kafirs and the Boers happened to be at peace, and they made their way to the outlying farms of the white pioneers in the Hottentot country. Captain Stout wrote the story of his adventures, and a stirring yarn it is, but the reference of particular interest just here is as follows:
This being, as I conceived, at no great distance from the spot where the Grosvenor was lost in 1782, I inquired whether any of the natives remembered such a catastrophe. Most of them answered in the affirmative and, ascending one of the sand hills, pointed to the place where the Grosvenor had suffered. I then desired to know whether they had received any certain accounts respecting the fate of Captain Coxon who was proceeding on his way to the Cape with a large party of people, including several men and women passengers that were saved from the wreck.
They answered that Captain Coxon and the men were slain. One of the chiefs having insisted on taking two of the white ladies to his kraal, the captain and his officers resisted and not being armed were immediately destroyed. The natives at the same time gave me to understand that at the period when the Grosvenor was wrecked their nation was at war with the colonists, and as Captain Coxon and his crew were whites they could not tell but they would assist the colonists.
The fate of the unfortunate English ladies gave me so much uneasiness that I most earnestly requested the natives to tell me all they knew of the situation, whether they were alive or dead, and if living what part of the country they inhabited. They replied with much apparent concern that one of the ladies had died a short time after her arrival at the kraal, but they understood that the other was living and had several children by the chief. "Where she is now, we know not," said they.
There was evidence of an earlier mystery of this mournful kind when the Doddington was wrecked on a rock in the Indian Ocean in 1755. Her crew built a boat in which they coasted along Natal, and while ashore in search of food and water, "the English sailors were extremely surprised to find among these savages, who were quite black, with woolly hair, a youth apparently twelve or fourteen years of age, perfectly white, with European features, fine, light hair, and altogether different from the natives of this country, although he spoke only their language. The people of the Doddington remarked that he was treated as a servant, that the savages sent him on their errands and sometimes did not allow him to eat with them, but that he waited until the end of the repast before making his own."