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Title: American Merchant Ships and Sailors
Author: Abbot, Willis J., 1863-1934
Language: English
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*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "American Merchant Ships and Sailors" ***

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Transcriber's Note:
      General: Varied hyphenation is retained.
      In list of Illustrations DeLong is one word; in Table of Contents
      it is De Long; in text it is DeLong.
      More Transcriber's notes will be found at the end of sections.




Author of _Naval History of the United States_, _Bluejackets of 1898_,

Illustrated by RAY BROWN

New York
Dodd, Mead & Company
The Caxton Press
New York





    Naval History of the United States

    Blue Jackets of 1898

    Battlefields of '61

    Battlefields and Campfires

    Battlefields and Victory


In an earlier series of books the present writer told the story of the
high achievements of the men of the United States Navy, from the day of
Paul Jones to that of Dewey, Schley, and Sampson. It is a record Americans
may well regard with pride, for in wars of defense or offense, in wars
just or unjust, the American blue jacket has discharged the duty allotted
to him cheerfully, gallantly, and efficiently.

But there are triumphs to be won by sea and by land greater than those of
war, dangers to be braved, more menacing than the odds of battle. It was a
glorious deed to win the battle of Santiago, but Fulton and Ericsson
influenced the progress of the world more than all the heroes of history.
The daily life of those who go down to the sea in ships is one of constant
battle, and the whaler caught in the ice-pack is in more direful case than
the blockaded cruiser; while the captain of the ocean liner, guiding
through a dense fog his colossal craft freighted with two thousand human
lives, has on his mind a weightier load of responsibility than the admiral
of the fleet.

In all times and ages, the deeds of the men who sail the deep as its
policemen or its soldiery have been sung in praise. It is time for
chronicle of the high courage, the reckless daring, and oftentimes the
noble self-sacrifice of those who use the Seven Seas to extend the markets
of the world, to bring nations nearer together, to advance science, and to
cement the world into one great interdependent whole.

                                              WILLIS JOHN ABBOT.
Ann Arbor, Mich., May 1, 1902.


List of Illustrations


THE SHALLOP                                                          2

THE KETCH                                                            5



SCHOONER-RIGGED SHARPIE                                             11


EARLY TYPE OF SMACK                                                 21

THE SNOW, AN OBSOLETE TYPE                                          29

THE BUG-EYE                                                         34

A "PINK"                                                            38



AN ARMED CUTTER                                                     57

"THE LOUD LAUGH OFTEN ROSE AT MY EXPENSE"                           65


THERE ARE BUILDING IN AMERICAN YARDS                       _facing_ 82



"THE ROPE WAS PUT AROUND HIS NECK"                                 103

"BOUND THEM TO THE CHAIN CABLE"                                    114

"SENDING BOAT AND MEN FLYING INTO THE AIR"                         128

"SUDDENLY THE MATE GAVE A HOWL--'STARN ALL!"              _facing_ 132

"ROT AT MOLDERING WHARVES"                                         140

"THERE SHE BLOWS!"                                                 144

"TAKING IT IN HIS JAWS"                                            146

  WOUNDED                                                          162

THE PRISON SHIP "JERSEY"                                           163


"I THINK SHE IS A HEAVY SHIP"                                      179

"STRIVING TO REACH HER DECKS AT EVERY POINT"                       186

"THEY FELL DOWN AND DIED AS THEY WALKED"                           199

"THE TREACHEROUS KAYAK"                                            203

THE SHIP WAS CAUGHT IN THE ICE PACK                       _facing_ 204

ADRIFT ON AN ICE FLOE                                              206


AN ARCTIC HOUSE                                                    224

AN ESQUIMAU                                                        227

THE WOODEN BATEAUX OF THE FUR TRADERS                     _facing_ 236

"THE RED-MEN SET UPON THEM AND SLEW THEM ALL"                      241

ONE OF THE FIRST LAKE SAILORS                                      243


A VANISHING TYPE ON THE LAKES                                      249

"THE WHALEBACK"                                                    253

FLATBOATS MANNED WITH RIFLEMEN                            _facing_ 266


THE MISSISSIPPI PILOT                                              286

A DECK LOAD OF COTTON                                              290

FEEDING THE FURNACE                                                293

ON THE BANKS                                                       314


FISHING FROM THE RAIL                                              328

TRAWLING FROM A DORY                                               333


MINOT'S LEDGE LIGHT                                                345

WHISTLING BUOY                                                     354

REVENUE CUTTER                                                     360

LAUNCHING A LIFEBOAT THROUGH THE SURF                              364

THE EXCITING MOMENT IN THE PILOT'S TRADE                  _facing_ 366

**Transcriber's notes: Illustrations:
Most quirks were left as written, only changes made listed below.
Added missing illustration to list:
Changed MOULDERING to MOLDERING to match illustration and text
Page 227: Changed Illustration tag "AN ESQUIMAUX" to "AN ESQUIMAU" to fit


CHAPTER I.                                                  1


CHAPTER II.                                                 53


CHAPTER III.                                               89


CHAPTER IV.                                              121


CHAPTER V.                                              155


CHAPTER VI.                                              193


CHAPTER VII.                                              233


CHAPTER VIII.                                              261


CHAPTER IX.                                              303


CHAPTER X.                                              341


**Transcriber Notes on Table of Contents:
Chapter V reads "Effects on the Revolutionary Army";
  Chapter on page 155 reads "Effect on the Revolutionary Army";
Chapter VII reads reads "Beginning of Navigation",
  Chapter on page 233 reads "Beginnings of Navigation"

American Merchant Ships and Sailors



When the Twentieth Century opened, the American sailor was almost extinct.
The nation which, in its early and struggling days, had given to the world
a race of seamen as adventurous as the Norse Vikings had, in the days of
its greatness and prosperity turned its eyes away from the sea and yielded
to other people the mastery of the deep. One living in the past, reading
the newspapers, diaries and record-books of the early days of the
Nineteenth Century, can hardly understand how an occupation which played
so great a part in American life as seafaring could ever be permitted to
decline. The dearest ambition of the American boy of our early national
era was to command a clipper ship--but how many years it has been since
that ambition entered into the mind of young America! In those days the
people of all the young commonwealths from Maryland northward found their
interests vitally allied with maritime adventure. Without railroads, and
with only the most wretched excuses for post-roads, the States were
linked together by the sea; and coastwise traffic early began to employ a
considerable number of craft and men. Three thousand miles of ocean
separated Americans from the market in which they must sell their produce
and buy their luxuries. Immediately upon the settlement of the seaboard
the Colonists themselves took up this trade, building and manning their
own vessels and speedily making their way into every nook and corner of
Europe. We, who have seen, in the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century,
the American flag the rarest of all ensigns to be met on the water, must
regard with equal admiration and wonder the zeal for maritime adventure
that made the infant nation of 1800 the second seafaring people in point
of number of vessels, and second to none in energy and enterprise.

[Illustration: THE SHALLOP]

New England early took the lead in building ships and manning them, and
this was but natural since her coasts abounded in harbors; navigable
streams ran through forests of trees fit for the ship-builder's adze; her
soil was hard and obdurate to the cultivator's efforts; and her people had
not, like those who settled the South, been drawn from the agricultural
classes. Moreover, as I shall show in other chapters, the sea itself
thrust upon the New Englanders its riches for them to gather. The
cod-fishery was long pursued within a few miles of Cape Ann, and the New
Englanders had become well habituated to it before the growing scarcity of
the fish compelled them to seek the teeming waters of Newfoundland banks.
The value of the whale was first taught them by great carcasses washed up
on the shore of Cape Cod, and for years this gigantic game was pursued in
open boats within sight of the coast. From neighborhood seafaring such as
this the progress was easy to coasting voyages, and so to Europe and to

There is some conflict of historians over the time and place of the
beginning of ship-building in America. The first vessel of which we have
record was the "Virginia," built at the mouth of the Kennebec River in
1608, to carry home a discontented English colony at Stage Island. She was
a two-master of 30 tons burden. The next American vessel recorded was the
Dutch "yacht" "Onrest," built at New York in 1615. Nowadays sailors define
a yacht as a vessel that carries no cargo but food and champagne, but the
"Onrest" was not a yacht of this type. She was of 16 tons burden, and this
small size explains her description.

The first ship built for commercial purposes in New England was "The
Blessing of the Bay," a sturdy little sloop of 60 tons. Fate surely
designed to give a special significance to this venture, for she was owned
by John Winthrop, the first of New England statesmen, and her keel was
laid on the Fourth of July, 1631--a day destined after the lapse of one
hundred and forty-five years to mean much in the world's calendar. Sixty
tons is not an awe-inspiring register. The pleasure yacht of some
millionaire stock-jobber to-day will be ten times that size, while 20,000
tons has come to be an every-day register for an ocean vessel; but our
pleasure-seeking "Corsairs," and our castellated "City of New York" will
never fill so big a place in history as this little sloop, the size of a
river lighter, launched at Mistick, and straightway dispatched to the
trade with the Dutch at New Amsterdam. Long before her time, however, in
1526, the Spanish adventurer, Lucas Vasquez de Ayllon, losing on the coast
of Florida a brigantine out of the squadron of three ships which formed
his expedition, built a small craft called a gavarra to replace it.

From that early Fourth of July, for more than two hundred years shipyards
multiplied and prospered along the American coast. The Yankees, with their
racial adaptability, which long made them jacks of all trades and good at
all, combined their shipbuilding with other industries, and to the hurt of
neither. Early in 1632, at Richmond Island, off the coast of Maine, was
built what was probably the first regular packet between England and
America. She carried to the old country lumber, fish, furs, oil, and other
colonial products, and brought back guns, ammunition, and liquor--not a
fortunate exchange. Of course meanwhile English, Dutch, and Spanish ships
were trading to the colonies, and every local essay in shipbuilding meant
competition with old and established ship-yards and ship owners. Yet the
industry throve, not only in the considerable yards established at Boston
and other large towns, but in a small way all along the coast. Special
privileges were extended to ship-builders. They were exempt from military
and other public duties. In 1636 the "Desire," a vessel of 120 tons, was
built at Marblehead, the largest to that time. By 1640 the port records of
European ports begin to show the clearings of American-built vessels.

[Illustration: THE KETCH]

In those days of wooden hulls and tapering masts the forests of New
England were the envy of every European monarch ambitious to develop a
navy. It was a time, too, of greater naval activity than the world had
ever seen--though but trivial in comparison with the present expenditures
of Christian nations for guns and floating steel fortresses. England,
Spain, Holland, and France were struggling for the control of the deep,
and cared little for considerations of humanity, honor, or honesty in the
contest. The tall, straight pines of Maine and New Hampshire were a
precious possession for England in the work of building that fleet whose
sails were yet to whiten the ocean, and whose guns, under Drake and
Rodney, were to destroy successfully the maritime prestige of the Dutch
and the Spaniards. Sometimes a colony, seeking royal favor, would send to
the king a present of these pine timbers, 33 to 35 inches in diameter, and
worth £95 to £115 each. Later the royal mark, the "broad arrow," was put
on all white pines 24 inches in diameter 3 feet from the ground, that they
might be saved for masts. It is, by the way, only about fifteen years
since our own United States Government has disposed of its groves of live
oaks, that for nearly a century were preserved to furnish oaken knees for
navy vessels.


The great number of navigable streams soon led to shipbuilding in the
interior. It was obviously cheaper to build the vessel at the edge of the
forest, where all the material grew ready to hand, and sail the completed
craft to the seaboard, than to first transport the material thither in the
rough. But American resourcefulness before long went even further. As the
forests receded from the banks of the streams before the woodman's axe,
the shipwrights followed. In the depths of the woods, miles perhaps from
water, snows, pinnaces, ketches, and sloops were built. When the heavy
snows of winter had fallen, and the roads were hard and smooth, runners
were laid under the little ships, great teams of oxen--sometimes more than
one hundred yoke--were attached, and the craft dragged down to the river,
to lie there on the ice until the spring thaw came to gently let it down
into its proper element. Many a farmer, too, whose lands sloped down to a
small harbor, or stream, set up by the water side the frame of a vessel,
and worked patiently at it during the winter days when the flinty soil
repelled the plough and farm work was stopped. Stout little craft were
thus put together, and sometimes when the vessel was completed the
farmer-builder took his place at the helm and steered her to the fishing
banks, or took her through Hell Gate to the great and thriving city of New
York. The world has never seen a more amphibious populace.


The cost of the little vessels of colonial times we learn from old letters
and accounts to have averaged four pounds sterling to the ton. Boston,
Charleston, Salem, Ipswich, Salisbury, and Portsmouth were the chief
building places in Massachusetts; New London in Connecticut, and
Providence in Rhode Island. Vessels of a type not seen to-day made up the
greater part of the New England fleet. The ketch, often referred to in
early annals, was a two-master, sometimes rigged with lanteen sails, but
more often with the foremast square-rigged, like a ship's foremast, and
the mainmast like the mizzen of a modern bark, with a square topsail
surmounting a fore-and-aft mainsail. The foremast was set very much
aft--often nearly amidships. The snow was practically a brig, carrying a
fore-and-aft sail on the mainmast, with a square sail directly above it. A
pink was rigged like a schooner, but without a bowsprit or jib. For the
fisheries a multitude of smaller types were constructed--such as the
lugger, the shallop, the sharpie, the bug-eye, the smack. Some of these
survive to the present day, and in many cases the name has passed into
disuse, while the type itself is now and then to be met with on our

The importance of ship-building as a factor in the development of New
England did not rest merely upon the use of ships by the Americans alone.
That was a day when international trade was just beginning to be
understood and pushed, and every people wanted ships to carry their goods
to foreign lands and bring back coveted articles in exchange. The New
England vessel seldom made more than two voyages across the Atlantic
without being snapped up by some purchaser beyond seas. The ordinary
course was for the new craft to load with masts or spars, always in
demand, or with fish; set sail for a promising market, dispose of her
cargo, and take freight for England. There she would be sold, her crew
making their way home in other ships, and her purchase money expended in
articles needed in the colonies. This was the ordinary practice, and with
vessels sold abroad so soon after their completion the shipyards must have
been active to have fitted out, as the records show, a fleet of fully 280
vessels for Massachusetts alone by 1718. Before this time, too, the
American shipwrights had made such progress in the mastery of their craft
that they were building ships for the royal navy. The "Falkland," built at
Portsmouth about 1690, and carrying 54 guns, was the earliest of these,
but after her time corvettes, sloops-of-war, and frigates were launched in
New England yards to fight for the king. It was good preparation for
building those that at a later date should fight against him.

Looking back over the long record of American maritime progress, one
cannot but be impressed with the many and important contributions made by
Americans--native or adopted--to marine architecture. To an American
citizen, John Ericsson, the world owes the screw propeller. Americans sent
the first steamship across the ocean--the "Savannah," in 1819. Americans,
engaged in a fratricidal war, invented the ironclad in the "Monitor" and
the "Merrimac," and, demonstrating the value of iron ships for warfare,
sounded the knell of wooden ships for peaceful trade. An American first
demonstrated the commercial possibilities of the steamboat, and if history
denies to Fulton entire precedence with his "Clermont," in 1807, it may
still be claimed for John Fitch, another American, with his imperfect boat
on the Delaware in 1787. But perhaps none of these inventions had more
homely utility than the New England schooner, which had its birth and its
christening at Gloucester in 1713. The story of its naming is one of the
oldest in our marine folk-lore.

"See how she schoons!" cried a bystander, coining a verb to describe the
swooping slide of the graceful hull down the ways into the placid water.


"A schooner let her be!" responded the builder, proud of his handiwork,
and ready to seize the opportunity to confer a novel title upon his novel
creation. Though a combination of old elements, the schooner was in effect
a new design. Barks, ketches, snows, and brigantines carried fore-and-aft
rigs in connection with square sails on either mast, but now for the first
time two masts were rigged fore and aft, and the square sails wholly
discarded. The advantages of the new rig were quickly discovered. Vessels
carrying it were found to sail closer to the wind, were easier to handle
in narrow quarters, and--what in the end proved of prime importance--could
be safely manned by smaller crews. With these advantages the schooner made
its way to the front in the shipping lists. The New England shipyards
began building them, almost to the exclusion of other types. Before their
advance brigs, barks, and even the magnificent full-rigged ship itself
gave way, until now a square-rigged ship is an unusual spectacle on the
ocean. The vitality of the schooner is such that it bids fair to survive
both of the crushing blows dealt to old-fashioned marine architecture--the
substitution of metal for wood, and of steam for sails. To both the
schooner adapted itself. Extending its long, slender hull to carry four,
five, and even seven masts, its builders abandoned the stout oak and pine
for molded iron and later steel plates, and when it appeared that the huge
booms, extending the mighty sails, were difficult for an ordinary crew to
handle, one mast, made like the rest of steel, was transformed into a
smokestack--still bearing sails--a donkey engine was installed in the
hold, and the booms went aloft, or the anchor rose to the peak to the tune
of smoky puffing instead of the rhythmical chanty songs of the sailors. So
the modern schooner, a very leviathan of sailing craft, plows the seas,
electric-lighted, steering by steam, a telephone system connecting all
parts of her hull--everything modern about her except her name. Not as
dignified, graceful, and picturesque as the ship perhaps--but she lasts,
while the ship disappears.

But to return to the colonial shipping. Boston soon became one of the
chief building centers, though indeed wherever men were gathered in a
seashore village ships were built. Winthrop, one of the pioneers in the
industry, writes: "The work was hard to accomplish for want of money,
etc., but our shipwrights were content to take such pay as the country
could make," and indeed in the old account books of the day we can read of
very unusual payments made for labor, as shown, for example, in a contract
for building a ship at Newburyport in 1141, by which the owners were bound
to pay "£300 in cash, £300 by orders on good shops in Boston; two-thirds
money; four hundred pounds by orders up the river for tim'r and plank, ten
bbls. flour, 50 pounds weight of loaf sugar, one bagg of cotton wool, one
hund. bushels of corn in the spring; one hhd. of Rum, one hundred weight
of cheese * * * whole am't of price for vessel £3000 lawful money."

By 1642 they were building good-sized vessels at Boston, and the year
following was launched the first full-rigged ship, the "Trial," which went
to Malaga, and brought back "wine, fruit, oil, linen and wool, which was a
great advantage to the country, and gave encouragement to trade." A year
earlier there set out the modest forerunner of our present wholesale
spring pilgrimages to Europe. A ship set sail for London from Boston "with
many passengers, men of chief rank in the country, and great store of
beaver. Their adventure was very great, considering the doubtful estate of
affairs of England, but many prayers of the churches went with them and
followed after them."

By 1698 Governor Bellomont was able to say of Boston alone, "I believe
there are more good vessels belonging to the town of Boston than to all
Scotland and Ireland." Thereafter the business rapidly developed, until in
a map of about 1730 there are noted sixteen shipyards. Rope walks, too,
sprung up to furnish rigging, and presently for these Boston was a centre.
Another industry, less commendable, grew up in this as in other shipping
centres. Molasses was one of the chief staples brought from the West
Indies, and it came in quantities far in excess of any possible demand
from the colonial sweet tooth. But it could be made into rum, and in those
days rum was held an innocent beverage, dispensed like water at all formal
gatherings, and used as a matter of course in the harvest fields, the
shop, and on the deck at sea. Moreover, it had been found to have a
special value as currency on the west coast of Africa. The negro savages
manifested a more than civilized taste for it, and were ready to sell
their enemies or their friends, their sons, fathers, wives, or daughters
into slavery in exchange for the fiery fluid. So all New England set to
turning the good molasses into fiery rum, and while the slave trade throve
abroad the rum trade prospered at home.

Of course the rapid advance of the colonies in shipbuilding and in
maritime trade was not regarded in England with unqualified pride. The
theory of that day--and one not yet wholly abandoned--was that a colony
was a mine, to be worked for the sole benefit of the mother country. It
was to buy its goods in no other market. It was to use the ships of the
home government alone for its trade across seas. It must not presume to
manufacture for itself articles which merchants at home desired to sell.
England early strove to impress such trade regulations upon the American
colonies, and succeeded in embarrassing and handicapping them seriously,
although evasions of the navigation laws were notorious, and were winked
at by the officers of the crown. The restrictions were sufficiently
burdensome, however, to make the ship-owners and sailors of 1770 among
those most ready and eager for the revolt against the king.

The close of the Revolution found American shipping in a reasonably
prosperous condition. It is true that the peaceful vocation of the seamen
had been interrupted, all access to British ports denied them, and their
voyages to Continental markets had for six years been attended by the
ever-present risk of capture and condemnation. But on the other hand, the
war had opened the way for privateering, and out of the ports of
Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut the privateers swarmed like
swallows from a chimney at dawn. To the adventurous and not
over-scrupulous men who followed it, privateering was a congenial
pursuit--so much so, unhappily, that when the war ended, and a treaty
robbed their calling of its guise of lawfulness, too many of them still
continued it, braving the penalties of piracy for the sake of its gains.
But during the period of the Revolution privateering did the struggling
young nation two services--it sorely harassed the enemy, and it kept alive
the seafaring zeal and skill of the New Englanders.

For a time it seemed that not all this zeal and skill could replace the
maritime interests where they were when the Revolution began. For most
people in the colonies independence meant a broader scope of activity--to
the shipowner and sailor it meant new and serious limitations. England was
still engaged in the effort to monopolize ocean traffic by the operation
of tariffs and navigation laws. New England having become a foreign
nation, her ships were denied admittance to the ports of the British West
Indies, with which for years a nourishing trade had been conducted.
Lumber, corn, fish, live stock, and farm produce had been sent to the
islands, and coffee, sugar, cotton, rum, and indigo brought back. This
commerce, which had come to equal £3,500,000 a year, was shut off by the
British after American independence, despite the protest of Pitt, who saw
clearly that the West Indians would suffer even more than the Americans.
Time showed his wisdom. Terrible sufferings came upon the West Indies for
lack of the supplies they had been accustomed to import, and between 1780
and 1787 as many as 15,000 slaves perished from starvation.

Another cause held the American merchant marine in check for several years
succeeding the declaration of peace. If there be one interest which must
have behind it a well-organized, coherent national government, able to
protect it and to enforce its rights in foreign lands, it is the shipping
interest. But American ships, after the Treaty of Paris, hailed from
thirteen independent but puny States. They had behind them the shadow of a
confederacy, but no substance. The flags they carried were not only not
respected in foreign countries--they were not known. Moreover, the States
were jealous of each other, possessing no true community of interest, and
each seeking advantage at the expense of its neighbors. They were already
beginning to adopt among themselves the very tactics of harassing and
crippling navigation laws which caused the protest against Great Britain.
This "Critical Period of American History," as Professor Fiske calls it,
was indeed a critical period for American shipping.

The new government, formed under the Constitution, was prompt to recognize
the demands of the shipping interests upon the country. In the very first
measure adopted by Congress steps were taken to encourage American
shipping by differential duties levied on goods imported in American and
foreign vessels. Moreover, in the tonnage duties imposed by Congress an
advantage of almost 50 per cent. was given ships built in the United
States and owned abroad. Under this stimulus the shipping interests
throve, despite hostile legislation in England, and the disordered state
of the high seas, where French and British privateers were only a little
less predatory than Algierian corsairs or avowed pirates. It was at this
early day that Yankee skippers began making those long voyages that are
hardly paralleled to-day when steamships hold to a single route like a
trolley car between two towns. The East Indies was a favorite trading
point. Carrying a cargo suited to the needs of perhaps a dozen different
peoples, the vessel would put out from Boston or Newport, put in at
Madeira perhaps, or at some West Indian port, dispose of part of its
cargo, and proceed, stopping again and again on its way, and exchanging
its goods for money or for articles thought to be more salable in the East
Indies. Arrived there, all would be sold, and a cargo of tea, coffee,
silks, spices, nankeen cloth, sugar, and other products of the country
taken on. If these goods did not prove salable at home the ship would make
yet another voyage and dispose of them at Hamburg or some other
Continental port. In 1785 a Baltimore ship showed the Stars and Stripes in
the Canton River, China. In 1788 the ship "Atlantic," of Salem, visited
Bombay and Calcutta. The effect of being barred from British ports was
not, as the British had expected, to put an abrupt end to American
maritime enterprise. It only sent our hardy seamen on longer voyages, only
brought our merchants into touch with the commerce of the most distant
lands. Industry, like men, sometimes thrives upon obstacles.


For twenty-five years succeeding the adoption of the Constitution the
maritime interest--both shipbuilding and shipowning--thrived more,
perhaps, than any other gainful industry pursued by the Americans. Yet it
was a time when every imaginable device was employed to keep our people
out of the ocean-carrying trade. The British regulations, which denied us
access to their ports, were imitated by the French. The Napoleonic wars
came on, and the belligerents bombarded each other with orders in council
and decrees that fell short of their mark, but did havoc among neutral
merchantmen. To the ordinary perils of the deep the danger of
capture--lawful or unlawful--by cruiser or privateer, was always to be
added. The British were still enforcing their so-called "right of search,"
and many an American ship was left short-handed far out at sea, after a
British naval lieutenant had picked the best of her crew on the pretense
that they were British subjects. The superficial differences between an
American and an Englishman not being as great as those between an albino
and a Congo black, it is not surprising that the boarding officer should
occasionally make mistakes--particularly when his ship was in need of
smart, active sailors. Indeed, in those years the civilized--by which at
that period was meant the warlike--nations were all seeking sailors.
Dutch, Spanish, French, and English were eager for men to man their
fighting ships; hired them when they could, and stole them when they must.
It was the time of the press gang, and the day when sailors carried as a
regular part of their kit an outfit of women's clothing in which to escape
if the word were passed that "the press is hot to-night." The United
States had never to resort to impressment to fill its navy ships'
companies, a fact perhaps due chiefly to the small size of its navy in
comparison with the seafaring population it had to draw from.

As for the American merchant marine, it was full of British seamen. Beyond
doubt inducements were offered them at every American port to desert and
ship under the Stars and Stripes. In the winter of 1801 every British ship
visiting New York lost the greater part of its crew. At Norfolk the entire
crew of a British merchantman deserted to an American sloop-of-war. A
lively trade was done in forged papers of American citizenship, and the
British naval officer who gave a boat-load of bluejackets shore leave at
New York was liable to find them all Americans when their leave was up.
Other nations looked covetously upon our great body of able-bodied seamen,
born within sound of the swash of the surf, nurtured in the fisheries,
able to build, to rig, or to navigate a ship. They were fighting sailors,
too, though serving only in the merchant marine. In those days the men
that went down to the sea in ships had to be prepared to fight other
antagonists than Neptune and Æolus. All the ships went armed. It is
curious to read in old annals of the number of cannon carried by small
merchantmen. We find the "Prudent Sarah" mounting 10 guns; the "Olive
Branch," belied her peaceful name with 3, while the pink "Friendship"
carried 8. These years, too, were the privateers' harvest time. During the
Revolution the ships owned by one Newburyport merchant took 23,360 tons of
shipping and 225 men, the prizes with their cargoes selling for
$3,950,000. But of the size and the profits of the privateering business
more will be said in the chapter devoted to that subject. It is enough to
note here that it made the American merchantman essentially a fighting

The growth of American shipping during the years 1794-1810 is almost
incredible in face of the obstacles put in its path by hostile enactments
and the perils of the war. In 1794 United States ships, aggregating
438,863 tons, breasted the waves, carrying fish and staves to the West
Indies, bringing back spices, rum, cocoa, and coffee. Sometimes they went
from the West Indies to the Canaries, and thence to the west coast of
Africa, where very valuable and very pitiful cargoes of human beings,
whose black skins were thought to justify their treatment as dumb beasts
of burden, were shipped. Again the East Indies opened markets for buying
and selling both. But England and almost the whole of Western Europe were

It is not possible to understand the situation in which the American
sailor and shipowner of that day was placed, without some knowledge of the
navigation laws and belligerent orders by which the trade was vexed. In
1793 the Napoleonic wars began, to continue with slight interruptions
until 1815. France and England were the chief contestants, and between
them American shipping was sorely harried. The French at first seemed to
extend to the enterprising Americans a boon of incalculable value to the
maritime interest, for the National Convention promulgated a decree giving
to neutral ships--practically to American ships, for they were the bulk of
the neutral shipping--the rights of French ships. Overjoyed by this sudden
opening of a rich market long closed, the Yankee barks and brigs slipped
out of the New England harbors in schools, while the shipyards rung with
the blows of the hammers, and the forest resounded with the shouts of the
woodsmen getting out ship-timbers. The ocean pathway to the French West
Indies was flecked with sails, and the harbors of St. Kitts, Guadaloupe,
and Martinique were crowded. But this bustling trade was short-lived. The
argosies that set forth on their peaceful errand were shattered by enemies
more dreaded than wind or sea. Many a ship reached the port eagerly sought
only to rot there; many a merchant was beggared, nor knew what had
befallen his hopeful venture until some belated consular report told of
its condemnation in some French or English admiralty court.

[Illustration: EARLY TYPE OF SMACK]

For England met France's hospitality with a new stroke at American
interests. The trade was not neutral, she said. France had been forced to
her concession by war. Her people were starving because the vigilance of
British cruisers had driven French cruisers from the seas, and no food
could be imported. To permit Americans to purvey food for the French
colonies would clearly be to undo the good work of the British navy.
Obviously food was contraband of war. So all English men-of-war were
ordered to seize French goods on whatever ship found; to confiscate
cargoes of wheat, corn, or fish bound for French ports as contraband, and
particularly to board all American merchantmen and scrutinize the crews
for English-born sailors. The latter injunction was obeyed with peculiar
zeal, so that the State Department had evidence that at one time, in 1806,
there were as many as 6000 American seamen serving unwillingly in the
British navy.

France, meanwhile, sought retaliation upon England at the expense of the
Americans. The United States, said the French government, is a sovereign
nation. If it does not protect its vessels against unwarrantable British
aggressions it is because the Americans are secretly in league with the
British. France recognizes no difference between its foes. So it is
ordered that any American vessel which submitted to visitation and search
from an English vessel, or paid dues in a British port, ceased to be
neutral, and became subject to capture by the French. The effect of these
orders and decrees was simply that any American ship which fell in with an
English or French man-of-war or privateer, or was forced by stress of
weather to seek shelter in an English or French port, was lost to her
owners. The times were rude, evidence was easy to manufacture, captains
were rapacious, admiralty judges were complaisant, and American commerce
was rich prey. The French West Indies fell an easy spoil to the British,
and at Martinique and Basseterre American merchantmen were caught in the
harbor. Their crews were impressed, their cargoes, not yet discharged,
seized, the vessels themselves wantonly destroyed or libelled as prizes.
Nor were passengers exempt from the rigors of search and plunder. The
records of the State Department and the rude newspapers of the time are
full of the complaints of shipowners, passengers, and shipping merchants.
The robbery was prodigious in its amount, the indignity put upon the
nation unspeakable. And yet the least complaint came from those who
suffered most. The New England seaport towns were filled with idle seamen,
their harbors with pinks, schooners, and brigs, lying lazily at anchor.
The sailors, with the philosophy of men long accustomed to submit
themselves to nature's moods and the vagaries of breezes, cursed British
and French impartially, and joined in the general depression and idleness
of the towns and counties dependent on their activity.

It was about this period (1794) that the American navy was begun; though,
curiously enough, its foundation was not the outcome of either British or
French depredations, but of the piracies of the Algerians. That fierce and
predatory people had for long years held the Mediterranean as a sort of a
private lake into which no nation might send its ships without paying
tribute. With singular cowardice, all the European peoples had acquiesced
in this conception save England alone. The English were feared by the
Algerians, and an English pass--which tradition says the illiterate
Corsairs identified by measuring its enscrolled border, instead of by
reading--protected any vessel carrying it. American ships, however, were
peculiarly the prey of the Algerians, and many an American sailor was sold
by them into slavery until Decatur and Rodgers in 1805 thrashed the
piratical states of North Africa into recognition of American power. In
1794, however, the Americans were not eager for war, and diplomats strove
to arrange a treaty which would protect American shipping, while Congress
prudently ordered the beginning of six frigates, work to be stopped if
peace should be made with the Dey. The treaty--not one very honorable to
us--was indeed made some months later, and the frigates long remained

It has been the fashion of late years to sneer at our second war with
England as unnecessary and inconclusive. But no one who studies the
records of the life, industry, and material interests of our people during
the years between the adoption of the Constitution and the outbreak of
that war can fail to wonder that it did not come sooner, and that it was
not a war with France as well as England. For our people were then
essentially a maritime people. Their greatest single manufacturing
industry was ship-building. The fisheries--whale, herring, and
cod--employed thousands of their men and supported more than one
considerable town. The markets for their products lay beyond seas, and for
their commerce an undisputed right to the peaceful passage of the ocean
was necessary. Yet England and France, prosecuting their own quarrel,
fairly ground American shipping as between two millstones. Our sailors
were pressed, our ships seized, their cargoes stolen, under hollow forms
of law. The high seas were treated as though they were the hunting
preserves of these nations and American ships were quail and rabbits. The
London "Naval Chronicle" at that time, and for long after, bore at the
head of its columns the boastful lines:

    "The sea and waves are Britain's broad domain,
     And not a sail but by permission spreads."

And France, while vigorously denying the maxim in so far as it related to
British domination, was not able to see that the ocean could be no one
nation's domain, but must belong equally to all. It was the time when the
French were eloquently discoursing of the rights of man; but they did not
appear to regard the peaceful navigation of the ocean as one of those
rights; they were preaching of the virtues of the American republic, but
their rulers issued orders and decrees that nearly brought the two
governments to the point of actual war. But the very fact that France and
England were almost equally arrogant and aggressive delayed the formal
declaration of hostilities. Within the United States two political
parties--the Federalists and the Republicans--were struggling for mastery.
The one defended, though half-heartedly, the British, and demanded drastic
action against the French spoliators. The other denounced British
insolence and extolled our ancient allies and brothers in republicanism,
the French. While the politicians quarreled the British stole our sailors
and the French stole our ships. In 1798 our, then infant, navy gave bold
resistance to the French ships, and for a time a quasi-war was waged on
the ocean, in which the frigates "Constitution" and "Constellation" laid
the foundation for that fame which they were to finally achieve in the war
with Great Britain in 1812. No actual war with France grew out of her
aggressions. The Republicans came into power in the United States, and by
diplomacy averted an actual conflict. But the American shipping interests
suffered sadly meanwhile. The money finally paid by France as indemnity
for her unwarranted spoliations lay long undivided in the United States
Treasury, and the easy-going labor of urging and adjudicating French
spoliation claims furnished employment to some generations of politicians
after the despoiled seamen and shipowners had gone down into their graves.

In 1800 the whole number of American ships in foreign and coasting trades
and the fisheries had reached a tonnage of 972,492. The growth was
constant, despite the handicap resulting from the European wars. Indeed,
it is probable that those wars stimulated American shipping more than the
restrictive decrees growing out of them retarded it, for they at least
kept England and France (with her allies) out of the active encouragement
of maritime enterprise. But the vessels of that day were mere pigmies, and
the extent of the trade carried on in them would at this time seem
trifling. The gross exports and imports of the United States in 1800 were
about $75,000,000 each. The vessels that carried them were of about 250
tons each, the largest attaining 400 tons. An irregular traffic was
carried on along the coast, and it was 1801 before the first sloop was
built to ply regularly on the Hudson between New York and Albany. She was
of 100 tons, and carried passengers only. Sometimes the trip occupied a
week, and the owner of the sloop established an innovation by supplying
beds, provisions, and wines for his passengers. Between Boston and New
York communication was still irregular, passengers waiting for cargoes.
But small as this maritime interest now seems, more money was invested in
it, and it occupied more men, than any other American industry, save only

To this period belong such shipowners as William Gray, of Boston, who in
1809, though he had sixty great square-rigged ships in commission,
nevertheless heartily approved of the embargo with which President
Jefferson vainly strove to combat the outrages of France and England.
Though the commerce of those days was world-wide, its methods--particularly
on the bookkeeping side--were primitive. "A good captain," said
Merchant Gray, "will sail with a load of fish to the West
Indies, hang up a stocking in the cabin on arriving, put therein hard
dollars as he sells fish, and pay out when he buys rum, molasses, and
sugar, and hand in the stocking on his return in full of all accounts."
The West Indies, though a neighboring market, were far from monopolizing
the attention of the New England shipping merchants. Ginseng and cash were
sent to China for silks and tea, the voyage each way, around the
tempestuous Horn, occupying six months. In 1785 the publication of the
journals of the renowned explorer, Captain Cook, directed the ever-alert
minds of the New Englanders to the great herds of seal and sea-otters on
the northwestern coast of the United States, and vessels were soon faring
thither in pursuit of fur-bearing animals, then plentiful, but now bidding
fair to become as rare as the sperm-whale. A typical expedition of this
sort was that of the ship "Columbia," Captain Kendrick, and the sloop
"Washington," Captain Gray, which sailed September 30, 1787, bound to the
northwest coast and China. The merchant who saw his ships drop down the
bay bound on such a voyage said farewell to them for a long time--perhaps
forever. Years must pass before he could know whether the money he had
invested, the cargo he had adventured, the stout ships he had dispatched,
were to add to his fortune or to be at last a total loss. Perhaps for
months he might be going about the wharves and coffee-houses, esteeming
himself a man of substance and so held by all his neighbors, while in fact
his all lay whitening in the surf on some far-distant Pacific atoll. So it
was almost three years before news came back to Boston of these two ships;
but then it was glorious, for then the "Federalist," of New York, came
into port, bringing tidings that at Canton she had met the "Columbia," and
had been told of the discovery by that vessel of the great river in Oregon
to which her name had been given. Thus Oregon and Washington were given to
the infant Union, the latter perhaps taking its name from the little sloop
of 90 tons which accompanied the "Columbia" on her voyage. Six months
later the two vessels reached Boston, and were greeted with salutes of
cannon from the forts. They were the first American vessels to
circumnavigate the globe. It is pleasant to note that a voyage which was
so full of advantage to the nation was profitable to the owners.
Thereafter an active trade was done with miscellaneous goods to the
northwest Indians, skins and furs thence to the Chinese, and teas home. A
typical outbound cargo in this trade was that of the "Atakualpa" in 1800.
The vessel was of 218 tons, mounted eight guns, and was freighted with
broadcloth, flannel, blankets, powder, muskets, watches, tools, beads, and
looking-glasses. How great were the proportions that this trade speedily
assumed may be judged from the fact that between June, 1800, and January,
1803, there were imported into China, in American vessels, 34,357
sea-otter skins worth on an average $18 to $20 each. Over a million
sealskins were imported. In this trade were employed 80 ships and 9 brigs
and schooners, more than half of them from Boston.


Indeed, by the last decade of the eighteenth century Boston had become the
chief shipping port of the United States. In 1790 the arrivals from abroad
at that port were 60 ships, 7 snows, 159 brigs, 170 schooners, 59 sloops,
besides coasters estimated to number 1,220 sail. In the _Independent
Chronicle_, of October 27, 1791, appears the item: "Upwards of seventy
sail of vessels sailed from this port on Monday last, for all parts of the
world." A descriptive sketch, written in 1794 and printed in the
Massachusetts Historical Society collections, says of the appearance of
the water front at that time:

"There are eighty wharves and quays, chiefly on the east side of the town.
Of these the most distinguished is Boston pier, or the Long Wharf, which
extends from the bottom of State Street 1,743 feet into the harbor. Here
the principal navigation of the town is carried on; vessels of all burdens
load and unload; and the London ships generally discharge their
cargoes.... The harbor of Boston is at this date crowded with vessels. It
is reckoned that not less than 450 sail of ships, brigs, schooners,
sloops, and small craft are now in this port."

New York and Baltimore, in a large way; Salem, Hull, Portsmouth, New
London, New Bedford, New Haven, and a host of smaller seaports, in a
lesser degree, joined in this prosperous industry. It was the great
interest of the United States, and so continued, though with
interruptions, for more than half a century, influencing the thought, the
legislation, and the literature of our people. When Daniel Webster,
himself a son of a seafaring State, sought to awaken his countrymen to the
peril into which the nation was drifting through sectional dissensions and
avowed antagonism to the national authority, he chose as the opening
metaphor of his reply to Hayne the description of a ship, drifting
rudderless and helpless on the trackless ocean, exposed to perils both
known and unknown. The orator knew his audience. To all New England the
picture had the vivacity of life. The metaphors of the sea were on every
tongue. The story is a familiar one of the Boston clergyman who, in one of
his discourses, described a poor, sinful soul drifting toward shipwreck so
vividly that a sailor in the audience, carried away by the preacher's
imaginative skill, cried out: "Let go your best bower anchor, or you're
lost." In another church, which had its pulpit set at the side instead of
at the end, as customary, a sailor remarked critically: "I don't like this
craft; it has its rudder amidships."

At this time, and, indeed, for perhaps fifty years thereafter, the sea was
a favorite career, not only for American boys with their way to make in
the world, but for the sons of wealthy men as well. That classic of New
England seamanship, "Two Years Before the Mast," was not written until the
middle of the nineteenth century, and its author went to sea, not in
search of wealth, but of health. But before the time of Richard Henry
Dana, many a young man of good family and education--a Harvard graduate
like him, perhaps--bade farewell to a home of comfort and refinement and
made his berth in a smoky, fetid forecastle to learn the sailor's calling.
The sons of the great shipping merchants almost invariably made a few
voyages--oftenest as supercargoes, perhaps, but not infrequently as common
seamen. In time special quarters, midway between the cabin and the
forecastle, were provided for these apprentices, who were known as the
"ship's cousins." They did the work of the seamen before the mast, but
were regarded as brevet officers. There was at that time less to engage
the activities and arouse the ambitions of youth than now, and the sea
offered the most promising career. Moreover, the trading methods involved,
and the relations of the captain or other officers to the owners, were
such as to spur ambition and promise profit. The merchant was then
greatly dependent on his captain, who must judge markets, buy and sell,
and shape his course without direction from home. So the custom arose of
giving the captain--and sometimes other officers--an opportunity to carry
goods of their own in the ship, or to share the owner's adventure. In the
whaling and fishery business we shall see that an almost pure communism
prevailed. These conditions attracted to the maritime calling men of an
enterprising and ambitious nature--men to whom the conditions to-day of
mere wage servitude, fixed routes, and constant dependence upon the cabled
or telegraphed orders of the owner would be intolerable. Profits were
heavy, and the men who earned them were afforded opportunities to share
them. Ships were multiplying fast, and no really lively and alert seaman
need stay long in the forecastle. Often they became full-fledged captains
and part owners at the age of twenty-one, or even earlier, for boys went
to sea at ages when the youngsters of equally prosperous families in these
days would scarcely have passed from the care of a nurse to that of a
tutor. Thomas T. Forbes, for example, shipped before the mast at the age
of thirteen; was commander of the "Levant" at twenty; and was lost in the
Canton River before he was thirty. He was of a family great in the history
of New England shipping for a hundred years. Nathaniel Silsbee, afterwards
United States Senator from Massachusetts, was master of a ship in the East
India trade before he was twenty-one; while John P. Cushing at the age of
sixteen was the sole--and highly successful--representative in China of a
large Boston house. William Sturges, afterwards the head of a great
world-wide trading house, shipped at seventeen, was a captain and manager
in the China trade at nineteen, and at twenty-nine left the quarter-deck
with a competence to establish his firm, which at one time controlled half
the trade between the United States and China. A score of such successes
might be recounted.

But the fee which these Yankee boys paid for introduction into their
calling was a heavy one. Dana's description of life in the forecastle,
written in 1840, holds good for the conditions prevailing for forty years
before and forty after he penned it. The greeting which his captain gave
to the crew of the brig "Pilgrim" was repeated, with little variation, on
a thousand quarter-decks:

"Now, my men, we have begun a long voyage. If we get along well together
we shall have a comfortable time; if we don't, we shall hay hell afloat.
All you have to do is to obey your orders and do your duty like men--then
you will fare well enough; if you don't, you will fare hard enough, I can
tell you. If we pull together you will find me a clever fellow; if we
don't, you will find me a bloody rascal. That's all I've got to say. Go
below the larboard watch."

But the note of roughness and blackguardism was not always sounded on
American ships. We find, in looking over old memoirs, that more than one
vessel was known as a "religious ship"--though, indeed, the very fact that
few were thus noted speaks volumes for the paganism of the mass. But the
shipowners of Puritan New England not infrequently laid stress on the
moral character of the men shipped. Nathaniel Ames, a Harvard graduate who
shipped before the mast, records that on his first vessel men seeking
berths even in the forecastle were ordered to bring certificates of good
character from the clergyman whose church they had last attended. Beyond
doubt, however, this was a most unusual requirement. More often the
majority of the crew were rough, illiterate fellows, often enticed into
shipping while under the influence of liquor, and almost always coming
aboard at the last moment, much the worse for long debauches. The men of a
better sort who occasionally found themselves unluckily shipped with such
a crew, have left on record many curious stories of the way in which
sailors, utterly unable to walk on shore or on deck for intoxication,
would, at the word of command, spring into the rigging, clamber up the
shrouds, shake out reefs, and perform the most difficult duties aloft.

[Illustration: THE BUG-EYE]

Most of the things which go to make the sailor's lot at least tolerable
nowadays, were at that time unknown. A smoky lamp swung on gimbals
half-lighted the forecastle--an apartment which, in a craft of scant 400
tons, did not afford commodious quarters for a crew of perhaps a score,
with their sea chests and bags. The condition of the fetid hole at the
beginning of the voyage, with four or five apprentices or green hands
deathly sick, the hardened seamen puffing out clouds of tobacco smoke, and
perhaps all redolent of rum, was enough to disenchant the most ardent
lover of the sea. The food, bad enough in all ages of seafaring, was, in
the early days of our merchant marine, too often barely fit to keep life
in men's bodies. The unceasing round of salt pork, stale beef, "duff,"
"lobscouse," doubtful coffee sweetened with molasses, and water, stale,
lukewarm, and tasting vilely of the hogshead in which it had been stored,
required sturdy appetites to make it even tolerable. Even in later days
Frank T. Bullen was able to write: "I have often seen the men break up a
couple of biscuits into a pot of coffee for their breakfast, and after
letting it stand a minute or two, skim off the accumulated scum of vermin
from the top--maggots, weevils, etc--to the extent of a couple of
tablespoonsful, before they could shovel the mess into their craving

It may be justly doubted whether history has ever known a race of men so
hardy, so self-reliant, so adaptable to the most complex situations, so
determined to compel success, and so resigned in the presence of
inevitable failure, as the early American sea captains. Their lives were
spent in a ceaseless conflict with the forces of nature and of men. They
had to deal with a mutinous crew one day and with a typhoon the next. If
by skillful seamanship a piratical schooner was avoided in the reaches of
the Spanish Main, the resources of diplomacy would be taxed the next day
to persuade some English or French colonial governor not to seize the
cargo that had escaped the pirates. The captain must be a seaman, a
sea-soldier, a sea-lawyer, and a sea-merchant, shut off from his
principals by space which no electric current then annihilated. He must
study markets, sell his cargo at the most profitable point, buy what his
prophetic vision suggested would sell profitably, and sell half a dozen
intermediate cargoes before returning, and even dispose of the vessel
herself, if gain would result. His experience was almost as much
commercial as nautical, and many of the shipping merchants who formed the
aristocracy of old New York and Boston, mounted from the forecastle to the
cabin, thence to the counting-room.

In a paper on the maritime trade of Salem, the Rev. George Bachelor tells
of the conditions of this early seafaring, the sort of men engaged in it,
and the stimulus it offered to all their faculties:

    "After a century of comparative quiet, the citizens of the
    little town were suddenly dispersed to every part of the
    Oriental world, and to every nook of barbarism which had a
    market and a shore. The borders of the commercial world received
    sudden enlargement, and the boundaries of the intellectual world
    underwent similar expansion. The reward of enterprise might be
    the discovery of an island in which wild pepper enough to load a
    ship might be had almost for the asking, or of forests where
    precious gems had no commercial value, or spice islands
    unvisited and unvexed by civilization. Every ship-master and
    every mariner returning on a richly loaded ship was the
    custodian of valuable information. In those days crews were made
    up of Salem boys, every one of whom expected to become an East
    Indian merchant. When a captain was asked at Manila how he
    contrived to find his way in the teeth of a northeast monsoon by
    mere dead reckoning, he replied that he had a crew of twelve
    men, any one of whom could take and work a lunar observation as
    well, for all practical purposes, as Sir Isaac Newton himself.

    "When, in 1816, George Coggeshall coasted the Mediterranean in
    the 'Cleopatra's Barge,' a magnificent yacht of 197 tons, which
    excited the wonder even of the Genoese, the black cook, who had
    once sailed with Bowditch, was found to be as competent to keep
    a ship's reckoning as any of the officers.

    "Rival merchants sometimes drove the work of preparation night
    and day, when virgin markets had favors to be won, and ships
    which set out for unknown ports were watched when they slipped
    their cables and sailed away by night, and dogged for months on
    the high seas, in the hopes of discovering a secret, well kept
    by the owner and crew. Every man on board was allowed a certain
    space for his own little venture. People in other pursuits, not
    excepting the owner's minister, entrusted their savings to the
    supercargo, and watched eagerly the result of their adventure.
    This great mental activity, the profuse stores of knowledge
    brought by every ship's crew, and distributed, together with
    India shawls, blue china, and unheard-of curiosities from every
    savage shore, gave the community a rare alertness of intellect."

The spirit in which young fellows, scarcely attained to years of maturity,
met and overcame the dangers of the deep is vividly depicted in Captain
George Coggeshall's narrative of his first face-to-face encounter with
death. He was in the schooner "Industry," off the Island of Teneriffe,
during a heavy gale.

"Captain K. told me I had better go below, and that he would keep an
outlook and take a little tea biscuit on deck. I had entered the cabin,
when I felt a terrible shock. I ran to the companion-way, when I saw a
ship athwart our bows. At that moment our foremast went by the board,
carrying with it our main topmast. In an instant the two vessels
separated, and we were left a perfect wreck. The ship showed a light for a
few moments and then disappeared, leaving us to our fate. When we came to
examine our situation, we found our bowsprit gone close to the
knight-heads." An investigation showed that the collision had left the
"Industry" in a grievous state, while the gale, ever increasing, blew
directly on shore. But the sailors fought sturdily for life. "To retard
the schooner's drift, we kept the wreck of the foremast, bowsprit, sails,
spars, etc., fast by the bowsprit shrouds and other ropes, so that we
drifted to leeward but about two miles the hour. To secure the mainmast
was now the first object. I therefore took with me one of the best of the
crew, and carried the end of a rope cable with us up to the mainmast
head, and clenched it round the mast, while it was badly springing. We
then took the cable to the windlass and hove taut, and thus effectually
secured the mast.... We were then drifting directly on shore, where the
cliffs were rocky, abrupt, and almost perpendicular, and were perhaps
almost 1,000 feet high. At each blast of lightning we could see the surf
break, whilst we heard the awful roar of the sea dashing and breaking
against the rocks and caverns of this iron-bound island.

[Illustration: A "PINK"]

"When I went below I found the captain in the act of going to bed; and as
near as I can recollect, the following dialogue took place:

"'Well, Captain K., what shall we do next? We have now about six hours to
pass before daylight; and, according to my calculation, we have only about
three hours more drift. Still, before that time there may, perhaps, be
some favorable change.'

"He replied: 'Mr. C., we have done all we can, and can do nothing more. I
am resigned to my fate, and think nothing can save us.'

"I replied: 'Perhaps you are right; still, I am resolved to struggle to
the last. I am too young to die; I am only twenty-one years of age, and
have a widowed mother, three brothers, and a sister looking to me for
support and sympathy. No, sir, I will struggle and persevere to the last.'

"'Ah,' said he, 'what can you do? Our boat will not live five minutes in
the surf, and you have no other resource.'

"'I will take the boat,' said I, 'and when she fills I will cling to a
spar. I will not die until my strength is exhausted and I can breathe no
longer.' Here the conversation ended, when the captain covered his head
with a blanket. I then wrote the substance of our misfortune in the
log-book, and also a letter to my mother; rolled them up in a piece of
tarred canvas; and, assisted by the carpenter, put the package into a
tight keg, thinking that this might probably be thrown on shore, and thus
our friends might perhaps know of our end."

Men who face Death thus sturdily are apt to overcome him. The gale
lessened, the ship was patched up, the craven captain resumed command, and
in two weeks' time the "Industry" sailed, sorely battered, into Santa
Cruz, to find that she had been given up as lost, and her officers and
crew "were looked upon as so many men risen from the dead." Young
Coggeshall lived to follow the sea until gray-haired and weather-beaten,
to die in his bed at last, and to tell the story of his eighty voyages in
two volumes of memoirs, now growing very rare. Before he was sixteen he
had made the voyage to Cadiz--a port now moldering, but which once was one
of the great portals for the commerce of the world. In his second voyage,
while lying in the harbor of Gibraltar, he witnessed one of the almost
every-day dangers to which American sailors of that time were exposed:

    "While we were lying in this port, one morning at daylight we
    heard firing at a distance. I took a spy-glass, and from aloft
    could clearly see three gunboats engaged with a large ship. It
    was a fine, clear morning, with scarcely wind enough to ruffle
    the glass-like surface of the water. During the first hour or
    two of this engagement the gunboats had an immense advantage;
    being propelled both by sails and oars, they were enabled to
    choose their own position. While the ship lay becalmed and
    unmanageable they poured grape and canister shot into her stern
    and bows like hailstones. At this time the ship's crew could not
    bring a single gun to bear upon them, and all they could do was
    to use their small arms through the ports and over the rails.
    Fortunately for the crew, the ship had thick and high bulwarks,
    which protected them from the fire of the enemy, so that while
    they were hid and screened by the boarding cloths, they could
    use their small arms to great advantage. At this stage of the
    action, while the captain, with his speaking-trumpet under his
    left arm, was endeavoring to bring one of his big guns to bear
    on one of the gunboats, a grapeshot passed through the port and
    trumpet and entered his chest near his shoulder-blade. The chief
    mate carried him below and laid him upon a mattress on the cabin
    floor. For a moment it seemed to dampen the ardor of the men;
    but it was but for an instant. The chief mate (I think his name
    was Randall), a gallant young man from Nantucket, then took the
    command, rallied, and encouraged the men to continue the action
    with renewed obstinacy and vigor. At this time a lateen-rigged
    vessel, the largest of the three privateers, was preparing to
    make a desperate attempt to board the ship on the larboard
    quarter, and, with nearly all his men on the forecastle and long
    bowsprit, were ready to take the final leap.

    "In order to meet and frustrate the design of the enemy, the
    mate of the ship had one of the quarter-deck guns loaded with
    grape and canister shot; he then ordered all the ports on this
    quarter to be shut, so that the gun could not be seen; and thus
    were both parties prepared when the privateer came boldly up
    within a few yards of the ship's lee quarter. The captain, with
    a threatening flourish of his sword, cried out with a loud
    voice, in broken English: 'Strike, you damned rascal, or I will
    put you all to death.' At this moment a diminutive-looking man
    on board the 'Louisa,' with a musket, took deliberate aim
    through one of the waist ports, and shot him dead. Instantly the
    gun was run out and discharged upon the foe with deadly effect,
    so that the remaining few on board the privateer, amazed and
    astounded, were glad to give up the conflict and get off the
    best way they could.

    "Soon after this a breeze sprung up, so that they could work
    their great guns to some purpose. I never shall forget the
    moment when I saw the Star-Spangled Banner blow out and wave
    gracefully in the wind, through the smoke. I also at the same
    moment saw with pleasure the three gunboats sailing and rowing
    away toward the land to make their escape. When the ship drew
    near the port, all the boats from the American shipping
    voluntarily went to assist in bringing her to anchor. She proved
    to be the letter-of-marque ship 'Louisa,' of Philadelphia.

    "I went with our captain on board of her, and we there learned
    that, with the exception of the captain, not a man had been
    killed or wounded. The ship was terribly cut up and crippled in
    her sails and rigging--lifts and braces shot away; her stern was
    literally riddled like a grater, and both large and small shot,
    in great numbers, had entered her hull and were sticking to her
    sides. How the officers and crew escaped unhurt is almost
    impossible to conceive. The poor captain was immediately taken
    on shore, but only survived his wound a few days. He had a
    public funeral, and was followed to the grave by all the
    Americans in Gibraltar, and very many of the officers of the
    garrison and inhabitants of the town.


    "The ship had a rich cargo of coffee, sugar, and India goods on
    board, and I believe was bound for Leghorn. The gunboats
    belonged to Algeciras and fought under French colors, but were
    probably manned by the debased of all nations. I can form no
    idea how many were killed or wounded on board the gunboats, but
    from the great number of men on board, and from the length of
    the action, there must have been great slaughter. Neither can I
    say positively how long the engagement lasted; but I should
    think at least from three to four hours. To the chief mate too
    much credit can not be given for saving the ship after the
    captain was shot."

This action occurred in 1800, and the assailants fought under French
colors, though the United States were at peace with France. It was fought
within easy eyesight of Gibraltar, and therefore in British waters; but no
effort was made by the British men-of-war--always plentiful there--to
maintain the neutrality of the port. For sailors to be robbed or murdered,
or to fight with desperation to avert robbery and murder, was then only a
commonplace of the sea. Men from the safety of the adjoining shore only
looked on in calm curiosity, as nowadays men look on indifferently to see
the powerful freebooter of the not less troubled business sea rob,
impoverish, and perhaps drive down to untimely death others who only ask
to be permitted to make their little voyages unvexed by corsairs.

From a little book of memoirs of Captain Richard J. Cleveland, the curious
observer can learn what it was to belong to a seafaring family in the
golden days of American shipping. His was a Salem stock. His father, in
1756, when but sixteen years old, was captured by a British press-gang in
the streets of Boston, and served for years in the British navy. For this
compulsory servitude he exacted full compensation in later years by
building and commanding divers privateers to prey upon the commerce of
England. His three sons all became sailors, taking to the water like young
ducks. A characteristic note of the cosmopolitanism of the young New
Englander of that day is sounded in the most matter-of-fact fashion by
young Cleveland in a letter from Havre: "I can't help loving home, though
I think a young man ought to be at home in any part of the globe." And at
home everywhere Captain Cleveland certainly was. All his life was spent in
wandering over the Seven Seas, in ships of every size, from a 25-ton
cutter to a 400-ton Indiaman. In those days of navigation laws, blockades,
hostile cruisers, hungry privateers, and bloodthirsty pirates, the smaller
craft was often the better, for it was wiser to brave nature's moods in a
cockle-shell than to attract men's notice in a great ship. Captain
Cleveland's voyages from Havre to the Cape of Good Hope, in a 45-ton
cutter; from Calcutta to the Isle of France, in a 25-ton sloop; and
Captain Coggeshall's voyage around Cape Horn in an unseaworthy pilot-boat
are typical exploits of Yankee seamanship. We see the same spirit
manifested occasionally nowadays when some New Englander crosses the ocean
in a dory, or circumnavigates the world alone in a 30-foot sloop. But
these adventures are apt to end ignominiously in a dime museum.

A noted sailor in his time was Captain Benjamin I. Trask, master of many
ships, ruler of many deeps, who died in harness in 1871, and for whom the
flags on the shipping in New York Bay were set at half-mast. An
appreciative writer, Mr. George W. Sheldon, in _Harper's Magazine_, tells
this story to show what manner of man he was; it was on the ship
"Saratoga," from Havre to New York, with a crew among whom were several
recently liberated French convicts:

    "The first day out the new crew were very troublesome, owing in
    part, doubtless, to the absence of the mate, who was ill in bed
    and who died after a few hours. Suddenly the second mate, son of
    the commander, heard his father call out, 'Take hold of the
    wheel,' and going forward, saw him holding a sailor at arm's
    length. The mutineer was soon lodged in the cockpit; but all
    hands--the watch below and the watch on deck--came aft as if
    obeying a signal, with threatening faces and clenched fists. The
    captain, methodical and cool, ordered his son to run a line
    across the deck between him and the rebellious crew, and to arm
    the steward and the third mate.

    "'Now go forward and get to work', he said to the gang, who
    immediately made a demonstration to break the line. 'The first
    man who passes that rope,' added the captain, 'I will shoot. I
    am going to call you one by one; if two come at a time I will
    shoot both.'

    "The first to come forward was a big fellow in a red shirt. He
    had hesitated to advance when called; but the 'I will give you
    one more invitation, sir,' of the captain furnished him with the
    requisite resolution. So large were his wrists that ordinary
    shackles were too small to go around them, and ankle-shackles
    took their place. Escorted by the second and third mates to the
    cabin, he was made to lie flat on his stomach, while staples
    were driven through the chains of his handcuffs to pin him down.
    After eighteen of the mutineers had been similarly treated, the
    captain himself withdrew to the cabin and lay on a sofa, telling
    the second mate to call him in an hour. The next minute he was
    asleep with the stapled ruffians all around him."

As the ocean routes became more clearly defined, and the limitations and
character of international trade more systematized, there sprung up a new
type of American ship-master. The older type--and the more romantic--was
the man who took his ship from Boston or New York, not knowing how many
ports he might enter nor in how many markets he might have to chaffer
before his return. But in time there came to be regular trade routes, over
which ships went and came with almost the regularity of the great
steamships on the Atlantic ferry to-day. Early in the nineteenth century
the movement of both freight and passengers between New York or Boston on
this side and London and Liverpool on the other began to demand regular
sailings on announced days, and so the era of the American packet-ship
began. Then, too, the trade with China grew to such great proportions that
some of the finest fortunes America knew in the days before the "trust
magnate" and the "multimillionaire"--were founded upon it. The
clipper-built ship, designed to bring home the cargoes of tea in season to
catch the early market, was the outcome of this trade. Adventures were
still for the old-time trading captain who wandered about from port to
port with miscellaneous cargoes; but the new aristocracy of the sea trod
the deck of the packets and the clippers. Their ships were built all along
the New England coast; but builders on the shores of Chesapeake Bay soon
began to struggle for preëminence in this style of naval architecture.
Thus, even in the days of wooden ships, the center of the ship-building
industry began to move toward that point where it now seems definitely
located. By 1815 the name "Baltimore clipper" was taken all over the world
to signify the highest type of merchant vessel that man's skill could
design. It was a Baltimore ship which first, in 1785, displayed the
American flag in the Canton River and brought thence the first cargo of
silks and teas. Thereafter, until the decline of American shipping, the
Baltimore clippers led in the Chinese trade. These clippers in model were
the outcome of forty years of effort to evade hostile cruisers,
privateers, and pirates on the lawless seas. To be swift, inconspicuous,
quick in maneuvering, and to offer a small target to the guns of the
enemy, were the fundamental considerations involved in their design. Mr.
Henry Hall, who, as special agent for the United States census, made in
1880 an inquiry into the history of ship-building in the United States,
says in his report:

    "A permanent impression has been made upon the form and rig of
    American vessels by forty years of war and interference. It was
    during that period that the shapes and fashions that prevail
    to-day were substantially attained. The old high poop-decks and
    quarter galleries disappeared with the lateen and the lug-sails
    on brigs, barks, and ships; the sharp stem was permanently
    abandoned; the curving home of the stem above the house poles
    went out of vogue, and vessels became longer in proportion to
    beam. The round bottoms were much in use, but the tendency
    toward a straight rise of the floor from the keel to a point
    half-way to the outer width of the ship became marked and
    popular. Hollow water-lines fore and aft were introduced; the
    forefoot of the hull ceased to be cut away so much, and the
    swell of the sides became less marked; the bows became somewhat
    sharper and were often made flaring above the water, and the
    square sprit-sail below the bowsprit was given up. American
    ship-builders had not yet learned to give their vessels much
    sheer, however, and in a majority of them the sheer line was
    almost straight from stem to stern; nor had they learned to
    divide the topsail into an upper and lower sail, and American
    vessels were distinguished by their short lower mast and the
    immense hoist of the topsail. The broadest beam was still at
    two-fifths the length of the hull. Hemp rigging, with broad
    channels and immense tops to the masts, was still retained; but
    the general arrangement and cut of the head, stay, square, and
    spanker sails at present in fashion were reached. The schooner
    rig had also become thoroughly popularized, especially for small
    vessels requiring speed; and the fast vessels of the day were
    the brigs and schooners, which were made long and sharp on the
    floor and low in the water, with considerable rake to the

Such is the technical description of the changes which years of peril and
of war wrought in the model of the American sailing ship. How the vessel
herself, under full sail, looked when seen through the eyes of one who was
a sailor, with the education of a writer and the temperament of a poet, is
well told in these lines from "Two Years Before the Mast":

    "Notwithstanding all that has been said about the beauty of a
    ship under full sail, there are very few who have ever seen a
    ship literally under all her sail. A ship never has all her sail
    upon her except when she has a light, steady breeze very nearly,
    but not quite, dead aft, and so regular that it can be trusted
    and is likely to last for some time. Then, with all her sails,
    light and heavy, and studding-sails on each side alow and aloft,
    she is the most glorious moving object in the world. Such a
    sight very few, even some who have been at sea a good deal, have
    ever beheld; for from the deck of your own vessel you can not
    see her as you would a separate object.

    "One night, while we were in the tropics, I went out to the end
    of the flying jib-boom upon some duty; and, having finished it,
    turned around and lay over the boom for a long time, admiring
    the beauty of the sight before me. Being so far out from the
    deck, I could look at the ship as at a separate vessel; and
    there rose up from the water, supported only by the small black
    hull, a pyramid of canvas spreading far out beyond the hull and
    towering up almost, as it seemed in the indistinct night, into
    the clouds. The sea was as still as an inland lake; the light
    trade-wind was gently and steadily breathing from astern; the
    dark-blue sky was studded with the tropical stars; there was no
    sound but the rippling of the water under the stem; and the
    sails were spread out wide and high--the two lower
    studding-sails stretching on either side far beyond the deck;
    the topmost studding-sails like wings to the topsails; the
    topgallant studding-sails spreading fearlessly out above them;
    still higher the two royal studding-sails, looking like two
    kites flying from the same string; and highest of all the little
    sky-sail, the apex of the pyramid, seeming actually to touch the
    stars and to be out of reach of human hand. So quiet, too, was
    the sea, and so steady the breeze, that if these sails had been
    sculptured marble they could not have been more motionless--not
    a ripple on the surface of the canvas; not even a quivering of
    the extreme edges of the sail, so perfectly were they distended
    by the breeze. I was so lost in the sight that I forgot the
    presence of the man who came out with me, until he said (for he,
    too, rough old man-of-war's man that he was, had been gazing at
    the show), half to himself, still looking at the marble sails:
    'How quietly they do their work!'"

The building of packet ships began in 1814, when some semblance of peace
and order appeared upon the ocean, and continued until almost the time of
the Civil War, when steamships had already begun to cut away the business
of the old packets, and the Confederate cruisers were not needed to
complete the work. But in their day these were grand examples of marine
architecture. The first of the American transatlantic lines was the Black
Ball line, so called from the black sphere on the white pennant which its
ships displayed. This line was founded in 1815, by Isaac Wright & Company,
with four ships sailing the first of every month, and making the outward
run in about twenty-three days, the homeward voyage in about forty. These
records were often beaten by ships of this and other lines. From thirteen
to fifteen days to Liverpool was not an unknown record, but was rare
enough to cause comment.

It was in this era that the increase in the size of ships began--an
increase which is still going on without any sign of check. Before the War
of 1812 men circumnavigated the world in vessels that would look small now
carrying brick on the Tappan Zee. The performances of our frigates in 1812
first called the attention of builders to the possibilities of the bigger
ship. The early packets were ships of from 400 to 500 tons each. As
business grew larger ones were built--stout ships of 900 to 1100 tons,
double-decked, with a poop-deck aft and a top-gallant forecastle forward.
The first three-decker was the "Guy Mannering," 1419 tons, built in 1849
by William H. Webb, of New York, who later founded the college and home
for ship-builders that stands on the wooded hills north of the Harlem
River. In 1841, Clark & Sewall, of Bath, Me.--an historic house--built the
"Rappahannock," 179.6 feet long, with a tonnage of 1133 tons. For a time
she was thought to be as much of a "white elephant" as the "Great Eastern"
afterwards proved to be. People flocked to study her lines on the ways and
see her launched. They said only a Rothschild could afford to own her, and
indeed when she appeared in the Mississippi--being built for the cotton
trade--freights to Liverpool instantly fell off. But thereafter the size
of ships--both packet and clippers--steadily and rapidly increased.
Glancing down the long table of ships and their records prepared for the
United States census, we find such notations as these.

Ship "Flying Cloud," built 1851; tonnage 1782; 374 miles in one day; from
New York to San Francisco in 89 days 18 hours; in one day she made 433-1/2
miles, but reducing this to exactly 24 hours, she made 427-1/2 miles.

Ship "Comet," built 1851; tonnage 1836; beautiful model and good ship;
made 332 knots in 24 hours, and 1512 knots in 120 consecutive hours.

"Sovereign of the Seas," built 1852; tonnage 2421; ran 6,245 miles in 22
days; 436 miles in one day; for four days her average was 398 miles.

"Lightning," built 1854; tonnage 2084; ran 436 miles in 24 hours, drawing
22 feet; from England to Calcutta with troops, in 87 days, beating other
sailing vessels by from 16 to 40 days; from Boston to Liverpool in 13 days
20 hours.

"James Baines," built 1854, tonnage 2515; from Boston to Liverpool in 12
days 6 hours.

Three of these ships came from the historic yards of Donald McKay, at New
York, one of the most famous of American ship-builders. The figures show
the steady gain in size and speed that characterized the work of American
ship-builders in those days. Then the United States was in truth a
maritime nation. Every boy knew the sizes and records of the great ships,
and each magnificent clipper had its eager partisans. Foreign trade was
active. Merchants made great profit on cargoes from China, and speed was a
prime element in the value of a ship. In 1840 the discovery of gold in
California added a new demand for ocean shipping; the voyage around the
Horn, already common enough for whalemen and men engaged in Asiatic trade,
was taken by tens of thousands of adventurers. Then came the news of gold
in Australia, and again demands were clamorous for more swift American
ships. All nations of Europe were buyers at our shipyards, and our
builders began seriously to consider whether the supply of timber would
hold out. The yards of Maine and Massachusetts sent far afield for white
oak knees and pine planking. Southern forests were drawn upon, and even
the stately pines of Puget Sound were felled to make masts for a Yankee

**Transcriber's notes:
Page  4: Removed extraneous ' after "Corsairs"
Page 41: changed atempt to attempt



Even as recently as twenty years ago, the water front of a great seaport
like New York, viewed from the harbor, showed a towering forest of tall
and tapering masts, reaching high up above the roofs of the water-side
buildings, crossed with slender spars hung with snowy canvas, and braced
with a web of taut cordage. Across the street that passed the foot of the
slips, reached out the great bowsprits or jibbooms, springing from
fine-drawn bows where, above a keen cut-water, the figurehead--pride of
the ship--nestled in confident strength. Neptune with his trident, Venus
rising from the sea, admirals of every age and nationality, favorite
heroes like Wellington and Andrew Jackson were carved, with varying skill,
from stout oak, and set up to guide their vessels through tumultuous seas.


To-day, alas, the towering masts, the trim yards, the web of cordage, the
quaint figureheads, are gone or going fast. The docks, once so populous,
seem deserted--not because maritime trade has fallen off, but because one
steamship does the work that twenty stout clippers once were needed for.
The clipper bow with figurehead and reaching jib-boom are gone, for the
modern steamship has its bow bluff, its stem perpendicular, the "City of
Rome" being the last great steamship to adhere to the old model. It is not
improbable, however, that in this respect we shall see a return to old
models, for the straight stem--an American invention, by the way--is held
to be more dangerous in case of collisions. Many of the old-time sailing
ships have been shorn of their towering masts, robbed of their canvas, and
made into ignoble barges which, loaded with coal, are towed along by some
fuming, fussing tugboat--as Samson shorn of his locks was made to bear the
burdens of the Philistines. This transformation from sail to steam has
robbed the ocean of much of its picturesqueness, and seafaring life of
much of its charm, as well as of many of its dangers.

The greater size of vessels and their swifter trips under steam, have had
the effect of depopulating the ocean, even in established trade routes. In
the old days of ocean travel the meeting of a ship at sea was an event
long to be remembered. The faint speck on the horizon, discernible only
through the captain's glass, was hours in taking on the form of a ship. If
a full-rigged ship, no handiwork of man could equal her impressiveness as
she bore down before the wind, sail mounting on sail of billowing
whiteness, until for the small hull cleaving the waves so swiftly, to
carry all seemed nothing sort of marvelous. Always there was a hail and an
interchange of names and ports; sometimes both vessels rounded to and
boats passed and repassed. But now the courtesies of the sea have gone
with its picturesqueness. Great ocean liners rushing through the deep,
give each other as little heed as railway trains passing on parallel
tracks. A twinkle of electric signals, or a fluttering of parti-colored
flags, and each seeks its own horizon--the incident bounded by minutes
where once it would have taken hours.

It would not be easy to say whether the sailor's lot has been lightened or
not, by the substitution of steel for wood, of steam for sail. Perhaps the
best evidence that the native-born American does not regard the change as
wholly a blessing, is to be found in the fact that but few of them now
follow the sea, and scarcely a vestige is left of the old New England
seafaring population except in the fisheries--where sails are still the
rule. Doubtless the explanation of this lies in the changed conditions of
seafaring as a business. In the days which I have sketched in the first
chapter, the boy of good habits and reasonable education who shipped
before the mast, was fairly sure of prompt promotion to the quarter-deck,
of a right to share in the profits of the voyage, and of finally owning
his own ship. After 1860 all these conditions changed. Steamships, always
costly to build, involved greater and greater investments as their size
increased. Early in the history of steam navigation they became
exclusively the property of corporations. Latterly the steamship lines
have become adjuncts to great railway lines, and are conducted by the
practiced stock manipulator--not by the veteran sea captain.

Richard J. Cleveland, a successful merchant navigator of the early days of
the nineteenth century, when little more than a lad, undertook an
enterprise, thus described by him in a letter from Havre:

    "I have purchased a cutter-sloop of forty-three tons burden, on
    a credit of two years. This vessel was built at Dieppe and
    fitted out for a privateer; was taken by the English, and has
    been plying between Dover and Calais as a packet-boat. She has
    excellent accommodations and sails fast. I shall copper her, put
    her in ballast, trim with £1000 or £1500 sterling in cargo, and
    proceed to the Isle of France and Bourbon, where I expect to
    sell her, as well as the cargo, at a very handsome profit, and
    have no doubt of being well paid for my twelve months' work,
    calculating to be with you next August."

[Illustration: AN ARMED CUTTER]

In such enterprises the young American sailors were always
engaging--braving equally the perils of the deep and not less treacherous
reefs and shoals of business but always struggling to become their own
masters to command their own ships, and if possible, to carry their own
cargoes. The youth of a nation that had fought for political independence,
fought themselves for economic independence.

To men of this sort the conditions bred by the steam-carrying trade were
intolerable. To-day a great steamship may well cost $2,000,000. It must
have the favor of railway companies for cargoes, must possess expensive
wharves at each end of its route, must have an army of agents and
solicitors ever engaged upon its business. The boy who ships before the
mast on one of them, is less likely to rise to the position of owner, than
the switchman is to become railroad president--the latter progress has
been known, but of the former I can not find a trace. So comparatively few
young Americans choose the sea for their workshop in this day of steam.

If this book were the story of the merchant marine of all lands and all
peoples, a chapter on the development of the steamship would be, perhaps,
the most important, and certainly the most considerable part of it. But
with the adoption of steam for ocean carriage began the decline of
American shipping, a decline hastened by the use of iron, and then steel,
for hulls. Though we credit ourselves--not without some protest from
England--with the invention of the steamboat, the adaptation of the screw
to the propulsion of vessels, and the invention of triple-expansion
engines, yet it was England that seized upon these inventions and with
them won, and long held, the commercial mastery of the seas. To-day (1902)
it seems that economic conditions have so changed that the shipyards of
the United States will again compete for the business of the world. We are
building ships as good--perhaps better--than can be constructed anywhere
else, but thus far we have not been able to build them as cheap.
Accordingly our builders have been restricted to the construction of
warships, coasters, and yachts. National pride has naturally demanded that
all vessels for the navy be built in American shipyards, and a federal law
has long restricted the trade between ports of the United States to ships
built here. The lake shipping, too--prodigious in numbers and activity--is
purely American. But until within a few years the American flag had almost
disappeared from vessels engaged in international trade. Americans in many
instances are the owners of ships flying the British flag, for the United
States laws deny American registry--which is to a ship what citizenship is
to a man--to vessels built abroad. While the result of this attempt to
protect American shipyards has been to drive our flag from the ocean,
there are indications now that our shipyards are prepared to build as
cheaply as others, and that the flag will again figure on the high seas.

Popular history has ascribed to Robert Fulton the honor of building and
navigating the first steamboat. Like claims to priority in many other
inventions, this one is strenuously contested. Two years before Fulton's
"Clermont" appeared on the Hudson, John Stevens, of Hoboken, built a
steamboat propelled by a screw, the model of which is still in the Stevens
Polytechnic Institute. Earlier still, John Fitch, of Pennsylvania, had
made a steamboat, and urged it upon Franklin, upon Washington, and upon
the American Philosophical Society without success; tried it then with the
Spanish minister, and was offered a subsidy by the King of Spain for the
exclusive right to the invention. Being a patriotic American, Fitch
refused. "My invention must be first for my own country and then for all
the world," said he. But later, after failing to reap any profit from his
discover and finding himself deprived even of the honor of first
invention, he wrote bitterly in 1792:

"The strange ideas I had at that time of serving my country, without the
least suspicion that my only reward would be contempt and opprobrious
names! To refuse the offer of the Spanish nation was the act of a
blockhead of which I should not be guilty again."

Indeed Fitch's fortune was hard. His invention was a work of the purest
originality. He was unread, uneducated, and had never so much as heard of
a steam-engine when the idea of propelling boats by steam came to him.
After repeated rebuffs--the lot of every inventor--he at length secured
from the State of New Jersey the right to navigate its waters for a term
of years. With this a stock company was formed and the first boat built
and rebuilt. At first it was propelled by a single paddle at the stem;
then by a series of paddles attached to an endless chain on each side of
the boat; afterwards by paddle-wheels, and finally by upright oars at the
side. The first test made on the Delaware River in August, 1787--twenty
years before Fulton--in the presence of many distinguished citizens, some
of them members of the Federal Convention, which had adjourned for the
purpose, was completely successful. The boiler burst before the afternoon
was over, but not before the inventor had demonstrated the complete
practicability of his invention.

For ten years, struggling the while against cruel poverty, John Fitch
labored to perfect his steamboat, and to force it upon the public favor,
but in vain. Never in the history of invention did a new device more fully
meet the traditional "long-felt want." Here was a growing nation made up
of a fringe of colonies strung along an extended coast. No roads were
built. Dense forests blocked the way inland but were pierced by navigable
streams, deep bays, and placid sounds. The steamboat was the one thing
necessary to cement American unity and speed American progress; but a full
quarter of a century passed after Fitch had steamed up and down the
Delaware before the new system of propulsion became commercially useful.
The inventor did not live to see that day, and was at least spared the
pain of seeing a later pioneer get credit for a discovery he thought his
own. In 1798 he died--of an overdose of morphine--leaving behind the
bitter writing: "The day will come when some powerful man will get fame
and riches from my invention; but nobody will ever believe that poor John
Fitch can do anything worthy of attention."

In trying to make amends for the long injustice done to poor Fitch, modern
history has come near to going beyond justice. It is undoubted that Fitch
applied steam to the propulsion of a boat, long before Fulton, but that
Fitch himself was the first inventor is not so certain. Blasco de Garay
built a rude steamboat in Barcelona in 1543; in Germany one Papin built
one a few years later, which bargemen destroyed lest their business be
injured by it. Jonathan Hulls, of Liverpool, in 1737 built a
stern-wheeler, rude engravings of which are still in existence, and
Symington in 1801 built a thoroughly practical steamboat at Dundee. 'Tis a
vexed question, and perhaps it is well enough to say that Fitch first
scented the commercial possibilities of steam navigation, while Fulton
actually developed them--the one "raised" the fox, while the other was in
at the death.

To trace a great idea to the actual birth is apt to be obstructive to
national pride. It is even said that the Chinese of centuries ago
understood the value of the screw-propeller--for inventing which our
adoptive citizen Ericsson stands in bronze on New York's Battery.

From the time of Robert Fulton, at any rate, dates the commercial usage of
the steamboat. Others had done the pioneering--Fitch on the Delaware,
James Rumsey on the Potomac, William Longstreet on the Savannah, Elijah
Ormsley on the waters of Rhode Island, while Samuel Morey had actually
traveled by steamboat from New Haven to New York. Fulton's craft was not
materially better than any of these, but it happened to be launched on

    ----that tide in the affairs of men
    Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.

But the flood of that tide did not come to Fulton without long waiting and
painstaking preparation. He was the son of an Irish immigrant, and born in
Pennsylvania in 1765. To inventive genius he added rather unusual gifts
for drawing and painting; for a time followed the calling of a painter of
miniatures and went to London to study under Benjamin West, whom all
America of that day thought a genius scarcely second to Raphael or Titian.
He was not, like poor Fitch, doomed to the narrowest poverty and shut out
from the society of the men of light and learning of the day, for we find
him, after his London experience, a member of the family of Joel Barlow,
then our minister to France. By this time his ambition had forsaken art
for mechanics, and he was deep in plans for diving boats, submarine
torpedoes, and steamboats. Through various channels he succeeded in
getting his plan for moving vessels with steam, before Napoleon--then
First Consul--who ordered the Minister of Marine to treat with the
inventor. The Minister in due time suggested that 10,000 francs be spent
on experiments to be made in the Harbor of Brest. To this Napoleon
assented, and sent Fulton to the Institute of France to be examined as to
his fitness to conduct the tests. Now the Institute is the most learned
body in all France. In 1860 one of its members wrote a book to prove that
the earth does not revolve upon its axis, nor move about the sun. In 1878,
when Edison's phonograph was being exhibited to the eminent scientists of
the Institute, one rushed wrathfully down the aisle and seizing by the
collar the man who manipulated the instrument, cried out, "Wretch, we are
not to be made dupes of by a ventriloquist!" So it is readily
understandable that after being referred to the Institute, Fulton and his
project disappeared for a long time.

The learned men of the Institute of France were not alone in their
incredulity. In 1803 the Philosophical Society of Rotterdam wrote to the
American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia, for information concerning
the development of the steam-engine in the United States. The question was
referred to Benjamin H. Latrobe, the most eminent engineer in America, and
his report was published approvingly in the _Transactions_. "A sort of
mania," wrote Mr. Latrobe, "had indeed prevailed and not yet entirely
subsided, for impelling boats by steam-engines." But his scientific
hearers would at once see that there were general objections to it which
could not be overcome. "These are, first, the weight of the engine and of
the fuel; second, the large space it occupies; third, the tendency of its
action to rack the vessel and render it leaky; fourth, the expense of
maintenance; fifth, the irregularity of its motion and the motion of the
water in the boiler and cistern, and of the fuel vessel in rough weather;
sixth, the difficulty arising from the liability of the paddles, or oars,
to break, if light, and from the weight if made strong."

But the steamboat survived this scientific indictment in six counts.
Visions proved more real than scientific reasoning.

While in the shadow of the Institute's disfavor, Fulton fell in with the
new minister to France, Robert R. Livingston, and the result of this
acquaintance was that America gained primacy in steam navigation, and
Napoleon lost the chance to get control of an invention which, by
revolutionizing navigation, might have broken that British control of the
sea, that in the end destroyed the Napoleonic empire. Livingston had long
taken an intelligent interest in the possibilities of steam power, and had
built and tested, on the Hudson, an experimental steamboat of his own.
Perhaps it was this, as much as anything, which aroused the interest of
Thomas Jefferson--to whom he owed his appointment as minister to
France--for Jefferson was actively interested in every sort of mechanical
device, and his mind was not so scientific as to be inhospitable to new,
and even, revolutionary, ideas. But Livingston was not possessed by that
idea which, in later years, politicians have desired us to believe
especially Jeffersonian. He was no foe to monopoly. Indeed, before he had
perfected his steamboat, he used his political influence to get from New
York the concession of the _exclusive_ right to navigate her lakes and
rivers by steam. The grant was only to be effective if within one year he
should produce a boat of twenty tons, moved by steam. But he failed, and
in 1801 went to France, where he found Fulton. A partnership was formed,
and it was largely through Livingston's money and influence that Fulton
succeeded where others, earlier in the field than he, had failed. Yet even
so, it was not all easy sailing for him. "When I was building my first
steamboat," he said, "the project was viewed by the public either with
indifference, or with contempt as a visionary scheme. My friends, indeed,
were civil, but were shy. They listened with patience to my explanations,
but with a settled cast of incredulity upon their countenances. I felt the
full force of the lamentation of the poet--

    Truths would you teach, or save a sinking land;
    All fear, none aid you, and few understand.


"As I had occasion to pass daily to and from the building yard while my
boat was in progress, I have often loitered unknown near the idle groups
of strangers gathered in little circles and heard various inquiries as to
the object of this new vehicle. The language was uniformly that of scorn,
or sneer, or ridicule. The loud laugh often rose at my expense; the dry
jest; the wise calculation of losses and expenditures; the dull, but
endless repetition of 'the Fulton Folly.' Never did a single encouraging
remark, a bright hope, or a warm wish cross my path."

The boat which Fulton was building while the wiseacres wagged their heads
and prophesied disaster, was named "The Clermont." She was 130 feet long,
18 feet wide, half-decked, and provided with a mast and sail. In the
undecked part were the boiler and engine, set in masonry. The wheels were
fifteen feet in diameter, with buckets four feet wide, dipping two feet
into the water.

It was 1806 when Fulton came home to begin her construction. Since his
luckless experience with the French Institute he had tested a steamer on
the Seine; failed to interest Napoleon; tried, without success, to get the
British Government to adopt his torpedo; tried and failed again with the
American Government at Washington. Fulton's thoughts seemed to have been
riveted on his torpedo; but Livingston was confident of the future of the
steamboat, and had had an engine built for it in England, which Fulton
found lying on a wharf, freight unpaid, on his return from Europe. The
State of New York had meantime granted the two another monopoly of steam
navigation, and gave them until 1807 to prove their ability and right. The
time, though brief, proved sufficient, and on the afternoon of August 7,
1807, the "Clermont" began her epoch-making voyage. The distance to
Albany--150 miles--she traversed in thirty-two hours, and the end of the
passenger sloop traffic on the Hudson was begun. Within a year steamboats
were plying on the Raritan, the Delaware, and Lake Champlain, and the
development and use of the new invention would have been more rapid than
it was, save for the monopoly rights which had been granted to Livingston
and Fulton. They had the sole right to navigate by steam, the waters of
New York. Well and good. But suppose the stream navigated touched both New
York and New Jersey. What then? Would it be seriously asserted that a
steamer owned by New Jersey citizens could not land passengers at a New
York port?

Fulton and Livingston strove to protect their monopoly, and the two States
were brought to the brink of war. In the end the courts settled the
difficulty by establishing the exclusive control of navigable waters by
the Federal Government.

From the day the "Clermont" breasted the tide of the Hudson there was no
check in the conquest of the waters by steam. Up the narrowest rivers,
across the most tempestuous bays, along the placid waters of Long Island
Sound, coasting along the front yard of the nation from Portland to
Savannah the steamboats made their way, tying the young nation
indissolubly together. Curiously enough it was Livingston's monopoly that
gave the first impetus to the extension of steam navigation. A mechanic by
the name of Robert L. Stevens, one of the first of a family distinguished
in New York and New Jersey, built a steamboat on the Hudson. After one or
two trips had proved its usefulness, the possessors of the monopoly became
alarmed and began proceedings against the new rival. Driven from the
waters about New York, Stevens took his boat around to Philadelphia. Thus
not only did he open an entirely new field of river and inland water
transportation, but the trip to Philadelphia demonstrated the entire
practicability of steam for use in coastwise navigation. Thereafter the
vessels multiplied rapidly on all American waters. Fulton himself set up a
shipyard, in which he built steam ferries, river and coastwise steamboats.
In 1809 he associated himself with Nicholas J. Roosevelt, to whom credit
is due for the invention of the vertical paddle-wheel, in a partnership
for the purpose of putting steamboats on the great rivers of the
Mississippi Valley, and in 1811 the "New Orleans" was built and navigated
by Roosevelt himself, from Pittsburg to the city at the mouth of the
Mississippi. The voyage took fourteen days, and before undertaking it, he
descended the two rivers in a flatboat, to familiarize himself with the
channel. The biographer of Roosevelt prints an interesting letter from
Fulton, in which he says, "I have no pretensions to be the inventor of the
steamboat. Hundreds of others have tried it and failed." Four years after
Roosevelt's voyage, the "Enterprise" made for the first time in history
the voyage up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers from New Orleans to
Louisville, and from that era the great rivers may be said to have been
fairly opened to that commerce, which in time became the greatest agency
in the building up of the nation. The Great Lakes were next to feel the
quickening influence of the new motive power, but it was left for the
Canadian, John Hamilton, of Queenston, to open this new field. The
progress of steam navigation on both lakes and rivers will be more fully
described in the chapters devoted to that topic.

So rapidly now did the use of the steamboat increase on Long Island Sound,
on the rivers, and along the coast that the newspapers began to discuss
gravely the question whether the supply of fuel would long hold out. The
boats used wood exclusively--coal was then but little used--and despite
the vast forests which covered the face of the land the price of wood in
cities rose because of their demand. Mr. McMaster, the eminent historian,
discovers that in 1825 thirteen steamers plying on the Hudson burned
sixteen hundred cords of wood per week. Fourteen hundred cords more were
used by New York ferry boats, and each trip of a Sound steamer consumed
sixty cords. The American who traverses the placid waters of Long Island
Sound to-day in one of the swift and splendid steamboats of the Fall River
or other Sound lines, enjoys very different accommodations from those
which in the second quarter of the last century were regarded as palatial.
The luxury of that day was a simple sort at best. When competition became
strong, the old Fulton company, then running boats to Albany, announced as
a special attraction the "safety barge." This was a craft without either
sails or steam, of about two hundred tons burden, and used exclusively for
passengers. It boasted a spacious dining-room, ninety feet long, a deck
cabin for ladies, a reading room, a promenade deck, shaded and provided
with seats. One of the regular steamers of the line towed it to Albany,
and its passengers were assured freedom from the noise and vibration of
machinery, as well as safety from possible boiler explosions--the latter
rather a common peril of steamboating in those days.


It was natural that the restless mind of the American, untrammeled by
traditions and impatient of convention, should turn eagerly and early to
the question of crossing the ocean by steam. When the rivers had been made
busy highways for puffing steamboats; when the Great Lakes, as turbulent
as the ocean, and as vast as the Mediterranean, were conquered by the new
marine device; when steamships plied between New York, Philadelphia,
Baltimore, Savannah, and Charleston, braving what is by far more perilous
than mid-ocean, the danger of tempests on a lee shore, and the shifting
sands of Hatteras, there seemed to the enterprising man no reason why the
passage from New York to Liverpool might not be made by the same agency.
The scientific authorities were all against it. Curiously enough, the
weight of scientific authority is always against anything new. Marine
architects and mathematicians proved to their own satisfaction at least
that no vessel could carry enough coal to cross the Atlantic, that the
coal bunkers would have to be bigger than the vessel itself, in order to
hold a sufficient supply for the furnaces. It is a matter of history that
an eminent British scientist was engaged in delivering a lecture on this
very subject in Liverpool when the "Savannah," the first steamship to
cross the ocean, steamed into the harbor. It is fair, however, to add that
the "Savannah's" success did not wholly destroy the contention of the
opponents of steam navigation, for she made much of the passage under
sail, being fitted only with what we would call now "auxiliary steam
power." This was in 1819, but so slow were the shipbuilders to progress
beyond what had been done with the "Savannah," that in 1835 a highly
respected British scientist said in tones of authority: "As to the project
which was announced in the newspapers, of making the voyage from New York
to Liverpool direct by steam, it was, he had no hesitation in saying,
perfectly chimerical, and they might as well talk of making a voyage from
New York or Liverpool to the moon." Nevertheless, in three years from that
time transatlantic steam lines were in operation, and the doom of the
grand old packets was sealed.

The American who will read history free from that national prejudice which
is miscalled patriotism, can not fail to be impressed by the fact that,
while as a nation we have led the world in the variety and audacity of our
inventions, it is nearly always some other nation that most promptly and
most thoroughly utilizes the genius of our inventors. Emphatically was
this the case with the application of steam power to ocean steamships.
Americans showed the way, but Englishmen set out upon it and were
traveling it regularly before another American vessel followed in the wake
of the "Savannah." In 1838 two English steamships crossed the Atlantic to
New York, the "Sirius" and the "Great Western." That was the beginning of
that great fleet of British steamers which now plies up and down the Seven
Seas and finds its poet laureate in Mr. Kipling. A very small beginning it
was, too. The "Sirius" was of 700 tons burden and 320 horse-power; the
"Great Western" was 212 feet long, with a tonnage of 1340 and engines of
400 horse-power. The "Sirius" brought seven passengers to New York, at a
time when the sailing clippers were carrying from eight hundred to a
thousand immigrants, and from twenty to forty cabin passengers. To those
who accompanied the ship on her maiden voyage it must have seemed to
justify the doubts expressed by the mathematicians concerning the
practicability of designing a steamship which could carry enough coal to
drive the engines all the way across the Atlantic, for the luckless
"Sirius" exhausted her four hundred and fifty tons of coal before reaching
Sandy Hook, and could not have made the historic passage up New York Bay
under steam, except for the liberal use of spars and barrels of resin
which she had in cargo. Her voyage from Cork had occupied eighteen and a
half days. The "Great Western," which arrived at the same time, made the
run from Queenstown in fifteen days. That two steamships should lie at
anchor in New York Bay at the same time, was enough to stir the wonder and
awaken the enthusiasm of the provincial New Yorkers of that day. The
newspapers published editorials on the marvel, and the editor of _The
Courier and Enquirer_, the chief maritime authority of the time, hazarded
a prophecy in this cautious fashion:

    "What may be the ultimate fate of this excitement--whether or
    not the expenses of equipment and fuel will admit of the
    employment of these vessels in the ordinary packet service--we
    cannot pretend to form an opinion; but of the entire feasibility
    of the passage of the Atlantic by steam, as far as regards
    safety, comfort, and dispatch, even in the roughest and most
    boisterous weather, the most skeptical must now cease to doubt."

Unfortunately for our national pride, the story of the development of the
ocean steamship industry from this small beginning to its present
prodigious proportions, is one in which we of the United States fill but a
little space. We have, it is true, furnished the rich cargoes of grain, of
cotton, and of cattle, that have made the ocean passage in one direction
profitable for shipowners. We found homes for the millions of immigrants
who crowded the "'tween decks" of steamers of every flag and impelled the
companies to build bigger and bigger craft to carry the ever increasing
throngs. And in these later days of luxury and wealth unparalleled, we
have supplied the millionaires, whose demands for quarters afloat as
gorgeous as a Fifth Avenue club have resulted in the building of floating
palaces. America has supported the transatlantic lines, but almost every
civilized people with a seacoast has outdone us in building the ships. For
a time, indeed, it seemed that we should speedily overcome the lead that
England immediately took in building steamships. Her entrance upon this
industry was, as we have seen, in 1838. The United States took it up about
ten years later. In 1847 the Ocean Steam Navigation Company was organized
in this country and secured from the Government a contract to carry the
mails between New York and Bremen. Two ships were built and regular trips
made for a year or more; but when the Government contract expired and was
not renewed, the venture was abandoned. About the same time the owners of
one of the most famous packet lines, the Black Ball, tried the experiment
of supplementing their sailing service with a steamship, but it proved
unprofitable. Shortly after the New York and Havre Steamship Company, with
two vessels and a postal subsidy of $150,000, entered the field and
continued operations with only moderate success until 1868.

The only really notable effort of Americans in the early days of steam
navigation to get their share of transatlantic trade--indeed, I might
almost say the most determined effort until the present time--was that
made by the projectors of the Collins line, and it ended in disaster, in
heavy financial loss, and in bitter sorrow.

E.K. Collins was a New York shipping merchant, the organizer and manager
of one of the most famous of the old lines of sailing packets between that
port and Liverpool--the Dramatic line, so called from the fact that its
ships were named after popular actors of the day. Recognizing the fact
that the sailing ship was fighting a losing fight against the new style of
vessels, Mr. Collins interested a number of New York merchants in a
distinctly American line of transatlantic ships. It was no easy task.
Capital was not over plenty in the American city which now boasts itself
the financial center of the world, while the opportunities for its
investment in enterprises longer proved and less hazardous than steamships
were numerous. But a Government mail subsidy of $858,000 annually promised
a sound financial basis, and made the task of capitalization possible. It
seems not unlikely that the vicissitudes of the line were largely the
result of this subsidy, for one of its conditions was extremely onerous:
namely, that the vessels making twenty-six voyages annually between New
York and Liverpool, should always make the passage in better time than
the British Cunard line, which was then in its eighth year. However, the
Collins line met the exaction bravely. Four vessels were built, the
"Atlantic," "Pacific," "Arctic," and "Baltic," and the time of the fleet
for the westward passage averaged eleven days, ten hours and twenty-one
minutes, while the British ships averaged twelve days, nineteen hours and
twenty-six minutes--a very substantial triumph for American naval
architecture. The Collins liners, furthermore, were models of comfort and
even of luxury for the times. They averaged a cost of $700,000 apiece, a
good share of which went toward enhancing the comfort of passengers. To
our English cousins these ships were at first as much of a curiosity as
our vestibuled trains were a few years since. When the "Atlantic" first
reached Liverpool in 1849, the townspeople by the thousand came down to
the dock to examine a ship with a barber shop, fitted with the curious
American barber chairs enabling the customer to recline while being
shaved. The provision of a special deck-house for smokers, was another
innovation, while the saloon, sixty-seven by twenty feet, the dining
saloon sixty by twenty, the rich fittings of rosewood and satinwood,
marble-topped tables, expensive upholstery, and stained-glass windows,
decorated with patriotic designs, were for a long time the subject of
admiring comment in the English press. Old voyagers who crossed in the
halcyon days of the Collins line and are still taking the "Atlantic
ferry," agree in saying that the increase in actual comfort is not so
great as might reasonably be expected. Much of the increased expenditures
of the companies has gone into more gorgeous decoration, vastly more of
course into pushing for greater speed; but even in the early days there
was a lavish table, and before the days of the steamships the packets
offered such private accommodations in the of roomy staterooms as can be
excelled only by the "cabins de luxe" of the modern liner. Aside from the
question of speed, however, it is probable that the two inventions which
have added most to the passengers' comfort are the electric light and
artificial refrigeration.

The Collins line charged from thirty to forty dollar a ton for freight, a
charge which all the modern improvements and the increase in the size of
vessels, has not materially lessened. In six years, however, the
corporation was practically bankrupt. The high speed required by the
Government more than offset the generous subsidy, and misfortune seemed to
pursue the ships. The "Arctic" came into collision with a French steamer
in 1854, and went down with two hundred and twenty-two of the two hundred
and sixty-eight people on board. The "Pacific" left Liverpool June 23,
1856, and was never more heard of. Shortly thereafter the subsidy was
withdrawn, and the famous line went slowly down to oblivion.

It was during the best days of the Collins line that it seemed that the
United States might overtake Great Britain in the race for supremacy on
the ocean. In 1851 the total British steam shipping engaged in foreign
trade was 65,921 tons. The United States only began building steamships in
1848, yet by 1851 its ocean-going steamships aggregated 62,390 tons. For
four years our growth continued so that in 1855 we had 115,000 tons
engaged in foreign trade. Then began the retrograde movement, until in
1860--before the time of the Confederate cruisers--there were; according
to an official report to the National Board of Trade, "no ocean mail
steamers away from our own coasts, anywhere on the globe, under the
American flag, except, perhaps, on the route between New York and Havre,
where two steamships may then have been in commission, which, however,
were soon afterward withdrawn. The two or three steamship companies which
had been in existence in New York had either failed or abandoned the
business; and the entire mail, passenger, and freight traffic between
Great Britain and the United States, so far as this was carried on by
steam, was controlled then (as it mainly is now) by British companies."
And from this condition of decadence the merchant marine of the United
States is just beginning to manifest signs of recovery.

When steam had fairly established its place as the most effective power
for ocean voyages of every duration, and through every zone and clime,
improvements in the methods of harnessing it, and in the form and material
of the ships that it was to drive, followed fast upon each other. As in
the case of the invention of the steamboat, the public has commonly
lightly awarded the credit for each invention to some belated experimenter
who, walking more firmly along a road which an earlier pioneer had broken,
attained the goal that his predecessor had sought in vain. So we find
credit given almost universally to John Ericsson, the Swedish-born
American, for the invention of the screw-propeller. But as early as 1770
it was suggested by John Watt, and Stevens, the American inventor,
actually gave a practical demonstration of its efficiency in 1804.
Ericsson perfected it in 1836, and soon thereafter the British began
building steamships with screws instead of paddle-wheels. For some reason,
however, not easy now to conjecture, shipbuilders clung to the
paddle-wheels for vessels making the transatlantic voyage, long after they
were discarded on the shorter runs along the coasts of the British isles.
It so happened, too, that the first vessel to use the screw in
transatlantic voyages, was also first iron ship built. She was the "Great
Britain," a ship of 3,000 tons, built for the Great Western Company at
Bristol, England, and intended to eclipse any ship afloat. Her hull was
well on the way to completion when her designer chanced to see the
"Archimedes," the first screw steamer built, and straightway changed his
plans to admit the use of the new method of propulsion So from 1842 may be
dated the use of both screw propellers and iron ships. We must pass
hastily over the other inventions, rapidly following each other, and all
designed to make ocean travel more swift, more safe, and more comfortable,
and to increase the profit of the shipowner. The compound engine, which
has been so developed that in place of Fulton's seven miles an hour, our
ocean steamships are driven now at a speed sometimes closely approaching
twenty-five miles an hour, seems already destined to give way to the
turbine form of engine which, applied thus far to torpedo-boats only, has
made a record of forty-four miles an hour. Iron, which stood for a
revolution in 1842, has itself given way to steel. And a new force,
subtile, swift, and powerful, has found endless application in the body of
the great ships, so that from stem to stern-post they are a network of
electric wires, bearing messages, controlling the independent engines that
swing the rudder, closing water-tight compartments at the first hint of
danger, and making the darkest places of the great hulls as light as day
at the throwing of a switch. During the period of this wonderful advance
in marine architecture ship-building in the United States languished to
the point of extinction. Yachts for millionaires who could afford to pay
heavily for the pleasure of flying the Stars and Stripes, ships of 2500 to
4000 tons for the coasting trade, in which no foreign-built vessel was
permitted to compete, and men-of-war--very few of them before 1890--kept a
few shipyards from complete obliteration. But as an industry,
ship-building, which once ranked at the head of American manufactures, had
sunk to a point of insignificance.

The present moment (1902) seems to show the American shipping interest in
the full tide of successful reëstablishment. In Congress and in boards of
trade men are arguing for and against subsidies, for and against the
policy of permitting Americans to buy ships of foreign builders if they
will, and fly the American flag above them. But while these things remain
subjects of discussion natural causes are taking Americans again to sea.
Some buy great British ships, own and manage them, even although the laws
of the United States compel the flying of a foreign flag. For example, the
Atlantic Transport line is owned wholly by citizens of the United States,
although at the present moment all its ships fly the British flag. Two new
ships are, however, being completed for this line in American shipyards,
the "Minnetonka" and "Minnewaska," of 13,401 tons each. This line, started
by Americans in 1887, was the first to use the so-called bilge keels, or
parallel keels along each side of the hull to prevent rolling. It now has
a fleet of twenty-three vessels, with a total tonnage of about 90,000, and
does a heavy passenger business despite the fact that its ships were
primarily designed to carry cattle. Quite as striking an illustration of
the fact that capital is international, and will be invested in ships or
other enterprises which promise profit quite heedless of sentimental
considerations of flags, was afforded by the purchase in 1901 of the
Leyland line of British steamships by an American. Immediately following
this came the consolidation of ownership, or merger, of the principal
British-American lines, in one great corporation, a majority of the stock
of which is held by Americans. Despite their ownership on this side of
the water, these ships will still fly the British flag, and a part of the
contract of merger is that a British shipyard shall for ten years build
all new vessels needed by the consolidated lines this situation will
persist. This suggests that the actual participation of Americans in the
ocean-carrying trade of the world is not to be estimated by the frequency
or infrequency with which the Stars and Stripes are to be met on the
ocean. It furthermore gives some indication of the rapidity with which the
American flag would reappear if the law to register only ships built in
American yards were repealed.

Indeed, it would appear that the law protecting American ship-builders,
while apparently effective for that purpose, has destroyed American
shipping. Our ship-building industry has attained respectable and even
impressive proportions; but our shipping, wherever brought into
competition with foreign ships, has vanished. One transatlantic line only,
in 1902 displayed the American flag, and that line enjoyed special and
unusual privileges, without which it probably could not have existed. In
consideration of building two ships in American yards, this line, the
International Navigation Company, was permitted to transfer two
foreign-built ships to American registry, and a ten years' postal contract
was awarded it, which guaranteed in advance the cost of construction of
all the ships it was required to build. It is a fact worth noting that,
while the foreign lines have been vying with each other in the
construction of faster and bigger ships each year, this one has built none
since its initial construction, more than a decade ago. Ten years ago its
American-built ships, the "New York" and the "Paris," were the largest
ships afloat; now there are eighteen larger in commission, and many
building. Besides this, there are only two American lines on the Atlantic
which ply to other than coastwise ports--the Pacific Mail, which is run
in connection with the Panama railway, and the Admiral line, which plies
between New York and the West Indies. Indeed, the Commissioner of
Navigation, in his report for 1901, said:

"For serious competition with foreign nations under the conditions now
imposed upon ocean navigation, we are practically limited to our
registered iron and steam steel vessels, which in all number 124, of
271,378 gross tons. Those under 1,000 gross tons are not now commercially
available for oversea trade. There remains 4 steamships, each of over
10,000 gross tons; 5 of between 5,000 and 6,000 gross tons; 2 of between
4,000 and 5,000 tons; 18 between 3000 and 4000 tons; 35 between 2000 and
3000 tons, and 33 between 1000 and 2000 tons; in all 97 steamships over
1000 tons, aggregating 260,325 gross tons."

Most of these are engaged in coastwise trade. The fleet of the
Hamburg-American line alone, among our many foreign rivals, aggregates
515,628 gross tons.

However, we must bear in mind that this seemingly insignificant place held
by the United States merchant marine represents only the part it holds in
the international carrying trade of the world. Such a country as Germany
must expend all its maritime energies on international trade. It has
little or no river and coastwise traffic. But the United States is a
little world in itself; not so very small, and of late years growing
greater. Our wide extended coasts on Atlantic, Pacific, and the Mexican
Gulf, are bordered by rich States crowded with a people who produce and
consume more per capita than any other race. From the oceans great
navigable rivers, deep bays, and placid sounds, extend into the very heart
of the country. The Great Lakes are bordered by States more populous and
cities more busy and enterprising than those, which in the proudest days
of Rome, and Carthage and Venice skirted the Mediterranean and the
Adriatic. The traffic of all these trade highways is by legislation
reserved for American ships alone. On the Great Lakes has sprung up a
merchant marine rivaling that of some of the foremost maritime peoples,
and conducting a traffic that puts to shame the busiest maritime highways
of Europe. Long Island Sound bears on its placid bosom steamships that are
the marvel of the traveling public the world over. The Hudson, the Ohio,
the Mississippi, are all great arteries through which the life current of
trade is ceaselessly flowing. A book might be written on the one subject
of the part that river navigation has played in developing the interior
States of this Union. Another could well be devoted to the history of lake
navigation, which it is no overstatement to pronounce the most impressive
chapter in the history of the American merchant marine. In this volume,
however, but brief attention can be given to either.

The figures show how honorably our whole body of shipping compares in
volume to that operated by any maritime people. Our total registered
shipping engaged in the fisheries, coastwise, and lake traffic, and
foreign trade numbered at the beginning of 1902, 24,057 vessels, with an
aggregate tonnage of 5,524,218 tons. In domestic trade alone we had
4,582,683 tons, or an amount exceeding the total tonnage of Germany and
Norway combined, or of Germany and France. Only England excelled us, but
her lead, which in 1860 was inconsiderable, in 1901 was prodigious; the
British flag flying over no less than 14,261,254 tons of shipping, more
than three times our tonnage! It is proper to note that more than
two-thirds of our registered tonnage is of wood.


I have already given reasons why, in the natural course of things, this
disparity between the American and the British foreign-going merchant
marine will not long continue. And indeed, as this book is writing, it is
apparent that its end is near. Though shipyards have multiplied fast in
the last five years of the nineteenth century, the first years of the new
century found them all occupied up to the very limit of their capacity.
Yards that began, like the Cramps, building United States warships and
finding little other work, were soon under contract to build men-of-war
for Russia and Japan. The interest of the people in the navy afforded a
great stimulus to shipbuilding. It is told of one of the principal yards,
that its promotor went to Washington with a bid for naval construction in
his pocket, but without either a shipyard or capital wherewith to build
one. He secured a contract for two ships, and capital readily interested
itself in his project. When that contract is out of the way the yard will
enter the business of building merchant vessels, just as several yards,
which long had their only support from naval contracts, are now doing.
There were built in the year ending June 30, 1901, in American yards, 112
vessels of over 1000 tons each, or a total of 311,778. Many of these were
lake vessels; some were wooden ships. Of modern steel steamers, built on
the seaboard, there were but sixteen. At the present moment there are
building in American yards, or contracted for, almost 255,325 tons of
steel steamships, to be launched within a year--or 89 vessels, more than
twice the output of any year in our history, and an impressive earnest for
the future. Nor is this rapid increase in the ship-building activity of
the United States accompanied by any reduction in the wages of the
American working men. Their high wages, of which ship-builders complain,
and in which everyone else rejoices, remain high. But it has been
demonstrated to the satisfaction, even of foreign observers, that the
highly-paid American labor is the most effective, and in the end the
cheapest. Our workingmen know how to use modern tools, to make compressed
air, steam, electricity do their work at every possible point, and while
the United States still ranks far below England as a ship-building center,
Englishmen, Germans, and Frenchmen are coming over here to learn how we
build the ships that we do build. If it has not yet been demonstrated that
we can build ships as cheaply as any other nation, we are so near the
point of demonstration, that it may be said to be expected momentarily.
With the cheapest iron in the world, we have at least succeeded in making
steel, the raw material of the modern ship, cheaper than it can be made
elsewhere, and that accomplished, our primacy in the matter of
ship-building is a matter of the immediate future. A picturesque
illustration of this change is afforded by the fact that in 1894 the
plates of the "Dirigo," the first steel square-rigged vessel built in the
United States, were imported from England. In 1898 we exported to England
some of the plates for the "Oceanic," the largest vessel built to that

Even the glory, such as it may be, of building the biggest ship of the
time is now well within the grasp of the United States. At this writing,
indeed, the biggest ship is the "Celtic," British built, and of 20,000
tons. But the distinction is only briefly for her, for at New London,
Connecticut, two ponderous iron fabrics are rising on the ways that
presently shall take form as ocean steamships of 25,000 tons each, to fly
the American flag, and to ply between Seattle and China. These great ships
afford new illustrations of more than one point already made in this
chapter. To begin with they are, of course, not constructed for any
individual owner. Time was that the farmer with land sloping down to New
London would put in his spare time building a staunch schooner of 200
tons, man her with his neighbors, and engage for himself in the world's
carrying trade. It is rather different now. The Northern Pacific railroad
directors concluded that their railroad could not be developed to its
fullest earning capacity without some way of carrying to the markets of
the far East the agricultural products gathered up along its line. As the
tendency of the times is toward gathering all branches of a business under
one control, they determined to not rely upon independent shipowners, but
to build their own vessels. That meant the immediate letting of a contract
for $5,000,000 worth of ship construction, and that in turn meant that
there was a profit to somebody in starting an entirely new shipyard to do
the work. So, suddenly, one of the sleepiest little towns in New England,
Groton, opposite New London, was turned into a ship-building port. The two
great Northern Pacific ships will be launched about the time this book is
published, but the yard by that time will have become a permanent addition
to the ship-building enterprises of the United States. So, too, all along
the Atlantic coast, we find ancient shipyards where, in the very earliest
colonial days, wooden vessels were built, adapting themselves to the
construction of the new steel steamships.

How wonderful is the contrast between the twentieth century, steel,
triple-screw, 25,000-ton, electric-lighted, 25-knot steamship, and
Winthrop's little "Blessing of the Bay," or Fulton's "Clermont," or even
the ships of the Collins line--floating palaces as they were called at the
time! Time has made commonplace the proportions of the "Great Eastern,"
the marine marvel not only of her age, but of the forty years that
succeeded her breaking-up as impracticable on account of size. She was
19,000 tons, 690 feet long, and built with both paddle-wheels and a screw.
The "Celtic" is 700 feet long, 20,000 tons, with twin screws. The one was
too big to be commercially valuable, the other has held the record for
size only for a year, being already outclassed by the Northern Pacific
25,000-ton monsters. That one was a failure, the other a success, is
almost wholly due to the improvements in engines, which effect economy of
space both in the engine-room and in the coal bunkers. It is, by the way,
rather a curious illustration of the growing luxury of life, and of ocean
travel, that the first voyage of this enormous ship was made as a yacht,
carrying a party of pleasure-seekers, with not a pound of cargo, through
the show places of the Mediterranean.

It will be interesting to chronicle here some of the characteristics of
the most modern of ocean steamships, and to show by the use of some
figures, the enormous proportions to which their business has attained.
For this purpose it will be necessary to use figures drawn from the
records of foreign lines, and from such vessels as the "Deutschland" and
the "Celtic," although the purpose of this book is to tell the story of
the American merchant marine. But the figures given will be approximately
correct for the great American ships now building, while there are not at
present in service any American passenger ships which are fairly
representative of the twentieth century liner.

The "Celtic," for example, will carry 3,294 persons, of whom 2,859 will be
passengers. That is, it could furnish comfortable accommodations, heated
and lighted, with ample food for all the students in Harvard University,
or the University of Michigan, or Columbia University, or all in Amherst,
Dartmouth, Cornell, and Williams combined. If stood on end she would
almost attain the height of the Washington monument placed on the roof of
the Capitol at Washington. She has nine decks, and a few years ago, if
converted into a shore edifice, might fairly have been reckoned in the
"skyscraper" class. Her speed, as she was built primarily for capacity is
only about seventeen knots, and to attain that she burns about 260 tons of
coal a day. The "Deutschland," which holds the ocean record for speed,
burns nearly 600 tons of coal a day, and with it carries through the seas
only 16,000 tons as against the "Celtic's" 20,000. But she is one of the
modern vessels built especially to carry passengers. In her hold, huge as
it is, there is room for only about 600 tons of cargo, and she seldom
carries more than one-sixth of that amount. One voyage of this great ship
costs about $45,000, and even at that heavy expense, she is a profit
earner, so great is the volume of transatlantic travel and so ready are
people to pay for speed and luxury. Her coal alone costs $5,000 a trip,
and the expenses of the table, laundry, etc., equal those of the most
luxurious hotel.

But will ever these great liners, these huge masses of steel, guided by
electricity and sped by steam, build up anew the race of American sailors?
Who shall say now? To-day they are manned by Scandinavians and officered,
in the main, by the seamen of the foreign nations whose flags they float.
But the American is an adaptable type. He at once attends upon changing
conditions and conquers them. He turned from the sea to the railroads when
that seemed to be the course of progress; he may retrace his steps now
that the pendulum seems to swing the other way. And if he finds under the
new regime less chance for the hardy topman, no opportunity for the shrewd
trader to a hundred ports, the gates closed to the man of small capital,
yet be sure he will conquer fate in some way. We have seen it in the armed
branch of the seafaring profession only within a few months. When the fine
old sailing frigates vanished from the seas, when the "Constitution" and
the "Hartford" became as obsolete as the caravels of Columbus, when a navy
officer found that electricity and steam were more serious problems in his
calling than sails and rigging, and a bluejacket could be with the best in
his watch without ever having learned to furl a royal, then said
everybody: "The naval profession has gone to the dogs. Its romance has
departed. Our ships should be manned from our boiler shops, and officered
from our institutions of technology. There will be no more Decaturs,
Somerses, Farraguts, Cushings." And then came on the Spanish war and the
rush of the "Oregon" around Cape Horn, the cool thrust of Dewey's fleet
into the locked waters of Manila Bay, the plucky fight and death of Bagley
at Cardenas, the braving of death by Hobson at Santiago, and the complete
destruction of Cervera's fleet by Schley showed that Americans could fight
as well in steel ships as in wooden ones. Nor can we doubt that the
history of the next half-century will show that the new order at sea will
breed a new race of American seamen able as in the past to prove
themselves masters of the deep.



At the foot of Narragansett Bay, with the surges of the open ocean
breaking fiercely on its eastward side, and a sheltered harbor crowded
with trim pleasure craft, leading up to its rotting wharves, lies the old
colonial town of Newport. A holiday place it is to-day, a spot of splendor
and of wealth almost without parallel in the world. From the rugged cliffs
on its seaward side great granite palaces stare, many-windowed, over the
Atlantic, and velvet lawns slope down to the rocks. These are the homes of
the people who, in the last fifty years, have brought new life and new
riches to Newport. But down in the old town you will occasionally come
across a fine old colonial mansion, still retaining some signs of its
former grandeur, while scattered about the island to the north are stately
old farmhouses and homesteads that show clearly enough the existence in
that quiet spot of wealth and comfort for these one hundred and fifty

Looking upon Newport to-day, and finding it all so fair, it seems hard to
believe that the foundation of all its wealth and prosperity rested upon
the most cruel, the most execrable, the most inhuman traffic that ever was
plied by degraded men--the traffic in slaves. Yet in the old days the
trade was far from being held either cruel inhuman--indeed, vessels often
set sail for the Bight of Benin to swap rum for slaves, after their owners
had invoked the blessing of God upon their enterprise. Nor were its
promoters held by the community to be degraded. Indeed, some of the most
eminent men in the community engaged in it, and its receipts were so
considerable that as early as 1729 one-half of the impost levied on slaves
imported into the colony was appropriated to pave the streets of the town
and build its bridges--however, we are not informed that the streets were
very well paved.

It was not at Newport, however, nor even in New England that the
importation of slaves first began, though for reasons which I will
presently show, the bulk of the traffic in them fell ultimately to New
Englanders. The first African slaves in America were landed by a Dutch
vessel at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619. The last kidnapped Africans were
brought here probably some time in the latter part of 1860--for though the
traffic was prohibited in 1807, the rigorous blockade of the ports of the
Confederacy during the Civil War was necessary to bring it actually to an
end. The amount of human misery which that frightful traffic entailed
during those 240 years almost baffles the imagination. The bloody Civil
War which had, perhaps, its earliest cause in the landing of those twenty
blacks at Jamestown, was scarcely more than a fitting penalty, and there
was justice in the fact that it fell on North and South alike, for if the
South clung longest to slavery, it was the North--even abolition New
England--which had most to do with establishing it on this continent.

However, it is not with slavery, but with the slave trade we have to do.
Circumstances largely forced upon the New England colonies their unsavory
preëminence in this sort of commerce. To begin with, their people were as
we have already seen, distinctively the seafaring folk of North America.
Again, one of their earliest methods of earning a livelihood was in the
fisheries, and that curiously enough, led directly to the trade in slaves.
To sell the great quantities of fish they dragged up from the Banks or
nearer home, foreign markets must needs be found. England and the European
countries took but little of this sort of provender, and moreover England,
France, Holland, and Portugal had their own fishing fleets on the Banks.
The main markets for the New Englanders then were the West India Islands,
the Canaries, and Madeira. There the people were accustomed to a fish diet
and, indeed, were encouraged in it by the frequent fastdays of the Roman
Catholic church, of which most were devout members. A voyage to the
Canaries with fish was commonly prolonged to the west coast of Africa,
where slaves were bought with rum. Thence the vessel would proceed to the
West Indies where the slaves would be sold, a large part of the purchase
price being taken in molasses, which, in its turn, was distilled into rum
at home, to be used for buying more slaves--for in this traffic little of
actual worth was paid for the hapless captives. Fiery rum, usually
adulterated and more than ever poisonous, was all the African chiefs
received for their droves of human cattle. For it they sold wives and
children, made bloody war and sold their captives, kidnapped and sold
their human booty.

Nothing in the history of our people shows so strikingly the progress of
man toward higher ideals, toward a clearer sense of the duties of humanity
and the rightful relation of the strong toward the weak, than the changed
sentiment concerning the slave trade. In its most humane form the thought
of that traffic to-day fills us with horror. The stories of its worst
phases seem almost incredible, and we wonder that men of American blood
could have been such utter brutes. But two centuries ago the foremost men
of New England engaged in the trade or profited by its fruits. Peter
Fanueil, who-built for Boston that historic hall which we call the Cradle
of Liberty, and which in later years resounded with the anti-slavery
eloquence of Garrison and Phillips, was a slave owner and an actual
participant in the trade. The most "respectable" merchants of Providence
and Newport were active slavers--just as some of the most respectable
merchants and manufacturers of to-day make merchandise of white men,
women, and children, whose slavery is none the less slavery because they
are driven by the fear of starvation instead of the overseer's lash.
Perhaps two hundred years from now our descendants will see the
criminality of our industrial system to-day, as clearly as we see the
wrong in that of our forefathers. The utmost piety was observed in setting
out a slave-buying expedition. The commissions were issued "by the Grace
of God," divine guidance was implored for the captain who was to swap
fiery rum for stolen children, and prayers were not infrequently offered
for long delayed or missing slavers. George Dowing, a Massachusetts
clergyman, wrote of slavery in Barbadoes: "I believe they have bought this
year no less than a thousand negroes, and the more they buie, the better
able they are to buie, for in a year and a half they will earne _with
God's blessing_, as much as they cost." Most of the slaves brought from
the coast of Guinea in New England vessels were deported again--sent to
the southern States or to the West Indies for a market. The climate and
the industrial conditions of New England were alike unfavorable to the
growth there of slavery, and its ports served chiefly as clearing-houses
for the trade. Yet there was not even among the most enlightened and
leading people of the colony any moral sentiment against slavery, and from
Boston to New York slaves were held in small numbers and their prices
quoted in the shipping lists and newspapers like any other merchandise.
Curiously enough, the first African slaves brought to Boston were sent
home again and their captors prosecuted--not wholly for stealing men, but
for breaking the Sabbath. It happened in this way: A Boston ship, the
"Rainbow," in 1645, making the usual voyage to Madeira with staves and
salt fish, touched on the coast of Guinea for a few slaves. Her captain
found the English slavers on the ground already, mightily discontented,
for the trade was dull. It was still the time when there was a pretense of
legality about the method of procuring the slaves; they were supposed to
be malefactors convicted of crime, or at the very least, prisoners taken
by some native king in war. In later years the native kings, animated by
an ever-growing thirst for the white man's rum, declared war in order to
secure captives, and employed decoys to lure young men into the commission
of crime. These devices for keeping the man-market fully supplied had not
at this time been invented, and the captains of the slavers, lying off a
dangerous coast in the boiling heat of a tropical country, grew restive at
the long delay. Perhaps some of the rum they had brought to trade for
slaves inflamed their own blood. At any rate, dragging ashore a small
cannon called significantly enough a "murderer," they attacked a village,
killed many of its people, and brought off a number of blacks, two of
whom fell to the lot of the captain of the "Rainbow," and were by him
taken to Boston. He found no profit, however, in his piratical venture,
for the story coming out, he was accused in court of "murder,
man-stealing, and Sabbath-breaking," and his slaves were sent home. It was
wholly as merchandise that the blacks were regarded. It is impossible to
believe that the brutalities of the traffic could have been tolerated so
long had the idea of the essential humanity of the Africa been grasped by
those who dealt in them. Instead, they were looked upon as a superior sort
of cattle, but on the long voyage across the Atlantic were treated as no
cattle are treated to-day in the worst "ocean tramps" in the trade. The
vessels were small, many of them half the size of the lighters that ply
sluggishly up and down New York harbor. Sloops, schooners, brigantines,
and scows of 40 or 50 tons burden, carrying crews of nine men including
the captain and mates, were the customary craft in the early days of the
eighteenth century.

In his work on "The American Slave-Trade," Mr. John R. Spears gives the
dimensions of some of these puny vessels which were so heavily freighted
with human woe. The first American slaver of which we have record was the
"Desire," of Marblehead, 120 tons. Later vessels, however, were much
smaller. The sloop, "Welcome," had a capacity of 5000 gallons of molasses.
The "Fame" was 79 feet long on the keel--about a large yacht's length. In
1847, some of the captured slavers had dimensions like these: The
"Felicidade" 67 tons; the "Maria" 30 tons; the "Rio Bango" 10 tons. When
the trade was legal and regulated by law, the "Maria" would have been
permitted to carry 45 slaves--or one and one-half to each ton register. In
1847, the trade being outlawed, no regulations were observed, and this
wretched little craft imprisoned 237 negroes. But even this 10-ton slaver
was not the limit. Mr. Spears finds that open rowboats, no more than 24
feet long by 7 wide, landed as many as 35 children in Brazil out of say 50
with which the voyage began. But the size of the vessels made little
difference in the comfort of the slaves. Greed packed the great ones
equally with the small. The blacks, stowed in rows between decks, the roof
barely 3 feet 10 inches above the floor on which they lay side by side,
sometimes in "spoon-fashion" with from 10 to 16 inches surface-room for
each, endured months of imprisonment. Often they were so packed that the
head of one slave would be between the thighs of another, and in this
condition they would pass the long weeks which the Atlantic passage under
sail consumed. This, too, when the legality of the slave trade was
recognized, and nothing but the dictates of greed led to overcrowding.
Time came when the trade was put under the ban of law and made akin to
piracy. Then the need for fast vessels restricted hold room and the
methods of the trade attained a degree of barbarity that can not be
paralleled since the days of Nero.


Shackled together "spoon-wise," as the phrase was, they suffered and
sweltered through the long middle passage, dying by scores, so that often
a fifth of the cargo perished during the voyage. The stories of those who
took part in the effort to suppress the traffic give some idea of its
frightful cruelty.

The Rev. Pascoa Grenfell Hill, a chaplain in the British navy, once made a
short voyage on a slaver which his ship, the "Cleopatra," had captured.
The vessel had a full cargo, and when the capture was effected, the
negroes were all brought on deck for exercise and fresh air. The poor
creatures quite understood the meaning of the sudden change in their
masters, and kissed the hands and clothing of their deliverers. The ship
was headed for the Cape of Good Hope, where the slaves were to be
liberated; but a squall coming on, all were ordered below again. "The
night," enters Mr. Hill in his journal, "being intensely hot, four hundred
wretched beings thus crammed into a hold twelve yards in length, seven
feet in breadth, and only three and one-half feet in height, speedily
began to make an effort to reissue to the open air. Being thrust back and
striving the more to get out, the afterhatch was forced down upon them.
Over the other hatchway, in the fore part of the vessel, a wooden grating
was fastened. To this, the sole inlet for the air, the suffocating heat of
the hold and, perhaps, panic from the strangeness of their situation, made
them flock, and thus a great part of the space below was rendered useless.
They crowded to the grating and clinging to it for air, completely barred
its entrance. They strove to force their way through apertures in length
fourteen inches and barely six inches in breadth, and in some instances
succeeded. The cries, the heat, I may say without exaggeration, the smoke
of their torment which ascended can be compared to nothing earthly. One of
the Spaniards gave warning that the consequences would be 'many deaths;'
this prediction was fearfully verified, for the next morning 54 crushed
and mangled corpses were brought to the gangway and thrown overboard. Some
were emaciated from disease, many bruised and bloody. Antoine tells me
that some were found strangled; their hands still grasping each others'

It is of a Brazilian slaver that this awful tale is told, but the event
itself was paralleled on more than one American ship. Occasionally we
encounter stories of ships destroyed by an exploding magazine, and the
slaves, chained to the deck, going down with the wreck. Once a slaver went
ashore off Jamaica, and the officers and crew speedily got out the boats
and made for the beach, leaving the human cargo to perish. When dawn broke
it was seen that the slaves had rid themselves of their fetters and were
busily making rafts on which the women and children were put, while the
men, plunging into the sea, swam alongside, and guided the rafts toward
the shore. Now mark what the white man, the supposed representative of
civilization and Christianity, did. Fearing that the negroes would
exhaust the store of provisions and water that had been landed, they
resolved to destroy them while still in the water. As soon as the rafts
came within range, those on shore opened fire with rifles and muskets with
such deadly effect that between three hundred and four hundred blacks were
murdered. Only thirty-four saved themselves--and for what? A few weeks
later they were sold in the slave mart at Kingston.


In the early days of the trade, the captains dealt with recognized chiefs
along the coast of Guinea, who conducted marauding expeditions into the
interior to kidnap slaves. Rum was the purchase price, and by skillful
dilution, a competent captain was able to double the purchasing value of
his cargo. The trade was not one calculated to develop the highest
qualities of honor, and to swindling the captains usually added theft and
murder. Any negro who came near the ship to trade, or through motives of
curiosity, was promptly seized and thrust below. Dealers who came on board
with kidnapped negroes were themselves kidnapped after the bargain was
made. Never was there any inquiry into the title of the seller. Any slave
offered was bought, though the seller had no right--even under legalized
slavery--to sell.

A picturesque story was told in testimony before the English House of
Commons. To a certain slaver lying off the Windward coast a girl was
brought in a canoe by a well-known black trader, who took his pay and
paddled off. A few moments later another canoe with two blacks came
alongside and inquired for the girl. They were permitted to see her and
declared she had been kidnapped; but the slaver, not at all put out by
that fact, refused to give her up. Thereupon the blacks paddled swiftly
off after her seller, overtook, and captured him. Presently they brought
him back to the deck of the ship--an article of merchandise, where he had
shortly before been a merchant.

"You won't buy me," cried the captive. "I a grand trading man! I bring you

But no scruples entered the mind of the captain of the slaver. "If they
will sell you I certainly will buy you," he answered, and soon the
kidnapped kidnapper was in irons and thrust below in the noisome hold with
the unhappy being he had sent there. A multitude of cases of negro
slave-dealers being seized in this way, after disposing of their human
cattle, are recorded.

It is small wonder that torn thus from home and relatives, immured in
filthy and crowded holds, ill fed, denied the two great gifts of God to
man--air and water--subjected to the brutality of merciless men, and
wholly ignorant of the fate in store for them, many of the slaves should
kill themselves. As they had a salable value the captains employed every
possible device to defeat this end--every device, that is, except kind
treatment, which was beyond the comprehension of the average slaver.
Sometimes the slaves would try to starve themselves to death. This the
captains met by torture with the cat and thumbscrews. There is a horrible
story in the testimony before the English House of Commons about a captain
who actually whipped a nine-months-old child to death trying to force it
to eat, and then brutally compelled the mother to throw the lacerated
little body overboard. Another captain found that his captives were
killing themselves, in the belief that their spirits would return to their
old home. By way of meeting this superstition, he announced that all who
died in this way should have their heads cut off, so that if they did
return to their African homes, it would be as headless spirits. The
outcome of this threat was very different from what the captain had
anticipated. When a number of the slaves were brought on deck to witness
the beheading of the body of one of their comrades, they seized the
occasion to leap overboard and were drowned. Many sought death in this
way, and as they were usually good swimmers, they actually forced
themselves to drown, some persistently holding their heads under water,
others raising their arms high above their heads, and in one case two who
died together clung to each other so that neither could swim. Every
imaginable way in which death could be sought was employed by these
hopeless blacks, though, indeed, the hardships of the voyage were such as
to bring it often enough unsought.

When the ship's hold was full the voyage was begun, while from the
suffering blacks below, unused to seafaring under any circumstances, and
desperately sick in their stifling quarters, there arose cries and moans
as if the cover were taken off of purgatory. The imagination recoils from
the thought of so much human wretchedness.

The publications of some of the early anti-slavery associations tell of
the inhuman conditions of the trade. In an unusually commodious ship
carrying over six hundred slaves, we are told that "platforms, or wide
shelves, were erected between the decks, extending so far from the side
toward the middle of the vessel as to be capable of containing four
additional rows of slaves, by which means the perpendicular height between
each tier was, after allowing for the beams and platforms, reduced to
three feet, six inches, so that they could not even sit in an erect
posture, besides which in the men's apartment, instead of four rows, five
were stowed by putting the head of one between the thighs of another." In
another ship, "In the men's apartment the space allowed to each is six
feet length by sixteen inches in breadth, the boys are each allowed five
feet by fourteen inches, the women five feet, ten by sixteen inches, and
the girls four feet by one foot each."

"A man in his coffin has more room than one of these blacks," is the terse
way in which witness after witness before the British House of Commons
described the miserable condition of the slaves on shipboard.

An amazing feature of this detestable traffic is the smallness and often
the unseaworthiness of the vessels in which it was carried on. Few such
picayune craft now venture outside the landlocked waters of Long Island
Sound, or beyond the capes of the Delaware and Chesapeake. In the early
days of the eighteenth century hardy mariners put out in little craft, the
size of a Hudson River brick-sloop or a harbor lighter, and made the long
voyage to the Canaries and the African West Coast, withstood the perils of
a prolonged anchorage on a dangerous shore, went thence heavy laden with
slaves to the West Indies, and so home. To cross the Atlantic was a matter
of eight or ten weeks; the whole voyage would commonly take five or six
months. Nor did the vessels always make up in stanchness for their
diminutive proportions. Almost any weather-beaten old hulk was thought
good enough for a slaver. Captain Linsday, of Newport, who wrote home from
Aumboe, said: "I should be glad I cood come rite home with my slaves, for
my vessel will not last to proceed far. We can see daylight all round her
bow under deck." But he was not in any unusual plight. And not only the
perils of the deep had to be encountered, but other perils, some bred of
man's savagery, then more freely exhibited than now, others necessary to
the execrable traffic in peaceful blacks. It as a time of constant wars
and the seas swarmed with French privateers alert for fat prizes. When a
slaver met a privateer the battle was sure to be a bloody one for on
either side fought desperate men--one party following as a trade legalized
piracy and violent theft of cargoes, the other employed in the violent
theft of men and women, and the incitement of murder and rapine that their
cargoes might be the fuller. There would have been but scant loss to
mankind in most of these conflicts had privateer and slaver both gone to
the bottom. Not infrequently the slavers themselves turned pirate or
privateer for the time--sometimes robbing a smaller craft of its load of
slaves, sometimes actually running up the black flag and turning to piracy
for a permanent calling.

In addition to the ordinary risks of shipwreck or capture the slavers
encountered perils peculiar to their calling. Once in a while the slaves
would mutiny, though such is the gentle and almost childlike nature of the
African negro that this seldom occurred. The fear of it, however, was ever
present to the captains engaged in the trade, and to guard against it the
slaves--always the men and sometimes the women as well--were shackled
together in pairs. Sometimes they were even fastened to the floor of the
dark and stifling hold in which they were immured for months at a time. If
heavy weather compelled the closing of the hatches, or if disease set in,
as it too often did, the morning would find the living shackled to the
dead. In brief, to guard against insurrection the captains made the
conditions of life so cruel that the slaves were fairly forced to revolt.
In 1759 a case of an uprising that was happily successful was recorded.
The slaver "Perfect," Captain Potter, lay at anchor at Mana with one
hundred slaves aboard. The mate, second mate, the boatswain, and about
half the crew were sent into the interior to buy some more slaves.
Noticing the reduced numbers of their jailors, the slaves determined to
rise. Ridding themselves of their irons, they crowded to the deck, and,
all unarmed as they were, killed the captain, the surgeon, the carpenter,
the cooper, and a cabin-boy. Whereupon the remainder of the crew took to
the boats and boarded a neighboring slaver, the "Spencer." The captain of
this craft prudently declined to board the "Perfect," and reduce the
slaves to subjection again; but he had no objection to slaughtering naked
blacks at long range, so he warped his craft into position and opened fire
with his guns. For about an hour this butchery was continued, and then
such of the slaves as still lived, ran the schooner ashore, plundered, and
burnt her.


How such insurrections were put down was told nearly a hundred years later
in an official communication to Secretary of State James Buchanan, by
United States Consul George W. Gordon, the story being sworn testimony
before him. The case was that of the slaver "Kentucky," which carried 530
slaves. An insurrection which broke out was speedily suppressed, but
fearing lest the outbreak should be repeated, the captain determined to
give the wretched captives an "object lesson" by punishing the
ringleaders. This is how he did it:

"They were ironed, or chained, two together, and when they were hung, a
rope was put around their necks and they were drawn up to the yard-arm
clear of the sail. This did not kill them, but only choked or strangled
them. They were then shot in the breast and the bodies thrown overboard.
If only one of two that were ironed together was to be hung, the rope was
put around his neck and he was drawn up clear of the deck, and his leg
laid across the rail and chopped off to save the irons and release him
from his companion, who at the same time lifted up his leg until the other
was chopped off as aforesaid, and he released. The bleeding negro was then
drawn up, shot in the breast and thrown overboard. The legs of about one
dozen were chopped off this way.

"When the feet fell on the deck they were picked up by the crew and thrown
overboard, and sometimes they shot at the body while it still hung,
living, and all sorts of sport was made of the business."

Forty-six men and one woman were thus done to death: "When the woman was
hung up and shot, the ball did not take effect, and she was thrown
overboard living, and was seen to struggle some time in the water before
she sunk;" and deponent further says, "that after this was over, they
brought up and flogged about twenty men and six women. The flesh of some
of them where they were flogged putrified, and came off, in some cases,
six or eight inches in diameter, and in places half an inch thick."

This was in 1839, a time when Americans were very sure that for
civilization, progress, humanity, and the Christian virtues, they were at
least on as high a plane as the most exalted peoples of the earth.

Infectious disease was one of the grave perils with which the slavers had
to reckon. The overcrowding of the slaves, the lack of exercise and fresh
air, the wretched and insufficient food, all combined to make grave,
general sickness an incident of almost every voyage, and actual epidemics
not infrequent. This was a peril that moved even the callous captains and
their crews, for scurvy or yellow-jack developing in the hold was apt to
sweep the decks clear as well. A most gruesome story appears in all the
books on the slave trade, of the experience of the French slaver,
"Rodeur." With a cargo of 165 slaves, she was on the way to Guadaloupe in
1819, when opthalmia--a virulent disease of the eyes--appeared among the
blacks. It spread rapidly, though the captain, in hopes of checking its
ravages, threw thirty-six negroes into the sea alive. Finally it attacked
the crew, and in a short time all save one man became totally blind.
Groping in the dark, the helpless sailors made shift to handle the ropes,
while the one man still having eyesight clung to the wheel. For days, in
this wretched state, they made their slow way along the deep, helpless and
hopeless. At last a sail was sighted. The "Rodeur's" prow is turned toward
it, for there is hope, there rescue! As the stranger draws nearer, the
straining eyes of the French helmsman discerns something strange and
terrifying about her appearance. Her rigging is loose and slovenly, her
course erratic, she seems to be idly drifting, and there is no one at the
wheel. A derelict, abandoned at sea, she mocks their hopes of rescue. But
she is not entirely deserted, for a faint shout comes across the narrowing
strip of sea and is answered from the "Rodeur." The two vessels draw near.
There can be no launching of boats by blind men, but the story of the
stranger is soon told. She, too, is a slaver, a Spaniard, the "Leon," and
on her, too, every soul is blind from opthalmia originating among the
slaves. Not even a steersman has the "Leon." All light has gone out from
her, and the "Rodeur" sheers away, leaving her to an unknown fate, for
never again is she heard from. How wonderful the fate--or the
Providence--that directed that upon all the broad ocean teeming with
ships, engaged in honest or in criminal trade, the two that should meet
must be the two on which the hand of God was laid most heavily in
retribution for the suffering and the woe which white men and professed
Christians were bringing to the peaceful and innocent blacks of Africa.

It will be readily understood that the special and always menacing dangers
attending the slave trade made marine insurance upon that sort of cargoes
exceedingly high. Twenty pounds in the hundred was the usual figure in the
early days. This heavy insurance led to a new form of wholesale murder
committed by the captains. The policies covered losses resulting from
jettisoning, or throwing overboard the cargo; they did not insure against
loss from disease. Accordingly, when a slaver found his cargo infected, he
would promptly throw into the sea all the ailing negroes, while still
alive, in order to save the insurance. Some of the South American states,
where slaves were bought, levied an import duty upon blacks, and cases are
on record of captains going over their cargo outside the harbor and
throwing into the sea all who by disease or for other causes, were
rendered unsalable--thus saving both duty and insurance.

In the clearer light which illumines the subject to-day, the prolonged
difficulty which attended the destruction of the slave trade seems
incredible. It appears that two such powerful maritime nations as Great
Britain and the United States had only to decree the trade criminal and it
would be abandoned. But we must remember that slaves were universally
regarded as property, and an attempt to interfere with the right of their
owners to carry them where they would on the high seas was denounced as an
interference with property rights. We see that even to-day men are very
tenacious of "property rights," and the law describes them as
sacred--however immoral or repugnant to common sense and common humanity
they may be. So the effort to abolish the "right" of a slaver to starve,
suffocate, mutilate, torture, or murder a black man in whom he had
acquired a property right by the simple process of kidnapping required
more than half a century to attain complete success.

The first serious blow to the slave-trade fell in 1772, when an English
court declared that any slave coming into England straightway became free.
That closed all English ports to the slavers. Two years after the American
colonists, then on the threshold of the revolt against Great Britain,
thought to put America on a like high plane, and formally resolved that
they would "not purchase any slave imported after the first day of
December next; after which time, we will wholly discontinue the
slave-trade, and will neither be concerned in it ourselves, nor will we
hire our vessels, nor sell our commodities or manufactures to those who
are concerned in it." But to this praiseworthy determination the colonists
were unable to live up, and in 1776, when Jefferson proposed to put into
the Declaration of Independence the charge that the British King had
forced the slave-trade on the colonies, a proper sense of their own guilt
made the delegates oppose it.

It was in England that the first earnest effort to break up the
slave-trade began. It was under the Stars and Stripes that the slavers
longest protected their murderous traffic. For a time the effort of the
British humanitarians was confined to the amelioration of the conditions
of the trade, prescribing space to be given each slave, prescribing
surgeons, and offering bounties to be paid captains who lost less than two
per cent. of their cargoes on the voyage. It is not recorded that the
bounty was often claimed. On the contrary, the horrors of what was called
"the middle passage" grew with the greed of the slave captains. But the
revelations of inhumanity made during the parliamentary investigation were
too shocking for even the indifferent and callous public sentiment of that
day. Humane people saw at once that to attempt to regulate a traffic so
abhorrent to every sense of humanity, was for the nation to go into
partnership with murderers and manstealers, and so the demand for the
absolute prohibition of the traffic gained strength from the futile
attempt to regulate it. Bills for its abolition failed, now in the House
of Lords, then in the House of Commons; but in 1807 a law prohibiting all
participation in the trade by British ships or subjects was passed. The
United States moved very slowly. Individual States under the old
confederation prohibited slavery within their borders, and in some cases
the slave trade; but when our forefathers came together to form that
Constitution under which the nation still exists, the opposition of
certain Southern States was so vigorous that the best which could be done
was to authorize a tax on slaves of not more than ten dollars a head, and
to provide that the traffic should not be prohibited before 1808. But
there followed a series of acts which corrected the seeming failure of the
constitutional convention. One prohibited American citizens "carrying on
the slave trade from the United States to any foreign place or country."
Another forbade the introduction of slaves into the Mississippi Territory.
Others made it unlawful to carry slaves to States which prohibited the
traffic, or to fit out ships for the foreign slave trade, or to serve on a
slaver. The discussion caused by all these measures did much to build up a
healthy public sentiment, and when 1808--the date set by the
Constitution--came round, a prohibitory law was passed, and the President
was authorized to use the armed vessels of the United States to give it
force and effect. Notwithstanding this, however, the slave trade, though
now illegal and outlawed, continued for fully half a century. Slaves were
still stolen on the coast of Africa by New England sea captains, subjected
to the pains and horrors of the middle passage, and smuggled into Georgia
or South Carolina, to be eagerly bought by the Southern planters. A
Congressman estimated that 20,000 blacks were thus smuggled into the
United States annually. Lafitte's nest of pirates at Barataria was a
regular slave depot; so, too, was Amelia Island, Florida. The profit on a
slave smuggled into the United States amounted to $350 or $500, and the
temptation was too great for men to be restrained by fear of a law, which
prescribed but light penalties. It is even matter of record that a
governor of Georgia resigned his office to enter the smuggling trade on a
large scale. The scandal was notorious, and the rapidly growing abolition
sentiment demanded that Congress so amend its laws as to make manstealers
at least as subject to them as other malefactors. But Congress tried the
politician's device of passing laws which would satisfy the
abolitionists, the slave trader, and the slave owner as well. To-day the
duty of the nation seems to have been so clear that we have scant patience
with the paltering policy of Congress and the Executive that permitted
half a century of profitable law-breaking. But we must remember that
slaves were property, that dealing in them was immensely profitable, and
that while New England wanted this profit the South wanted the blacks.
Macaulay said that if any considerable financial interest could be served
by denying the attraction of gravitation, there would be a very vigorous
attack on that great physical truth. And so, as there were many financial
interests concerned in protecting slavery, every effort to effectually
abolish the trade was met by an outcry and by shrewd political opposition.
The slaves were better off in the United States than at home, Congress was
assured; they had the blessings of Christianity; were freed from the
endless wars and perils of the African jungle. Moreover, they were needed
to develop the South, while in the trade, the hardy and daring sailors
were trained, who in time would make the American navy the great power of
the deep. Political chicanery in Congress reinforced the clamor from
without, and though act after act for the destruction of the traffic was
passed, none proved to be enforcible--in each was what the politicians of
a later day called a "little joker," making it ineffective. But in 1820 a
law was passed declaring slave-trading piracy, and punishable with death.
So Congress had done its duty at last, but it was long years before the
Executive rightly enforced the law.

It is needless to go into the details of the long series of Acts of
Parliament and of Congress, treaties, conventions, and naval regulations,
which gradually made the outlawry of the slaver on the ocean complete. In
the humane work England took the lead, sacrificing the flourishing
Liverpool slave-trade with all its allied interests; sacrificing, too, the
immediate prosperity of its West Indian colonies, whose plantations were
tilled exclusively with slave labor, and even paying heavy cash indemnity
to Spain to secure her acquiescence. Unhappily, the United States was as
laggard as England was active. Indeed, a curious manifestation of national
pride made the American flag the slaver's badge of immunity, for the
Government stubbornly--and properly--refused to grant to British cruisers
the right to search vessels under our flag, and as there were few or no
American men-of-war cruising on the African coast, the slaver under the
Stars and Stripes was virtually immune from capture. In 1842 a treaty with
Great Britain bound us to keep a considerable squadron on that coast, and
thereafter there was at least some show of American hostility to the
infamous traffic.

The vitality of the traffic in the face of growing international hostility
is to be explained by its increasing profits. The effect of the laws
passed against it was to make slaves cheaper on the coast of Africa and
dearer at the markets in America. A slave that cost $20 would bring $500
in Georgia. A ship carrying 500 would bring its owners $240,000, and there
were plenty of men willing to risk the penalties of piracy for a share of
such prodigious profits. Moreover, the seas swarmed then with adventurous
sailors--mostly of American birth--to whom the very fact that slaving was
outlawed made it more attractive. The years of European war had bred up
among New Englanders a daring race of privateersmen--their vocation had
long been piracy in all but name, a fact which in these later days the
maritime nations recognize by trying to abolish privateering by
international agreement. When the wars of the early years of the
nineteenth century ended the privateersmen looked about for some seafaring
enterprise which promised profit. A few became pirates, more went into the
slave-trade. Men of this type were not merely willing to risk their lives
in a criminal calling, but were quite as ready to fight for their property
as to try to save it by flight. The slavers soon began to carry heavy
guns, and with desperate crews were no mean antagonists for a man-of-war.
Many of the vessels that had been built for privateers were in the trade,
ready to fight a cruiser or rob a smaller slaver, as chance offered. We
read of some carrying as many as twenty guns, and in that sea classic,
"Tom Cringle's Log," there is a story--obviously founded on fact--of a
fight between a British sloop-of-war and a slaver that gives a vivid idea
of the desperation with which the outlaws could fight. But sometimes the
odds were hopeless, and the slaver could not hope to escape by force of
arms or by flight. Then the sternness of the law, together with a foolish
rule concerning the evidence necessary to convict, resulted in the murder
of the slaves, not by ones or twos, but by scores, and even hundreds, at a
time. For it was the unwise ruling of the courts that actual presence of
slaves on a captured ship was necessary to prove that she was engaged in
the unlawful trade. Her hold might reek with the odor of the imprisoned
blacks, her decks show unmistakable signs of their recent presence,
leg-irons and manacles might bear dumb testimony to the purpose of her
voyage, informers in the crew might even betray the captain's secret; but
if the boarders from the man-of-war found no negroes on the ship, she went
free. What was the natural result? When a slaver, chased by a cruiser,
found that capture was certain, her cargo of slaves was thrown overboard.
The cruiser in the distance might detect the frightful odor that told
unmistakably of a slave-ship. Her officers might hear the screams of the
unhappy blacks being flung into the sea. They might even see the bodies
floating in the slaver's wake; but if, on boarding the suspected craft,
they found her without a single captive, they could do nothing. This was
the law for many years, and because of it thousands of slaves met a cruel
death as the direct result of the effort to save them from slavery. Many
stories are told of these wholesale drownings. The captain of the British
cruiser "Black Joke" reports of a case in which he was pursuing two slave

"When chased by the tenders both put back, made all sail up the river, and
ran on shore. During the chase they were seen from our vessels to throw
the slaves overboard by twos, shackled together by the ankles, and left in
this manner to sink or swim as best they could. Men, women, and children
were seen in great numbers struggling in the water by everyone on board
the two tenders, and, dreadful to relate, upward of 150 of these wretched
creatures perished in this way."

In this case, the slavers did not escape conviction, though the only
penalty inflicted was the seizure of their vessels. The pursuers rescued
some of the drowning negroes, who were able to testify that they had been
on the suspected ship, and condemnation followed. The captain of the
slaver "Brillante" took no chance of such a disaster. Caught by four
cruisers in a dead calm, hidden from his enemy by the night, but with no
chance of escaping before dawn, this man-stealer set about planning murder
on a plan so large and with such system as perhaps has not been equaled
since Caligula. First he had his heaviest anchor so swung that cutting a
rope would drop it. Then the chain cable was stretched about the ship,
outside the rail, and held up by light bits of rope, that would give way
at any stout pull. Then the slaves--600 in all--were brought up from
below, open-eyed, whispering, wondering what new act in the pitiful drama
of their lives this midnight summons portended. With blows and curses the
sailors ranged them along the rail and bound them to the chain cable. The
anchor was cut loose, plunging into the sea it carried the cable and the
shackled slaves with it to the bottom. The men on the approaching
man-of-war's boats, heard a great wail of many voices, a rumble, a splash,
then silence, and when they reached the ship its captain politely showed
them that there were no slaves aboard, and laughed at their comments on
the obvious signs of the recent presence of the blacks.


A favorite trick of the slaver, fleeing from a man-of-war, was to throw
over slaves a few at a time in the hope that the humanity of the pursuers
would impel them to stop and rescue the struggling negroes, thus giving
the slave-ship a better chance of escape. Sometimes these hapless blacks
thus thrown out, as legend has it Siberian peasants sometimes throw out
their children as ransom to pursuing wolves, were furnished with spars or
barrels to keep them afloat until the pursuer should come up; and
occasionally they were even set adrift by boat-loads. It was hard on the
men of the navy to steel their hearts to the cries of these castaways as
the ship sped by them; but if the great evil was to be broken up it could
not be by rescuing here and there a slave, but by capturing and punishing
the traders. Many officers of our navy have left on record their
abhorrence of the service they were thus engaged in, but at the same time
expressed their conviction that it was doing the work of humanity. They
were obliged to witness such human suffering as might well move the
stoutest human heart. At times they were even forced to seem as merciless
to the blacks as the slave-traders themselves; but in the end their work,
like the merciful cruelty of the surgeon, made for good.

When a slaver was overhauled after so swift a chase that her master had no
opportunity to get rid of his damning cargo, the boarding officers saw
sights that scarce Inferno itself could equal. To look into her hold,
filled with naked, writhing, screaming, struggling negroes was a sight
that one could see once and never forget. The effluvium that arose
polluted even the fresh air of the ocean, and burdened the breeze for
miles to windward. The first duty of the boarding officer was to secure
the officers of the craft with their papers. Not infrequently such vessels
would be provided with two captains and two sets of papers, to be used
according to the nationality of the warship that might make the capture;
but the men of all navies cruising on the slave coast came in time to be
expert in detecting such impostures. The crew once under guard, the first
task was to alleviate in some degree the sufferings of the slaves. But
this was no easy task, for the overcrowded vessel could not be enlarged,
and its burden could in no way be decreased in mid-ocean. Even if near the
coast of Africa, the negroes could not be released by the simple process
of landing them at the nearest point, for the land was filled with savage
tribes, the captives were commonly from the interior, and would merely
have been murdered or sold anew into slavery, had they been thus
abandoned. In time the custom grew up of taking them to Liberia, the free
negro state established in Africa under the protection of the United
States. But it can hardly be said that much advantage resulted to the
individual negroes rescued by even this method, for the Liberians were not
hospitable, slave traders camped upon the borders of their state, and it
was not uncommon for a freed slave to find himself in a very few weeks
back again in the noisome hold of the slaver. Even under the humane care
of the navy officers who were put in command of captured slavers the human
cattle suffered grievously. Brought on deck at early dawn, they so crowded
the ships that it was almost impossible for the sailors to perform the
tasks of navigation. One officer, who was put in charge of a slaver that
carried 700 slaves, writes:

"They filled the waist and gangways in a fearful jam, for there were over
700 men, women, boys, and young girls. Not even a waistcloth can be
permitted among slaves on board ship, since clothing even so slight would
breed disease. To ward off death, ever at work on a slave ship, I ordered
that at daylight the negroes should be taken in squads of twenty or more,
and given a salt-water bath by the hose-pipe of the pumps. This brought
renewed life after their fearful nights on the slave deck.... No one who
has never seen a slave deck can form an idea of its horrors. Imagine a
deck about 20 feet wide, and perhaps 120 feet long, and 5 feet high.
Imagine this to be the place of abode and sleep during long, hot,
healthless nights of 720 human beings! At sundown, when they were carried
below, trained slaves received the poor wretches one by one, and laying
each creature on his side in the wings, packed the next against him, and
the next, and the next, and so on, till like so many spoons packed away
they fitted into each other a living mass. Just as they were packed so
must they remain, for the pressure prevented any movement or the turning
of hand or foot, until the next morning, when from their terrible night of
horror they were brought on deck once more, weak and worn and sick." Then,
after all had come up and been splashed with salt water from the pumps,
men went below to bring up the dead. There was never a morning search of
this sort that was fruitless. The stench, the suffocation, the
confinement, oftentimes the violence of a neighbor, brought to every dawn
its tale, of corpses, and with scant gentleness all were brought up and
thrown over the side to the waiting sharks. The officer who had this
experience writes also that it was thirty days after capturing the slaver
before he could land his helpless charges.

No great moral evil can long continue when the attention of men has been
called to it, and when their consciences, benumbed by habit, have been
aroused to appreciation of the fact that it is an evil. To be sure, we,
with the accumulated knowledge of our ancestors and our minds filled with
a horror which their teachings instilled, sometimes think that they were
slow to awaken to the enormity of some evils they tolerated. So perhaps
our grandchildren may wonder that we endured, and even defended,
present-day conditions, which to them will appear indefensible. And so
looking back on the long continuance of the slave-trade, we wonder that it
could have made so pertinacious a fight for life. We marvel, too, at the
character of some of the men engaged in it in its earlier and more lawful
days, forgetting that their minds had not been opened, that they regarded
the negro as we regard a beeve. If in some future super-refined state men
should come to abstain from all animal food, perhaps the history of the
Chicago stock-yards will be as appalling as is that of the Bight of Benin
to-day, and that the name of Armour should be given to a great industrial
school will seem as curious as to us it is inexplicable that the founder
of Fanueil Hall should have dealt in human flesh.

It is, however, a chapter in the story of the American merchant sailor
upon which none will wish to linger, and yet which can not be ignored. In
prosecuting the search for slaves and their markets he showed the
qualities of daring, of fine seamanship, of pertinacity, which have
characterized him in all his undertakings; but the brutality, the greed,
the inhumanity inseparable from the slave-trade make the participation of
Americans in it something not pleasant to enlarge upon. It was, as I have
said, not until the days of the Civil War blockade that the traffic was
wholly destroyed. As late as 1860 the yacht "Wanderer," flying the New
York Yacht Club's flag, owned by a club member, and sailing under the
auspices of a member of one of the foremost families of the South, made
several trips, and profitable ones, as a slaver. No armed vessel thought
to overhaul a trim yacht, flying a private flag, and on her first trip her
officers actually entertained at dinner the officers of a British cruiser
watching for slavers on the African coast. But her time came, and when in
1860 the slaver, Nathaniel Gordon, a citizen of Portland, Maine, was
actually hanged as a pirate, the death-blow of the slave-trade was struck.
Thereafter the end came swiftly.

**Transcriber's Note: Page 91: changed preeminance to preëminence



In the old "New England Primer," on which the growing minds of Yankee
infants in the early days of the eighteenth century were regaled, appears
a clumsy woodcut of a spouting whale, with these lines of excellent piety
but doubtful rhyme:

    Whales in the sea
    Their Lord obey.

It is significant of the part which the whale then played in domestic
economy that his familiar bulk should be utilized to "point a moral and
adorn a tale" in the most elementary of books for the instruction of
children. And indeed by the time the "New England Primer" was published,
with its quaint lettering and rude illustrations, the whale fishery had
come to be one of the chief occupations of the seafaring men of the North
Atlantic States. The pursuit of this "royal fish"--as the ancient
chroniclers call him in contented ignorance of the fact that he is not a
fish at all--had not, indeed, originated in New England, but had been
practised by all maritime peoples of whom history has knowledge, while the
researches of archeologists have shown that prehistoric peoples were
accustomed to chase the gigantic cetacean for his blubber, his oil, and
his bone. The American Indians, in their frail canoes, the Esquimaux, in
their crank kayaks, braved the fury of this aquatic monster, whose size
was to that of one of his enemies as the bulk of a battle-ship is to that
of a pigmy torpedo launch. But the whale fishery in vessels fitted for
cruises of moderate length had its origin in Europe, where the Basques
during the Middle Ages fairly drove the animals from the Bay of Biscay,
which had long swarmed with them. Not a prolific breeder, the whales soon
showed the effect of Europe's eagerness for oil, whalebone and ambergris,
and by the beginning of the sixteenth century the industry was on the
verge of extinction. Then began that search for a sea passage to India
north of the continents of Europe and America, which I have described in
another chapter. The passage was not discovered, but in the icy waters
great schools of right whales were found, and the chase of the "royal
fish" took on new vigor. Of course there was effort on the part of one
nation to acquire by violence a monopoly of this profitable business, and
the Dutch, who have done much in the cause of liberty, defeated the
British in a naval battle at the edge of the ice before the principle of
the freedom of the fisheries was accepted. To-day science has discovered
substitutes for almost all of worth that the whales once supplied, and the
substitutes are in the main marked improvements on the original. But in
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the clear whale oil for
illuminating purposes, the tough and supple whalebone, the spermaceti
which filled the great case in the sperm-whale's head, the precious
ambergris--prized even among the early Hebrews, and chronicled in the
Scriptures as a thing of great price--were prizes, in pursuit of which men
braved every terror of the deep, threaded the ice-floes of the Arctic,
fought against the currents about Cape Horn, and steered to every corner
of the Seven Seas the small, stout brigs and barks of New England make.

The whale came to the New Englander long before the New Englanders went
after him. In the earliest colonial days the carcasses of whales were
frequently found stranded on the beaches of Cape Cod and Long Island. Old
colonial records are full of the lawsuits growing out of these pieces of
treasure-trove, the finder, the owner of the land where the gigantic
carrion lay stranded, and the colony all claiming ownership, or at least
shares. By 1650 all the northern colonies had begun to pursue the business
of shore whaling to some extent. Crews were organized, boats kept in
readiness on the beach, and whenever a whale was sighted they would put
off with harpoons and lances after the huge game, which, when slain, would
be towed ashore, and there cut up and tried out, to the accompaniment of a
prodigious clacking of gulls and a widely diffused bad smell. This method
of whaling is still followed at Amagansett and Southampton, on the shore
of Long Island, though the growing scarcity of whales makes catches
infrequent. In the colonial days, however, it was a source of profit
assiduously cultivated by coastwise communities, and both on Long Island
and Cape Cod citizens were officially enjoined to watch for whales off
shore. Whales were then seen daily in New York harbor, and in 1669 one
Samuel Maverick recorded in a letter that thirteen whales had been taken
along the south shore during the winter, and twenty in the spring.

Little by little the boat voyages after the leviathans extended further
into the sea as the industry grew and the game became scarce and shy. The
people of Cape Cod were the first to begin the fishery, and earliest
perfected the art of "saving" the whale--that is, of securing all of
value in the carcass. But the people of the little island of Nantucket
brought the industry to its highest development, and spread most widely
the fame of the American whaleman. Indeed, a Nantucket whaler laden with
oil was the first vessel flying the Stars and Stripes that entered a
British port. It is of a sailor on this craft that a patriotic anecdote,
now almost classic, is told. He was unhappily deformed, and while passing
along a Liverpool street was greeted by a British tar with a blow on his
"humpback" and the salutation: "Hello, Jack! What you got there?" "Bunker
Hill, d----n ye!" responded the Yankee. "Think you can climb it?" Far out
at sea, swept ever by the Atlantic gales, a mere sand-bank, with scant
surface soil to support vegetation, this island soon proved to its
settlers its unfitness to maintain an agricultural people. There is a
legend that an islander, weary perhaps with the effort of trying to wrest
a livelihood from the unwilling soil, looked from a hilltop at the whales
tumbling and spouting in the ocean. "There," he said, "is a green pasture
where our children's grandchildren will go for bread." Whether the
prophecy was made or not, the event occurred, for before the Revolution
the American whaling fleet numbered 360 vessels, and in the banner year of
the industry, 1846, 735 ships engaged in it, the major part of the fleet
hailing from Nantucket. The cruises at first were toward Greenland after
the so-called right whales, a variety of the cetaceans which has an added
commercial value because of the baleen, or whalebone, which hangs in great
strips from the roof of its mouth to its lower jaw, forming a sort of
screen or sieve by which it sifts its food out of prodigious mouthfuls of
sea water. This most enormous of known living creatures feeds upon very
small shell-fish, swarm in the waters it frequents. Opening wide its
colossal mouth, a cavity often more than fifteen feet in length, and so
deep from upper to lower jaw that the flexible sheets of whalebone,
sometimes ten feet long, hang straight without touching its floor, it
takes a great gulp of water. Then the cavernous jaws slowly close,
expelling the water through the whalebone sieve, somewhat as a Chinese
laundryman sprinkles clothes, and the small marine animals which go to
feed that prodigious bulk are caught in the strainer. The right whale is
from 45 to 60 feet long in its maturity, and will yield about 15 tons of
oil and 1500 weight of whalebone, though individuals have been known to
give double this amount.

Most of the vessels which put out of Nantucket and New Bedford, in the
earliest days of the industry, after whales of this sort, were not fitted
with kettles and furnaces for trying out the oil at the time of the catch,
as was always the custom in the sperm-whale fishery. Their prey was near
at hand, their voyages comparatively short. So the fat, dripping, reeking
blubber was crammed into casks, or some cases merely thrown into the
ship's hold, just as it was cut from the carcass, and so brought back
weeks later to the home port--a shipload of malodorous putrefaction. Old
sailors who have cruised with cargoes of cattle, of green hides, and of
guano, say that nothing that ever offended the olfactories of man equals
the stench of a right-whaler on her homeward voyage. Scarcely even could
the slave-ships compare with it. Brought ashore, this noisome mass was
boiled in huge kettles, and the resulting oil sent to lighten the night in
all civilized lands. England was a good customer of the colonies, and
Boston shipowners did a thriving trade with oil from New Bedford or
Nantucket to London. The sloops and ketches engaged in this commerce
brought back, as an old letter of directions from shipowner to skipper
shows, "course wicker flasketts, Allom, Copress, drum rims, head snares,
shod shovells, window-glass." The trade was conducted with the same piety
that we find manifested in the direction of slave-ships and privateers. In
order that the oil may fetch a good price, and the voyage be speedy, the
captain is commended to God, and "That hee may please to take the Conduct
of you, we pray you look carefully that hee bee worshipped dayly in yor
shippe, his Sabbaths Sanctifiede, and all sinne and prophainesse let bee
Surpressed." In the Revolution the fisheries suffered severely from the
British cruisers, and when, after peace was declared, the whalemen began
coming back from the privateers, in which they had sought service, and the
wharves of Nantucket, New Bedford, and New London began again to show
signs of life, the Americans were confronted by the closing of their
English markets. "The whale fisheries and the Newfoundland fisheries were
the nurseries of British seamen," said the British ministry to John Adams,
who went to London to remonstrate. "If we let Americans bring oil to
London, and sell fish to our West India colonies, the British marine will
decline." For a long time, therefore, the whalers had to look elsewhere
than to England for a market. Nevertheless the trade grew. New Bedford,
which by the middle of the nineteenth century held three-fourths of the
business, took it up with great vigor. For a time Massachusetts gave
bounties to encourage the industry, but it was soon strong enough to
dispense with them. By 1789 the whalers found their way to the
Pacific--destined in later years to be their chief fishing-ground. In that
year the total whaling tonnage of Massachusetts was 10,210, with 1611 men
and an annual product of 7880 barrels sperm and 13,130 barrels whale oil.
Fifteen years earlier--before the war--the figures were thrice as great.


Before this period, however, whaling had taken on a new form. Deep-sea
whaling, as it was called, to distinguish it from the shore fisheries, had
begun long ago. Capt. Christopher Hursey, a stout Nantucket whaleman,
cruising about after right whales, ran into a stiff northwest gale and was
carried far out to sea. He struck a school of sperm-whales, killed one,
and brought blubber home. It was not a new discovery, for the sperm-whale
or cachalot, had been known for years, but the great numbers of right
whales and the ease with which they were taken, had made pursuit of this
nobler game uncommon. But now the fact, growing yearly more apparent, that
right whales were being driven to more inaccessible haunts, made whalers
turn readily to this new prey. Moreover, the sperm-whale had in him
qualities of value that made him a richer prize than his Greenland cousin.
True, he lacked the useful bone. His feeding habits did not necessitate a
sieve, for, as beseems a giant, he devoured stout victuals, pieces of
great squids--the fabled devil-fish--as big as a man's body being found in
his stomach. Such a diet develops his fighting qualities, and while the
right whale usually takes the steel sullenly, and dies like an overgrown
seal, the cachalot fights fiercely, now diving with such a rush that he
has been known to break his jaw by the fury with which he strikes the
bottom at the depth of 200 fathoms; now raising his enormous bulk in air,
to fall with an all-obliterating crash upon the boat which holds his
tormentors, or sending boat and men flying into the air with a furious
blow of his gristly flukes, or turning on his back and crunching his
assailants between his cavernous jaws. Descriptions of the dying flurry of
the sperm-whale are plentiful in whaling literature, many of the best of
them being in that ideal whaleman's log "The Cruise of the Cachalot," by
Frank T. Bullen. I quote one of these:

"Suddenly the mate gave a howl: 'Starn all--starn all! Oh, starn!' and the
oars bent like canes as we obeyed--there was an upheaval of the sea just
ahead; then slowly, majestically, the vast body of our foe rose into the
air. Up, up it went while my heart stood still, until the whole of that
immense creature hung on high, apparently motionless, and then fell--a
hundred tons of solid flesh--back into the sea. On either side of that
mountainous mass the waters rose in shining towers of snowy foam, which
fell in their turn, whirling and eddying around us as we tossed and fell
like a chip in a whirlpool. Blinded by the flying spray, baling for very
life to free the boat from the water, with which she was nearly full, it
was some minutes before I was able to decide whether we were still
uninjured or not. Then I saw, at a little distance, the whale lying
quietly. As I looked he spouted and the vapor was red with his blood.
'Starn all!' again cried our chief, and we retreated to a considerable
distance. The old warrior's practised eye had detected the coming climax
of our efforts, the dying agony, or 'flurry,' of the great mammal. Turning
upon his side, he began to move in a circular direction, slowly at first,
then faster and faster, until he was rushing round at tremendous speed,
his great head raised quite out of water at times, slashing his enormous
jaws. Torrents of blood poured from his spout-hole, accompanied by hoarse
bellowings, as of some gigantic bull, but really caused by the laboring
breath trying to pass through the clogged air-passages. The utmost caution
and rapidity of manipulation of the boat was necessary to avoid his
maddened rush, but this gigantic energy was short-lived. In a few minutes
he subsided slowly in death, his mighty body reclined on one side, the fin
uppermost waving limply as he rolled to the swell, while the small waves
broke gently over the carcass in a low, monotonous surf, intensifying the
profound silence that had succeeded the tumult of our conflict with the
late monarch of the deep."


Not infrequently the sperm-whale, breaking loose from the harpoon, would
ignore the boats and make war upon his chief enemy--the ship. The history
of the whale fishery is full of such occurrences. The ship "Essex," of
Nantucket, was attacked and sunk by a whale, which planned its campaign
of destruction as though guided by human intelligence. He was first seen
at a distance of several hundred yards, coming full speed for the ship.
Diving, he rose again to the surface about a ship's length away, and then
surged forward on the surface, striking the vessel just forward of the
fore-chains. "The ship brought up as suddenly and violently as if she had
struck a rock," said the mate afterward, "and trembled for few seconds
like a leaf." Then she began to settle, but not fast enough to satisfy the
ire of the whale. Circling around, he doubled his speed, and bore down
upon the "Essex" again. This time his head fairly stove in the bows, and
the ship sank so fast that the men were barely able to provision and
launch the boats. Curiously enough, the monster that had thus destroyed a
stout ship paid no attention whatsoever to the little boats, which would
have been like nutshells before his bulk and power. But many of the men
who thus escaped only went to a fate more terrible than to have gone down
with their stout ship. Adrift on a trackless sea, 1000 miles from land, in
open boats, with scant provision of food or water, they faced a frightful
ordeal. After twenty-eight days they found an island, but it proved a
desert. After leaving it the boats became separated--one being never again
heard of. In the others men died fast, and at last the living were driven
by hunger actually to eat the dead. Out of the captain's boat two only
were rescued; out of the mate's, three. In all twelve men were sacrificed
to the whale's rage.

Mere lust for combat seemed to animate this whale, for he had not been
pursued by the men of the "Essex," though perhaps in some earlier meeting
with men he had felt the sting of the harpoon and the searching thrust of
the lance. So great is the vitality of the cachalot that it not
infrequently breaks away from its pursuers, and with two or three
harpoon-heads in its body lives to a ripe, if not a placid, old age. The
whale that sunk the New Bedford ship "Ann Alexander" was one of these
fighting veterans. With a harpoon deep in his side he turned and
deliberately ran over and sunk the boat that was fast to him; then with
equal deliberation sent a second boat to the bottom. This was before noon,
and occurred about six miles from the ship, which bore down as fast as
could be to pick up the struggling men. The whale, apparently contented
with his escape, made off. But about sunset Captain Delois, iron in hand,
watching from the knight-heads of the "Ann Alexander" for other whales to
repair his ill-luck, saw the redoubtable fighter not far away, swimming at
about a speed of five knots. At the same time the whale spied the ship.
Increasing his speed to fifteen knots, he bore down upon her, and with the
full force of his more than 100 tons bulk struck her "a terrible blow
about two feet from the keel and just abreast of the foremast, breaking a
large hole in her bottom, through which the water poured in a rushing
stream." The crew had scarce time to get out the boats, with one day's
provisions, but were happily picked up by a passing vessel two days later.
The whale itself met retribution five months later, when it was taken by
another American ship. Two of the "Ann Alexander's" harpoons were in him,
his head bore deep scars, and in it were imbedded pieces of the ill-fated
ship's timbers.

Instances of the combativeness of the sperm-whale are not confined to the
records of the whale fishery. Even as I write I find in a current San
Francisco newspaper the story of the pilot-boat "Bonita," sunk near the
Farallon Islands by a whale that attacked her out of sheer wantonness and
lust for fight. The "Bonita" was lying hove-to, lazily riding the swells,
when in the dark--it was 10 o'clock at night--there came a prodigious
shock, that threw all standing to the deck and made the pots and pans of
the cook's galley jingle like a chime out of tune. From the deck the
prodigious black bulk of a whale, about eighty feet long, could be made
out, lying lazily half out of water near the vessel. The timbers of the
"Bonita" must have been crushed by his impact, for she began to fill, and
soon sank.

In this case the disaster was probably not due to any rage or malicious
intent on the part of the whale. Indeed, in the days when the ocean was
more densely populated with these huge animals, collision with a whale was
a well-recognized maritime peril. How many of the stout vessels against
whose names on the shipping list stands the fatal word "missing," came to
their ends in this way can never be known; but maritime annals are full of
the reports of captains who ran "bows on" into a mysterious reef where the
chart showed no obstruction, but which proved to be a whale, reddening the
sea with his blood, and sending the ship--not less sorely wounded--into
some neighboring port to refit.

The tools with which the business of hunting the whale is pursued are
simple, even rude. Steam, it is true, has succeeded to sails, and
explosives have displaced the sinewy arm of the harpooner for launching
the deadly shafts; but in the main the pursuit of the monsters is
conducted now as it was sixty years ago, when to command a whaler was the
dearest ambition of a New England coastboy. The vessels were usually brigs
or barks, occasionally schooners, ranging from 100 to 500 tons. They had a
characteristic architecture, due in part to the subordination of speed to
carrying capacity, and further to the specially heavy timbering about the
bows to withstand the crushing of the Arctic ice-pack. The bow was scarce
distinguishable from the stern by its lines, and the masts stuck up
straight, without that rake, which adds so much to the trim appearance of
a clipper. Three peculiarities chiefly distinguished the whalers from
other ships of the same general character. At the main royal-mast head was
fixed the "crow's nest"--in some vessels a heavy barrel lashed to the
mast, in others merely a small platform laid on the cross-trees, with two
hoops fixed to the mast above, within which the lookout could stand in
safety. On the deck, amidships, stood the "try-works," brick furnaces,
holding two or three great kettles, in which the blubber was reduced to
odorless oil. Along each rail were heavy, clumsy wooden cranes, or davits,
from which hung the whale-boats--never less than five, sometimes more,
while still others were lashed to the deck, for boats were the whale's
sport and playthings, and seldom was a big "fish" made fast that there was
not work for the ship's carpenter.

The whale-boat, evolved from the needs of this fishery, is one of the most
perfect pieces of marine architecture afloat--a true adaptation of means
to an end. It is clinker-built, about 27 feet long, by 6 feet beam, with a
depth of about 2 feet 6 inches; sharp at both ends and clean-sided as a
mackerel. Each boat carried five oarsmen, who wielded oars of from nine to
sixteen feet in length, while the mate steers with a prodigious oar ten
feet long. The bow oarsman is the harpooner, but when he has made fast to
the whale he goes aft and takes the mate's place at the steering oar,
while the latter goes forward with the lances to deal the final murderous
strokes. This curious and dangerous change of position in the boat, often
with a heavy sea running, and with a 100-ton whale tugging at the tug-line
seems to have grown out of nothing more sensible than the insistence of
mates on recognition of their rank. But a whale-boat is not the only place
where a spill is threatened because some one in power insists on doing
something at once useless and dangerous.

The whale-boat also carried a stout mast, rigging two sprit sails. The
mast was instantly unshipped when the whale was struck. The American boats
also carried centerboards, lifting into a framework extending through the
center of the craft, but the English whalemen omitted these appendages. A
rudder was hung over the side, for use in emergencies. Into this boat were
packed, with the utmost care and system, two line-tubs, each holding from
100 to 200 fathoms of fine manila rope, one and one-half inches round, and
of a texture like yellow silk; three harpoons, wood and iron, measuring
about eight feet over all, and weighing about ten pounds; three lances of
the finest steel, with wooden handles, in all about eight feet long; a keg
of drinking water and one of biscuits; a bucket and piggin for bailing, a
small spade, knives, axes, and a shoulder bomb-gun. It can be understood
easily that six men, maneuvering in so crowded a boat, with a huge whale
flouncing about within a few feet, a line whizzing down the center, to be
caught in which meant instant death, and the sea often running high, had
need to keep their wits about them.

Harpoons and lances are kept ground to a razor edge, and, propelled by the
vigorous muscles of brawny whalemen, often sunk out of sight through the
papery skin and soft blubber of the whale. Beyond these primitive
appliances the whale fishery never progressed very far. It is true that in
later days a shoulder-gun hurled the harpoon, explosive bombs replaced the
lances, the ships were in some cases fitted with auxiliary steam-power,
and in a few infrequent instances steam launches were employed for
whale-boats. But progress was not general. The old-fashioned whaling tubs
kept the seas, while the growing scarcity of the whales and the blow to
the demand for oil dealt by the discovery of petroleum, checked the
development of the industry. Now the rows of whalers rotting at New
Bedford's wharves, and the somnolence of Nantucket, tell of its virtual

These two towns were built upon the prosperity of the whale fishery. When
it languished their fortunes sunk, never to rise to their earlier heights,
though cotton-spinning came to occupy the attention of the people of New
Bedford, while Nantucket found a placid prosperity in entertaining summer
boarders. And even during the years when whales were plentiful, and their
oil still in good demand, there came periods of interruption to the trade
and poverty to its followers. The Revolution first closed the seas to
American ships for seven long years, and at its close the whalers found
their best market--England--still shut against them. Moreover, the high
seas during the closing years of the eighteenth and the opening of the
nineteenth centuries were not as to-day, when a pirate is as scarce a
beast of prey as a highwayman on Hounslow Heath. The Napoleonic wars had
broken down men's natural sense of order and of right, and the seas
swarmed with privateers, who on occasion were ready enough to turn
pirates. Many whalers fell a prey to these marauders, whose operations
were rather encouraged than condemned by the European nations. Both
England and France were at this period endeavoring to lure the whalemen
from the United Colonies by promise of special concessions in trade, or
more effective protection on the high seas than their own weakling
governments could assure them. Some Nantucket whalemen were indeed
enticed to the new English whaling town at Dartmouth, near Halifax, or to
the French town of Dunkirk. But the effort to transplant the industry did
not succeed, and the years that followed, until the fateful embargo of
1807, were a period of rapid growth for the whale fishery and increasing
wealth for those who pursued it. In the form of its business organization
the business of whaling was the purest form of profit-sharing we have ever
seen in the United States. Everybody on the ship, from captain to
cabin-boy, was a partner, vitally interested in the success of the voyage.
Each had his "lay"--that is to say, his proportionate share of the
proceeds of the catch. Obed Macy, in his "History of Nantucket," says:
"The captain's lay is generally one-seventeenth part of all obtained; the
first officer's one-twenty-eighth part; the second officer's,
one-forty-fifth; the third officer's, one-sixtieth; a boat-steerer's from
an eightieth to a hundred-and-twentieth, and a foremast hand's, from a
hundred-and-twentieth to a hundred-and-eighty-fifth each." These
proportions, of course, varied--those of the men according to the ruling
wages in other branches of the merchant service; those of the officers to
correspond with special qualities of efficiency. All the remainder of the
catch went to the owners, who put into the enterprise the ship and
outfitted her for a cruise, which usually occupied three years. Their
investment was therefore a heavy one, a suitable vessel of 300-tons burden
costing in the neighborhood of $22,000, and her outfit $18,000 to $20,000.
Not infrequently the artisans engaged in fitting out a ship were paid by
being given "lays," like the sailor. In such a case the boatmaker who
built the whale-boats, the ropemaker who twisted the stout, flexible
manila cord to hold the whale, the sailmaker and the cooper were all
interested with the crew and the owners in the success of the voyage. It
was the most practical communism that industry has ever seen, and it
worked to the satisfaction of all concerned as long as the whaling trade
continued profitable.

The wars in which the American people engaged during the active days of
the whale fishery--the Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil
War--were disastrous to that industry, and from the depredations committed
by the Confederate cruisers in the last conflict it never fully recovered.
The nature of their calling made the whalemen peculiarly vulnerable to the
evils of war. Cruising in distant seas, always away from home for many
months, often for years, a war might be declared and fought to a finish
before they knew of it. In the disordered Napoleonic days they never could
tell whether the flag floating at the peak of some armed vessel
encountered at the antipodes was that of friend or foe. During both the
wars with England they were the special objects of the enemy's malignant
attention. From the earliest days American progress in maritime enterprise
was viewed by the British with apprehension and dislike. Particularly did
the growth of the cod fisheries and the chase of the whale arouse
transatlantic jealousy, the value of these callings as nurseries for
seamen being only too plainly apparent. Accordingly the most was made of
the opportunities afforded by war for crushing the whaling industry.
Whalers were chased to their favorite fishing-grounds, captured, and
burned. With cynical disregard of all the rules of civilized
warfare--supposing war ever to be civilized--the British gave to the
captured whalers only the choice of serving in British men-of-war against
their own countrymen, or re-entering the whaling trade on British ships,
thus building up the British whale fishery at the expense of the American.
The American response to these tactics was to abandon the business during
war time. In 1775 Nantucket alone had had 150 vessels, aggregating 15,000
tons, afloat in pursuit of the whale. The trade was pushed with such
daring and enterprise that Edmund Burke was moved to eulogize its
followers in an eloquent speech in the British House of Commons. "Neither
the perseverance of Holland," he said, "nor the activity of France, nor
the dexterous and firm sagacity of English enterprise, ever carried this
most perilous mode of hardy industry to the extent to which it has been
pushed by this most recent people." But the eloquence of Burke could not
halt the British ministry in its purpose to tax the colonies despite their
protests. The Revolution followed, and the whalemen of Nantucket and New
Bedford stripped their vessels, sent down yards and all running rigging,
stowed the sails, tied their barks and brigs to the deserted wharves and
went out of business. The trade thus rudely checked had for the year
preceding the outbreak of the war handled 45,000 barrels of sperm oil,
8500 barrels of right-whale oil, and 75,000 pounds of bone.

The enforced idleness of the Revolutionary days was not easily forgotten
by the whalemen, and their discontent and complainings were great when the
nation was again embroiled in war with Great Britain in 1812. It can not
be said that their attitude in the early days of that conflict was
patriotic. They had suffered--both at the hands of France and
England--wrongs which might well rouse their resentment. They had been
continually impressed by England, and the warships of both nations had
seized American whalers for real or alleged violations of the Orders in
Council or the Ostend Manifesto; but the whalemen were more eager for
peace, even with the incidental perils due to war in Europe, than for war,
with its enforced idleness. When Congress ordered the embargo the whalers
were at first explicitly freed from its operations; but this provision
being seized upon to cover evasions of the embargo, they were ultimately
included. When war was finally declared, the protests of the Nantucket
people almost reached the point of threatening secession. A solemn
memorial was first addressed to Congress, relating the exceedingly exposed
condition of the island and its favorite calling to the perils of war, and
begging that the actual declaration of war might be averted. When this had
availed nothing, and the young nation had rushed into battle with a
courage that must seem to us now foolhardy, the Nantucketers adopted the
doubtful expedient of seeking special favor from the enemy. An appeal for
immunity from the ordinary acts of war was addressed to the British
Admiral Cochrane, and a special envoy was sent to the British naval
officer commanding the North American station, to announce the neutrality
of the island and to beg immunity from assault and pillage, and assurance
that one vessel would be permitted to ply unmolested between the island
and the mainland. As a result of these negotiations, Nantucket formally
declared her neutrality, and by town meeting voted to accede to the
British demand that her people pay no taxes for the support of the United
States. In all essential things the island ceased to be a part of the
United States, its people neither rendering military service nor
contributing to the revenues. But their submission to the British demands
did not save the whale-trade, for repeated efforts to get the whalers
declared neutral and exempt from capture failed.

Half a century of peace followed, during which the whaling industry rose
to its highest point; but was again on the wane when the Civil War let
loose upon the remaining whalemen the Confederate cruisers, the
"Shenandoah" alone burning thirty-four of them. From this last stroke the
industry, enfeebled by the lessened demand for its chief product, and by
the greater cost and length of voyages resulting from the growing scarcity
of whales, never recovered. To-day its old-time ports are deserted by
traffic. Stripped of all that had salable value, its ships rot on
mud-banks or at moldering wharves. The New England boy, whose ambition
half a century ago was to ship on a whaler, with a boy's lay and a
straight path to the quarter-deck, now goes into a city office, or makes
for the West as a miner or a railroad man. The whale bids fair to become
as extinct as the dodo, and the whaleman is already as rare as the


With the extension of the fishing-grounds to the Pacific began the really
great days of the whale fishery. Then, from such a port as Nantucket or
New Bedford a vessel would set out, to be gone three years, carrying with
her the dearest hopes and ambitions of all the inhabitants. Perhaps there
would be no house without some special interest in her cruise. Tradesmen
of a dozen sorts supplied stores on shares. Ambitious boys of the best
families sought places before the mast, for there was then no higher goal
for youthful ambition than command of a whaler. Not infrequently a captain
would go direct from the marriage altar to his ship, taking a young bride
off on a honeymoon of three years at sea. Of course the home conditions
created by this almost universal masculine employment were curious. The
whaling towns were populated by women, children, and old men. The talk of
the street was of big catches and the prices of oil and bone. The
conversation in the shaded parlors, where sea-shells, coral, and the
trophies of Pacific cruises were the chief ornaments, was of the distant
husbands and sons, the perils they braved, and when they might be expected
home. The solid, square houses the whalemen built, stoutly timbered as
though themselves ships, faced the ocean, and bore on their ridge-pole a
railed platform called the bridge, whence the watchers could look far out
to sea, scanning the horizon for the expected ship. Lucky were they if she
came into the harbor without half-masted flag or other sign of disaster.
The profits of the calling in its best days were great. The best New
London record is that of the "Pioneer," made in an eighteen-months' cruise
in 1864-5. She brought back 1391 barrels of oil and 22,650 pounds of bone,
all valued at $150,060. The "Envoy," of New Bedford, after being condemned
as unseaworthy, was fitted out in 1847 at a cost of $8000, and sent out on
a final cruise. She found oil and bone to the value of $132,450; and
reaching San Francisco in the flush times, was sold for $6000. As an
offset to these records, is the legend of the Nantucket captain who
appeared off the harbor's mouth after a cruise of three years. "What luck,
cap'n?" asked the first to board. "Well, I got nary a barrel of oil and
nary a pound of bone; but I had a _mighty good sail_."

When the bar was crossed and the ship fairly in blue water, work began.
Rudyard Kipling has a characteristic story, "How the Ship Found Herself,"
telling how each bolt and plate, each nut, screw-thread, brace, and rivet
in one of those iron tanks we now call ships adjusts itself to its work on
the first voyage. On the whaler the crew had to find itself, to readjust
its relations, come to know its constituent parts, and learn the ways of
its superiors. Sometimes a ship was manned by men who had grown up
together and who had served often on the same craft; but as a rule the men
of the forecastle were a rough and vagrant lot; capable seamen, indeed,
but of the adventurous and irresponsible sort, for service before the mast
on a whaler was not eagerly sought by the men of the merchant service. For
a time Indians were plenty, and their fine physique and racial traits made
them skillful harpooners. As they became scarce, negroes began to appear
among the whalemen, with now and then a Lascar, a South Sea Islander,
Portuguese, and Hawaiians. The alert New Englanders, trained to the life
of the sea, seldom lingered long in the forecastle, but quickly made their
way to the posts of command. There they were despots, for nowhere was the
discipline more severe than on whalemen. The rule was a word and a
blow--and the word was commonly a curse. The ship was out for a
five-years' cruise, perhaps, and the captain knew that the safety of all
depended upon unquestioning obedience to his authority. Once in a while
even the cowed crew would revolt, and infrequent stories of mutiny and
murder appear in the record of the whale trade. The whaler, like a
man-of-war, carried a larger crew than was necessary for the work of
navigation, and it was necessary to devise work to keep the men employed.
As a result, the ships were kept cleaner than any others in the merchant
service, even though the work of trying out the blubber was necessarily
productive of smoke, soot, and grease.

As a rule the voyage to the Pacific whaling waters was round Cape Horn,
though occasionally a vessel made its way to the eastward and rounded the
Cape of Good Hope. Almost always the world was circumnavigated before
return. In early days the Pacific whalers found their game in plenty along
the coast of Chili; but in time they were forced to push further and
further north until the Japan Sea and Bering Sea became the favorite
fishing places.

The whale was usually first sighted by the lookout in the crow's nest. A
warm-blooded animal, breathing with lungs, and not with gills, like a
fish, the whale is obliged to come to the surface of the water
periodically to breathe. As he does so he exhales the air from his lungs
through blow-holes or spiracles at the top of his head; and this warm,
moist air, coming thus from his lungs into the cool air, condenses,
forming a jet of vapor looking like a fountain, though there is, in fact,
no spout of water. "There she blows! B-l-o-o-o-ws! Blo-o-ows!" cries the
lookout at this spectacle. All is activity at once on deck, the captain
calling to the lookout for the direction and character of the "pod" or
school. The sperm whale throws his spout forward at an angle, instead of
perpendicularly into the air, and hence is easily distinguished from right
whales at a distance. The ship is then headed toward the game, coming to
about a mile away. As the whale, unless alarmed, seldom swims more than
two and a half miles an hour, and usually stays below only about
forty-five minutes at a time, there is little difficulty in overhauling
him. Then the boats are launched, the captain and a sufficient number of
men staying with the ship.

[Illustration: "THERE SHE BLOWS"]

In approaching the whale, every effort is made to come up to him at the
point of least danger. This point is determined partly by the lines of the
whale's vision, partly by his methods of defense. The right whale can only
see dead ahead, and his one weapon is his tail, which gigantic fin,
weighing several tons and measuring sometimes twenty feet across the tips
of the flukes, he swings with irresistible force and all the agility of a
fencer at sword-play. He, therefore, is attacked from the side, well
toward his jaws. The sperm whale, however, is dangerous at both ends. His
tail, though less elastic than that of the right whale, can deal a
prodigious up-and-down blow, while his gigantic jaws, well garnished with
sharp teeth, and capacious gullet, that readily could gulp down a man, are
his chief terrors. His eyes, too, set obliquely, enable him to command the
sea at all points save dead ahead, and it is accordingly from this point
that the fishermen approach him. But however stealthily they move, the
opportunities for disappointment are many. Big as he is, the whale is not
sluggish. In an instant he may sink bodily from sight; or, throwing his
flukes high in air, "sound," to be seen no more; or, casting himself
bodily on the boat, blot it out of existence; or, taking it in his jaws,
carry it down with him. But supposing the whale to be oblivious of its
approach, the boat comes as near as seems safe, and the harpooner, poised
in the bow, his knee against the bracket that steadies him, lets fly his
weapon; and, hit or miss, follows it up at once with a second bent onto
the same line. Some harpooners were of such strength and skill that they
could hurl their irons as far as four or five fathoms. In one famous case
boats from an American and British ship were in pursuit of the same whale,
the British boat on the inside. It is the law of the fishery that the
whale belongs to the boat that first makes fast--and many a pretty
quarrel has grown out of this rule. So in this instance--seeing the danger
that his rival might win the game--the American harpooner, with a
prodigious effort, darted his iron clear over the rival boat and deep into
the mass of blubber.

[Illustration: "TAKING IT IN HIS JAWS"]

What a whale will do when struck no man can tell before the event. The
boat-load of puffing, perspiring men who have pulled at full speed up to
the monster may suddenly find themselves confronted with a furious,
vindictive, aggressive beast weighing eighty tons, and bent on grinding
their boat and themselves to powder; or he may simply turn tail and run.
Sometimes he sounds, going down, down, down, until all the line in the
boat is exhausted, and all that other boats can bend on is gone too. Then
the end is thrown over with a drag, and his reappearance awaited.
Sometimes he dashes off over the surface of the water at a speed of
fifteen knots an hour, towing the boat, while the crew hope that their
"Nantucket sleigh-ride" will end before they lose the ship for good. But
once fast, the whalemen try to pull close alongside the monster. Then the
mate takes the long, keen lance and plunges it deep into the great
shuddering carcass, "churning" it up and down and seeking to pierce the
heart or lungs. This is the moment of danger; for, driven mad with pain,
the great beast rolls and thrashes about convulsively. If the boat clings
fast to his side, it is in danger of being crushed or engulfed at any
moment; if it retreats, he may recover himself and be off before the
death-stroke can be delivered. In later days the explosive bomb,
discharged from a distance, has done away with this peril; but in the
palmy days of the whale fishery the men would rush into the circle of sea
lashed into foam by those mighty fins, get close to the whale, as the
boxer gets under the guard of his foe, smite him with lance and
razor-edged spade until his spouts ran red, and to his fury there should
succeed the calm of approaching death. Then the boats, pulled off. The
command was "Pipes all"; and, placidly smoking in the presence of that
mighty death, the whalers awaited their ship.

Stories of "fighting whales" fill the chronicles of our old whaling ports.
There was the old bull sperm encountered by Captain Huntling off the River
De La Plata, which is told us in a fascinating old book, "The Nimrod of
the Sea." The first boat that made fast to this tough old warrior he
speedily bit in two; and while her crew were swimming away from the wreck
with all possible speed, the whale thrashed away at the pieces until all
were reduced to small bits. Two other boats meanwhile made fast to the
furious animal. Wheeling about in the foam, reddened with his blood, he
crushed them as a tiger would crunch its prey. All about him were men
struggling in the water--twelve of them, the crews of the two demolished
boats. Of the boats themselves nothing was left big enough to float a man.
The ship was miles away. Three of the sailors climbed on the back of their
enemy, clinging by the harpoons and ropes still fast to him, while the
others swam away for dear life, thinking only of escaping that
all-engulfing jaw or the blows of that murderous tail. Now came another
boat from the ship, picked up the swimmers, and cautiously rescued those
perched on the whale's back from their island of shuddering flesh. The
spirit of the monster was still undaunted. Though six harpoons were sunk
into his body and he was dragging 300 fathoms of line, he was still in
fighting mood, crunching oars, kegs, and bits of boat for more enemies to
demolish. All hands made for the ship, where Captain Hunting, quite as
dogged and determined as his adversary, was preparing to renew the combat.
Two spare boats were fitted for use, and again the whalemen started after
their foe. He, for his part, remained on the battle-ground, amid the
débris of his hunters' property, and awaited attack. Nay, more; he churned
the water with his mighty tail and moved forward to meet his enemy, with
ready jaw to grind them to bits. The captain at the boat-oar, or
steering-oar, made a mighty effort and escaped the rush; then sent an
explosive bomb into the whale's vitals as he surged past. Struck unto
death, the great bull went into his flurry; but in dying he rolled over
the captain's boat like an avalanche, destroying it as completely as he
had the three others. So man won the battle, but at a heavy cost. The
whaleman who chronicled this fight says significantly: "The captain
proceeded to Buenos Ayres, as much to allow his men, who were mostly
green, to run away, as for the purpose of refitting, as he knew they would
be useless thereafter." It was well recognized in the whaling service that
men once thoroughly "gallied," or frightened, were seldom useful again;
and, indeed, most of the participants in this battle did, as the captain
anticipated, desert at the first port.

Curiously enough, there did not begin to be a literature of whaling until
the industry went into its decadence. The old-time whalers, leading lives
of continual romance and adventure, found their calling so commonplace
that they noted shipwrecks, mutinies, and disaster in the struggles of the
whale baldly in their logbooks, without attempt at graphic description. It
is true the piety of Nantucket did result in incorporating the whale in
the local hymn-book, but with what doubtful literary success these verses
from the pen of Peleg Folger--himself a whaleman--will too painfully

    Thou didst, O Lord, create the mighty whale,
      That wondrous monster of a mighty length;
    Vast is his head and body, vast his tail,
      Beyond conception his unmeasured strength.

    When the surface of the sea hath broke
      Arising from the dark abyss below,
    His breath appears a lofty stream of smoke,
      The circling waves like glittering banks of snow.

    And though he furiously doth us assail,
      Thou dost preserve us from all dangers free;
    He cuts our boats in pieces with his tail,
      And spills us all at once into the sea.

Stories of the whale fishery are plentiful, and of late years there has
been some effort made to gather these into a kind of popular history of
the industry. The following incidents are gathered from a pamphlet,
published in the early days of the nineteenth century, by Thomas Nevins, a
New England whaler:

    "A remarkable instance of the power which the whale possesses in
    its tail was exhibited within my own observation in the year
    1807. On the 29th of May a whale was harpooned by an officer
    belonging to the 'Resolution.' It descended a considerable
    depth, and on its reappearance evinced an uncommon degree of
    irritation. It made such a display of its fins and tail that few
    of the crew were hardy enough to approach it. The captain,
    observing their timidity, called a boat and himself struck a
    second harpoon. Another boat immediately followed, and
    unfortunately advanced too far. The tail was again reared into
    the air in a terrific attitude. The impending blow was evident.
    The harpooner, who was directly underneath, leaped overboard,
    and the next moment the threatened stroke was impressed on the
    center of the boat, which it buried in the water. Happily no one
    was injured. The harpooner who leaped overboard escaped death by
    the act, the tail having struck the very spot on which he stood.
    The effects of the blow were astonishing--the keel was broken,
    the gunwales and every plank excepting two were cut through, and
    it was evident that the boat would have been completely divided,
    had not the tail struck directly upon a coil of lines. The boat
    was rendered useless.

    "The Dutch ship 'Gort-Moolen,' commanded by Cornelius Gerard
    Ouwekaas, with a cargo of seven fish, was anchored in Greenland,
    in the year 1660. The captain, perceiving a whale ahead of his
    ship, beckoned his attendants and threw himself into a boat. He
    was the first to approach the whale, and was fortunate enough to
    harpoon it before the arrival of the second boat, which was on
    the advance. Jacques Vienkes, who had the direction of it,
    joined his captain immediately afterward, and prepared to make a
    second attack on the fish when it should remount to the surface.
    At the moment of its ascension, the boat of Vienkes, happening,
    unfortunately, to be perpendicularly above it, was so suddenly
    and forcibly lifted up by a stroke of the head of the whale that
    it was dashed to pieces before the harpooner could discharge
    his weapon. Vienkes flew along with the pieces of the boat, and
    fell upon the back of the animal. This intrepid seaman, who
    still retained his weapon in his grasp, harpooned the whale on
    which he stood; and by means of the harpoon and the line, which
    he never abandoned, he steadied himself firmly upon the fish,
    notwithstanding his hazardous situation, and regardless of a
    considerable wound that he received in his leg in his fall along
    with the fragments of the boat. All the efforts of the other
    boats to approach the whale and deliver the harpooner were
    futile. The captain, not seeing any other method of saving his
    unfortunate companion, who was in some way entangled with the
    line, called him to cut it with his knife and betake himself to
    swimming. Vienkes, embarrassed and disconcerted as he was, tried
    in vain to follow this council. His knife was in the pocket of
    his drawers, and being unable to support himself with one hand,
    he could not get it out. The whale, meanwhile, continued
    advancing along the surface of the water with great rapidity,
    but fortunately never attempted to dive. While his comrades
    despaired of his life, the harpoon by which he held at length
    disengaged itself from the body of the whale. Vienkes, being
    thus liberated, did not fail to take advantage of this
    circumstance. He cast himself into the sea, and by swimming
    endeavored to regain the boats, which continued the pursuit of
    the whale. When his shipmates perceived him struggling with the
    waves, they redoubled their exertions. They reached him just as
    his strength was exhausted, and had the happiness of rescuing
    this adventurous harpooner from his perilous situation.

    "Captain Lyons, of the 'Raith,' of Leith, while prosecuting the
    whale fishery on the Labrador coast, in the season of 1802,
    discovered a large whale at a short distance from the ship. Four
    boats were dispatched in pursuit, and two of them succeeded in
    approaching it so closely together that two harpoons were struck
    at the same moment. The fish descended a few fathoms in the
    direction of another of the boats, which was on the advance,
    rose accidentally beneath it, struck it with his head, and threw
    the boat, men, and apparatus about fifteen feet in the air. It
    was inverted by the stroke, and fell into the water with its
    keel upward. All the people were picked up alive by the fourth
    boat, which was just at hand, excepting one man, who, having
    got entangled in the boat, fell beneath it and was unfortunately
    drowned. The fish was soon afterward killed.

    "In 1822 two boats belonging to the ship 'Baffin' went in
    pursuit of a whale. John Carr was harpooner and commander of
    them. The whale they pursued led them into a vast shoal of his
    own species. They were so numerous that their blowing was
    incessant, and they believed that they did not see fewer than a
    hundred. Fearful of alarming them without striking any, they
    remained a while motionless. At last one rose near Carr's boat,
    and he approached and, fatally for himself, harpooned it. When
    he struck, the fish was approaching the boat; and, passing very
    rapidly, jerked the line out of its place over the stern and
    threw it upon the gunwale. Its pressure in this unfavorable
    position so careened the boat that the side was pulled under
    water and it began to fill. In this emergency Carr, who was a
    brave, active man, seized the line, and endeavored to release
    the boat by restoring it to its place; but by some circumstance
    which was never accounted for, a turn of the line flew over his
    arm, dragged him overboard in an instant, and drew him under the
    water, never more to rise. So sudden was the accident that only
    one man, who was watching him, saw what had happened; so that
    when the boat righted, which it immediately did, though half
    full of water, the whole crew, on looking round, inquired what
    had become of Carr. It is impossible to imagine a death more
    awfully sudden and unexpected. The invisible bullet could not
    have effected more instantaneous destruction. The velocity of
    the whale at its first descent is from thirteen to fifteen feet
    per second. Now, as this unfortunate man was adjusting the line
    at the water's very edge, where it must have been perfectly
    tight, owing to its obstruction in running out of the boat, the
    interval between the fastening of the line about him and his
    disappearance could not have exceeded the third part of a second
    of time, for in one second only he must have been dragged ten or
    twelve feet deep. Indeed, he had not time for the least
    exclamation; and the person who saw his removal observed that it
    was so exceeding quick that, though his eye was upon him at the
    moment, he could scarcely distinguish his figure as he

    "As soon as the crew recovered from their consternation, they
    applied themselves to the needful attention which the lines
    required. A second harpoon was struck from the accompanying
    boat, on the rising of the whale to the surface, and some lances
    were applied; but this melancholy occurrence had cast such a
    damp on all present that they became timid and inactive in their
    subsequent duties. The whale, when nearly exhausted, was allowed
    to remain some minutes unmolested, till, having recovered some
    degree of energy, it made a violent effort and tore itself away
    from the harpoons. The exertions of the crews thus proved
    fruitless, and were attended with serious loss.

    "A harpooner belonging to the 'Henrietta,' of Whitby, when
    engaged in lancing a whale into which he had previously struck a
    harpoon, incautiously cast a little line under his feet that he
    had just hauled into the boat, after it had been drawn out by
    the fish. A painful stroke of his lance induced the whale to
    dart suddenly downward. His line began to run out from under his
    feet, and in an instant caught him by a turn round his body. He
    had but just time to cry out, 'Clear away the line! Oh, dear!'
    when he was almost cut asunder, dragged overboard, and never
    seen afterward. The line was cut at that moment, but without
    avail. The fish descended to a considerable depth and died, from
    whence it was drawn to the surface by the lines connected with
    it and secured."

Whaling has almost ceased to have a place in the long list of our national
industries. Its implements and the relics of old-time cruises fill niches
in museums as memorials of a practically extinct calling. Along the
wharves of New Bedford and New London a few old brigs lie rotting, but so
effective have been the ravages of time that scarcely any of the once
great fleet survive even in this invalid condition. The whales have been
driven far into the Arctic regions, whither a few whalers employing the
modern and unsportsmanlike devices of steam and explosives, follow them
for a scanty profit. But the glory of the whale fishery is gone, leaving
hardly a record behind it. In its time it employed thousands of stout
sailors; it furnished the navy with the material that made that branch of
our armed service the pride and glory of the nation. It explored unknown
seas and carried the flag to undiscovered lands. Was not an Austrian
exploring expedition, interrupted as it was about to take possession of
land in the Antarctic in the name of Austria by encountering an American
whaler, trim and trig, lying placidly at anchor in a harbor where the
Austrian thought no man had ever been? It built up towns in New England
that half a century of lethargy has been unable to kill. And so if its
brigs--and its men--now molder, if its records are scanty and its history
unwritten, still Americans must ever regard the whale fishery as one of
the chief factors in the building of the nation--one of the most admirable
chapters in our national story.



In the early days of a new community the citizen, be he never so peaceful,
is compelled, perforce, to take on the ways and the trappings of the
fighting man. The pioneer is half hunter, half scout. The farmer on the
outposts of civilization must be more than half a soldier; the cowboy or
ranchman on our southwest frontier goes about a walking arsenal, ready at
all times to take the laws into his own hands, and scorning to call on
sheriffs or other peace officers for protection against personal injury.
And while the original purpose of this militant, even defiant, attitude is
self-protection, those who are long compelled to maintain it conceive a
contempt for the law, which they find inadequate to guard them, and not
infrequently degenerate into bandits.

It is hardly too much to say that the nineteenth century was already well
into its second quarter before there was a semblance of recognized law
upon the high seas. Pirates and buccaneers, privateers, and the naval
vessels of the times that were little more than pirates, made the lot of
the merchant sailor of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a
precarious one. Wars were constant, declared on the flimsiest pretexts and
with scant notice; so that the sailor putting out from port in a time of
universal peace could feel no certainty that the first foreign vessel he
met might not capture him as spoil of some war of which he had no
knowledge. Accordingly, sailors learned to defend themselves, and the
ship's armory was as necessary and vastly better stocked than the ship's
medicine case. To point a carronade became as needful an accomplishment as
to box the compass; and he was no A.B. who did not know how to swing a

Out of such conditions, and out of the wars which the Napoleonic plague
forced upon the world, sprung the practise of privateering; and while it
is the purpose of this book to tell the story of the American merchant
sailor only, it could not be complete without some account, however brief,
of the American privateersman. For, indeed, the two were one throughout a
considerable period of our maritime history, the sailor turning
privateersman or the privateersman sailor as political or trade conditions
demanded. In our colonial times, and in the earlier days of the nation, to
be a famous privateersman, or to have had a hand in fitting out a
successful privateer, was no mean passport to fame and fortune. Some of
the names most eminent in the history of our country appear in connection
with the outfitting or command of privateers; and not a few of the oldest
fortunes of New England had their origin in this form of legalized piracy.
And, after all, it is the need of the times that fixes the morality of an
act. To-day privateering is dead; not by any formal agreement, for the
United States, at the Congress of Paris, refused to agree to its outlawry;
but in our war with Spain no recourse was had to letters of marque by
either combatant, and it seems unlikely that in any future war between
civilized nations either party will court the contempt of the world by
going back to the old custom of chartering banditti to steal the property
of private citizens of the hostile nation if found at sea. Private
property on shore has long been respected by the armies of Christendom,
and why its presence in a ship rather than in a cart makes it a fit object
of plunder baffles the understanding. Perhaps in time the kindred custom
of awarding prize money to naval officers, which makes of them a species
of privateers, and pays them for capturing a helpless merchant ship, while
an army officer gets nothing for taking the most powerful fort, may
likewise be set aside as a relic of medieval warfare.

In its earliest days, of course, privateering was the weapon of a nation
weak at sea against one with a large navy. So when the colonies threw down
the gage of battle to Great Britain, almost the first act of the
Revolutionary government was to authorize private owners to fit out armed
ships to prey on British commerce. Some of the shipowners of New England
had enjoyed some experience of the profits of this peculiar industry in
the Seven Years' War, when quite a number of colonial privateers harried
the French on the seas, and accordingly the response was prompt. In
enterprises of this character the system of profit-sharing, already noted
in connection with whaling, obtained. The owners took a certain share of
each prize, and the remainder was divided among the officers and crew in
certain fixed proportions. How great were the profits accruing to a
privateersman in a "run of luck" might be illustrated by two facts set
forth by Maclay, whose "History of American Privateers" is the chief
authority on the subject. He asserts that "it frequently happened that
even the common sailors received as their share in one cruise, over and
above their wages, one thousand dollars--a small fortune in those days for
a mariner," and further that "one of the boys in the 'Ranger,' who less
than a month before had left a farm, received as his share one ton of
sugar, from thirty to forty gallons of fourth-proof Jamaica rum, some
twenty pounds of cotton, and about the same quantity of ginger, logwood,
and allspice, besides seven hundred dollars in money." To be sure, in
order to enjoy gains like these, the men had to risk the perils of battle
in addition to the common ones of the sea; but it is a curious fact,
recognized in all branches of industry, that the mere peril of a calling
does not deter men from following it, and when it promises high profit it
is sure to be overcrowded. In civil life to-day the most dangerous
callings are those which are, as a rule, the most ill paid.

Very speedily the privateersmen became the most prosperous and the most
picturesque figures along the waterside of the Atlantic cities. While the
dignified merchant or shipowner, with a third interest in the "Daredevil"
or the "Flybynight," might still maintain the sober demeanor of a good
citizen and a pillar of the church, despite his profits of fifty or an
hundred per cent. on each cruise, the gallant sailors who came back to
town with pockets full of easily-won money, and the recollection of long
and dismal weeks at sea behind them, were spectacular in their rejoicings.
Their money was poured out freely while it lasted; and their example
stirred all the townsboys, from the best families down to the scourings of
the docks, to enter the same gentlemanlike profession.

Queerly enough, in a time of universal democracy, a provision was made on
many of the privateers for the young men of family who desired to follow
the calling. They were called "gentlemen sailors," and, in consideration
of their social standing and the fact that they were trained to arms, were
granted special and unusual privileges, such as freedom from the drudgery
of working the ship, better fare than the common sailors, and more
comfortable quarters. Indeed, they were free of duty except when fighting
was to be done, and at other times fulfilled the function of the marine
guards on our modern men-of-war. This came to be a very popular calling
for adventurous young men of some family influence.

It has been claimed by some writers that "the Revolution was won by the
New England privateers"; and, indeed, there can be no doubt that their
activity did contribute in no small degree to the outcome of that
struggle. Britain was then, as now, essentially a commercial nation, and
the outcry of her merchants when the ravages of American privateers drove
marine insurance rates up to thirty-three per cent., and even for a time
made companies refuse it altogether, was clamorous. But there was another
side to the story. Privateering, like all irregular service, was
demoralizing, not alone to the men engaged in it, but to the youth of the
country as well. The stories of the easy life and the great profits of the
privateersmen were circulated in every little town, while the revels of
these sea soldiers in the water-front villages were described with
picturesque embellishments throughout the land. As a result, it became
hard to get young men of spirit into the patriot armies. Washington
complained that when the fortunes of his army were at their lowest, when
he could not get clothing for his soldiers, and the snow at Valley Forge
was stained with the blood of their unshod feet, any American shipping on
a privateer was sure of a competence, while great fortunes were being made
by the speculators who fitted them out. Nor was this all. Such was the
attraction of the privateer's life that it drew to it seamen from every
branch of the maritime calling. The fisheries and the West India trade,
which had long been the chief mainstay of New England commerce, were
ruined, and it seemed for a time as if the hardy race of American seamen
were to degenerate into a mere body of buccaneers, operating under the
protection of international law, but plunderers and spoilers nevertheless.
Fortunately, the long peace which succeeded the War of 1812 gave
opportunity for the naturally lawful and civilized instincts of the
Americans to assert themselves, and this peril was averted.

It is, then, with no admiration for the calling, and yet with no
underestimate of its value to the nation, that I recount some of the
achievements of those who followed it. The periods when American
privateering was important were those of the Revolution and the War of
1812. During the Civil War the loss incurred by privateers fell upon our
own people, and it is curious to note how different a tone the writers on
this subject adopt when discussing the ravages of the Confederate
privateers and those which we let loose upon British commerce in the brave
days of 1812.

A true type of the Revolutionary privateersmen was Captain Silas Talbot,
of Massachusetts. He was one of the New England lads apprenticed to the
sea at an early age, having been made a cabin-boy at twelve. He rose to
command and acquired means in his profession, as we have seen was common
among our early merchant sailors, and when the Revolution broke out was
living comfortably in his own mansion in Providence. He enlisted in
Washington's army, but left it to become a privateer; and from that
service he stepped to the quarter-deck of a man-of-war. This was not an
uncommon line of development for the early privateersmen; and, indeed, it
was not unusual to find navy officers, temporarily without commands,
taking a cruise or two as privateers, until Congress should provide more
ships for the regular service--a system which did not tend to make a
Congress, which was niggardly at best, hasten to provide public vessels
for work which was being reasonably well done at private expense. As a
result of this system, we find such famous naval names as Decatur, Porter,
Hopkins, Preble, Barry, and Barney also figuring in the lists of
privateersmen. Talbot's first notable exploit was clearing New York harbor
of several British men-of-war by the use of fire-ships. Washington, with
his army, was then encamped at Harlem Heights, and the British ships were
in the Hudson River menacing his flank. Talbot, in a fire-ship, well
loaded with combustibles, dropped down the river and made for the biggest
of the enemy's fleet, the "Asia." Though quickly discovered and made the
target of the enemy's battery, he held his vessel on her course until
fairly alongside of and entangled with the "Asia," when the fuses were
lighted and the volcanic craft burst into roaring flames from stem to
stern. So rapid was the progress of the flames that Talbot and his
companions could scarcely escape with their lives from the conflagration
they had themselves started, and he lay for days, badly burned and unable
to see, in a little log hut on the Jersey shore. The British ships were
not destroyed; but, convinced that the neighborhood was unsafe for them,
they dropped down the bay; so the end sought for was attained. In 1779
Talbot was given command of the sloop "Argo," of 100 tons; "a mere
shallop, like a clumsy Albany sloop," says his biographer. Sixty men from
the army, most of whom had served afloat, were given him for crew, and he
set out to clear Long Island Sound of Tory privateers; for the loyalists
in New York were quite as avid for spoils as the New England
Revolutionists. On his second cruise he took seven prizes, including two
of these privateers. One of these was a 300-ton ship, vastly superior to
the "Argo" in armament and numbers, and the battle was a fierce one.
Nearly every man on the quarter-deck of the "Argo" was killed or wounded;
the speaking trumpet in Talbot's hand was pierced by two bullets, and a
cannon-ball carried away the tail of his coat. The damages sustained in
this battle were scarce repaired when another British privateer appeared,
and Talbot again went into action and took her, though of scarce half her
size. In all this little "Argo"--which, by the way, belonged to Nicholas
Low, of New York, an ancestor of the eminent Seth Low--took twelve prizes.
Her commander was finally captured and sent first to the infamous "Jersey"
prison-ship, and afterward to the Old Mill Prison in England.


The "Jersey" prison-ship was not an uncommon lot for the bold
privateersman, who, when once consigned to it, found that the reward of a
sea-rover was not always wealth and pleasure. A Massachusetts
privateersman left on record a contemporary account of the sufferings of
himself and his comrades in this pestilential hulk, which may well be
condensed here to show some of the perils that the adventurers dared when
they took to the sea.

[Illustration: THE PRISON SHIP "JERSEY".]

After about one-third of the captives made with this writer had been
seized and carried away to serve against their country on British
war-ships, the rest were conveyed to the "Jersey," which had been
originally a 74-gun ship, then cut down to a hulk and moored at the
Wallabout, at that time a lonely and deserted place on the Long Island
shore, now about the center of the Brooklyn river front. "I found myself,"
writes the captive, "in a loathsome prison among a collection of the most
wretched and disgusting objects I ever beheld in human form. Here was a
motley crew covered with rags and filth, visages pallid with disease,
emaciated with hunger and anxiety, and retaining hardly a trace of their
original appearance.... The first day we could obtain no food, and seldom
on the second could prisoners secure it in season for cooking it. Each
prisoner received one-third as much as was allotted to a tar in the
British navy. Our bill of fare was as follows: On Sunday, one pound of
biscuit, one pound of pork, and half a pint of peas; Monday, one pound of
biscuit, one pint of oatmeal, and two ounces of butter; Tuesday, one pound
of biscuit and two pounds of salt beef, etc., etc. If this food had been
of good quality and properly cooked, as we had no labor to perform, it
would have kept us comfortable; but all our food appeared to be damaged.
As for the pork, we were cheated out of more than half of it, and when it
was obtained one would have judged from its motley hues, exhibiting the
consistency and appearance of variegated fancy soap, that it was the flesh
of the porpoise or sea-hog, and had been an inhabitant of the ocean rather
than the sty. The peas were about as digestible as grape-shot; and the
butter--had it not been for its adhesive properties to retain together the
particles of biscuit that had been so riddled by the worms as to lose all
their attraction of cohesion, we should not have considered it a desirable
addition to our viands. The flour and oatmeal were sour, and the suet
might have been nosed the whole length of our ship. Many times since, when
I have seen in the country a large kettle of potatoes and pumpkins
steaming over the fire to satisfy the appetite of some farmer's swine, I
have thought of our destitute and starved condition, and what a luxury we
should have considered the contents of that kettle aboard the 'Jersey.'...
About two hours before sunset orders were given the prisoners to carry all
their things below; but we were permitted to remain above until we retired
for the night into our unhealthy and crowded dungeons. At sunset our ears
were saluted with the insulting and hateful sound from our keepers of
'Down, rebels, down,' and we were hurried below, the hatchways fastened
over us, and we were left to pass the night amid the accumulated horrors
of sighs and groans, of foul vapor, a nauseous and putrid atmosphere, in a
stifled and almost suffocating heat.... When any of the prisoners had
died during the night, their bodies were brought to the upper deck in the
morning and placed upon the gratings. If the deceased had owned a blanket,
any prisoner might sew it around the corpse; and then it was lowered, with
a rope tied round the middle, down the side of the ship into a boat. Some
of the prisoners were allowed to go on shore under a guard to perform the
labor of interment. In a bank near the Wallabout, a hole was excavated in
the sand, in which the body was put, then slightly covered. Many bodies
would, in a few days after this mockery of a burial, be exposed nearly
bare by the action of the elements."

Such was, indeed, the end of many of the most gallant of the Revolutionary
privateersmen; but squalid and cruel as was the fate of these
unfortunates, it had no effect in deterring others from seeking fortune in
the same calling. In 1775-76 there were commissioned 136 vessels, with
1360 guns; in 1777, 73 vessels, with 730 guns; in 1778, 115 privateers,
with a total of 1150 guns; in 1779, 167 vessels, with 2505 guns; in 1780,
228 vessels, with 3420 guns; in 1781, 449 vessels, with 6735 (the
high-water mark): and in 1782, 323 vessels, with 4845 guns. Moreover, the
vessels grew in size and efficiency, until toward the latter end of the
war they were in fact well-equipped war-vessels, ready to give a good
account of themselves in a fight with a British frigate, or even to engage
a shore battery and cut out prizes from a hostile harbor. It is, in fact,
a striking evidence of the gallantry and the patriotism of the
privateersmen that they did not seek to evade battle with the enemy's
armed forces. Their business was, of course, to earn profits for the
merchants who had fitted them out, and profits were most easily earned by
preying upon inferior or defenseless vessels. But the spirit of the war
was strong upon many of them, and it is not too much to say that the
privateers were handled as gallantly and accepted unfavorable odds in
battle as readily as could any men-of-war. Their ravages upon British
commerce plunged all commercial England into woe. The war had hardly
proceeded two years when it was formally declared in the House of Commons
that the losses to American privateers amounted to seven hundred and
thirty-three ships, of a value of over $11,000,000. Mr. Maclay estimates
from this that "our amateur man-of-war's men averaged more than four
prizes each," while some took twenty and one ship twenty-eight in a single
cruise. Nearly eleven hundred prisoners were taken with the captured
ships. While there are no complete figures for the whole period of the war
obtainable, it is not to be believed that quite so high a record was
maintained, for dread of privateers soon drove British shipping into their
harbors, whence they put forth, if at all, under the protection of naval
convoys. Nevertheless, the number of captures must have continued great
for some years; for, as is shown by the foregoing figures, the spoils were
sufficiently attractive to cause a steady increase in the number of
privateers until the last year of the war.

There followed dull times for the privateersmen. Most of them returned to
their ordinary avocations of sea or shore--became peaceful sailors, or
fishermen, or ship-builders, or farmers once again. But in so great a body
of men who had lived sword in hand for years, and had fattened on the
spoils of the commerce of a great nation, it was inevitable that there
should be many utterly unable to return to the humdrum life of honest
industry. Many drifted down to that region of romance and outlawry, dear
to the heart of the romantic boy, the Spanish Main, and there, as pirates
in a small way and as buccaneers, pursued the predatory life. For a time
the war which sprung up between England and France seemed to promise these
turbulent spirits congenial and lawful occupation. France, it will be
remembered, sent the Citizen Genet over to the United States to take
advantage of the supposed gratitude of the American people for aid during
the Revolution to fit out privateers and to make our ports bases of
operation against the British. It must be admitted that Genet would have
had an easy task, had he had but the people to reckon with. He found
privateering veterans by the thousand eager to take up that manner of life
once more. In all the seacoast towns were merchants quite as ready for
profitable ventures in privateering under the French flag as under their
own, provided they could be assured of immunity from governmental
prosecution. And, finally, he found the masses of the people fired with
enthusiasm for the principles of the French Revolution, and eager to show
sympathy for a people who, like themselves, had thrown off the yoke of
kings. The few privateers that Minister Genet fitted out before President
Washington became aroused to his infraction of the principles of
neutrality were quickly manned, and began sending in prizes almost before
they were out of sight of the American shore. The crisis came, however,
when one of these ships actually captured a British merchantman in
Delaware Bay. Then the administration made a vigorous protest, demanded
the release of the vessels taken, arrested two American sailors who had
shipped on the privateer, and broke up at once the whole project of the
Frenchman. It was a critical moment in our national history, for, between
France and England abroad, the Federalist and Republican at home, the
President had to steer a course beset with reefs. The maritime community
was not greatly in sympathy with his suppression of the French minister's
plans, and with some reason, for British privateers had been molesting our
vessels all along our coasts and distant waters. It was a time when no
merchant could tell whether the stout ship he had sent out was even then
discharging her cargo at her destination, or tied up as a prize in some
British port. We Americans are apt to regard with some pride Washington's
stout adherence to the most rigid letter of the law of neutrality in those
troublous times, and our historians have been at some pains to impress us
with the impropriety of Jefferson's scarcely concealed liking for France;
but the fact is that no violation of the neutrality law which Genet sought
was more glaring than those continually committed by Great Britain, and
which our Government failed to resent. In time France, moved partly by
pique because of our refusal to aid her, and partly by contempt for a
nation that failed to protect its ships against British aggression, began
itself to prey upon our commerce. Then the state of our maritime trade was
a dismal one. Our ships were the prey of both France and England; but
since we were neutral, the right of fitting out privateers of our own was
denied our shipping interests. We were ground between the upper and nether

But, as so often happens, persecution bred the spirit and created the
weapons for its correction. When it was found that every American vessel
was the possible spoil of any French or English cruiser or privateer that
she might encounter; that our Government was impotent to protect its
seamen; that neither our neutrality rights nor the neutrality of ports in
which our vessels lay commanded the respect of the two great belligerents,
the Yankee shipping merchants set about meeting the situation as best they
might. They did not give up their effort to secure the world's trade--that
was never an American method of procedure. But they built their ships so
as to be able to run away from anything they might meet; and they manned
and armed them so as to fight if fighting became necessary. So the
American merchantman became a long, sharp, clipper-built craft that could
show her heels to almost anything afloat; moderate of draft, so that she
could run into lagoons and bays where no warship could follow. They
mounted from four to twelve guns, and carried an armory of rifles and
cutlasses which their men were well trained to handle. Accordingly, when
the depredations of foreign nations became such as could not longer be
borne, and after President Jefferson's plan of punishing Europe for
interfering with our commerce by laying an embargo which kept our ships at
home had failed, war was declared with England; and from every port on the
Atlantic seaboard privateers--ships as fit for their purpose as though
specially built for it--swarmed forth seeking revenge and spoils. Their
very names told of the reasons of the American merchantmen for
complaint--the reasons why they rejoiced that they were now to have their
turn. There were the "Orders-in-Council," the "Right-of-Search," the
"Fair-trader," the "Revenge." Some were mere pilot-boats, with a Long Tom
amidships and a crew of sixty men; others were vessels of 300 tons, with
an armament and crew like a man-of-war. Before the middle of July, 1812,
sixty-five such privateers had sailed, and the British merchantmen were
scudding for cover like a covey of frightened quail.

The War of 1812 was won, so far as it was won at all, on the ocean. In the
land operations from the very beginning the Americans came off second
best; and the one battle of importance in which they were the victors--the
battle of New Orleans--was without influence upon the result, having been
fought after the treaty of peace had been signed at Ghent. But on the
ocean the honors were all taken by the Americans, and no small share of
these honors fell to the private armed navy of privateers. As the war
progressed these vessels became in type more like the regular
sloop-of-war, for the earlier craft, while useful before the British began
sending out their merchantmen under convoy, proved to be too small to
fight and too light to escape destruction from one well-aimed broadside.
The privateer of 1813 was usually about 115 to 120 feet long on the
spar-deck, 31 feet beam, and rigged as a brig or ship. They were always
fast sailers, and notable for sailing close to the wind. While armed to
fight, if need be, that was not their purpose, and a privateersman who
gained the reputation among owners of being a fighting captain was likely
to go long without a command. Accordingly, these vessels were lightly
built and over-rigged (according to the ideas of British naval
construction), for speed was the great desideratum. They were at once the
admiration and the envy of the British, who imitated their models without
success and tried to utilize them for cruisers when captured, but
destroyed their sailing qualities by altering their rig and strengthening
their hulls at the expense of lightness and symmetry.

I have already referred to Michael Scott's famous story of sea life, "Tom
Cringle's Log," which, though in form a work of fiction, contains so many
accounts of actual happenings, and expresses so fully the ideas of the
British naval officer of that time, that it may well be quoted in a work
of historical character. Tom Cringle, after detailing with a lively
description the capture of a Yankee privateer, says that she was assigned
to him for his next command. He had seen her under weigh, had admired her
trim model, her tapering spars, her taut cordage, and the swiftness with
which she came about and reached to windward. He thus describes the change
the British outfitters made in her:

    "When I had last seen her she was the most beautiful little
    craft, both in hull and rigging, that ever delighted the eyes of
    a sailor; but the dock yard riggers and carpenters had fairly
    bedeviled her at least so far as appearances went. First, they
    had replaced the light rail on her gunwale by heavy, solid
    bulwarks four feet high, surmounted by hammock nettings at least
    another foot; so that the symmetrical little vessel, that
    formerly floated on the foam light as a seagull, now looked like
    a clumsy, dish-shaped Dutch dogger. Her long, slender wands of
    masts, which used to swing about as if there were neither
    shrouds nor stays to support them, were now as taut and stiff as
    church-steeples, with four heavy shrouds of a side, and stays,
    and back-stays, and the devil knows what all."

It is a curious fact that no nation ever succeeded in imitating these
craft. The French went into privateering without in the least disturbing
the equanimity of the British shipowner; but the day the Yankee privateers
took the sea a cry went up from the docks and warehouses of Liverpool and
London that reverberated among the arches of Westminster Hall. The
newspapers were loud in their attacks upon the admiralty authorities. Said
the _Morning Chronicle_ in 1814:

    "That the whole coast of Ireland, from Wexford round by Cape
    Clear to Carrickfergus, should have been for above a month under
    the unresisted domination of a few petty fly-by-nights from the
    blockaded ports of the United States is a grievance equally
    intolerable and disgraceful."

This wail may have resulted from the pleasantry of one Captain Boyle, of
the privateer "Chasseur," a famous Baltimore clipper, mounting sixteen
guns, with a complement of one hundred officers, seamen, and marines.
Captain Boyle, after exhausting, as it seemed to him, the possibilities of
the West Indies for excitement and profit, took up the English channel for
his favorite cruising-ground. One of the British devices of that day for
the embarrassment of an enemy was what is called a "paper blockade." That
is to say, when it appeared that the blockading fleet had too few vessels
to make the blockade really effective by watching each port, the admiral
commanding would issue a proclamation that such and such ports were in a
state of blockade, and then withdraw his vessels from those ports; but
still claim the right to capture any neutral vessels which he might
encounter bound thither. This practise is now universally interdicted by
international law, which declares that a blockade, to be binding upon
neutrals, must be effective. But in those days England made her own
international law--for the sea, at any rate--and the paper blockade was
one of her pet weapons. Captain Boyle satirized this practise by drawing
up a formal proclamation of blockade of all the ports of Great Britain and
Ireland, and sending it to Lloyds, where it was actually posted. His
action was not wholly a jest, either, for he did blockade the port of St.
Vincent so effectively for five days that the inhabitants sent off a
pitiful appeal to Admiral Durham to send a frigate to their relief.

It was at this time, too, that the _Annual Register_ recorded as "a most
mortifying reflection" that, with a navy of more than one thousand ships
in commission, "it was not safe for a British vessel to sail without
convoy from one part of the English or Irish Channel to another."
Merchants held meetings, insurance corporations and boards of trade
memorialized the government on the subject; the shipowners and merchants
of Glasgow, in formal resolutions, called the attention of the admiralty
to the fact that "in the short space of twenty-four months above eight
hundred vessels have been captured by the power whose maritime strength we
have hitherto impolitically held in contempt." It was, indeed, a real
blockade of the British Isles that was effected by these irregular and
pigmy vessels manned by the sailors of a nation that the British had long
held in high scorn. The historian Henry Adams, without attempting to give
any complete list of captures made on the British coasts in 1814, cites
these facts:

    "The 'Siren,' a schooner of less than 200 tons, with seven guns
    and seventy-five men, had an engagement with His Majesty's
    cutter 'Landrail,' of four guns, as the cutter was crossing the
    Irish sea with dispatches. The 'Landrail' was captured, after a
    somewhat smart action, and was sent to America, but was
    recaptured on the way. The victory was not remarkable, but the
    place of capture was very significant, and it happened July 12
    only a fortnight after Blakely captured the 'Reindeer' farther
    westward. The 'Siren' was but one of many privateers in those
    waters. The 'Governor Tompkins' burned fourteen vessels
    successively in the British Channel. The 'Young Wasp,' of
    Philadelphia, cruised nearly six months about the coasts of
    England and Spain, and in the course of West India commerce. The
    'Harpy,' of Baltimore, another large vessel of some 350 tons and
    fourteen guns, cruised nearly three months off the coast of
    Ireland, in the British Channel, and in the Bay of Biscay, and
    returned safely to Boston filled with plunder, including, as was
    said, upward of £100,000 in British treasury notes and bills of
    exchange. The 'Leo,' a Boston schooner of about 200 tons, was
    famous for its exploits in these waters, but was captured at
    last by the frigate 'Tiber,' after a chase of about eleven
    hours. The 'Mammoth,' a Baltimore schooner of nearly 400 tons,
    was seventeen days off Cape Clear, the southernmost point of
    Ireland. The most mischievous of all was the 'Prince of
    Neufchâtel,' New York, which chose the Irish Channel as its
    favorite haunt, where during the summer it made ordinary
    coasting traffic impossible."

The vessels enumerated by Mr. Adams were by no means among the more famous
of the privateers of the War of 1812; yet when we come to examine their
records we find something notable or something romantic in the career of
each--a fact full of suggestion of the excitement of the privateersman's
life. The "Leo," for example, at this time was under command of Captain
George Coggeshall, the foremost of all the privateers, and a man who so
loved his calling that he wrote an excellent book about it. Under an
earlier commander she made several most profitable cruises, and when
purchased by Coggeshall's associates was lying in a French port. France
and England were then at peace, and it may be that the French remembered
the way in which we had suppressed the Citizen Genet. At any rate, they
refused to let Coggeshall take his ship out of the harbor with more than
one gun--a Long Tom--aboard. Nothing daunted, he started out with this
armament, to which some twenty muskets were added, on a privateering
cruise in the channel, which was full of British cruisers. Even the Long
Tom proved untrustworthy, so recourse was finally had to carrying the
enemy by boarding; and in this way four valuable prizes were taken, of
which three were sent home with prize crews. But a gale carried away the
"Leo's" foremast, and she fell a prey to an English frigate which happened
along untimely.

The "Mammoth" was emphatically a lucky ship. In seven weeks she took
seventeen merchantmen, paying for herself several times over. Once she
fought a lively battle with a British transport carrying four hundred men,
but prudently drew off. True, the Government was paying a bonus of
twenty-five dollars a head for prisoners; but cargoes were more valuable.
Few of the privateers troubled to send in their prisoners, if they could
parole and release them. In all, the "Mammoth" captured twenty-one
vessels, and released on parole three hundred prisoners.

Of all the foregoing vessels, the "Prince de Neufchátel" was the most
famous. She was an hermaphrodite brig of 310 tons, mounting 17 guns. She
was a "lucky" vessel, several times escaping a vastly superior force and
bringing into port, for the profit of her owners, goods valued at
$3,000,000, besides large quantities of specie. Her historic achievement,
however, was beating off the British frigate "Endymion," off Nantucket,
one dark night, after a battle concerning which a British naval historian,
none too friendly to Americans, wrote: "So determined and effective a
resistance did great credit to the American captain and his crew." The
privateer had a prize in tow, by which, of course, her movements were
much hampered, for her captain was not inclined to save himself at the
expense of his booty. But, more than this, she had thirty-seven prisoners
aboard, while her own crew was sorely reduced by manning prizes. The night
being calm, the British attempted to take the ship by boarding from small
boats, for what reason does not readily appear, since the vessels were
within range of each other, and the frigate's superior metal could
probably have reduced the Americans to subjection. Instead, however, of
opening fire with his broadside, the enemy sent out boarding parties in
five boats. Their approach was detected on the American vessel, and a
rapid fire with small arms and cannon opened upon them, to which they paid
no attention, but pressed doggedly on. In a moment the boats surrounded
the privateer--one on each bow, one on each side, and one under the
stern--and the boarders began to swarm up the sides like cats. It was a
bloody hand-to-hand contest that followed, in which every weapon, from
cutlass and clubbed musket down to bare hands, was employed. Heavy shot,
which had been piled up in readiness on deck, were thrown into the boats
in an effort to sink them. Hundreds of loaded muskets were ranged along
the rail, so that the firing was not interrupted to reload. Time and again
the British renewed their efforts to board, but were hurled back by the
American defenders. A few who succeeded in reaching the decks were cut
down before they had time to profit by their brief advantage. Once only
did it seem that the ship was in danger. Then the assailants, who
outnumbered the Americans four to one, had reached the deck over the bows
in such numbers that they were gradually driving the defenders aft. Every
moment more men came swarming over the side; and as the Americans ran from
all parts of the ship to meet and overpower those who had already reached
the deck, new ways were opened for others to clamber aboard. The situation
was critical; but was saved by Captain Ordronaux by a desperate expedient,
and one which it is clear would have availed nothing had not his men known
him for a man of fierce determination, ready to fulfil any desperate
threat. Seizing a lighted match from one of the gunners, he ran to the
hatch immediately over the magazine, and called out to his men that if
they retreated farther he would blow up the ship, its defenders, and its
assailants. The men rallied. They swung a cannon in board so that it
commanded the deck, and swept away the invaders with a storm of grape. In
a few minutes the remaining British were driven back to their boats. The
battle had lasted less than half an hour when the British called for
quarter, the smoke cleared away, the cries of combat ceased, and both
parties were able to count their losses. The crew of the privateer had
numbered thirty-seven, of whom seven were killed and twenty-four wounded.
The British had advanced to the attack with a force of one hundred and
twenty-eight, in five boats. Three of the boats drifted away empty, one
was sunk, and one was captured. Of the attacking force not one escaped;
thirty were made prisoners, many of them sorely wounded, and the rest were
either killed or swept away by the tide and drowned. The privateers
actually had more prisoners than they had men of their own. Some of the
prisoners were kept towing in a launch at the stern, and, by way of
strategy, Captain Ordronaux set two boys to playing a fife and drum and
stamping about in a sequestered part of his decks as though he had a heavy
force aboard. Only by sending the prisoners ashore under parole was the
danger of an uprising among the captives averted.


In the end the "Prince de Neufchátel" was captured by a British squadron,
but only after a sudden squall had carried away several of her spars and
made her helpless.

As the war progressed it became the custom of British merchants to send
out their ships only in fleets, convoyed by one or two men-of-war, a
system that, of course, could be adopted only by nations very rich in
war-ships. The privateers' method of meeting this was to cruise in
couples, a pair of swift, light schooners, hunting the prize together.
When the convoy was encountered, both would attack, picking out each its
prey. The convoys were usually made up with a man-of-war at the head of
the column, and as this vessel would make sail after one of the
privateers, the other would rush in at some point out of range, and cut
out its prize. When the British began sending out two ships of war with
each convoy, the privateers cruised in threes, and the same tactics were

But the richest prizes won by the privateer were the single going ships,
called "running ships," that were prepared to defend themselves, and
scorned to wait for convoy. These were generally great packets trading to
the Indies, whose cargoes were too valuable to be delayed until some
man-of-war could be found for their protection. They were heavily armed,
often, indeed, equaling a frigate in their batteries and the size of their
crews. But, although to attack one of these meant a desperate fight, the
Yankee privateer always welcomed the chance, for besides a valuable cargo,
they were apt to carry a considerable sum in specie. The capture of one of
these vessels, too, was the cause of annoyance to the enemy
disproportionate to even their great value to their captors, for they not
only carried the Royal Mail, but were usually the agencies by which the
dispatches of the British general were forwarded. Mail and dispatches,
alike, were promptly thrown overboard by their captors.

In the diary of a privateersman of Revolutionary days is to be found the
story of the capture of an Indiaman which may well be reprinted as

[Illustration: "I THINK SHE IS A HEAVY SHIP."]

"As the fog cleared up, we perceived her to be a large ship under English
colors, to the windward, standing athwart our starboard bow. As she came
down upon us, she appeared as large as a seventy-four; and we were not
deceived respecting her size, for it afterwards proved that she was an old
East Indiaman, of 1100 tons burden, fitted out as a letter of marque for
the West India trade, mounted with thirty-two guns, and furnished with a
complement of one hundred and fifty men. She was called the 'Admiral
Duff,' commanded by Richard Strange, from St. Christopher and St.
Eustachia, laden with sugar and tobacco, and bound to London. I was
standing near our first lieutenant, Mr. Little, who was calmly examining
the enemy as she approached, with his spy-glass, when Captain Williams
stepped up and asked his opinion of her. The lieutenant applied the glass
to his eye again and took a deliberate look in silence, and replied: 'I
think she is a heavy ship, and that we shall have some hard fighting, but
of one thing I am certain, she is not a frigate; if she were, she would
not keep yawing and showing her broadsides as she does; she would show
nothing but her head and stern; we shall have the advantage of her, and
the quicker we get alongside the better.' Our captain ordered English
colors to be hoisted, and the ship to be cleared for action.

"The enemy approached 'till within musket-shot of us. The two ships were
so near to each other that we could distinguish the officers from the men;
and I particularly noticed the captain on the gangway, a noble-looking
man, having a large gold-laced cocked hat on his head, and a
speaking-trumpet in his hand. Lieutenant Little possessed a powerful
voice, and he was directed to hail the enemy; at the same time the
quartermaster was ordered to stand ready to haul down the English flag and
to hoist up the American. Our lieutenant took his station on the after
part of the starboard gangway, and elevating his trumpet, exclaimed:
'Hullo. Whence come you?'

"'From Jamaica, bound to London,' was the answer.

"'What is the ship's name?' inquired the lieutenant.

"'The "Admiral Duff",' was the reply.

"The English captain then thought it his turn to interrogate, and asked
the name of our ship. Lieutenant Little, in order to gain time, put the
trumpet to his ear, pretending not to hear the question. During the short
interval thus gained, Captain Williams called upon the gunner to
ascertain how many guns could be brought to bear upon the enemy. 'Five,'
was the answer. 'Then fire, and shift the colors,' were the orders. The
cannons poured forth their deadly contents, and, with the first flash, the
American flag took the place of the British ensign at our masthead.

"The compliment was returned in the form of a full broadside, and the
action commenced. I was stationed on the edge of the quarter-deck, to
sponge and load a six-pounder; this position gave me a fine opportunity to
see the whole action. Broadsides were exchanged with great rapidity for
nearly an hour; our fire, as we afterward ascertained, produced a terrible
slaughter among the enemy, while our loss was as yet trifling. I happened
to be looking for a moment toward the main deck, when a large shot came
through our ship's side and killed a midshipman. At this moment a shot
from one of our marines killed the man at the wheel of the enemy's ship,
and, his place not being immediately supplied, she was brought alongside
of us in such a manner as to bring her bowsprit directly across our
forecastle. Not knowing the cause of this movement, we supposed it to be
the intention of the enemy to board us. Our boarders were ordered to be
ready with their pikes to resist any such attempt, while our guns on the
main deck were sending death and destruction among the crew of the enemy.
Their principal object now seemed to be to get liberated from us, and by
cutting away some of their rigging, they were soon clear, and at the
distance of a pistol shot.

"The action was then renewed, with additional fury; broadside for
broadside continued with unabated vigor; at times, so near to each other
that the muzzles of our guns came almost in contact, then again at such a
distance as to allow of taking deliberate aim. The contest was
obstinately continued by the enemy, although we could perceive that great
havoc was made among them, and that it was with much difficulty that their
men were compelled to remain at their quarters. A charge of grape-shot
came in at one of our portholes, which dangerously wounded four or five of
our men, among whom was our third lieutenant, Mr. Little, brother to the

"The action had now lasted about an hour and a half, and the fire from the
enemy began to slacken, when we suddenly discovered that all the sails on
her mainmast were enveloped in a blaze. Fire spread with amazing rapidity,
and, running down the after rigging, it soon communicated with her
magazine, when her whole stern was blown off, and her valuable cargo
emptied into the sea. Our enemy's ship was now a complete wreck, though
she still floated, and the survivors were endeavoring to save themselves
in the only boat that had escaped the general destruction. The humanity of
our captain urged him to make all possible exertions to save the miserable
wounded and burned wretches, who were struggling for their lives in the
water. The ship of the enemy was greatly our superior in size, and lay
much higher out of the water. Our boats had been exposed to his fire, as
they were placed on spars between the fore and mainmasts during the
action, and had suffered considerable damage. The carpenters were ordered
to repair them with the utmost expedition, and we got them out in season
to take up fifty-five men, the greater part of whom had been wounded by
our shot, or burned when the powder-magazine exploded. Their limbs were
mutilated by all manner of wounds, while some were burned to such a degree
that the skin was nearly flayed from their bodies. Our surgeon and his
assistants had just completed the task of dressing the wounds of our own
crew, and then they directed their attention to the wounded of the enemy.
Several of them suffered the amputation of their limbs, five of them died
of their wounds, and were committed to their watery graves. From the
survivors we learned that the British commander had frequently expressed a
desire to come in contact with a 'Yankee frigate' during his voyage, that
he might have a prize to carry to London. Poor fellow. He little thought
of losing his ship and his life in an engagement with a ship so much
inferior to his own--with an enemy upon whom he looked with so much

But most notable of all the battles fought by privateersmen in the War of
1812, was the defense of the brig "General Armstrong," in the harbor of
Fayal, in September, 1814. This famous combat has passed into history, not
only because of the gallant fight made by the privateer, but because the
three British men-of-war to whom she gave battle, were on their way to
cooperate with Packenham at New Orleans, and the delay due to the injuries
they received, made them too late to aid in that expedition, and may have
thus contributed to General Jackson's success.

The "General Armstrong" had always been a lucky craft, and her exploits in
the capture of merchantmen, no less than the daring of her commander in
giving battle to ships-of-war which he encountered, had won her the
peculiar hate of the British navy. At the very beginning of her career,
when in command of Captain Guy R. Champlin, she fought a British frigate
for more than an hour, and inflicted such grave damage that the enemy was
happy enough to let her slip away when the wind freshened. On another
occasion she engaged a British armed ship of vastly superior strength, off
the Surinam River, and forced her to run ashore. Probably the most
valuable prize taken in the war fell to her guns--the ship "Queen," with a
cargo invoiced at £90,000. Indeed, such had been her audacity, and so many
her successes, that the British were eager for her capture or destruction,
above that of any other privateer.

In September, 1814, the "General Armstrong," now under command of Captain
Samuel G. Reid, was at anchor in the harbor at Fayal, a port of Portugal,
when her commander saw a British war-brig come nosing her way into the
harbor. Soon after another vessel appeared, and then a third, larger than
the first two, and all flying the British ensign. Captain Reid immediately
began to fear for his safety. It was true that he was in a neutral port,
and under the law of nations exempt from attack, but the British had never
manifested that extreme respect for neutrality that they exacted of
President Washington when France tried to fit out privateers in our ports.
More than once they had attacked and destroyed our vessels in neutral
ports, and, indeed, it seemed that the British test of neutrality was
whether the nation whose flag was thus affronted, was able or likely to
resent it. Portugal was not such a nation.

All this was clear to Captain Reid, and when he saw a rapid signaling
begun between the three vessels of the enemy, he felt confident that he
was to be attacked. He had already discovered that the strangers were the
74-gun ship of the line "Plantagenet," the 38-gun frigate "Rota," and the
18-gun war-brig "Carnation," comprising a force against which he could not
hope to win a victory. The night came on clear, with a bright moon, and as
the American captain saw boats from the two smaller vessels rallying about
the larger one, he got out his sweeps and began moving his vessel inshore,
so as to get under the guns of the decrepit fort, with which Portugal
guarded her harbor. At this, four boats crowded with men, put out from the
side of the British ship, and made for the privateer, seeing which, Reid
dropped anchor and put springs on his cables, so as to keep his broadside
to bear on the enemy as they approached. Then he shouted to the British,
warning them to keep off, or he would fire. They paid no attention to the
warning, but pressed on, when he opened a brisk fire upon them. For a time
there was a lively interchange of shots, but the superior marksmanship of
the Americans soon drove the enemy out of range with heavy casualties. The
British retreated to their ships with a hatred for the Yankee privateer
even more bitter than that which had impelled them to the lawless attack,
and a fiercer determination for her destruction.

It is proper to note, that after the battle was fought, and the British
commander had calmly considered the possible consequences of his violation
of the neutrality laws, he attempted to make it appear that the Americans
themselves were the aggressors. His plea, as made in a formal report to
the admiralty, was that he had sent four boats to discover the character
of the American vessel; that they, upon hailing her, had been fired upon
and suffered severe loss, and that accordingly he felt that the affront to
the British flag could only be expiated by the destruction of the vessel.
The explanation was not even plausible, for the British commander,
elsewhere in his report, acknowledged that he was perfectly informed as to
the identity of the vessel, and even had this not been the case, it is not
customary to send four boats heavily laden with armed men, merely to
discover the character of a ship in a friendly port.

The withdrawal of the British boats gave Captain Reid time to complete
the removal of his vessel to a point underneath the guns of the Portuguese
battery. This gave him a position better fitted for defense, although his
hope that the Portuguese would defend the neutrality of their port, was
destined to disappointment, for not a shot was fired from the battery.


Toward midnight the attack was resumed, and by this time the firing within
the harbor had awakened the people of the town, who crowded down to the
shore to see the battle. The British, in explanation of the reverse which
they suffered, declared that all the Americans in Fayal armed themselves,
and from the shore supplemented the fire from the "General Armstrong."
Captain Reid, however, makes no reference to this assistance. In all, some
four hundred men joined in the second attack. Twelve boats were in line,
most of them with a howitzer mounted in the bow. The Americans used their
artillery on these craft as they approached, and inflicted great damage
before the enemy were in a position to board. The British vessels, though
within easy gun-fire, dared not use their heavy cannon, lest they should
injure their own men, and furthermore, for fear that the shot would fall
into the town. The midnight struggle was a desperate one, the enemy fairly
surrounding the "General Armstrong," and striving to reach her decks at
every point. But though greatly outnumbered, the defenders were able to
maintain their position, and not a boarder succeeded in reaching the
decks. The struggle continued for nearly three-quarters of an hour, after
which the British again drew off. Two boats filled with dead and dying
men, were captured by the Americans, the unhurt survivors leaping
overboard and swimming ashore. The British report showed, that in these
two attacks there were about one hundred and forty of the enemy killed,
and one hundred and thirty wounded. The Americans had lost only two killed
and seven wounded, but the ship was left in no condition for future
defense. Many of the guns were dismounted, and the Long Tom, which had
been the mainstay of the defense, was capsized. Captain Reid and his
officers worked with the utmost energy through the night, trying to fit
the vessel for a renewal of the combat in the morning, but at three
o'clock he was called ashore by a note from the American consul. Here he
was informed that the Portuguese Governor had made a personal appeal to
the British commander for a cessation of the attack, but that it had been
refused, with the statement that the vessel would be destroyed by
cannon-fire from the British ships in the morning. Against an attack of
this sort it was, of course, futile for the "General Armstrong" to
attempt to offer defense, and accordingly Captain Reid landed his men with
their personal effects, and soon after the British began fire in the
morning, scuttled the ship and abandoned her. He led his men into the
interior, seized on an abandoned convent, and fortifying it, prepared to
resist capture. No attempt, however, was made to pursue him, the British
commander contenting himself with the destruction of the privateer. For
nearly a week the British ships were delayed in the harbor, burying their
dead and making repairs. When they reached New Orleans, the army which
they had been sent to reenforce, had met Jackson on the plains of
Chalmette, and had been defeated. The price paid for the "General
Armstrong" was, perhaps, the heaviest of the war. The British commander
seemed to appreciate this fact, for every effort was made to keep the news
of the battle from becoming known in England, and when complete
concealment was no longer possible, an official report was given out that
minimized the British loss, magnified the number of the Americans, and
totally mis-stated the facts bearing on the violation of the neutrality of
the Portuguese port. Captain Reid, however, was made a hero by his
countrymen. A Portuguese ship took him and his crew to Amelia Island,
whence they made their way to New York. Poughkeepsie voted him a sword.
Richmond citizens gave him a complimentary dinner, at which were drunk
such toasts as: "The private cruisers of the United States--whose
intrepidity has pierced the enemy's channels and bearded the lion in his
den"; "Neutral Ports--whenever the tyrants of the ocean dare to invade
these sanctuaries, may they meet with an 'Essex' and an 'Armstrong'"; and
"Captain Reid--his valor has shed a blaze of renown upon the character of
our seamen, and won for himself a laurel of eternal bloom." The
newspapers of the times rang with eulogies of Reid, and anecdotes of his
seafaring experiences. But after all, as McMaster finely says in his
history: "The finest compliment of all was the effort made in England to
keep the details of the battle from the public, and the false report of
the British commander."

In finally estimating the effect upon the American fortunes in the War of
1812, of the privateers and their work, many factors must be taken into
consideration. At first sight it would seem that a system which gave the
services of five hundred ships and their crews to the task of annoying the
British, and inflicting damage upon their commerce without cost to the
American Government, must be wholly advantageous. We have already seen the
losses inflicted upon British commerce by our privateers reflected in the
rapidly increasing cost of marine insurance. While the statistics in the
possession of the Government are not complete, they show that twenty-five
hundred vessels at least were captured during the War of 1812 by these
privately-owned cruisers, and there can be no shadow of a doubt that the
loss inflicted upon British merchants, and the constant state of
apprehension for the safety of their vessels in which they were kept, very
materially aided in extending among them a willingness to see peace made
on almost any terms.

But this is the other side of the story: The prime purpose of the
privateer was to make money for its owners, its officers, and its crew.
The whole design and spirit of the calling was mercenary. It inflicted
damage on the enemy, but only incidentally to earning dividends for its
participants. If Government cruisers had captured twenty-five hundred
British vessels, those vessels would have been lost to the enemy forever.
But the privateer, seeking gains, tried to send them into port, however
dangerous such a voyage might be, and accordingly, rather more than a
third of them were recaptured by the enemy. We may note here in passing,
that one reason why the so-called Confederate privateers during our own
Civil War, did an amount of damage so disproportionate to their numbers,
was that they were not, in fact, privateers at all. They were commissioned
by the Confederate Government to inflict the greatest possible amount of
injury upon northern commerce, and accordingly, when Semmes or Maffitt
captured a United States vessel, he burned it on the spot. There was no
question of profit involved in the service of the "Alabama," the
"Florida," or the "Shenandoah," and they have been called privateers in
our histories, mainly because Northern writers have been loath to concede,
to what they called a rebel government, the right to equip and commission
regular men-of-war.

But to return to the American privateers of 1812. While, as I have pointed
out, there were many instances of enormous gains being made, it is
probable that the business as a whole, like all gambling businesses as a
whole, was not profitable. Some ships made lucky voyages, but there is on
record in the Navy Department a list of three hundred vessels that took
not one single prize in the whole year of 1813. The records of Congress
show that, as a whole, the business was not remunerative, because there
were constant appeals from people interested. In response to this
importunity, Congress at one time paid a bounty of twenty-five dollars a
head for all prisoners taken. At other times it reduced the import duties
on cargoes captured and landed by privateers. Indeed, it is estimated by a
careful student, that the losses to the Government in the way of direct
expenditures and remission of revenues through the privateering system,
amounted to a sum sufficient to have kept twenty sloops of war on the sea
throughout the period of hostilities, and there is little doubt that such
vessels could have actually accomplished more in the direction of
harassing the enemy than the privateers. A very grave objection to the
privateering system, however, was the fact that the promise of profit to
sailors engaged in it was so great, that all adventurous men flocked into
the service, so that it became almost impossible to maintain our army or
to man our ships. I have already quoted George Washington's objections to
the practise during the Revolution. During the War of 1812, some of our
best frigates were compelled to sail half manned, while it is even
declared that the loss of the "Chesapeake" to the "Shannon" was largely
due to the fact that her crew were discontented and preparing, as their
time of service was nearly up, to quit the Government service for
privateering. In a history of Marblehead, one of the famous old seafaring
towns of Massachusetts, it is declared that of nine hundred men of that
town who took part in the war, fifty-seven served in the army, one hundred
and twenty entered the navy, while seven hundred and twenty-six shipped on
the privateers. These figures afford a fair indication of the way in which
the regular branches of the service suffered by the competition of the
system of legalized piracy.

**Transcriber's Notes:
Page 180: Punctuation in diary normalized.
Page 184: change Washingon to Washington
Page 185: changed dicover to discover
Page 186: changed Portugese to Portuguese



A chapter in the story of the American sailor, which, though begun full an
hundred years ago, is not yet complete, is that which tells the narrative
of the search for the North Pole. It is a story of calm daring, of
indomitable pertinacity, of patient endurance of the most cruel suffering,
of heroic invitation to and acceptance of death. The story will be
completed only when the goal is won. Even as these words are being
written, American sailors are beleaguered in the frozen North, and others
are preparing to follow them thither, so that the narrative here set forth
must be accepted as only a partial story of a quest still being

In the private office of the President of the United States at Washington,
stands a massive oaken desk. It has been a passive factor in the making of
history, for at it have eight presidents sat, and papers involving almost
the life of the nation, have received the executive signature upon its
smooth surface. The very timbers of which it is built were concerned in
the making of history of another sort, for they were part of the frame of
the stout British ship "Resolute," which, after a long search in the Polar
regions for the hapless Sir John Franklin--of whom more hereafter--was
deserted by her crew in the Arctic pack, drifted twelve hundred miles in
the ice, and was then discovered and brought back home as good as new by
Captain Buddington of the stanch American whaler, "George and Henry." The
sympathies of all civilized peoples, and particularly of English-speaking
races, were at that time strongly stirred by the fate of Franklin and his
brave companions, and so Congress appropriated $40,000 for the purchase of
the vessel from the salvors, and her repair. Refitted throughout, she was
sent to England and presented to the Queen in 1856. Years later, when
broken up, the desk was made from her timbers and presented by order of
Victoria to the President of the United States, who at that time was
Rutherford B. Hayes. It stands now in the executive mansion, an enduring
memorial of one of the romances of a long quest full of romance--the
search for the North Pole.

In all ages, the minds of men of the exploring and colonizing nations,
have turned toward the tropics as the region of fabulous wealth, the field
for profitable adventure. "The wealth of the Ind," has passed into
proverb. Though exploration has shown that, it is the flinty North that
hides beneath its granite bosom the richest stores of mineral wealth,
almost four centuries of failure and disappointment were needed to rid
men's minds of the notion that the jungles and the tropical forests were
the most abundant hiding-places of gold and precious stones. The wild
beauty of the tropics, the cloudless skies, the tangled thickets, ever
green and rustling with a restless animal life, the content and
amiability of the natives, combined in a picture irresistibly attractive
to the adventurer. Surely where there was so much beauty, so much of
innocent joy in life, there must be the fountain of perpetual youth, there
must be gold, and diamonds, and sapphires--all those gewgaws, the worship
of which shows the lingering taint of barbarism in the civilized man, and
for which the English, Spanish, and Portuguese adventurers of three
centuries ago, were ready to sacrifice home and family, manhood, honor,
and life.

So it happened that in the early days of maritime adventure the course of
the hardy voyagers was toward the tropics, and they made of the Spanish
Main a sea of blood, while Pizzarro and Cortez, and after them the dreaded
buccaneers, sacked towns, betrayed, murdered, and outraged, destroyed an
ancient civilization and fairly blotted out a people, all in the mad
search for gold. Men only could have been guilty of such crimes, for man
along, among animals endowed with life, kills for the mere lust of

And yet, man alone stands ready to risk his life for an idea, to brave the
most direful perils, to endure the most poignant suffering that the
world's store of knowledge may be increased, that science may be advanced,
that just one more fact may be added to the things actually known. If the
record of man in the tropics has been stained by theft, rapine, and
murder, the story of his long struggle with the Arctic ice, offers for his
redemption a series of pictures of self-sacrifice, tenderness, honor,
courage, and piety. No hope of profit drew the seamen of all maritime
nations into the dismal and desolate ice-floes that guard the frozen
North. No lust for gold impelled them to brave the darkness, the cold, and
the terrifying silence of the six-months Arctic night. The men who
have--thus far unsuccessfully--fought with ice-bound nature for access to
the Pole, were impelled only by honorable emulation and scientific zeal.

The earlier Arctic explorers were not, it is true, searchers for the North
Pole. That quest--which has written in its history as many tales of
heroism, self-sacrifice, and patient resignation to adversity, as the
poets have woven about the story of chivalry and the search for the Holy
Grail--was begun only in the middle of the last century, and by an
American. But for three hundred years English, Dutch, and Portuguese
explorers, and the stout-hearted American whalemen, had been pushing
further and further into the frozen deep. The explorers sought the
"Northwest Passage," or a water route around the northern end of North
America, and so on to India and the riches of the East. Sir John Franklin,
in the voyage that proved his last, demonstrated that such a passage could
be made, but not for any practical or useful purpose. After him it was
abandoned, and geographical research, and the struggle to reach the pole,
became the motives that took men into the Arctic.

"But why," many people ask, with some reason, "should there be this
determined search for the North Pole. What good will come to the world
with its discovery? Is it worth while to go on year after year, pouring
out treasure and risking human lives, merely that any hardy explorer may
stand at an imaginary point on the earth's surface which is already fixed
geographically by scientists?"

Let the scientists and the explorers answer, for to most of us the
questions do not seem unreasonable.

Naturally, with the explorers' love for adventure, eagerness to see any
impressive manifestations of nature's powers, and the ambition to attain a
spot for which men have been striving for half a century, are the
animating purposes. So we find Fridjof Nansen, who for a time held the
record of having attained the "Furthest North," writing on this subject to
an enquiring editor: "When man ceases to wish to know and to conquer every
foot of the earth, which was given him to live upon and to rule, then will
the decadence of the race begin. Of itself, that mathematical point which
marks the northern termination of the axis of our earth, is of no more
importance than any other point within the unknown polar area; but it is
of much more importance that this particular point be reached, because
there clings about it in the imagination of all mankind, such fascination
that, till the Pole is discovered, all Arctic research must be affected,
if not overshadowed, by the yearning to attain it."

George W. Melville, chief engineer of the United States Navy, who did such
notable service in the Jeanette expedition of 1879, writes in words that
stir the pulse:

"Is there a better school of heroic endeavor than the Arctic zone? It is
something to stand where the foot of man has never trod. It is something
to do that which has defied the energy of the race for the last twenty
years. It is something to have the consciousness that you are adding your
modicum of knowledge to the world's store. It is worth a year of the life
of a man with a soul larger than a turnip, to see a real iceberg in all
its majesty and grandeur. It is worth some sacrifice to be alone, just
once, amid the awful silence of the Arctic snows, there to communicate
with the God of nature, whom the thoughtful man finds best in solitude and
silence, far from the haunts of men--alone with the Creator."

Thus the explorers. The scientists look less upon the picturesque and
exciting side of Arctic exploration, and more upon its useful phases. "It
helps to solve useful problems in the physics of the world," wrote
Professor Todd of Amherst college. "The meteorology of the United States
to-day; perfection of theories of the earth's magnetism, requisite in
conducting surveys and navigating ships; the origin and development of
terrestrial fauna and flora; secular variation of climate; behavior of
ocean currents--all these are fields of practical investigation in which
the phenomena of the Arctic and Antarctic worlds play a very significant

Lieutenant Maury, whose eminent services in mapping the ocean won him
international honors, writes of the polar regions:

"There icebergs are launched and glaciers formed. There the tides have
their cradle, the whales their nursery. There the winds complete their
circuits, and the currents of the sea their round in the wonderful system
of inter-oceanic circulation. There the aurora borealis is lighted up, and
the trembling needle brought to rest, and there, too, in the mazes of that
mystic circle, terrestrial forces of occult power, and vast influence upon
the well-being of men, are continually at play.... Noble daring has made
Arctic ice and waters classic ground. It is no feverish excitement nor
vain ambition that leads man there. It is a higher feeling, a holier
motive, a desire to look into the works of creation, to comprehend the
economy of our planet, and to grow wiser and better by the knowledge."

Nor can it be said fairly that the polar regions have failed to repay, in
actual financial profit, their persistent invasion by man. It is estimated
by competent statisticians, that in the last two centuries no less than
two thousand million dollars' worth of furs, fish, whale-oil, whalebone,
and minerals, have been taken out of the ice-bound seas.


The full story--at once sorrowful and stimulating--of Arctic exploration,
can not be told here. That would require volumes rather than a single
chapter. Even the part played in it by Americans can be sketched in
outline only. But it is worth remembering that the systematic attack of
our countrymen upon the Arctic fortress, began with an unselfish and
humane incentive. In 1845 Sir John Franklin, a gallant English seaman, had
set sail with two stout ships and 125 men, to seek the Northwest Passage.
Thereafter no word was heard from him, until, years later, a searching
party found a cairn of stones on a desolate, ice-bound headland, and in it
a faintly written record, which told of the death of Sir John and
twenty-four of his associates. We know now, that all who set out on this
ill-fated expedition, perished. Struggling to the southward after
abandoning their ships, they fell one by one, and their lives ebbed away
on the cruel ice. "They fell down and died as they walked," said an old
Esquimau woman to Lieutenant McClintock, of the British navy, who sought
for tidings of them, and, indeed, her report found sorrowful verification
in the skeletons discovered years afterward, lying face downward in the
snow. To the last man they died. Think of the state of that last
man--alone in the frozen wilderness! An eloquent writer, the correspondent
McGahan, himself no stranger to Arctic pains and perils, has imagined that
pitiful picture thus:

"One sees this man after the death of his last remaining companion, all
alone in that terrible world, gazing round him in mute despair, the sole,
living thing in that dark frozen universe. The sky is somber, the earth
whitened with a glittering whiteness that chills the heart. His clothing
is covered with frozen snow, his face lean and haggard, his beard a
cluster of icicles. The setting sun looks back to see the last victim die.
He meets her sinister gaze with a steady eye, as though bidding her
defiance. For a few minutes they glare at each other, then the curtain is
drawn, and all is dark."

As fears for Franklin's safety deepened into certainty of his loss with
the passage of months and years, a multitude of searching expeditions were
sent out, the earlier ones in the hope of rescuing him; the later ones
with the purpose of discovering the records of his voyage, which all felt
sure must have been cached at some accessible point. Americans took an
active--almost a leading--part in these expeditions, braving in them the
same perils which had overcome the stout English knight. By sea and by
land they sought him. The story of the land expeditions, though full of
interest, is foreign to the purpose of this work, and must be passed over
with the mere note that Charles F. Hall, a Cincinnati journalist, in
1868-69, and Lieutenant Schwatka, and W.H. Gilder in 1878-79 fought their
way northward to the path followed by the English explorer, found many
relics of his expedition, and from the Esquimaux gathered indisputable
evidence of his fate. By sea the United States was represented in the
search for Franklin, by the ships "Advance" and "Rescue." They
accomplished little of importance, but on the latter vessel was a young
navy surgeon, Dr. Elisha Kent Kane, who was destined to make notable
contributions to Arctic knowledge, both as explorer and writer.

One who studies the enormous volume of literature in which the Arctic
story is told, scarcely can fail to be impressed by the pertinacity with
which men, after one experience in the polar regions, return again and
again to the quest for adventure and honors in the ice-bound zone. The
subaltern on the expedition of to-day, has no sooner returned than he sets
about organizing a new expedition, of which he may be commander. The
commander goes into the ice time and again until, perhaps, the time comes
when he does not come out. The leader of a rescue party becomes the leader
of an exploring expedition, which in its turn, usually comes to need

So we find Dr. Kane, who was surgeon of an expedition for the rescue of
Franklin, commanding four years later the brig "Advance," and voyaging
northward through Baffin's Bay. Narrowly, indeed, he escaped the fate of
the man in the search for whom he had gained his first Arctic experience.
His ship, beset by ice, and sorely wounded, remained fixed and immovable
for two years. At first the beleaguered men made sledge journeys in every
direction for exploratory purposes, but the second year they sought rather
by determined, though futile dashes across the rugged surface of the
frozen sea, to find some place of refuge, some hope of emancipation from
the thraldom of the ice. The second winter all of the brig except the
hull, which served for shelter, was burned for fuel; two men had died, and
many were sick of scurvy, the sledge dogs were all dead, and the end of
the provisions was in sight. In May, 1855, a retreat in open boats,
covering eighty-five days and over fifty miles of open sea, brought the
survivors to safety.

When men have looked into the jaws of death, it might be thought they
would strenuously avoid such another view. But there is an Arctic fever as
well as an Arctic chill, and, once in the blood, it drags its victim
irresistibly to the frozen North, until perhaps he lays his bones among
the icebergs, cured of all fevers forever. And so, a year or two after the
narrow escape of Dr. Kane, the surgeon of his expedition, Dr. Isaac I.
Hayes, was hard at work fitting out an expedition of which he was to be
commander, to return to Baffin's Bay and Smith sound, and if possible,
fight its way into that open sea, which Dr. Hayes long contended
surrounded the North Pole. No man in the Kane expedition had encountered
greater perils, or withstood more cruel suffering than Dr. Hayes. A boat
trip which he made in search of succor, has passed into Arctic history as
one of the most desperate expedients ever adopted by starving men. But at
the first opportunity he returned again to the scenes of his peril and his
pain. His expedition, though conducted with spirit and determination, was
not of great scientific value, as he was greatly handicapped in his
observations by the death of his astronomer, who slipped through thin ice
into the sea, and froze to death in his water-soaked garments.


A most extraordinary record of daring and suffering in Arctic exploration
was made by Charles F. Hall, to whom I have already referred. Beginning
life as an engraver in Cincinnati, he became engrossed in the study of
Arctic problems, as the result of reading the stories of the early
navigators. Every book bearing on the subject in the library of his
native city, was eagerly read, and his enthusiasm infected some of the
wealthy citizens, who gathered for his use a very considerable collection
of volumes. Mastering all the literature of the Arctic, he determined to
undertake himself the arduous work of the explorer. Taking passage on a
whaler, he spent several years among the Esquimaux, living in their
crowded and fetid _igloos_, devouring the blubber and uncooked fish that
form their staple articles of diet, wearing their garb of furs, learning
to navigate the treacherous kayak in tossing seas, to direct the yelping,
quarreling team of dogs over fields of ice as rugged as the edge of some
monstrous saw, studying the geography so far as known of the Arctic
regions, perfecting himself in all the arts by which man has contested the
supremacy of that land with the ice-king. In 1870, with the assistance of
the American Geographical Society, Hall induced the United States
Government to fit him out an expedition to seek the North Pole--the first
exploring party ever sent out with that definite purpose. The steamer
"Polaris," a converted navy tug, which General Greely says was wholly
unfit for Arctic service, was given him, and a scientific staff supplied
by the Government, for though Hall had by painstaking endeavor qualified
himself to lead an expedition, he had not enjoyed a scientific education.
Neither was he a sailor like DeLong, nor a man trained to the command of
men like Greely. Enthusiasm and natural fitness with him took the place
of systematic training. But with him, as with so many others in this
world, the attainment of the threshold of his ambition proved to be but
opening the door to death. By a sledge journey from his ship he reached
Cape Brevoort, above latitude 82, at that time the farthest north yet
attained, but the exertion proved too much for him, and he had scarcely
regained his ship when he died. His name will live, however, in the annals
of the Arctic, for his contributions to geographical knowledge were many
and precious.


The men who survived him determined to continue his work, and the next
summer two fought their way northward a few miles beyond the point
attained by Hall. But after this achievement the ship was caught in the
ice-pack, and for two months drifted about, helpless in that unrelenting
grasp. Out of this imprisonment the explorers escaped through a disaster,
which for a time put all their lives in the gravest jeopardy, and the
details of which seem almost incredible. In October, when the long
twilight which precedes the polar night, had already set in, there came a
fierce gale, accompanied by a tossing, roaring sea. The pack, racked by
the surges, which now raised it with a mighty force, and then rolling on,
left it to fall unsupported, began to go to pieces. The whistling wind
accelerated its destruction, driving the floes far apart, heaping them up
against the hull of the ship until the grinding and the prodigious
pressure opened her seams and the water rushed in. The cry that the ship
was sinking rung along the decks, and all hands turned with desperate
energy to throwing out on the ice-floe to windward, sledges, provisions,
arms, records--everything that could be saved against the sinking of the
ship, which all thought was at hand. Nineteen of the ship's company were
landed on the floe to carry the material away from its edge to a place of
comparative safety. The peril seemed so imminent that the men in their
panic performed prodigious feats of strength--lifting and handling alone
huge boxes, which at ordinary times, would stagger two men. A driving,
whirling snowstorm added to the gloom, confusion, and terror of the scene,
shutting out almost completely those on the ice from the view of those
still on the ship. In the midst of the work the cry was raised that the
floes were parting, and with incredible rapidity the ice broke away from
the ship on every side, so that communication between those on deck and
those on the floe was instantly cut off by a broad interval of black and
tossing water, while the dark and snow-laden air cut off vision on every
side. The cries of those on the ice mingled with those from the fast
vanishing ship, for each party thought itself in the more desperate case.
The ice was fast going to pieces, and boats were plying in the lanes of
water thus opened, picking up those clinging to smaller cakes of ice and
transporting them to the main floe. On the ship the captain's call had
summoned all hands to muster, and they gazed on each other in dumb despair
as they saw how few of the ship's company remained. All were sent to the
pumps, for the water in the hold was rising with ominous rapidity. The cry
rang out that the steam-pumps must be started if the ship was to be saved,
but long months had passed since any fire had blazed under those boilers,
and to get up steam was a work of hours. With tar-soaked oakum and with
dripping whale blubber the engineer strove to get the fires roaring, the
while the men on deck toiled with desperate energy at the hand-pumps. But
the water gained on them. The ship sunk lower and lower in the black
ocean, until a glance over the side could tell all too plainly that she
was going to her fate. Now the water begins to ooze through the cracks in
the engine-room floor, and break in gentle ripples about the feet of the
firemen. If it rises much higher it will flood the fire-boxes, and then
all will be over, for there is not one boat left on the ship--all were
landed on the now invisible floe. But just as all hope was lost there came
a faint hissing of steam, the pumps began slowly moving, and then settled
down into their monotonous "chug-chug," the sweetest sound, that day,
those desperate mariners had ever heard. They were saved by the narrowest
of chances.

[Illustration: ADRIFT ON AN ICE-FLOE]

We must pass hastily to the sequel of this seemingly irreparable disaster.
The "Polaris" was beached, winter quarters established, and those who had
clung to the ship spent the winter building boats, in which, the following
spring, they made their way southward until picked up by a whaler. Those
on the floe drifted at the mercy of the wind and tide 195 days, making
over 1300 miles to the southward. As the more temperate latitudes were
reached, and the warmer days of spring came on, the floe began going to
pieces, and they were continually confronted with the probability of
being forced to their boat for safety--one boat, built to hold eight, and
now the sole reliance of nineteen people. It is hard to picture through
the imagination the awful strain that day and night rested upon the minds
of these hapless castaways. Never could they drop off to sleep except in
dread that during the night the ice on which they slept, might split, even
under their very pallets, and they be awakened by the deathly plunge into
the icy water. Day and night they were startled and affrighted by the
thunderous rumblings and cracking of the breaking floe--a sound that an
experienced Arctic explorer says is the most terrifying ever heard by man,
having in it something of the hoarse rumble of heavy artillery, the sharp
and murderous crackle of machine guns, and a kind of titanic grinding, for
which there is no counterpart in the world of tumult. Living thus in
constant dread of death, the little company drifted on, seemingly
miraculously preserved. Their floe was at last reduced from a great sheet
of ice, perhaps a mile or more square, to a scant ten yards by
seventy-five, and this rapidly breaking up. In two days four whalers
passed near enough for them to see, yet failed to see them, but finally
their frantic signals attracted attention, and they were picked up--not
only the original nineteen who had begun the drift six months earlier, but
one new and helpless passenger, for one of the Esquimau women had given
birth to a child while on the ice.

The next notable Arctic expedition from the United States had its
beginning in journalistic enterprise. Mr. James Gordon Bennett, owner of
the _New York Herald_, who had already manifested his interest in
geographical work by sending Henry M. Stanley to find Livingston in the
heart of the Dark Continent, fitted out the steam yacht "Pandora," which
had already been used in Arctic service, and placed her at the disposal
of Lieutenant DeLong, U.S.N., for an Arctic voyage. The name of the ship
was changed to "Jeannette," and control of the expedition was vested in
the United States Government, though Mr. Bennett's generosity defrayed all
charges. The vessel was manned from the navy, and Engineer Melville,
destined to bear a name great among Arctic men, together with two navy
lieutenants, were assigned to her. The voyage planned was then unique
among American Arctic expeditions, for instead of following the
conventional route north through Baffin's Bay and Smith Sound, the
"Jeannette" sailed from San Francisco and pushed northward through Bering
Sea. In July, 1879, she weighed anchor. Two years after, no word having
been heard of her meanwhile, the inevitable relief expedition was sent
out--the steamer "Rodgers," which after making a gallant dash to a most
northerly point, was caught in the ice-pack and there burned to the
water's edge, her crew, with greatest difficulty, escaping, and reaching
home without one ray of intelligence of DeLong's fate.

That fate was bitter indeed, a trial by cold, starvation, and death, fit
to stand for awesomeness beside Greely's later sorrowful story. From the
very outset evil fortune had attended the "Jeannette." Planning to winter
on Wrangle Land--then thought to be a continent--DeLong caught in the
ice-pack, was carried past its northern end, thus proving it to be an
island, indeed, but making the discovery at heavy cost. Winter in the pack
was attended with severe hardships and grave perils. Under the influence
of the ocean currents and the tides, the ice was continually breaking up
and shifting, and each time the ship was in imminent danger of being
crushed. In his journal DeLong tries to describe the terrifying clamor of
a shifting pack. "I know of no sound on shore that can be compared with
it," he writes. "A rumble, a shriek, a groan, and the crash of a falling
house all combined, might serve to convey an idea of the noise with which
this motion of the ice-floe is accompanied. Great masses from fifteen to
twenty-five feet in height, when up-ended, are sliding along at various
angles of elevation and jam, and between and among them are large and
confused masses of débris, like a marble yard adrift. Occasionally a
stoppage occurs; some piece has caught against or under our floe; there
follows a groaning and crackling, our floe bends and humps up in places
like domes. Crash! The dome splits, another yard of floe edge breaks off,
the pressure is relieved, and on goes again the flowing mass of rumbles,
shrieks, groans, etc., for another spell."


Time and again this nerve-racking experience was encountered. More than
once serious leaks were started in the ship, which had to be met by
working the pumps and building false bulwarks in the hold; but by the
exercise of every art known to sailors, she was kept afloat and tenable
until June 11, 1881, when a fierce and unexpected nip broke her fairly in
two, and she speedily sunk. There followed weeks and months of incessant
and desperate struggling with sledge and boat against the forces of polar
nature. The ship had sunk about 150 miles from what are known as the New
Siberian Islands, for which DeLong then laid his course. The ice was
rugged, covered with soft snow, which masked treacherous pitfalls, and
full of chasms which had to be bridged. Five sleds and three boats were
dragged by almost superhuman exertions, the sick feebly aiding the sturdy
in the work. Imagine the disappointment, and despair of the leader, when,
after a full week of this cruel labor, with provisions ever growing more
scanty, an observation showed him they were actually twenty-eight miles
further away from their destination than when they started! While they
were toiling south, the ice-floe over which they were plodding was
drifting more rapidly north. _Nil desperandum_ must ever be the watchword
of Arctic expeditions, and DeLong, saying nothing to the others of his
discovery, changed slightly the course of his march and labored on. July
19 they reached an island hitherto unknown, which was thereupon named
Bennett Island. A curious feature of the toilsome march across the ice,
was that, though the temperature seldom rose to the freezing point, the
men complained bitterly of the heat and suffered severely from sun-burn.


At Bennett Island they took to the boats, for now open water was
everywhere visible. DeLong was making for the Lena River in Siberia, where
there were known to be several settlements, but few of his party were
destined to reach it. In a furious storm, on the 12th of September, the
three boats were separated. One, commanded by Lieutenant Chipp, with eight
men, must have foundered, for it was never again heard of. A second,
commanded by George W. Melville, afterward chief engineer of the United
States Navy, found one of the mouths of the Lena River, and ascending it
reached a small Siberian village. Happy would it have been had DeLong and
his men discovered the same pathway to safety, but the Lena is like our
own Mississippi, a river with a broad delta and a multiplicity of mouths.
Into an estuary, the banks of which were untrodden by man, and which
itself was too shallow for navigation for any great distance, remorseless
fate led DeLong. Forced soon to take to their sleds again, his companions
toiled painfully along the river bank, with no known destination, but
bearing ever to the south--the only way in which hope could possibly lie.
Deserted huts and other signs of former human habitation were plenty, but
nothing living crossed their path. At last, the food being at the point of
exhaustion, and the men too weary and weak for rapid travel, DeLong chose
two of the sturdiest, Nindemann and Noros, and sent them ahead in the hope
that they might find and return with succor. The rest stumbled on behind,
well pleased if they could advance three miles daily. Food gave out, then
strength. Resignation took the place of determination. DeLong's journal
for the last week of life is inexpressibly pitiful:

"Sunday, October 23--133d Day: Everybody pretty weak. Slept or rested all
day, and then managed to get in enough wood before dark. Read part of
divine service. Suffering in our feet. No foot-gear.

"Monday, October 24--134th Day: A hard night.

"Tuesday, October 25--135th Day.

"Wednesday, October 26--136th day.

"Thursday, October 27--137th Day: Iverson broken down.

"Friday, October 28--138th Day: Iverson died during early morning.

"Saturday, October 29th--139th Day: Dressier died during the night.

"Sunday, October 30--140th Day: Boyd and Cortz died during the night. Mr.
Collins dying."

This is the last entry. The hand that penned it, as the manuscript shows,
was as firm and steady as though the writer were sitting in his library at
home. Words are spelled out in full, punctuation carefully observed. How
long after these words were set down DeLong too died, none may ever know;
but when Melville, whom Nindemann and Noros had found after sore
privations, reached the spot of the death camp, he came upon a sorrowful
scene. "I came upon the bodies of three men partly buried in the snow," he
writes, "one hand reaching out, with the left arm of the man reaching way
above the surface of the snow--his whole left arm. I immediately
recognized them as Captain DeLong, Dr. Ambler, and Ah Sam, the cook.... I
found the journal about three or four feet in the rear of DeLong--that is,
it looked as though he had been lying down, and with his left hand tossed
the book over his shoulder to the rear, or to the eastward of him."

How these few words bring the whole scene up before us! Last, perhaps, of
all to die, lying by the smoldering fire, the ashes of which were in the
middle of the group of bodies when found, DeLong puts down the final words
which tell of the obliteration of his party, tosses the book wearily over
his shoulder, and turns on his side to die. And then the snow, falling
gently, pitifully covers the rigid forms and holds them in its pure
embrace until loyal friends seek them out, and tell to the world that
again brave lives have been sacrificed to the ogre of the Arctic.

While DeLong and his gallant comrades of the United States Navy were dying
slowly in the bleak desert of the Lena delta, another party of brave
Americans were pushing their way into the Arctic circle on the Atlantic
side of the North American continent. The story of that starvation camp in
desolate Siberia was to be swiftly repeated on the shores of Smith Sound,
and told this time with more pathetic detail, for of Greely's expedition,
numbering twenty-five, seven were rescued after three years of Arctic
suffering and starving, helpless, and within one day of death. They had
seen their comrades die, destroyed by starvation and cold, and passing
away in delirium, babbling of green fields and plenteous tables. From the
doorway of the almost collapsed tent, in which the seven survivors were
found, they could see the row of shallow graves in which their less
fortunate comrades lay interred--all save two, whom they had been too weak
to bury. No story of the Arctic which has come to us from the lips of
survivors, has half the pathos, or a tithe of the pitiful interest,
possessed by this story of Greely.

Studying to-day the history of the Greely expedition, it seems almost as
if a malign fate had determined to bring disaster upon him. His task was
not so arduous as a determined search for the Pole, or the Northwest
Passage. He was ordered by the United States Government to establish an
observation station on Lady Franklin Bay, and remain there two years,
conducting, meanwhile, scientific observations, and pressing exploratory
work with all possible zeal. The enterprise was part of a great
international plan, by which each of the great nations was to establish
and maintain such an observation station within the Arctic circle, while
observations were to be carried on in all at once. The United States
agreed to maintain two such stations, and the one at Point Barrow, north
of Alaska, was established, maintained, and its tenants brought home at
the end of the allotted time without disaster.

Greely was a lieutenant in the United States Army, and his expedition was
under the immediate direction of the Secretary of War--at that time Robert
Lincoln, son of the great war President. Some criticism was expressed at
the time and, indeed, still lingers in the books of writers on the
subject, concerning the fitness of an army officer to direct an Arctic
voyage. But the purpose of the expedition was largely to collect
scientific facts bear-on weather, currents of air and sea, the duration
and extent of magnetic and electrical disturbances--in brief, data quite
parallel to those which the United States signal service collects at home.
So the Greely expedition was made an adjunct to the signal service, which
in its turn is one of the bureaus of the War Department. Two army
lieutenants, Lockwood and Klingsbury, and twenty men from the rank and
file of the army and signal corps, were selected to form the party. An
astronomer was needed, and Edward Israel, a young graduate of the
University of Michigan, volunteered. George W. Rice volunteered as
photographer. Both were enlisted in the army and given the rank of

It is doubtful if any polar expedition was ever more circumstantially
planned--none has resulted more disastrously, save Sir John Franklin's
last voyage. The instructions of the War Department were as explicit as
human foresight and a genius for detail could make them. Greely was to
proceed to some point on Lady Franklin Bay, which enters the mainland of
North America at about 81° 44' north latitude, build his station, and
prepare for a two-years' stay. Provisions for three years were supplied
him. At the end of one year it was promised, a relief ship should be sent
him, which failing for any cause to reach the station, would cache
supplies and dispatches at specified points. A year later a second relief
ship would be sent to bring the party home, and if for any reason this
ship should fail to make the station, then Greely was to break camp and
sledge to the southward, following the east coast of the mainland, until
he met the vessel, or reached the point at which fresh supplies were to be
cached. No plan could have been better devised--none ever failed more

Arctic travel is an enigma, and it is an enigma never to be solved twice
in the same way. Whalers, with the experience of a lifetime in the frozen
waters, agree that the lessons of one voyage seldom prove infallible
guides for the conduct of the next. Lieutenant Schwatka, a veteran Arctic
explorer, said in an official document that the teachings of experience
were often worse than useless in polar work. And so, though the Washington
authorities planned for the safety of Greely according to the best
guidance that the past could give them, their plans failed completely. The
first relief ship did, indeed, land some stores--never, as the issue
showed, to be reached by Greely--but the second expedition, composed of
two ships, the "Proteus" and the "Yantic," accomplished nothing. The
station was not reached, practically no supplies were landed, the
"Proteus" was nipped by the ice and sunk, and the remnant of the
expedition came supinely home, reporting utter failure. It is impossible
to acquit the commanders of the two ships engaged in this abortive relief
expedition of a lack of determination, a paucity of courage, complete
incompetence. They simply left Greely to his fate while time still
remained for his rescue, or at least for the convenient deposit of the
vast store of provisions they brought home, leaving the abandoned
explorers to starve.

The history of the Greely expedition and its achievements may well be
sketched hastily, before the story of the catastrophe which overwhelmed it
is told. As it was the most tragic of expeditions save one, Sir John
Franklin's, so, too, it was the most fruitful in results, of any American
expedition to the time of the writing of this book. Proceeding by the
whaler "Proteus" in August, 1881, to the waters of the Arctic zone, Greely
reached his destination with but little trouble, and built a commodious
and comfortable station on the shores of Discovery Bay, which he called
Fort Conger after a United States Senator from Michigan. A month remained
before the Arctic night would set in, but the labor of building the house
left little time for explorations, which were deferred until the following
summer. Life at the station was not disagreeable. The house, stoutly
built, withstood the bitter cold. Within there were books and games, and
through the long winter night the officers beguiled the time with lectures
and reading. Music was there, too, in impressive quantity, if not quality.
"An organette with about fifty yards of music," writes Lieutenant Greely,
"afforded much amusement, being particularly fascinating to our Esquimau,
who never wearied grinding out one tune after another." The rigid routine
of Arctic winter life was followed day by day, and the returning sun,
after five months' absence, found the party in perfect health and buoyant
spirits. The work of exploration on all sides began, the explorers being
somewhat handicapped by the death of many of the sledge dogs from disease.
Lieutenant Greely, Dr. Pavy, and Lieutenant Lockwood each led a party, but
to the last named belong the honors, for he, with Sergeant Brainard and an
Esquimau, made his way northward over ice that looked like a choppy sea
suddenly frozen into the rigidity of granite, until he reached latitude
83° 24' north--the most northerly point then attained by any man--and
still the record marking Arctic journey for an American explorer.

Winter came again under depressing circumstances. The first relief ship
promised had not arrived, and the disappointment of the men deepened into
apprehension lest the second, also, should fail them. Yet they went
through the second winter in good health and unshaken morale, though one
can not read such portions of Greely's diary as he has published, without
seeing that the irritability and jealousy that seem to be the inevitable
accompaniments of long imprisonment in an Arctic station, began to make
their appearance. With the advent of spring the commander began to make
his preparations for a retreat to the southward. If he had not then felt
entire confidence in the promise of the War Department to relieve him
without fail that summer, he would have begun his retreat early, and
beyond doubt have brought all his men to safety before another winter set
in or his provisions fell low. But as it was, he put off the start to the
last moment, keeping up meanwhile the scientific work of the expedition,
and sending out one party to cache supplies along the route of retreat.
August 9, 1883, the march began--just two years after they had entered the
frozen deep--Greely hoping to meet the relief ship oh the way. He did not
know that three weeks before she had been nipped in the ice-pack, and
sunk, and that her consort, the "Yantic," had gone impotently home,
without even leaving food for the abandoned explorers. Over ice-fields and
across icy and turbulent water, the party made its way for five hundred
miles--four hundred miles of boating and one hundred of
sledging--fifty-one days of heroic exertion that might well take the
courage out of the stoutest heart. Sledging in the Arctic over "hummock"
ice is, perhaps, the most wearing form of toil known to man, and with such
heavy loads as Greely carried, every mile had to be gone over twice, and
sometimes three times, as the men would be compelled to leave part of the
load behind and go back after it. Yet the party was cheerful, singing and
joking at their work, as one of the sergeants records. Finally they
reached the vicinity of Cape Sabine, all in good health, with instruments
and records saved, and with arms and ammunition enough to procure ample
food in a land well stocked with game. But they did not worry very much
about food, though their supply was by this time growing low. Was not Cape
Sabine the spot at which the relief expeditions were to cache food, and
could it be possible that the great United States Government would fail
twice in an enterprise which any Yankee whaler would gladly take a
contract to fulfill? And so the men looked upon the wilderness, and noted
the coming on of the Arctic night again without fear, if with some
disappointment. Less than forty days' rations remained. Eight months must
elapse before any relief expedition could reach their camp, and far away
in the United States the people were crying out in hot indignation that
the authorities were basely leaving Greely and his devoted companions to
their fate.

Pluckily the men set about preparing for the long winter. Three huts of
stone and snow were planned, and while they were building, the hunters of
the party scoured the neighboring ice-floes and pools for game--foxes,
ptarmigan, and seals. There were no mistaken ideas concerning their deadly
peril. Every man knew that if game failed, or if the provisions they hoped
had been cached by the relief expeditions somewhere in the vicinity, could
not be found, they might never leave that spot alive. Day by day the size
of the rations was reduced. October 2 enough for thirty-five days
remained, and at the request of the men, Greely so changed the ration as
to provide for forty-five days. October 5 Lieutenant Lockwood noted in his

"We have now three chances for our lives: First, finding American cache
sufficient at Sabine or at Isabella; second, of crossing the straits when
our present ration is gone; third, of shooting sufficient seal and walrus
near by here to last during the winter."

How delusive the first chance proved we shall see later. The second was
impractical, for the current carried the ice through the strait so fast,
that any party trying to cross the floe, would have been carried south to
where the strait widened out into Baffin's Bay before they could possibly
pass the twenty-five miles which separated Cape Sabine from Littleton
Island. Moreover, there was no considerable cache at the latter point, as
Greely thought. As for the hunting, it proved a desperate chance, though
it did save the lives of such of the party as were rescued. All feathered
game took flight for the milder regions of the south when the night set
in. The walrus which the hunters shot--two, Greely said, would have
supplied food for all winter--and the seal sunk in almost every instance
before the game could be secured.

The first, and most hopeful chance, was the discovery of cached provisions
at Cape Sabine. To put this to the test, Rice, the photographer, who,
though a civilian, proved to be one of the most determined and efficient
men in the party, had already started for Sabine with Jens, the Esquimau.
October 9 they returned, bringing the record of the sinking of the
"Proteus," and the intelligence that there were about 1300 rations at, or
near Cape Sabine. The record left at Cape Sabine by Garlington, the
commander of the "Proteus" expedition, and which Rice brought back to the
camp, read in part: "Depot landed ... 500 rations of bread, tea, and a lot
of canned goods. Cache of 250 rations left by the English expedition of
1882 visited by me and found in good condition. Cache on Littleton Island.
Boat at Isabella. U.S.S. 'Yantic' on way to Littleton Island with orders
not to enter the ice. I will endeavor to communicate with these vessels at
once.... Everything in the power of man will be done to rescue the
(Greely's) brave men."

This discovery changed Greely's plans again. It was hopeless to attempt
hauling the ten or twelve thousand pounds of material believed to be at
Cape Sabine, to the site of the winter camp, now almost done, so Greely
determined to desert that station and make for Cape Sabine, taking with
him all the provisions and material he could drag. In a few days his party
was again on the march across the frozen sea.

How inscrutable and imperative are the ways of fate! Looking backward now
on the pitiful story of the Greely party, we see that the second relief
expedition, intended to succor and to rescue these gallant men, was in
fact the cause of their overwhelming disaster--and this not wholly because
of errors committed in its direction, though they were many. When Greely
abandoned the station at Fort Conger, he could have pressed straight to
the southward without halt, and perhaps escaped with all his party--he
could, indeed, have started earlier in the summer, and made escape for all
certain. But he relied on the relief expedition, and held his ground until
the last possible moment. Even after reaching Cape Sabine he might have
taken to the boats and made his way southward to safety, for he says
himself that open water was in sight; but the cheering news brought by
Rice of a supply of provisions, and the promise left by Garlington, that
all that men could do would be done for his rescue, led him to halt his
journey at Cape Sabine, and go into winter quarters in the firm conviction
that already another vessel was on the way to aid him. He did not know
that Garlington had left but few provisions out of his great store, that
the "Yantic" had fled without landing an ounce of food, and that the
authorities at Washington had concluded that nothing more could be done
that season--although whalers frequently entered the waters where Greely
lay trapped, at a later date than that which saw the "Yantic's"
precipitate retreat. Had he known these things, he says himself, "I should
certainly have turned my back to Cape Sabine and starvation, to face a
possible death on the perilous voyage along shore to the southward."

But not knowing them, he built a hut, and prepared to face the winter. It
is worth noting, as evidence that Arctic hardships themselves, when not
accompanied by a lack of food, are not unbearable, that at this time,
after two years in the region of perpetual ice, the whole twenty-five men
were well, and even cheerful. Depression and death came only when the food
gave out.

The permanent camp, which for many of the party was to be a tomb, was
fixed a few miles from Cape Sabine, by the side of a pool of fresh
water--frozen, of course. Here a hut was built with stone walls three feet
high, rafters made of oars with the blades cut off, and a canvas roof,
except in the center, where an upturned whaleboat made a sort of a dome.
Only under the whaleboat could a man get on his knees and hold himself
erect; elsewhere the heads of the tall men touched the roof when they sat
up in their sleeping bags on the dirt floor. With twenty-five men in
sleeping bags, which they seldom left, two in each bag, packed around the
sides of the hut, a stove fed with stearine burning in the center for the
cooking of the insufficient food to which they were reduced, and all air
from without excluded, the hut became a place as much of torture as of

The problem of food and the grim certainty of starvation were forced upon
them with the very first examination of the caches of which Garlington had
left such encouraging reports. At Cape Isabella only 144 pounds of meat
was found, in Garlington's cache only 100 rations instead of 500 as he had
promised. Moldy bread and dog biscuits fairly green with mold, though
condemned by Greely, were seized by the famished men, and devoured
ravenously without a thought of their unwholesomeness. When November 1
came, the daily ration for each man was fixed at six ounces of bread, four
ounces of meat, and four ounces of vegetables--about a quarter of what
would be moderate sustenance for a healthy man. By keeping the daily issue
of food down to this pitiful amount Greely calculated that he would have
enough to sustain life until the first of March, when with ten days'
double rations still remaining, he would make an effort to cross the
strait to Littleton Island, where he thought--mistakenly--that Lieutenant
Garlington awaited him with ample stores. Of course all game shot added to
the size of the rations, and that the necessary work of hunting might be
prosecuted, the hunters were from the first given extra rations to
maintain, their strength. Fuel, too, offered a serious problem. Alcohol,
stearine, and broken wood from a whaleboat and barrels, were all employed.
In order to get the greatest heat from the wood it was broken up into
pieces not much larger than matches.

And yet packed into that noisome hovel, ill-fed and ill-clothed, with the
Arctic wind roaring outside, the temperature within barely above freezing,
and a wretched death staring each man in the face, these men were not
without cheerfulness. Lying almost continually in their sleeping bags,
they listened to one of their number reading aloud; such books as
"Pickwick Papers," "A History of Our Own Times," and "Two on a Tower."
Greely gave daily a lecture on geography of an hour or more; each man
related, as best he could, the striking facts about his own State and city
and, indeed, every device that ingenuity could suggest, was employed to
divert their minds and wile away the lagging hours. Birthdays were
celebrated by a little extra food--though toward the end a half a gill of
rum for the celebrant, constituted the whole recognition of the day. The
story of Christmas Day is inexpressibly touching as told in the simple
language of Greely's diary:

"Our breakfast was a thin pea-soup, with seal blubber, and a small
quantity of preserved potatoes. Later two cans of cloudberries were served
to each mess, and at half-past one o'clock Long and Frederick commenced
cooking dinner, which consisted of a seal stew, containing seal blubber,
preserved potatoes and bread, flavored with pickled onions; then came a
kind of rice pudding, with raisins, seal blubber, and condensed milk.
Afterward we had chocolate, followed later by a kind of punch made of a
gill of rum and a quarter of a lemon to each man.... Everybody was
required to sing a song or tell a story, and pleasant conversation with
the expression of kindly feelings, was kept up until midnight."

[Illustration: AN ARCTIC HOUSE]

But that comparative plenty and good cheer did not last long. In a few
weeks the unhappy men, or such as still clung to life, were living on a
few shrimps, pieces of sealskin boots, lichens, and even more offensive
food. The shortening of the ration, and the resulting hunger, broke down
the moral sense of some, and by one device or another, food was stolen.
Only two or three were guilty of this crime--an execrable one in such an
emergency--and one of these, Private Henry, was shot by order of
Lieutenant Greely toward the end of the winter. Even before Christmas,
casualties which would have been avoided, had the party been
well-nourished and strong, began. Ellison, in making a gallant dash for
the cache at Isabella, was overcome by cold and fatigue, and froze both
his hands and feet so that in time they dropped off. Only the tender care
of Frederick, who was with him, and the swift rush of Lockwood and
Brainard to his aid, saved him from death. It tells a fine story of the
unselfish devotion of the men, that this poor wreck, maimed and helpless,
so that he had to be fed, and incapable of performing one act in his own
service, should have been nursed throughout the winter, fed with double
portions, and actually saved living until the rescue party arrived, while
many of those who cared for him yielded up their lives. The first to die
was Cross, of scurvy and starvation, and he was buried in a shallow grave
near the hut, all hands save Ellison turning out to honor his memory.
Though the others clung to life with amazing tenacity, illness began to
make inroads upon them, the gallant Lockwood, for example, spending weeks
in Greely's sleeping bag, his mind wandering, his body utterly exhausted.
But it was April before the second death occurred--one of the Esquimaux.
"Action of water on the heart caused by insufficient nutrition," was the
doctor's verdict--in a word, but a word all dreaded to hear, starvation.

Thereafter the men went fast. In a day or two Christiansen, an Esquimau,
died. Rice, the sharer of his sleeping bag, was forced to spend a night
enveloped in a bag with the dead body. The next day he started on a
sledging trip to seek some beef cached by the English years earlier.
Before the errand was completed, he, too, died, freezing to death in the
arms of his companion, Frederick, who held him tenderly until the last,
and stripped himself to the shirtsleeves in the icy blast, to warm his
dying comrade. Then Lockwood died--the hero of the Farthest North; then
Jewell. Jens, the untiring Esquimau hunter, was drowned, his kayak being
cut by the sharp edge of a piece of ice. Ellis, Whisler, Israel, the
astronomer, and Dr. Pavy, the surgeon, one by one, passed away.

But why continue the pitiful chronicle? To tell the story in detail is
impossible here--to tell it baldly and hurriedly, means to omit from it
all that makes the narrative of the last days of the Greely expedition
worth reading; the unflagging courage of most of the men, the high sense
of honor that characterized them, the tenderness shown to the sick and
helpless, the pluck and endurance of Long and Brainard, the fierce
determination of Greely, that come what might, the records of his
expedition should be saved, and its honor bequeathed unblemished to the
world. And so through suffering and death, despairing perhaps, but never
neglecting through cowardice or lethargy, any expedient for winning the
fight against death, the party, daily growing smaller, fought its way on
through winter and spring, until that memorable day in June, when Colwell
cut open the tent and saw, as the first act of the rescued sufferers, two
haggard, weak, and starving men pouring all that was left of the brandy,
down the throat of one a shade more haggard and weak than they.

Men of English lineage are fond of telling the story of the meeting of
Stanley and Dr. Livingston in the depths of the African jungle. For years
Livingston had disappeared from the civilized world. Everywhere
apprehension was felt lest he had fallen a victim to the ferocity of the
savages, or to the pestilential climate. The world rung with speculations
concerning his fate. Stanley, commissioned to solve the mystery, by the
same America journalist who sent DeLong into the Arctic, had cut his path
through the savages and the jungle, until at the door of a hut in a
clearing, he saw a white man who could be none but him whom he sought, for
in all that dark and gloomy forest there was none other of white skin.
Then Anglo-Saxon stolidity asserted itself. Men of Latin race would have
rushed into each others' arms with loud rejoicings. Not so these twain.

"Dr. Livingston, I believe," said the newcomer, with the air of greeting
an acquaintance on Fifth Avenue. "I am Mr. Stanley."

"I am glad to see you," was the response, and it might have taken place in
a drawing-room for all the emotion shown by either man.

[Illustration: AN ESQUIMAU]

That was a dramatic meeting in the tropical jungles, but history will not
give second place to the encounter of the advance guard of the Greely
relief expedition with the men they sought. The story is told with
dramatic directness in Commander (now Admiral) Schley's book, "The Rescue
of Greely."

"It was half-past eight in the evening as the cutter steamed around the
rocky bluff of Cape Sabine, and made her way to the cove, four miles
further on, which Colwell remembered so well.... The storm which had been
raging with only slight intervals since early the day before, still kept
up, and the wind was driving in bitter gusts through the opening in the
ridge that followed the coast to the westward. Although the sky was
overcast it was broad daylight--the daylight of a dull winter
afternoon.... At last the boat arrived at the site of the wreck cache, and
the shore was eagerly scanned, but nothing could be seen. Rounding the
next point, the cutter opened out the cove beyond. There on the top of a
little ridge, fifty or sixty yards above the ice-foot, was plainly
outlined the figure of a man. Instantly the coxswain caught up his
boathook and waved his flag. The man on the ridge had seen them, for he
stooped, picked up a signal flag, and waved it in reply. Then he was seen
coming slowly and cautiously down the steep rocky slope. Twice he fell
down before he reached the foot. As he approached, still walking slowly
and with difficulty, Colwell hailed him from the bow of the boat.

"'Who all are there left?'

"'Seven left.'

"As the cutter struck the ice Colwell jumped off, and went up to him. He
was a ghastly sight. His cheeks were hollow, his eyes wild, his hair and
beard long and matted. His army blouse, covering several thicknesses of
shirts and jackets, was ragged and dirty. He wore a little fur cap and
rough moccasins of untanned leather tied around the leg. As he spoke his
utterance was thick and mumbling, and in his agitation his jaws worked in
convulsive twitches. As the two met, the man, with a sudden impulse, took
off his gloves and shook Colwell's hand.

"'Where are they?' asked Colwell, briefly.

"'In the tent,' said the man, pointing over his shoulder, 'over the
hill--the tent's down.'

"'Is Mr. Greely alive?'

"'Yes, Greely's alive.'

"'Any other officers?'

"'No.' Then he repeated absently, 'The tent's down.'

"'Who are you?'


"Before this colloquy was over Lowe and Norman had started up the hill.
Hastily filling his pockets with bread, and taking the two cans of
pemmican, Colwell told the coxswain to take Long into the cutter, and
started after the others with Ash. Reaching the crest of the ridge and
looking southward, they saw spread out before them a desolate expanse of
rocky ground, sloping gradually from a ridge on the east to the ice-bound
shore, which on the west made in and formed a cove. Back of the level
space was a range of hills rising up eight hundred feet with a precipitous
face, broken in two by a gorge, through which the wind was blowing
furiously. On a little elevation directly in front was the tent. Hurrying
on across the intervening hollow, Colwell came up with Lowe and Norman
just as they were greeting a soldierly-looking man who had come out of the

"As Colwell approached, Norman was saying to the man: 'There is the

"And he added to Lieutenant Colwell:

"'This is Sergeant Brainard.'

"Brainard immediately drew himself up to the position of the soldier, and
was about to salute, when Colwell took his hand.

"At this moment there was a confused murmur within the tent, and a voice
said: 'Who's there?'

"Norman answered, 'It's Norman--Norman who was in the "Proteus."'

"This was followed by cries of 'Oh, it's Norman,' and a sound like a
feeble cheer.

"Meanwhile one of the relief party, who in his agitation and excitement
was crying like a child, was down on his knees trying to roll away the
stones that held the flapping tent-cloth.... Colwell called for a knife,
cut a slit in the tent-cover, and looked in. It was a sight horror. On one
side, close to the opening, with his face toward the opening, lay what was
apparently a dead man. His jaw had dropped, his eyes were open, but fixed
and glassy, his limbs were motionless. On the opposite side was a poor
fellow, alive to be sure, but without hands or feet, and with a spoon tied
to the stump of his right arm. Two others, seated on the ground in the
middle, had just got down a rubber bottle that hung on the tent pole, and
were pouring from it into a tin can. Directly opposite, on his hands and
knees, was a dark man, with a long matted beard, in a dirty and tattered
dressing-gown, with a little red tattered skull-cap on his head, and
brilliant, staring eyes. As Colwell appeared he raised himself a little
and put on a pair of eye-glasses.

"'Who are you?' asked Colwell.

"The man made no reply, staring at him vacantly.

"'Who are you?' again.

"One of the men spoke up. 'That's the Major--Major Greely."

"Colwell crawled in and took him by the hand, saying: 'Greely, is this

"'Yes,' said Greely in a faint voice, hesitating and shuffling with his
words, 'yes--seven of us left--here we are--dying--like men. Did what I
came to do--beat the best record.'

"Then he fell back exhausted."

Slowly and cautiously the men were nursed back to life and health--all
save poor Ellison, whose enfeebled constitution could not stand the shock
of the necessary amputation of his mutilated limbs. The nine bodies
buried in the shallow graves were exhumed and taken to the ship, Private
Henry's body being found lying where it fell at the moment of his
execution. At that time the castaways were too feeble to give even hasty
sepulture to their dead. A horrible circumstance, reported by Commander
Schley himself, was that the flesh of many of the bodies was cut from the
bones--by whom, and for what end of cannibalism, can only be conjectured.

Following the disaster to the Greely expedition, came a period of lethargy
in polar exploration, and when the work was taken up again, it was in ways
foreign to the purpose of this book. Foreigners for a time led in
activity, and in 1895 Fridjof Nansen in his drifting ship, the "Fram,"
attained the then farthest North, latitude 86° 14', while Rudolph Andree,
in 1897, put to the test the desperate expedient of setting out for the
Pole in a balloon from Dane's Island, Spitzbergen; but the wind that bore
him swiftly out of sight, has never brought back again tidings of his
achievement or his fate. Nansen's laurels were wrested from him in 1900 by
the Duke of Abruzzi, who reached 86° 33' north. The stories of these brave
men are fascinating and instructive, but they are no part of the story of
the American sailor. Indeed, the sailor is losing his importance as an
explorer in the Arctic. It has become clear enough to all that it is not
to be a struggle between stout ships and crushing ice, but rather a test
of the endurance of men and dogs, pushing forward over solid floes of
heaped and corrugated ice, toward the long-sought goal. Two Americans in
late years have made substantial progress toward the conquest of the polar
regions. Mr. Walter Wellman, an eminent journalist, has made two efforts
to reach the Pole, but met with ill-luck and disaster in each, though in
the first he attained to latitude 81° to the northeast of Spitzbergen, and
in the second he discovered and named many new islands about Franz Josef
Land. Most pertinacious of all the American explorers, however, has been
Lieutenant Robert E. Peary, U.S.N., who since 1886, has been going into
the frozen regions whenever the opportunity offered--and when none offered
he made one. His services in exploration and in mapping out the land and
seas to the north of Greenland have been of the greatest value to
geographical science, and at the moment of writing this book he is
wintering at Cape Sabine, where the Greely survivors were found, awaiting
the coming of summer to make a desperate dash for the goal, sought for a
century, but still secure in its wintry fortifications, the geographical
Pole. Nor is he wholly alone, either in his ambition or his patience.
Evelyn B. Baldwin, a native of Illinois, with an expedition equipped by
William Zeigler, of New York, and made up of Americans, is wintering at
Alger Island, near Franz Josef Land, awaiting the return of the sun to
press on to the northward. It is within the bounds of possibility that
before this volume is fairly in the hands of its readers, the fight may be
won and the Stars and Stripes wave over that mysterious spot that has
awakened the imagination and stimulated the daring of brave men of all



In the heart of the North American Continent, forming in part the boundary
line between the United States and the British possessions to the north,
lies that chain of great freshwater lakes bordered by busy and rapidly
growing commonwealths, washing the water-fronts of rich and populous
cities, and bearing upon their steely blue bosoms a commerce which outdoes
that of the Mediterranean in the days of its greatest glory. The old salt,
the able seaman who has rounded the Horn, the skipper who has stood
unflinchingly at the helm while the green seas towered over the stern,
looks with contempt upon the fresh-water sailor and his craft. Not so the
man of business or the statesman. The growth of lake traffic has been one
of the most marvelous and the most influential factors in the industrial
development of the United States. By it has been systematized and brought
to the highest form of organization the most economical form of freight
carriage in the world. Through it has been made possible the enormous
reduction in the price of American steel that has enabled us to invade
foreign markets, and promises to so reduce the cost of our ships, that we
may be able to compete again in ship-building, with the yards of the Clyde
and the Tyne. Along the shores of these unsalted seas, great shipyards are
springing up, that already build ships more cheaply than can be done
anywhere else in the world, and despite the obstacles of shallow canals,
and the treacherous channels of the St. Lawrence, have been able to build
and send to tidewater, ocean ships in competition with the seacoast
builders. The present of the lake marine is secure; its future is full of
promise. Its story, if lacking in the elements of romance that attend upon
the ocean's story, is well worth telling.

A decade more than two centuries ago a band of Iroquois Indians made their
way in bark canoes from Lake Ontario up Lake Erie to the Detroit River,
across Lake St. Clair, and thence through Lake Huron to Point Iroquois.
They were the first navigators of the Great Lakes, and that they were not
peace-loving boatmen, is certain from the fact that they traveled all
these miles of primeval waterway for the express purpose of battle.
History records that they had no difficulty in bringing on a combat with
the Illinois tribes, and in an attempt to displace the latter from Point
Iroquois, the invaders were destroyed after a six-days' battle.

It is still a matter of debate among philosophical historians, whether
war, trade, or missionary effort has done the more toward opening the
strange, wild places of the world. Each, doubtless, has done its part, but
we shall find in the story of the Great Lakes, that the war canoes of the
savages were followed by the Jesuit missionaries, and these in turn by the
bateaux of the voyageurs employed by the Hudson Bay Company.

After the Iroquois had learned the way, trips of war canoes up and down
the lakes, were annual occurrences, and warfare was almost perpetual. In
1680 the Iroquois, 700 strong, invaded Illinois, killed 1200 of the tribe
there established, and drove the rest beyond the Mississippi. For years
after the Iroquois nation were the rulers of the water-front between Lake
Erie and Lake Huron. While this tribe was in undisputed possession,
commerce had little to do with the navigation of the Great Lakes. The
Indians went up and down the shores on long hunting trips, but war was the
principal business, and every canoe was equipped for a fray at any time.

A story is told of a great naval battle that was fought on Lake Erie,
nearly two centuries before the first steamer made its appearance on that
placid water. A Wyandot prince, so the tale goes, fell in love with a
beautiful princess of the Seneca tribe, who was the promised bride of a
chief of her own nation. The warrior failed to win the heart of the dusky
maiden, and goaded to desperation, entered the Senecas country by night,
and carried off the lady. War immediately followed, and was prosecuted
with great cruelty and slaughter for a long time. At last a final battle
was fought, in which the Wyandots were worsted and forced to flee in great
haste. The fugitives planned to cross the ice of the Straits (Detroit)
River, but found it broken up and floating down stream. Their only
alternative was to throw themselves on the floating ice and leap from cake
to cake; they thus made their escape to the Canadian shore, and joined the
tribes of the Pottawatomies, Ottawas, and Chippewas. A year later the
Wyandots, equipped with light birch canoes, set out to defeat the Senecas,
and succeeded in inducing them to give combat on the water. The Senecas
made a fatal mistake and came out to meet the enemy in their
clumsily-constructed boats hollowed out of the trunks of trees. After
much maneuvering the birch canoe fleet proceeded down Lake Erie to the
head of Long Point, with the Senecas in hot pursuit. In the center of the
lake the Wyandots turned and gave the Senecas so hot a reception that they
were forced to flee, but could not make good their escape in their clumsy
craft, and were all slain but one man, who was allowed to return and
report the catastrophe to his own nation. This closed the war.

Legends are preserved that lead to the belief that there may have been
navigators of the Great Lakes before the Indians, and it is generally
believed that the latter were not the first occupants of the Lake Superior
region. It is said that the Lake Superior country was frequently visited
by a barbaric race, for the purpose of obtaining copper, and it is quite
possible that these people may have been skilled navigators.


Commercial navigation of the Great Lakes, curiously enough, first assumed
importance in the least accessible portion. The Hudson Bay Company, always
extending its territory toward the northwest, sent its bateaux and canoes
into Lake Superior early in the seventeenth century. To accommodate this
traffic the company dug a canal around the falls of the St. Marie River,
at the point we now call "the Soo." In time this pigmy progenitor of the
busiest canal in the world, became filled with débris, and its very
existence forgotten; but some years ago a student in the thriving town of
Sault Ste. Marie, poring over some old books of the Hudson Bay Company,
noticed several references to the company's canal. What canal could it be?
His curiosity was aroused, and with the aid of the United States engineers
in charge of the new improvements, he began a painstaking investigation.
In time the line of the old ditch was discovered, and, indeed, it was no
more than a ditch, two and a half feet deep, by eight or nine wide. One
lock was built, thirty-eight feet long, with a lift of nine feet. The
floor and sills of this lock were discovered, and the United States
Government has since rebuilt it in stone, that visitors to the Soo may
turn from the massive new locks, through which steel steamships of eight
thousand tons pass all day long through the summer months, to gaze on the
strait and narrow gate which once opened the way for all the commerce of
Lake Superior. But through that gate there passed a picturesque and
historic procession. Canoes spurred along by tufted Indians with
black-robed Jesuit missionaries for passengers; the wooden bateaux of the
fur traders, built of wood and propelled by oars, and carrying gangs of
turbulent trappers and voyageurs; the company's chief factors in swift
private craft, making for the west to extend the influence of the great
corporation still further into the wilderness, all passed through the
little canal and avoided the roaring waters of the Ste. Marie. It was but
a narrow gate, but it played its part in the opening of the West.

War, which is responsible for most of the checks to civilization, whether
or not it may in some instances advance the skirmish line of civilized
peoples, destroyed the pioneer canal. For in 1812 some Americans being in
that part of the country, thought it would be a helpful contribution to
their national defense if they blew up the lock and shattered the canal,
as it was on Canadian soil. Accordingly this was done, of course without
the slightest effect on the conflict then raging, but much to the
discomfort and loss of the honest voyageurs and trappers of the Lake
Superior region, whose interest in the war could hardly have been very

So far as history records the first sailing vessel to spread its wings on
the Great Lakes beyond Niagara Falls, was the "Griffin," built by the
Chevalier de la Salle in 1679, near the point where Buffalo now stands. La
Salle had brought to this point French ship-builders and carpenters,
together with sailors, to navigate the craft when completed. It was his
purpose to proceed in this vessel to the farthest corners of the Great
Lakes, establish trading and trapping stations, and take possession of the
country in the name of France. He was himself conciliatory with the
Indians and liked by them, but jealousies among the French themselves,
stirred up savage antagonism to him, and his ship narrowly escaped burning
while still on the stocks. In August of 1679, however, she was launched, a
brigantine of sixty tons burden, mounting five small cannon and three
arquebuses. Her model is said to have been not unlike that of the caravels
in which Columbus made his famous voyage, and copies of which were
exhibited at the Columbian Exposition. Bow and stern were high and almost
alike. Yet in this clumsy craft La Salle voyaged the whole length of Lake
Erie, passed through the Detroit River, and St. Clair River and lake;
proceeded north to Mackinaw, and thence south in Lake Michigan and into
Green Bay. It was the first time any vessel under sail had entered those
waters. Maps and charts there were none. The swift rushing waters of the
Detroit River flowed smoothly over limestone reefs, which the steamers of
to-day pass cautiously, despite the Government channels, cut deep and
plainly lighted. The flats, that broad expanse of marsh permeated by a
maze of false channels above Detroit, had to be threaded with no chart or
guide. Yet the "Griffin" made St. Ignace in twenty days from having set
sail, a record which is often not equaled by lumber schooners of the
present time. From Green Bay, La Salle sent the vessel back with a cargo
of furs that would have made him rich for life, had it ever reached a
market. But the vessel disappeared, and for years nothing was heard of
her. Finally La Salle learned that a half-breed pilot, who had shown signs
of treachery on the outward trip, had persuaded the crew to run her ashore
in the Detroit River, and themselves to take the valuable cargo. But the
traitors had reckoned without the savage Indians of the neighborhood, who
also coveted the furs and pelts. While the crew were trying to dispose of
these the red men set upon them and slew them all. The "Griffin" never
again floated on the lakes.

It is difficult to determine the time when sailing vessels next appeared
upon the lakes, but it was certainly not for nearly seventy-five years.
Captain Jonathan Carver reported a French schooner on Lake Superior about
1766, and in 1772 Alexander Harvey built a forty-ton sloop on the same
lake, in which he sought the site of a famous copper mine. But it was long
before Lake Superior showed more than an infrequent sail, though on Lake
Erie small vessels soon became common. Even in 1820 the furs of Lake
Superior were sent down to Chicago in bateaux.

Two small sailing vessels, the "Beaver" and the "Gladwin," which proved
very valuable to the besieged garrison at Detroit in 1763, were the next
sailing vessels on the lakes, and are supposed to have been built by the
English the year previous. It is said, that through the refusal of her
captain to take ballast aboard, the "Gladwin" was capsized on Lake Erie
and lost, and the entire crew drowned. The "Royal Charlotte," the
"Boston," and the "Victory" appeared on the lakes a few years later, and
went into commission between Fort Erie (Buffalo) and Detroit, carrying the
first year 1,464 bales of fur to Fort Erie, and practically establishing
commercial navigation.

It is hard to look clearly into the future. If the recommendations of one
J. Collins, deputy surveyor-general of the British Government, had
governed the destiny of the Great Lakes, the traffic between Buffalo and
the Soo by water, would to-day be in boats of fifteen tons or less. Under
orders of the English Government, Collins in 1788 made a survey of all the
lakes and harbors from Kingston to Mackinac, and in his report, expressing
his views as to the size of vessels that should be built for service on
the lakes, he said he thought that for service on Lake Ontario vessels
should be seventy-five or eighty tons burden, and on Lake Erie, if
expected to run to Lake Huron, they should be not more than fifteen tons.
What a stretch of imagination is necessary to conceive of the great volume
of traffic of the present time, passing Detroit in little schooners not
much larger than catboats that skim around the lakes! Imagine such a
corporation as the Northern Steamship Company, with its big fleet of steel
steamers, attempting to handle its freight business in sailing vessels of
a size that the average wharf-rat of the present time would disdain to
pilot. What a rush of business there would be at the Marine Post-Office in
Detroit, if some day this company would decide to cut off three of its
large steamers and send out enough schooners of the size recommended by
the English officer, to take their place! The fleet would comprise at
least 318 vessels, and would require not fewer than 1500 seamen to
navigate. It is sometimes said that there is a continual panorama of
vessels passing up and down the rivers of the Great Lakes, but what if the
Englishman had guessed right? Happily he did not, and vessels of 1500 tons
can navigate the connecting waters of Lake Huron and Lake Erie much better
than those of fifteen tons could in his time. That the early ship-builders
did not pay much attention to J. Collins, is evident from the fact that,
when the Detroit was surrendered to the Americans in 1796, twelve merchant
vessels were owned there of from fifty to one hundred tons each.


At the close of the eighteenth century the American sailor had hardly
superseded the red men as a navigator, and lake vessels were not much more
plentiful than airships are nowadays. Indeed, the entire fleet in 1799, so
far as can be learned, was as follows: The schooners "Nancy," "Swan," and
"Naegel;" the sloops "Sagina," "Detroit," "Beaver," "Industry,"
"Speedwell," and "Arabaska." This was the fleet, complete, of Lakes Huron,
Erie, and Michigan.

"A wild-looking set were the first white sailors of the lakes," says
Hubbard in his "Memorials of Half a Century." "Their weirdness was often
enhanced by the dash of Indian blood, and they are better described as
rangers of the woods and waters. Picturesque, too, they were in their red
flannel or leather shirts and cloth caps of some gay color, finished to a
point which hung over on one side with a depending tassel. They had a
genuine love for their occupation, and muscles that never seemed to tire
at the paddle and oar. These were not the men who wanted steamboats and
fast sailing vessels. These men had a real love for canoeing, and from
dawn to sunset, with only a short interval, and sometimes no midday rest,
they would ply the oars, causing the canoe or barge to shoot through the
water like a thing of life, but often contending against head winds and
gaining little progress in a day's rowing."


One of the earliest American sailors on a lake ship bigger than a bateau,
was "Uncle Dacy" Johnson, of Cleveland, who sailed for fifty years,
beginning about 1850. "When I was a chunk of a boy," says the old Captain
in a letter to a New York paper, "I put a thirty-two pound bundle on my
back and started on foot to Buffalo. I made the journey to Albany, N.Y.,
from Bridgeport, Conn., in sixteen days, which was nothing remarkable, as
I had $3 in money, and a bundle of food. Many a poor fellow I knew started
on the same journey with nothing but an axe. When I arrived at Buffalo I
found a very small town--Cleveland, Sandusky, and Erie, were all larger.
There were only two lighthouses on the lakes, one at Buffalo, which was
the first one built, and the other one at Erie. Buffalo was then called
Fort Erie, and was a struggling little town. My first trip as a sailor was
made from Buffalo to Erie, which was then considered quite a voyage. From
Buffalo to Detroit was looked upon as a long voyage, and a vessel of
thirty-two tons was the largest ship on the lakes. In 1813 I was one of a
crew of four who left Buffalo on the sloop 'Commencement' with a cargo of
whisky for Erie. While beating along shore the English frigate 'Charlotte'
captured us and two boatloads of red-coats boarded our vessel and took us
prisoners. We were paroled on shipboard the same day, and before night
concocted a scheme to get the Englishmen drunk on our whisky. One of our
fellows got drunk first, and told of our intentions, the plot was
frustrated, and we narrowly escaped being hung."


Once begun, the conquest of the lakes as a highway for trade was rapid. We
who live in the days of railroads can hardly appreciate how tremendous was
the impetus given to the upbuilding of a region if it possessed
practicable waterways. The whole history of the settlement of the Middle
West is told in the story of its rivers and lakes. The tide of
immigration, avoiding the dense forests haunted by Indians, the rugged
mountains, and the broad prairies into which the wheel of the heavy-laden
wagon cut deep, followed the course of the Potomac and the Ohio, the
Hudson, Mohawk, and the Great Lakes. Streams that have long since ceased
to be thought navigable for a boy's canoe were made to carry the settlers'
few household goods heaped on a flatboat. The flood of families going West
created a demand that soon covered the lakes with schooners and brigs.
Landed on the lake shore near some little stream, the immigrants would
build flatboats, and painfully pole their way into the interior to some
spot that took their fancy. Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois thus
filled up, towns growing by the side of streams now used only to turn
mill-wheels, but which in their day determined where the prosperous
settlement should be.

The steamboat was not slow in making its appearance on the lakes. In 1818,
while it was still an experiment on the seaboard, one of these craft
appeared on Lake Erie. The "Walk-in-the-Water" was her name, suggestive of
Indian nomenclature and, withal, exceedingly descriptive. She made the
trip from Buffalo to Detroit, not infrequently taking thirteen days. She
was a side-wheeler, a model which still holds favor on the lower lakes,
though virtually abandoned on the ocean and on Lake Superior. An oil
painting of this little craft, still preserved, shows her without a
pilot-house, steered by a curious tiller at the stern, with a smokestack
like six lengths of stovepipe, and huge unboxed wheels. She is said to
have been a profitable craft, often carrying as many as fifty passengers
on the voyage, for which eighteen dollars was charged. For four years she
held a monopoly of the business. Probably the efforts of Fulton and
Livingstone to protect the monopoly which had been granted them by the
State of New York, and the determination of James Roosevelt to maintain
what he claimed to be his exclusive right to the vertical paddle-wheel,
delayed the extension of steam navigation on the lakes as it did on the
great rivers. After four years of solitary service on Lake Erie, the
"Walk-in-the-Water" was wrecked in an October storm. Crowded with
passengers, she rode out a heavy gale through a long night. At daybreak
the cables parted and she went ashore, but no lives were lost. Her loss
was considered an irreparable calamity by the settlers at the western end
of the lake. "This accident," wrote an eminent citizen of Detroit, "may
be considered one of the greatest misfortunes which has ever befallen
Michigan, for, in addition to its having deprived us of all certain and
speedy communication with the civilized world, I am fearful it will
greatly check the progress of immigration and improvement."

It is scarcely necessary to note now that the apprehensions of the worthy
citizen of Michigan were unfounded. Steam navigation on the lakes was no
more killed by the loss of the pioneer craft than was transatlantic steam
navigation ended by the disapproving verdict of the scientists. Nowhere in
the world is there such a spectacle of maritime activity, nowhere such a
continuous procession of busy cargo-ships as in the Detroit River, and
through the colossal locks of the "Soo" canals. In 1827 the first
steamboat reached the Sault Ste. Marie, bearing among her passengers
General Winfield Scott, on a visit of inspection to the military post
there, but she made no effort to enter the great lake. About five years
later, the first "smoke boat," as the Indians called the steamers, reached
Chicago, the pigmy forerunner of the fleet of huge leviathans that all the
summer long, nowadays, blacken Chicago's sky with their torrents of smoke,
and keep the hurrying citizens fuming at the open draw of a bridge. All
side-wheelers were these pioneers, wooden of course, and but sorry
specimens of marine architecture, but they opened the way for great
things. For some years longer the rushing torrent of the Ste. Marie's kept
Lake Superior tightly closed to steamboats, but about 1840 the richness of
the copper mines bordering upon that lake began to attract capital, and
the need of steam navigation became crying. In 1845 men determined to put
some sort of a craft upon the lake that would not be dependent upon the
whims of wind and sails for propulsion. Accordingly, the sloop "Ocean," a
little craft of fifteen tons, was fitted out with an engine and wheels at
Detroit and towed to the "Soo." There she was dragged out of the water and
made the passage between the two lakes on rollers. The "Independence," a
boat of about the same size, was treated in the same way later in the
year. Scarcely anything in the history of navigation, unless it be the
first successful application of steam to the propulsion of boats is of
equal importance with the first appearance of steamboats in Lake Superior.
It may be worth while to abandon for a moment the orderly historical
sequence of this narrative, to emphasize the wonderful contrast between
the commerce of Lake Superior in the days of the "Independence" and
now--periods separated by scarcely sixty years. To-day the commerce of
that lake is more than half of all the great lakes combined. It is
conducted in steel vessels, ranging from 1500 to 8500 tons, and every year
sees an increase in their size. In 1901 more than 27,000,000 tons of
freight were carried in Lake Superior vessels, a gain of nearly 3,000,000
over the year before. The locks in the "Soo" canal, of which more later,
have twice had to be enlarged, while the Canadian Government has built a
canal of its own on the other side of the river. The discovery and
development of the wonderful deposits of iron ore at the head of the lake
have proved the greatest factors in the upbuilding of its commerce, and
the necessity for getting this ore to the mills in Illinois, Ohio, and
Pennsylvania, has resulted in the creation of a class of colossal
cargo-carriers on the lake that for efficiency and results, though not for
beauty, outdo any vessel known to maritime circles.


At the present time, when the project of a canal to connect the Atlantic
and Pacific oceans at the Central American Isthmus has almost passed out
of the sphere of discussion and into that of action, there is
suggestiveness in the part that the canal at the "Soo" played in
stimulating lake commerce. Until it was dug, the lake fleets grew but
slowly, and the steamers were but few and far between. Freight rates were
high, and the schooners and sloops made but slow passages. From an old
bill, of about 1835, we learn that freight rates between Detroit and
Cleveland, or Lake Erie points and Buffalo, were about as follows: Flour,
thirty cents a barrel; all grain, ten cents a bushel; beef, pork, ashes,
and whisky, thirteen cents a hundred pounds; skins and furs, thirty-one
cents a hundred weight; staves, from Detroit to Buffalo, $6.25 a thousand.
In 1831 there were but 111 vessels of all sorts on the lakes. In five
years, the fleet had grown to 262, and in 1845, the year when the first
steamer entered Lake Superior, to 493. In 1855, the year the "Soo" canal
was opened, there were in commission 1196 vessels, steam and sail, on the
unsalted seas. Then began the era of prodigious development, due chiefly
to that canal which Henry Clay, great apostle as he was of internal
improvements, said would be beyond the remotest range of settlements in
the United States or in the moon.

At the head of Lake Superior are almost illimitable beds of iron ore which
looks like rich red earth, and is scooped up by the carload with steam
shovels. Tens of thousands of men are employed in digging this ore and
transporting it to the nearest lake port--Duluth and West Superior being
the largest shipping points. Railroads built and equipped for the single
purpose of carrying the ore are crowded with rumbling cars day and night,
and at the wharves during the eight or nine months of the year when
navigation is open lie great steel ships, five hundred feet long, with a
capacity of from six thousand to nine thousand tons of ore. Perhaps in no
branch of marine architecture has the type best fitted to the need been so
scientifically determined as in planning these ore boats. They are cargo
carriers only, and all considerations of grace or beauty are rigidly
eliminated from their design. The bows are high to meet and part the heavy
billows of the tempestuous lakes, for they are run as late into the stormy
fall and early winter season as the ice will permit. From the forward
quarter the bulwarks are cut away, the high bow sheltering the forecastle
with the crews, while back of it rises a deck-house of steel, containing
the officers' rooms, and bearing aloft the bridge and wheel-house. Three
hundred feet further aft rises another steel deck-house, above the engine,
and between extends the long, flat deck, broken only by hatches every few
feet, battened down almost level with the deck floor. During the summer,
all too short for the work the busy iron carriers have to do, these boats
are run at the top of their speed, and on schedules that make the economy
of each minute essential. So they are built in such fashion as to make
loading as easy and as rapid as possible. Sometimes there are as many as
fourteen or sixteen hatches in one of these great ships, into each of
which while loading the ore chutes will be pouring their red flood, and
out of each of which the automatic unloaders at Cleveland or Erie will
take ten-ton bites of the cargo, until six or seven thousand tons of iron
ore may be unloaded in eight hours. The hold is all one great store-room,
no deck above the vessel's floor except the main deck. No water-tight
compartments or bulkheads divide it as in ocean ships, and all the
machinery is placed far in the stern. The vessel is simply a great steel
packing-box, with rounded ends, made strong to resist the shock of waves
and the impact of thousands of tons of iron poured in from a bin as high
above the floor as the roof of a three-story building. With vessels such
as these, the cost of carrying ore has been reduced below the level of
freight charges in any part of the world.

Yet comfort and speed are by no means overlooked. The quarters of the
officers and men are superior to those provided on most of the ocean
liners, and vastly better than anything offered by the "ocean tramps."
Many of the ships have special guest-cabins fitted up for their owners,
rivalling the cabins _de luxe_ of the ocean greyhounds. The speed of the
newer ships will average from fourteen to sixteen knots, and one of them
in a season will make as many as twenty round trips between Duluth and
Cleveland. Often one will tow two great steel barges almost as large as
herself, great ore tanks without machinery of any kind and mounting two
slender masts chiefly for signaling purposes, but also for use in case of
being cut adrift. For a time, the use of these barges, with their great
stowage capacity in proportion to their total displacement, was thought to
offer the cheapest way of carrying ore. One mining company went very
heavily into building these craft, figuring that every steamer could tow
two or three of them, giving thus for each engine and crew a load of
perhaps twenty-four thousand tons. But, seemingly, this expectation has
been disappointed, for while the barges already constructed are in active
use, most of the companies have discontinued building them. Indeed, at the
moment of the preparation of this book, there were but two steel barges
building in all the shipyards of the great lakes.

Another form of lake vessel of which great things were expected, but which
disappointed its promotors, is the "whaleback," commonly called by the
sailors "pigs." These are cigar-shaped craft, built of steel, their decks,
from the bridge aft to the engine-house, rounded like the back of a whale,
and carried only a few feet above the water. In a sea, the greater part of
the deck is all awash, and a trip from the bridge to the engine-house
means not only repeated duckings, but a fair chance of being swept
overboard. The first of these boats, called the "101," was built in
sections, the plates being forged at Cleveland, and the bow and stern
built at Wilmington, Del. The completed structure was launched at Duluth.
In after years she was taken to the ocean, went round Cape Horn, and was
finally wrecked on the north Pacific coast. At the time of the Columbian
Exposition, a large passenger-carrying whaleback, the "Christopher
Columbus," was built, which still plies on Lake Michigan, though there is
nothing discernible in the way of practical advantage in this design for
passenger vessels. For cargo carrying there would seem to be much in the
claims of their inventor, Alexander McDougall, for their superior capacity
and stability, yet they have not been generally adopted. The largest
whaleback now on the lakes is named after Mr. McDougall, is four hundred
and thirty feet over all, fifty feet beam, and of eight thousand tons
capacity. She differs from the older models in having a straight stem
instead of the "pig's nose."

[Illustration: THE "WHALEBACK"]

The iron traffic which has grown to such monster proportions, and created
so noble a fleet of ships, began in 1856, when the steamer "Ontonagon"
shipped two hundred and ninety-six tons of ore at Duluth. To-day, one
ship of a fleet numbering hundreds will carry nine thousand tons, and
make twenty trips a season. Mr. Waldon Fawcett, who has published in the
"Century Magazine" a careful study of this industry, estimates the total
ore cargoes for a year at about 20,000,000 tons. The ships of the ore
fleet will range from three hundred and fifty to five hundred feet in
length, with a draft of about eighteen feet--at which figure it must stop
until harbors and channels are deepened. Their cost will average $350,000.
The cargoes are worth upward of $100,000,000 annually, and the cost of
transportation has been so reduced that in some instances a ton is carried
twenty miles for one cent. The seamen, both on quarterdeck and forecastle,
will bear comparison with their salt-water brethren for all qualities of
manhood. Indeed, the lot of the sailor on the lakes naturally tends more
to the development of his better qualities than does that of the
salt-water jack, for he is engaged by the month, or season, rather than by
the trip; he is never in danger of being turned adrift in a foreign port,
nor of being "shanghaied" in a home one. He has at least three months in
winter to fit himself for shore work if he desires to leave the water, and
during the season he is reasonably sure of seeing his family every
fortnight. A strong trades-union among the lake seamen keeps wages up and
regulates conditions of employment. At the best, however, seafaring on
either lake or ocean is but an ill-paid calling, and the earnings of the
men who command and man the great ore-carriers are sorely out of
proportion to the profits of the employing corporations. Mr. Fawcett
asserts that $11,250 net earnings for a single trip was not unusual in one
season, and that this sum might have been increased by $4500 had the
owners taken a return cargo of coal instead of rushing back light for more
ore. As the vessels of the ore fleet are owned in the main by the steel
trust, their earnings are a consideration second to their efficiency in
keeping the mills supplied with ore.

The great canal at Sault Ste. Marie which has caused this prodigious
development of the lake shipping has been under constant construction and
reconstruction for almost half a century. It had its origin in a gift of
750,000 acres of public lands from the United States Government to the
State of Michigan. The State, in its turn, passed the lands on to a
private company which built the canal. This work was wholly
unsatisfactory, and very wisely the Government took the control of this
artificial waterway out of private hands and assumed its management
itself. At once it expended about $8,000,000 upon the enlargement and
improvement of the canal. Scarcely was it opened before the ratio at which
the traffic increased showed that it would not long be sufficient.
Enlarged in 1881, it gave a capacity of from fourteen feet, nine inches to
fifteen feet in depth, and with locks only four hundred feet in length.
Even a ditch of this size proved of inestimable value in helping vessels
to avoid the eighteen feet drop between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. By
1886 the tonnage which passed through the canal each year exceeded
9,000,000, and then for the first time this great waterway with a season
limited to eight or nine months, exceeded in the volume of its traffic the
great Suez canal. But shippers at once began to complain of its
dimensions. Vessels were constantly increasing both in length and in
draught, and the development of the great iron fields gave assurance that
a new and prodigious industry would add largely to the size of the fleet,
which up to that time had mainly been employed in carrying grain.
Accordingly the Government rebuilt the locks until they now are one
hundred feet in width, twenty-one feet deep, and twelve hundred feet
long. Immediately vessels were built of a size which tests even this great
capacity, and while the traffic through De Lessep's famous canal at Suez
has for a decade remained almost stationary, being 9,308,152 tons, in
1900, the traffic through the "Soo" has increased in almost arithmetical
proportion every year, attaining in 1901, 24,696,736 tons, or more than
the combined tonnage of the Suez, Kiel, and Manchester canals, though the
"Soo" is closed four months in the year. In 1887 the value of the iron ore
shipments through the canal was $8,744,995. Ten years later it exceeded
$30,000,000. Meanwhile it must be remembered that the Canadian Government
has built on its own side of the river very commodious canals which
themselves carry no small share of the Lake Superior shipments. An
illustration of the fashion in which superior facilities at one end of a
great line of travel compel improvements all along the line is afforded by
the fact that since the canal at the "Soo" has been deepened so as to take
vessels of twenty-one feet draught with practically no limit upon their
length, the cry has gone up among shippers and vessel men for a
twenty-foot channel from Duluth to the sea. At present there are several
points in the lower lakes, notably at what is called the Lime Kiln
Crossing, below Detroit, where twenty-foot craft are put to some hazard,
while beyond Buffalo the shallow Welland Canal, with its short locks, and
the shallow canals of the St. Lawrence River have practically stopped all
effort to establish direct and profitable communication between the great
lakes and the ocean. Such efforts have been made and the expedients
adopted to get around natural obstacles have sometimes been almost
pathetic in the story they tell of the eagerness of the lake marine to
find an outlet to salt-water. Ships are cut in two at Cleveland or at
Erie and sent, thus disjointed, through the canals to be patched together
again at Quebec or Montreal. One body of Chicago capitalists built four
steel steamers of about 2500 tons capacity each, and of dimensions suited
to the locks in the Welland Canal, in the hopes of maintaining a regular
freight line between that city and Liverpool. The vessels were loaded with
full cargo as far as Buffalo, there discharged half their freight, and
went on thus half-laden through the Canadian canals. But the loss in time
and space, and the expense of reshipment of cargo made the experiment an
unprofitable one. Scarcely a year has passed that some such effort has not
been made, and constantly the wonderful development of the ship-building
business on the Great Lakes greatly increases the vigor of the demand for
an outlet. Steel ships can be built on the lakes at a materially smaller
cost than anywhere along the seaboard. In the report of the Commissioner
of Navigation for 1901 it is noted that more than double the tonnage of
steel construction on the Atlantic coast was reported from the lakes. If
lake builders could send their vessels easily and safely to the ocean, we
should not need subsidies and special legislation to reestablish the
American flag abroad. By the report already quoted, it is shown that
thirty-nine steel steamers were built in lake yards of a tonnage ranging
from 1089 tons to 5125. Wooden ship-building is practically dead on the
lakes. In June of that year twenty-six more steel steamers, with an
aggregate tonnage of 81,000 were on the stocks in the lake yards. Two of
these are being built for ocean service, but both will have to be cut in
two before they can get through the Canadian canals. It is not surprising
that there appears among the people living in the commonwealths which
border on the Great Lakes a certain doubt as to whether the expenditure by
the United States Government of $200,000,000 for a canal at the Isthmus
will afford so great a measure of encouragement to American shipping and
be of as immediate advantage to the American exporter, as a twenty-foot
channel from Duluth to tide-water.

Though the old salt may sneer at the freshwater sailor who scarcely need
know how to box the compass, to whom the art of navigation is in the main
the simple practise of steering from port to port guided by headlands and
lights, who is seldom long out of sight of land, and never far from aid,
yet the perils of the lakes are quite as real as those which confront the
ocean seaman, and the skill and courage necessary for withstanding them
quite as great as his. The sailor's greatest safeguard in time of tempest
is plenty of searoom. This the lake navigator never has. For him there is
always the dreaded lee shore only a few miles away. Anchorage on the sandy
bottom of the lakes is treacherous, and harbors are but few and most
difficult of access. Where the ocean sailor finds a great bay, perhaps
miles in extent, entered by a gateway thousands of yards across, offering
a harbor of refuge in time of storm, the lake navigator has to run into
the narrow mouth of a river, or round under the lee of a government
breakwater hidden from sight under the crested waves and offering but a
precarious shelter at best. Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee--most of the
lake ports have witnessed such scenes of shipwreck and death right at the
doorway of the harbor, as no ocean port could tell. At Chicago great
schooners have been cast far up upon the boulevard that skirts a waterside
park, or thrown bodily athwart the railroad tracks that on the south side
of the city border the lake. The writer has seen from a city street,
crowded with shoppers on a bright but windy day, vessels break to pieces
on the breakwater, half a mile away but in plain sight, and men go down
to their death in the raging seas. On all the lakes, but particularly on
the smaller ones, an ugly sea is tossed up by the wind in a time so short
as to seem miraculous to the practised navigator of the ocean. The shallow
water curls into breakers under the force of even a moderate wind, and the
vessels are put to such a strain, in their struggles, as perhaps only the
craft built especially for the English channel have to undergo. Some of
the most fatal disasters the lakes have known resulted from iron vessels,
thus racked and tossed, sawing off, as the phrase goes, the rivets that
bound their plates together, and foundering. Fire, too, has numbered its
scores of victims on lake steamers, though this danger, like indeed most
others, is greatly decreased by the increased use of steel as a structural
material and the great improvement in the model of the lake craft. Even
ten years ago the lake boats were ridiculous in their clumsiness, their
sluggishness, and their lack of any of the charm and comfort that attend
ocean-going vessels, but progress toward higher types has been rapid, and
there are ships on the lakes to-day that equal any of their size afloat.

For forty years it has been possible to say annually, "This is the
greatest year in the history of the lake marine." For essentially it is a
new and a growing factor in the industrial development of the United
States. So far, from having been killed by the prodigious development of
our railroad system, it has kept pace with that system, and the years that
have seen the greatest number of miles of railroad built, have witnessed
the launching of the biggest lake vessels. There is every reason to
believe that this growth will for a long time be persistent, that the
climax has not yet been reached. For it is incredible that the Government
will permit the barrier at Niagara to the commerce of these great inland
seas to remain long unbroken. Either by the Mohawk valley route, now
followed by the Erie canal, or by the route down the St. Lawrence, with a
deepening and widening of the present Canadian canals, and a new canal
down from the St. Lawrence to Lake Champlain, a waterway will yet be
provided. The richest coast in the world is that bordering on the lakes.
The cheapest ships in the world can there be built. Already the Government
has spent its tens and scores of millions in providing waterways from the
extreme northwest end to the southeastern extremity of this water system,
and it is unbelievable that it shall long remain violently stopped there.
New devices for digging canals; such as those employed in the Chicago
drainage channel, and the new pneumatic lock, the power and capacity of
which seem to be practically unlimited, have vastly decreased the cost of
canal building, and multiplied amazingly the value of artificial
waterways. As it is admitted that the greatness and the wealth of New York
State are much to be credited to the Erie canal, so the prosperity and
populousness of the whole lake region will be enhanced when lake sailors
and the lake ship-builders are given a free waterway to the ocean.

**Transcriber's note: Page 256: changed estopped to stopped.



It is the ordinary opinion, and one expressed too often in publications
which might be expected to speak with some degree of accuracy, that river
transportation in the United States is a dying industry. We read every now
and then of the disappearance of the magnificent Mississippi River
steamers, and the magazines not infrequently treat their readers to
glowing stories of what is called the "flush" times on the Mississippi,
when the gorgeousness of the passenger accommodations, the lavishness of
the table, the prodigality of the gambling, and the mingled magnificence
and outlawry of life on the great packets made up a picturesque and
romantic phase of American life. It is true that much of the
picturesqueness and the romance has departed long since. The great river
no longer bears on its turbid bosom many of the towering castellated
boats built to run, as the saying was, on a heavy dew, but still carrying
their tiers upon tiers of ivory-white cabins high in air. The time is past
when the river was the great passenger thoroughfare from St. Louis to New
Orleans. Some few packets still ply upon its surface, but in the main the
passenger traffic has been diverted to the railroads which closely
parallel its channel on either side. The American travels much, but he
likes to travel fast, and for passenger traffic, except on a few routes
where special conditions obtain, the steamboat has long since been
outclassed by the railroads.

Yet despite the disappearance of its spectacular conditions the water
traffic on the rivers of the Mississippi Valley is greater now than at any
time in its history. Its methods only have changed. Instead of gorgeous
packets crowded with a gay and prodigal throng of travelers for pleasure,
we now find most often one dingy, puffing steamboat, probably with no
passenger accommodations at all, but which pushes before her from
Pittsburg to New Orleans more than a score of flatbottomed, square-nosed
scows, aggregating perhaps more than an acre of surface, and heavy laden
with coal. Such a tow--for "tow" it is in the river vernacular, although
it is pushed--will transport more in one trip than would suffice to load
six heavy freight trains. Not infrequently the barges or scows will number
more than thirty, carrying more than 1000 tons each, or a cargo exceeding
in value $100,000. During the season when navigation is open on the Ohio
and its tributaries, this traffic is pursued without interruption. Through
it and through the local business on the lower Mississippi, and the
streams which flow into it, there is built up a tonnage which shows the
freight movement, at least, on the great rivers, to exceed, even in these
days of railroads, anything recorded in their history.

No physical characteristic of the United States has contributed so greatly
to the nationalization of the country and its people, as the topography of
its rivers. From the very earliest days they have been the pathways along
which proceeded exploration and settlement. Our forefathers, when they
found the narrow strip of land along the Atlantic coast which they had at
first occupied, becoming crowded, according to their ideas at the time,
began working westward, following the river gaps. Up the Hudson and
westward by the Mohawk, up the Susquehanna and the Potomac, carrying
around the falls that impeded the course of those streams, trudging over
the mountains, and building flatboats at the headwaters of the Ohio, they
made their way west. Some of the most puny streams were utilized for
water-carriers, and the traveler of to-day on certain of the railroads
through western New York and Pennsylvania, will be amazed to see the
remnants of canals, painfully built in the beds of brawling streams, that
now would hardly float an Indian birch-bark canoe. In their time these
canals served useful purposes. The stream was dammed and locked every few
hundred yards, and so converted into a placid waterway with a flight of
mechanical steps, by which the boats were let down to, or raised up from
tidewater. To-day nothing remains of most of these works of engineering,
except masses of shattered masonry. For the railroads, using the river's
bank, and sometimes even part of the retaining walls of the canals for
their roadbeds, have shrewdly obtained and swiftly employed authority to
destroy all the fittings of these waterways which might, perhaps, at some
time, offer to their business a certain rivalry.

The corporation known as the Ohio Company, with a great purchase of land
from Congress in 1787, by keen advertising, and the methods of the modern
real-estate boomer, started the tide of emigration and the fleet of boats
down the Ohio. The first craft sent out by this corporation was named,
appropriately enough, the "Mayflower." She drifted from Pittsburg to a
spot near the mouth of the Muskingum river. Soon the immigrants began to
follow by scores, and then by thousands. Mr. McMaster has collected some
contemporary evidence of their numbers. One man at Fort Pitt saw fifty
flatboats set forth between the first of March and the middle of April,
1787. Between October, 1786, and May, 1787--the frozen season when boats
were necessarily infrequent--the adjutant at Fort Harmer counted one
hundred and seventy-seven flat-boats, and estimated they carried
twenty-seven hundred settlers. A shabby and clumsy fleet it was, indeed,
with only enough seamanship involved to push off a sand-bar, but it was a
great factor in the upbuilding of the nation. And a curious fact is that
the voyagers on one of these river craft hit upon the principle of the
screw-propeller, and put it to effective use. The story is told in the
diary of Manasseh Cutler, a member of the Ohio Company, who writes:
"Assisted by a number of people, we went to work and constructed a machine
in the form of a screw, with short blades, and placed it in the stern of
the boat, which we turned with a crank. It succeeded to perfection, and I
think it a very useful discovery." But the discovery was forgotten for
nearly three-quarters of a century, until John Ericsson rediscovered and
utilized it.

Once across the divide, the early stream of immigration took its way down
the Ohio River to the Mississippi. There it met the outposts of French
power, for the French burst open that great river, following their
missionaries, Marquette and Joliet, down from its headwaters in
Wisconsin, or pressing up from their early settlements at New Orleans.
Doubtless, if it had not been that the Mississippi afforded the most
practicable, and the most useful highway from north to south, the young
American people would have had a French State to the westward of them
until they had gone much further on the path toward national manhood. But
the navigation of the Mississippi and its tributaries was so rich a prize,
that it stimulated alike considerations of individual self-interest and
national ambition. From the day when the first flatboat made its way from
the falls of the Ohio to New Orleans, it was the fixed determination of
all people living by the great river, or using it as a highway for
commerce, that from its headwaters to its mouth it should be a purely
American stream. It was in this way that the Mississippi and its
tributaries proved to be, as I have said, a great influence in developing
the spirit of coherent nationality among the people of the young nation.

Indeed, no national Government could be of much value to the farmers and
trappers of Kentucky and Tennessee that did not assure them the right to
navigate the Mississippi to its mouth, and find there a place to
trans-ship their goods into ocean-going vessels. From the Atlantic
seaboard they were shut off by a wall, that for all purpose of export
trade was impenetrable. The swift current of the rivers beat back their
vessels, the towering ranges of the Alleghanies mocked at their efforts at
road building. From their hills flowed the water that filled the Father of
Waters and his tributaries. Nature had clearly designed this for their
outlet. As James Madison wrote: "The Mississippi is to them everything. It
is the Hudson, the Delaware, the Potomac, and all the navigable waters of
the Atlantic coast formed into one stream." Yet, when the first trader,
in 1786, drifted with his flatboat from Ohio down to New Orleans, thus
entering the confines of Spanish territory, he was seized and imprisoned,
his goods were taken from him, and at last he was turned loose, penniless,
to plod on foot the long way back to his home, telling the story of his
hardships as he went along. The name of that man was Thomas Amis, and
after his case became known in the great valley, it ceased to be a matter
of doubt that the Americans would control the Mississippi. He was in a
sense the forerunner of Jefferson and Jackson, for after his time no
intelligent statesman could doubt that New Orleans must be ours, nor any
soldier question the need for defending it desperately against any foreign
power. The story of the way in which Gen. James Wilkinson, by intrigue and
trickery, some years later secured a partial relaxation of Spanish
vigilance, can not be told here, though his plot had much to do with
opening the great river.


The story of navigation on the Mississippi River, is not without its
elements of romance, though it does not approach in world interest the
story of the achievements of the New England mariners on all the oceans of
the globe. Little danger from tempest was encountered here. The natural
perils to navigation were but an ignoble and unromantic kind--the shifting
sand-bar and the treacherous snag. Yet, in the early days, when the
flatboats were built at Cincinnati or Pittsburg, with high parapets of
logs or heavy timber about their sides, and manned not only with men to
work the sweeps and hold the steering oar, but with riflemen, alert of
eye, and unerring of aim, to watch for the lurking savage on the banks,
there was peril in the voyage that might even affect the stout nerves of
the hardy navigator from New Bedford or Nantucket. For many long years in
the early days of our country's history, the savages of the Mississippi
Valley were always hostile, continually enraged. The French and the
English, bent upon stirring up antagonism to the growing young nation, had
their agents persistently at work awakening Indian hostility, and, indeed,
it is probable that had this not been the case, the rough and lawless
character of the American pioneers, and their entire indifference to the
rights of the Indians, whom they were bent on displacing, would have
furnished sufficient cause for conflict.

First of the craft to follow the Indian canoes and the bateaux of the
French missionaries down the great rivers, was the flatboat--a homely and
ungraceful vessel, but yet one to which the people of the United States
owe, perhaps, more of real service in the direction of building up a great
nation than they do to Dewey's "Olympia," or Schley's "Brooklyn." A
typical flatboat of the early days of river navigation was about
fifty-five feet long by sixteen broad. It was without a keel, as its name
would indicate, and drew about three feet of water. Amidships was built a
rough deck-house or cabin, from the roof of which extended on either side,
two long oars, used for directing the course of the craft rather than for
propulsion, since her way was ever downward with the current, and
dependent upon it. These great oars seemed to the fancy of the early
flatboat men, to resemble horns, hence the name "broadhorns," sometimes
applied to the boats. Such a boat the settler would fill with household
goods and farm stock, and commit himself to the current at Pittsburg. From
the roof of the cabin that housed his family, cocks crew and hens cackled,
while the stolid eyes of cattle peered over the high parapet of logs built
about the edge for protection against the arrow or bullet of the wandering
redskin. Sometimes several families would combine to build one ark.
Drifting slowly down the river--the voyage from Pittsburg to the falls of
the Ohio, where Louisville now stands, requiring with the best luck, a
week or ten days--the shore on either hand would be closely scanned for
signs of unusual fertility, or for the opening of some small stream
suggesting a good place to "settle." When a spot was picked out the boat
would be run aground, the boards of the cabin erected skilfully into a
hut, and a new outpost of civilization would be established. As these
settlements multiplied, and the course of emigration to the west and
southwest increased, river life became full of variety and gaiety. In some
years more than a thousand boats were counted passing Marietta. Several
boats would lash together and make the voyage to New Orleans, which
sometimes occupied months, in company. There would be frolics and dances,
the notes of the violin--an almost universal instrument among the flatboat
men--sounded across the waters by night to the lonely cabins on the
shores, and the settlers not infrequently would put off in their skiffs to
meet the unknown voyagers, ask for the news from the east, and share in
their revels. Floating shops were established on the Ohio and its
tributaries--flatboats, with great cabins fitted with shelves and stocked
with cloth, ammunition, tools, agricultural implements, and the
ever-present whisky, which formed a principal staple of trade along the
rivers. Approaching a clump of houses on the bank, the amphibious
shopkeeper would blow lustily upon a horn, and thereupon all the
inhabitants would flock down to the banks to bargain for the goods that
attracted them. As the population increased the floating saloon and the
floating gambling house were added to the civilized advantages the river
bore on its bosom. Trade was long a mere matter of barter, for currency
was seldom seen in these outlying settlements. Skins and agricultural
products were all the purchasers had to give, and the merchant starting
from Pittsburg with a cargo of manufactured goods, would arrive at New
Orleans, perhaps three months later, with a cabin filled with furs and a
deck piled high with the products of the farm. Here he would dispose of
his cargo, perhaps for shipment to Europe, sell his flatboat for the
lumber in it, and begin his painful way back again to the head of

The flatboat never attempted to return against the stream. For this
purpose keel-boats or barges were used, great hulks about the size of a
small schooner, and requiring twenty-five men at the poles to push one
painfully up stream. Three methods of propulsion were employed. The
"shoulder pole," which rested on the bottom, and which the boatman pushed,
walking from bow to stern as he did so; tow-lines, called cordelles, and
finally the boat was drawn along by pulling on overhanging branches. The
last method was called "bushwhacking." These became in time the regular
packets of the rivers, since they were not broken up at the end of the
voyage and required trained crews for their navigation. The bargemen were
at once the envy and terror of the simple folk along the shores. A wild,
turbulent class, ready to fight and to dance, equally enraptured with the
rough scraping of a fiddle by one of their number, or the sound of the
war-whoop, which promised the only less joyous diversion of a fight, they
aroused all the inborn vagrant tendencies of the riverside boys, and to
run away with a flatboat became, for the Ohio or Indiana lad, as much of
an ambition as to run away to sea was for the boy of New England. It will
be remembered that Abraham Lincoln for a time followed the calling of a
flatboatman, and made a voyage to New Orleans, on which he first saw
slaves, and later invented a device for lifting flatboats over sand-bars,
the model for which is still preserved at Washington, though the industry
it was designed to aid is dead. Pigs, flour, and bacon, planks and
shingles, ploughs, hoes, and spades, cider and whisky, were among the
simple articles dealt in by the owners of the barges. Their biggest market
was New Orleans, and thither most of their food staples were carried, but
for agricultural implements and whisky there was a ready sale all along
the route. Tying up to trade, or to avoid the danger of night navigation,
the boatmen became the heroes of the neighborhood. Often they invited all
hands down to their boat for a dance, and by flaring torches to the notes
of accordion and fiddle, the evening would pass in rude and harmless
jollity, unless too many tin cups or gourds of fiery liquor excited the
always ready pugnacity of the men. They were ready to brag of their valor,
and to put their boasts to the test. They were "half horse, half
alligator," according to their own favorite expression, equally prepared
with knife or pistol, fist, or the trained thumb that gouged out an
antagonist's eye, unless he speedily called for mercy. "I'm a Salt River
roarer!" bawled one in the presence of a foreign diarist. "I can outrun,
outjump, throw down, drag out and lick any man on the river! I love
wimmen, and I'm chock full of fight!" In every crew the "best" man was
entitled to wear a feather or other badge, and the word "best" had no
reference to moral worth, but merely expressed his demonstrated ability to
whip any of his shipmates. They had their songs, too, usually sentimental,
as the songs of rough men are, that they bawled out as they toiled at the
sweeps or the pushpoles. Some have been preserved in history:

    "It's oh! As I was walking out,
       One morning in July,
    I met a maid who axed my trade.
       'A flatboatman,' says I.

    "And it's oh! She was so neat a maid
       That her stockings and her shoes
     She toted in her lily-white hands,
       For to keep them from the dews."


Just below the mouth of the Wabash on the Ohio was the site of
Shawneetown, which marked the line of division between the Ohio and the
Mississippi trade. Here goods and passengers were debarked for Illinois,
and here the Ohio boatmen stopped before beginning their return trip.
Because of the revels of the boatmen, who were paid off there, the place
acquired a reputation akin to that which Port Said, at the northern
entrance to the Suez Canal, now holds. It held a high place in river song
and story.

    "Some row up, but we row down,
     All the way to Shawneetown.
       Pull away, pull away,"

was a favorite chorus.

Natchez, Tennessee, held a like unsavory reputation among the Mississippi
River boatmen, for there was the great market in which were exchanged
northern products for the cotton, yams, and sugar of the rich lands of the

For food on the long voyage, the boatmen relied mostly on their rifles,
but somewhat on the fish that might be brought up from the depths of the
turbid stream, and the poultry and mutton which they could secure from the
settlers by barter, or not infrequently, by theft. Wild geese were
occasionally shot from the decks, while a few hours' hunt on shore would
almost certainly bring reward in the shape of wild turkey or deer. A
somewhat archaic story among river boatmen tells of the way in which
"Mike Fink," a famous character among them, secured a supply of mutton.
Seeing a flock of sheep grazing near the shore, he ran his boat near them,
and rubbed the noses of several with Scotch snuff. When the poor brutes
began to caper and sneeze in dire discomfort, the owner arrived on the
scene, and asked anxiously what could ail them. The bargeman, as a
traveled person, was guide, philosopher, and friend to all along the
river, and so, when informed that his sheep were suffering from black
murrain, and that all would be infected unless those already afflicted
were killed, the farmer unquestioningly shot those that showed the strange
symptoms, and threw the bodies into the river, whence they were presently
collected by the astute "Mike," and turned into fair mutton for himself
and passengers. Such exploits as these added mightily to the repute of the
rivermen for shrewdness, and the farmer who suffered received scant
sympathy from his neighbors.

But the boatmen themselves had dangers to meet, and robbers to evade or to
outwit. At any time the lurking Indian on the banks might send a
death-dealing arrow or bullet from some thicket, for pure love of
slaughter. For a time it was a favorite ruse of hostiles, who had secured
a white captive, to send him alone to the river's edge, under threat of
torture, there to plead with outstretched hands for aid from the passing
raft. But woe to the mariner who was moved by the appeal, for back of the
unfortunate, hidden in the bushes, lay ambushed savages, ready to leap
upon any who came ashore on the errand of mercy, and in the end neither
victim nor decoy escaped the fullest infliction of redskin barbarity.
There were white outlaws along the rivers, too; land pirates ready to rob
and murder when opportunity offered, and as the Spanish territory about
New Orleans was entered, the dangers multiplied. The advertisement of a
line of packets sets forth:

"No danger need be apprehended from the enemy, as every person whatever
will be under cover, made proof against rifle or musket balls, and
convenient portholes for firing out of. Each of the boats are armed with
six pieces, carrying a pound ball, also a number of muskets, and amply
supplied with ammunition, strongly manned with choice hands, and masters
of approved knowledge."

The English of the advertisement is not of the most luminous character,
yet it suffices to tell clearly enough to any one of imagination, the
story of some of the dangers that beset those who drifted from Ohio to New

The lower reaches of the Mississippi River bore among rivermen, during the
early days of the century, very much such a reputation as the Spanish Main
bore among the peaceful mariners of the Atlantic trade. They were the
haunts of pirates and buccaneers, mostly ordinary cheap freebooters,
operating from the shore with a few skiffs, or a lugger, perhaps, who
would dash out upon a passing vessel, loot it, and turn it adrift. But one
gang of these river pirates so grew in power and audacity, and its leaders
so ramified their associations and their business relations, as for a time
to become a really influential factor in the government of New Orleans,
while for a term of years they even put the authority of the United States
at nought. The story of the brothers Lafitte and their nest of criminals
at Barataria, is one of the most picturesque in American annals. On a
group of those small islands crowned with live-oaks and with fronded
palms, in that strange waterlogged country to the southwest of the
Crescent City, where the sea, the bayou, and the marsh fade one into the
other until the line of demarkation can scarcely be traced, the Lafittes
established their colony. There they built cabins and storehouses, threw
up-earthworks, and armed them with stolen cannon. In time the plunder of
scores of vessels filled the warehouses with the goods of all nations, and
as the wealth of the colony grew its numbers increased. To it were
attracted the adventurous spirits of the creole city. Men of Spanish and
of French descent, negroes, and quadroons, West Indians from all the
islands scattered between North and South America, birds of prey, and
fugitives from justice of all sorts and kinds, made that a place of
refuge. They brought their women and children, and their slaves, and the
place became a small principality, knowing no law save Lafitte's will.
With a fleet of small schooners the pirates would sally out into the Gulf
and plunder vessels of whatever sort they might encounter. The road to
their hiding-place was difficult to follow, either in boats or afoot, for
the tortuous bayous that led to it were intertwined in an almost
inextricable maze, through which, indeed, the trained pilots of the colony
picked their way with ease, but along which no untrained helmsman could
follow them. If attack were made by land, the marching force was
confronted by impassable rivers and swamps; if by boats, the invaders
pressing up a channel which seemed to promise success, would find
themselves suddenly in a blind alley, with nothing to do save to retrace
their course. Meanwhile, for the greater convenience of the pirates, a
system of lagoons, well known to them, and easily navigated in luggers,
led to the very back door of New Orleans, the market for their plunder. Of
the brothers Lafitte, one held state in the city as a successful merchant,
a man not without influence with the city government, of high standing in
the business community, and in thoroughly good repute. Yet he was, in
fact, the agent for the pirate colony, and the goods he dealt in were
those which the picturesque ruffians of Barataria had stolen from the
vessels about the mouth of the Mississippi River. The situation persisted
for nearly half a score of years. If there were merchants, importers and
shipowners in New Orleans who suffered by it, there were others who
profited by it, and it has usually been the case that a crime or an
injustice by which any considerable number of people profit, becomes a
sort of vested right, hard to disturb. And, indeed, the Baratarians were
not without a certain rude sense of patriotism and loyalty to the United
States, whose laws they persistently violated. For when the second war
with Great Britain was declared and Packenham was dispatched to take New
Orleans, the commander of the British fleet made overtures to Lafitte and
his men, promising them a liberal subsidy and full pardon for all past
offenses, if they would but act as his allies and guide the British
invaders to the most vulnerable point in the defenses of the Crescent
City. The offer was refused, and instead, the chief men of the pirate
colony went straightway to New Orleans to put Jackson on his guard, and
when the opposing forces met on the plains of Chalmette, the very center
of the American line was held by Dominique Yon, with a band of his swarthy
Baratarians, with howitzers which they themselves had dragged from their
pirate stronghold to train upon the British. Many of us, however
law-abiding, will feel a certain sense that the romance of history would
have been better served, if after this act of patriotism, the pirates had
been at least peacefully dispersed. But they were wedded to their
predatory life, returned with renewed zeal to their piracies, and were
finally destroyed by the State forces and a United States naval
expedition, which burned their settlement, freed their slaves, razed their
fortifications, confiscated their cannon, killed many of their people,
and dispersed the rest among the swamps and forests of southern Louisiana.

In 1809 a New York man, by name Nicholas J. Roosevelt, set out from
Pittsburg in a flatboat of the usual type, to make the voyage to New
Orleans. He carried no cargo of goods for sale, nor did he convey any band
of intended settlers, yet his journey was only second in importance to the
ill-fated one, in which the luckless Amis proved that New Orleans must be
United States territory, or the wealth of the great interior plateau would
be effectively bottled up. For Roosevelt was the partner of Fulton and
Livingston in their new steamboat enterprise, having himself suggested the
vertical paddle-wheel, which for more than a half a century was the
favorite means of utilizing steam power for the propulsion of boats. He
was firm in the belief that the greatest future for the steamboat was on
the great rivers that tied together the rapidly growing commonwealths of
the middle west, and he undertook this voyage for the purpose of studying
the channel and the current of the rivers, with the view to putting a
steamer on them. Wise men assured him that on the upper river his scheme
was destined to failure. Could a boat laden with a heavy engine be made of
so light a draught as to pass over the shallows of the Ohio? Could it run
the falls at Louisville, or be dragged around them as the flatboats often
were? Clearly not. The only really serviceable type of river craft was the
flatboat, for it would go where there was water enough for a muskrat to
swim in, would glide unscathed over the concealed snag or, thrusting its
corner into the soft mud of some protruding bank, swing around and go on
as well stern first as before. The flatboat was the sum of human ingenuity
applied to river navigation. Even barges were proving failures and
passing into disuse, as the cost of poling them upstream was greater than
any profit to be reaped from the voyage. Could a boat laden with thousands
of pounds of machinery make her way northward against that swift current?
And if not, could steamboat men be continually taking expensive engines
down to New Orleans and abandoning them there, as the old-time river men
did their rafts and scows? Clearly not. So Roosevelt's appearance on the
river did not in any way disquiet the flatboatmen, though it portended
their disappearance as a class. Roosevelt, however, was in no wise
discouraged. Week after week he drifted along the Ohio and Mississippi,
taking detailed soundings, studying the course of the current, noting the
supply of fuel along the banks, observing the course of the rafts and
flatboats as they drifted along at the mercy of the tide. Nothing escaped
his attention, and yet it may well be doubted whether the mass of data he
collected was in fact of any practical value, for the great river is the
least understandable of streams. Its channel is as shifting as the mists
above Niagara. Where yesterday the biggest boat on the river, deep laden
with cotton, might pass with safety, there may be to-day a sand-bar
scarcely hidden beneath the tide. Its banks change over night in form and
in appearance. In time of flood it cuts new channels for itself, leaving
in a few days river towns far in the interior, and suddenly giving a water
frontage to some plantation whose owner had for years mourned over his
distance from the river bank. Capricious and irresistible, working
insidiously night and day, seldom showing the progress of its endeavors
until some huge slice of land, acres in extent, crumbles into the flood,
or some gully or cut-off all at once appears as the main channel, the
Mississippi, even now when the Government is at all times on the alert to
hold it in bounds, is not to be lightly learned nor long trusted. In
Roosevelt's time, before the days of the river commission, it must have
been still more difficult to comprehend. Nevertheless, the information he
collected, satisfied him that the stream was navigable for steamers, and
his report determined his partners to build the pioneer craft at
Pittsburg. She was completed, "built after the fashion of a ship with
portholes in her side," says a writer of the time, dubbed the "Orleans,"
and in 1812 reached the city on the sodden prairies near the mouth of the
Mississippi, whose name we now take as a synonym for quaintness, but which
at that time had seemingly the best chance to become a rival of London and
Liverpool, of any American town. For just then the great possibilities of
the river highway were becoming apparent. The valley was filling up with
farmers, and their produce sought the shortest way to tide-water. The
streets of the city were crowded with flatboatmen, from Indiana, Ohio, and
Kentucky, and with sailors speaking strange tongues, and gathered from all
the ports of the world. At the broad levee floated the ships of all
nations. All manual work was done by the negro slaves, and already the
planters were beginning to show signs of that prodigal prosperity, which,
in the flush times, made New Orleans the gayest city in the United States.
In 1813 Jackson put the final seal on the title-deeds to New Orleans, and
made the Mississippi forever an American river by defeating the British
just outside the city's walls, and then river commerce grew apace. In 1817
fifteen hundred flatboats and five hundred barges tied up to the levee. By
that time the steamboat had proved her case, for the "New Orleans" had run
for years between Natchez and the Louisiana city, charging a fare of
eighteen dollars for the down, and twenty-five dollars for the up trip,
and earning for her owners twenty thousand dollars profits in one year.
She was snagged and lost in 1814, but by that time others were in the
field, first of all the "Comet," a stern-wheeler of twenty-five tons,
built at Pittsburg, and entering the New Orleans-Natchez trade in 1814.
The "Vesuvius," and the "Ætna."--volcanic names which suggested the
explosive end of too many of the early boats--were next in the field, and
the latter won fame by being the first boat to make the up trip from New
Orleans to Louisville. Another steamboat, the "Enterprise," carried a
cargo of, powder and ball from Pittsburg to General Jackson at New
Orleans, and after some service on southern waters, made the return trip
to Louisville in twenty-five days. This was a great achievement, and
hailed by the people of the Kentucky town as the certain forerunner of
commercial greatness, for at one time there were tied to the bank the
"Enterprise" from New Orleans, the "Despatch" from Pittsburg, and the
"Kentucky Elizabeth" from the upper Kentucky River. Never had the
settlement seemed to be so thoroughly in the heart of the continent.
Thereafter river steamboating grew so fast that by 1819 sixty-three
steamers, of varying tonnage from twenty to three hundred tons, were
plying on the western rivers. Four had been built at New Orleans, one each
at Philadelphia, New York, and Providence, and fifty-six on the Ohio. The
upper reaches of the Mississippi still lagged in the race, for most of the
boats turned off up the Ohio River, into the more populous territory
toward the east. It was not until August, 1817, that the "General Pike,"
the first steamer ever to ascend the Mississippi River above the mouth of
the Ohio, reached St. Louis. No pictures, and but scant descriptions of
this pioneer craft, are obtainable at the present time. From old letters
it is learned that she was built on the model of a barge, with her cabin
situated on the lower deck, so that its top scarcely showed above the
bulwarks. She had a low-pressure engine, which at times proved inadequate
to stem the current, and in such a crisis the crew got out their shoulder
poles and pushed her painfully up stream, as had been the practice so many
years with the barges. At night she tied up to the bank. Only one other
steamer reached St. Louis in the same twelve months. By way of contrast to
this picture of the early beginnings of river navigation on the upper
Mississippi, we may set over some facts drawn from recent official
publications concerning the volume of river traffic, of which St. Louis is
now the admitted center. In 1890 11,000,000 passengers were carried in
steamboats on rivers of the Mississippi system. The Ohio and its
tributaries, according to the census of that year, carried over 15,000,000
tons of freight annually, mainly coal, grain, lumber, iron, and steel. The
Mississippi carries about the same amount of freight, though on its turbid
tide, cotton and sugar, in no small degree, take the place of grain and
the products of the furnaces and mills.

But it was a long time before steam navigation approached anything like
these figures, and indeed, many years passed before the flatboat and the
barge saw their doom, and disappeared. In 1821, ten years after the first
steamboat arrived at New Orleans, there was still recorded in the annals
of the town, the arrival of four hundred and forty-one flatboats, and one
hundred and seventy-four barges. But two hundred and eighty-seven
steamboats also tied up to the levee that year, and the end of the
flatboat days was in sight. Ninety-five of the new type of vessels were in
service on the Mississippi and its tributaries, and five were at Mobile
making short voyages on the Mississippi Sound and out into the Gulf. They
were but poor types of vessels at best. At first the shortest voyage up
the river from New Orleans to Shippingport--then a famous landing, now
vanished from the map--was twenty-two days, and it took ten days to come
down. Within six years the models of the boats and the power of the
engines had been so greatly improved that the up trip was made in twelve
days, and the down in six. Even the towns on the smaller streams tributary
to the great river, had their own fleets. Sixteen vessels plied between
Nashville and New Orleans. The Red River, and even the Missouri, began to
echo to the puffing of the exhaust and the shriek of the steam-whistle.
Indeed, it was not very long before the Missouri River became as important
a pathway for the troops of emigrants making for the great western plains
and in time for the gold fields of California, as the Ohio had been in the
opening days of the century for the pioneers bent upon opening up the
Mississippi Valley. The story of the Missouri River voyage, the landing
place at Westport, now transformed into the great bustling city of Kansas
City, and all the attendant incidents which led up to the contest in
Kansas and Nebraska, forms one of the most interesting, and not the least
important chapters in the history of our national development.

The decade during which the steamboats and the flatboats still struggled
for the mastery, was the most picturesque period of Mississippi River
life. Then the river towns throve most, and waxed turbulent, noisy, and
big, according to the standards of the times. Places which now are mere
names on the map, or have even disappeared from the map altogether, were
great trans-shipping points for goods on the way to the sea. New Madrid,
for example, which nowadays we remember chiefly as being one of the
stubborn obstacles in the way of the Union opening of the river in the
dark days of the Civil War, was in 1826 like a seaport. Flatboats in
groups and fleets came drifting to its levees heavy laden with the
products of the west and south, the output of the northern farms and
mills, and the southern plantations. On the crowded river bank would be
disembarked goods drawn from far-off New England, which had been dragged
over the mountains and sent down the Ohio to the Mississippi; furs from
northern Minnesota or Wisconsin; lumber in the rough, or shaped into
planks, from the mills along the Ohio; whisky from Kentucky, pork and
flour from Illinois, cattle, horses, hemp, fabrics, tobacco, everything
that men at home or abroad, could need or crave, was gathered up by
enterprising traders along three thousand miles of waterway, and brought
hither by clumsy rafts and flatboats, and scarcely less clumsy steamboats,
for distribution up and down other rivers, and shipment to foreign lands.

At New Orleans there was a like deposit of all the products of that rich
valley, an empire in itself. There grain, cotton, lumber, live stock,
furs, the output of the farms and the spoils of the chase, were
transferred to ocean-going ships and sent to foreign markets. Speculative
spirits planned for the day, when this rehandling of cargoes at the
Crescent City would be no longer necessary, but ships would clear from
Louisville or St. Louis to Liverpool or Hamburg direct. A fine type of the
American sailor, Commodore Whipple, who had won his title by good
sea-fighting in the Revolutionary War, gave great encouragement to this
hope, in 1800, by taking the full-rigged ship "St. Clair," with a cargo of
pork and flour, from Marietta, Ohio, down the Ohio, over the falls at
Louisville, thence down the Mississippi, and round by sea to Havana, and
so on to Philadelphia. This really notable exploit--to the success of
which good luck contributed almost as much as good seamanship--aroused
the greatest enthusiasm. The Commodore returned home overland, from
Philadelphia. His progress, slow enough, at best, was checked by ovations,
complimentary addresses, and extemporized banquets. He was _the_ man of
the moment. The poetasters, who were quite as numerous in the early days
of the republic, as the true poets were scarce, signalized his exploit in

          "The Triton crieth,
            'Who cometh now from shore?'
           Neptune replieth,
            ''Tis the old Commodore.
    Long has it been since I saw him before.
    In the year '75 from Columbia he came,
    The pride of the Briton, on ocean to tame.

           *       *       *       *       *

    "'But now he comes from western woods,
    Descending slow, with gentle floods,
    The pioneer of a mighty train,
    Which commerce brings to my domain.'"

But Neptune and the Triton had no further occasion to exchange notes of
astonishment upon the appearance of river-built ships on the ocean. The
"St. Clair" was the first and last experiment of the sort. Late in the
nineties, the United States Government tried building a torpedo-boat at
Dubuque for ocean service, but the result was not encouraging.

Year after year the steamboats multiplied, not only on the rivers of the
West, but on those leading from the Atlantic seaboard into the interior.
It may be said justly that the application of steam to purposes of
navigation made the American people face fairly about. Long they had
stood, looking outward, gazing across the sea to Europe, their sole
market, both for buying and for selling. But now the rich lands beyond
the mountains, inviting settlers, and cut up by streams which offered
paths for the most rapid and comfortable method of transportation then
known, commanded their attention. Immigrants no longer stopped in stony
New England, or in Virginia, already dominated by an aristocratic
land-owning class, but pressed on to Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, and
Illinois. As the lands filled up, the little steamers pushed their noses
up new streams, seeking new markets. The Cumberland, and the Tennessee,
the Missouri, the Arkansas, the Red, the Tombigbee, and the Chattahoochee
were stirred by the churning wheels, and over-their forests floated the
mournful sough of the high-pressure exhaust.

In 1840, a count kept at Cairo, showed 4566 vessels had passed that point
during the year. By 1848, a "banner" year, in the history of navigation on
the Mississippi, traffic was recorded thus:

25 vessels plying between Louisville, New Orleans and
 Cincinnati                                             8,484 tons
7 between Nashville and New Orleans                     2,585 tons
4 between Florence and New Orleans                      1,617 tons
4 in St. Louis local trade                              1,001 tons
7 in local cotton trade                                 2,016 tons
River "tramps" and unclassified                        23,206 tons

It may be noted that in all the years of the development of the
Mississippi shipping, there was comparatively little increase in the size
of the individual boats. The "Vesuvius," built in 1814, was 480 tons
burthen, 160 feet long, 28.6 feet beam, and drew from five to six feet.
The biggest boats of later years were but little larger.


The aristocrat of the Mississippi River steamboat was the pilot. To him
all men deferred. So far as the river service furnished a parallel to the
autocratic authority of the sea-going captain or master, he was it. All
matters pertaining to the navigation of the boat were in his domain, and
right zealously he guarded his authority and his dignity. The captain
might determine such trivial matters as hiring or discharging men, buying
fuel, or contracting for freight; the clerk might lord it over the
passengers, and the mate domineer over the black roustabouts; but the
pilot moved along in a sort of isolated grandeur, the true monarch of all
he surveyed. If, in his judgment the course of wisdom was to tie up to an
old sycamore tree on the bank and remain motionless all night, the boat
tied up. The grumblings of passengers and the disapproval of the captain
availed naught, nor did the captain often venture upon either criticism or
suggestion to the lordly pilot, who was prone to resent such invasion of
his dignity in ways that made trouble. Indeed, during the flush times on
the Mississippi, the pilots were a body of men possessing painfully
acquired knowledge and skill, and so organized as to protect all the
privileges which their attainments should win for them. The ability to
"run" the great river from St. Louis to New Orleans was not lightly won,
nor, for that matter, easily retained, for the Mississippi is ever a
fickle flood, with changing landmarks and shifting channel. In all the
great volume of literature bearing on the story of the river, the
difficulties of its conquest are nowhere so truly recounted as in Mark
Twain's _Life on the Mississippi_, the humorous quality of which does not
obscure, but rather enhances its value as a picturesque and truthful story
of the old-time pilot's life. The pilot began his work in boyhood as a
"cub" to a licensed pilot. His duties ranged from bringing refreshments up
to the pilot-house, to holding the wheel when some straight stretch or
clear, deep channel offered his master a chance to leave his post for a
few minutes. For strain on the memory, his education is comparable only to
the Chinese system of liberal culture, which comprehends learning by rote
some tens of thousands of verses from the works of Confucius and other
philosophers of the far East. Beginning at New Orleans, he had to commit
to memory the name and appearance of every point of land, inlet, river or
bayou mouth, "cut-off," light, plantation and hamlet on either bank of the
river all the way to St. Louis. Then, he had to learn them all in their
opposite order, quite an independent task, as all of us who learned the
multiplication table backward in the days of our youth, will readily
understand. These landmarks it was needful for him to recognize by day and
by night, through fog or driving rain, when the river was swollen by
spring floods, or shrunk in summer to a yellow ribbon meandering through a
Sahara of sand. He had need to recognize at a glance the ripple on the
water that told of a lurking sand-bar and distinguish it from the almost
identical ripple that a brisk breeze would raise. Most perplexing of the
perils that beset river navigation are the "snags," or sunken logs that
often obstruct the channel. Some towering oak or pine, growing in lusty
strength for its half-century or more by the brink of the upper reaches of
one of the Mississippi system would, in time, be undermined by the flood
and fall into the rushing tide. For weeks it would be rolled along the
shallows; its leaves and twigs rotting off, its smaller branches breaking
short, until at last, hundreds of miles, perhaps, below the scene of its
fall, it would lodge fair in the channel. The gnarled and matted mass of
boughs would ordinarily cling like an anchor to the sandy bottom, while
the buoyant trunk, as though struggling to break away, would strain upward
obliquely to within a few inches of the surface of the muddy water,
which--too thick to drink and too thin to plough, as the old saying
went--gave no hint of this concealed peril; but the boat running fairly
upon it, would have her bows stove in and go quickly to the bottom. After
the United States took control of the river and began spending its
millions annually in improving it for navigation and protecting the
surrounding country against its overflows, "snag-boats" were put on the
river, equipped with special machinery for dragging these fallen forest
giants from the channel, so that of late years accidents from this cause
have been rare. But for many years the riverman's chief reliance was that
curious instinct or second sight which enabled the trained pilot to pick
his way along the most tortuous channel in the densest fog, or to find the
landing of some obscure plantation on a night blacker than the blackest of
the roustabouts, who moved lively to the incessant cursing of the mate.

The Mississippi River steamboat of the golden age on the river--the type,
indeed, which still persists--was a triumph of adaptability to the service
for which she was designed. More than this--she was an egregious
architectural sham. She was a success in her light draught, six to eight
feet, at most, and in her prodigious carrying capacity. It was said of one
of these boats, when skilfully loaded by a gang of practical roustabouts,
under the direction of an experienced mate, that the freight she carried,
if unloaded on the bank, would make a pile bigger than the boat herself.
The hull of the vessel was invariably of wood, broad of beam, light of
draught, built "to run on a heavy dew," and with only the rudiments of a
keel. Some freight was stowed in the hold, but the engines were not placed
there, but on the main deck, built almost flush with the water, and
extending unbroken from stem to stern. Often the engines were in pairs, so
that the great paddle-wheels could be worked independently of each other.
The finest and fastest boats were side-wheelers, but a large wheel at the
stern, or two stern wheels, side by side, capable of independent action,
were common modes of propulsion. The escape-pipes of the engine were
carried high aloft, above the topmost of the tiers of decks, and from each
one alternately, when the boat was under way, would burst a gush of steam,
with a sound like a dull puff, followed by a prolonged sigh, which could
be heard far away beyond the dense forests that bordered the river. A row
of posts, always in appearance, too slender for the load they bore,
supported the saloon deck some fifteen feet above the main deck. When
business was good on the river, the space within was packed tight with
freight, leaving barely room enough for passenger gangways, and for the
men feeding the roaring furnaces with pine slabs. A great steamer coming
down to New Orleans from the cotton country about the Red River, loaded to
the water's edge with cotton bales, so that, from the shore, she looked
herself like a monster cotton bale, surmounted by tiers of snowy cabins
and pouring forth steam and smoke from towering pipes, was a sight long to
be remembered. It is a sight, too, that is still common on the lower
river, where the business of gathering up the planter's crop and getting
it to market has not yet passed wholly into the hands of the railroads.

[Illustration: A DECK LOAD OF COTTON]

Above the cargo and the roaring furnaces rose the cabins, two or three
tiers, one atop the other, the topmost one extending only about one-third
of the length of the boat, and called the "Texas." The main saloon
extending the whole length of the boat, save for a bit of open deck at bow
and stern, was in comparison with the average house of the time, palatial.
On either side it was lined by rows of doors, each opening into a
two-berthed stateroom. The decoration was usually ivory white, and on the
main panel of each door was an oil painting of some romantic landscape.
There Chillon brooded over the placid azure of the lake, there storms
broke with jagged lightning in the Andes, there buxom girls trod out the
purple grapes of some Italian vineyard. The builders of each new steamer
strove to eclipse all earlier ones in the brilliancy of these works of
art, and discussion of the relative merits of the paintings on the
"Natchez" and those on the "Baton Rouge" came to be the chief theme of art
criticism along the river. Bright crimson carpet usually covered the floor
of the long, tunnel-like cabin. Down the center were ranged the tables,
about which, thrice a day, the hungry passengers gathered to be fed, while
from the ceiling depended chandeliers, from which hung prismatic pendants,
tinkling pleasantly as the boat vibrated with the throb of her engines. At
one end of the main saloon was the ladies' cabin, discreetly cut off by
crimson curtains; at the other, the bar, which, in a period when copious
libations of alcoholic drinks were at least as customary for men as the
cigar to-day, was usually a rallying point for the male passengers.

Far up above the yellow river, perched on top of the "Texas," or topmost
tier of cabins, was the pilot-house, that honorable eminence of glass and
painted wood which it was the ambition of every boy along the river some
day to occupy. This was a great square box, walled in mainly with glass.
Square across the front of it rose the huge wheel, eight feet in diameter,
sometimes half-sunken beneath the floor, so that the pilot, in moments of
stress, might not only grip it with his hands, but stand on its spokes, as
well. Easy chairs and a long bench made up the furniture of this sacred
apartment. In front of it rose the two towering iron chimneys, joined,
near the top by an iron grating that usually carried some gaudily colored
or gilded device indicative of the line to which the boat belonged.
Amidships, and aft of the pilot-house, rose the two escape pipes, from
which the hoarse, prolonged s-o-o-ugh of the high pressure exhaust burst
at half-minute intervals, carrying to listeners miles away, the news that
a boat was coming.

All this edifice above the hull of the boat, was of the flimsiest
construction, built of pine scantling, liberally decorated with scroll-saw
work, and lavishly covered with paint mixed with linseed oil. Beneath it
were two, four, or six roaring furnaces fed with rich pitch-pine, and open
on every side to drafts and gusts. From the top of the great chimneys
poured volcanic showers of sparks, deluging the inflammable pile with a
fiery rain. The marvel is not that every year saw its quotum of steamers
burned to the water's edge, but, rather, that the quota were
proportionately so small.

At midnight this apparent inflammability was even more striking. Lights
shone from the windows of the long row of cabins, and wherever there was a
chink, or a bit of glass, or a latticed blind, the radiance streamed
forth as though within were a great mass of fire, struggling, in every
way, to escape. Below, the boiler deck was dully illumined by smoky
lanterns; but when one of the great doors of the roaring furnace was
thrown open, that the half-naked black firemen might throw in more
pitch-pine slabs, there shone forth such a fiery glare, that the boat and
the machinery--working in the open, and plain to view--seemed wrapped in a
Vesuvius of flame, and the sturdy stokers and lounging roustabouts looked
like the fiends in a fiery inferno. The danger was not merely apparent,
but very real. During the early days of steamboating, fires and boiler
explosions were of frequent occurrence. A river boat, once ablaze, could
never be saved, and the one hope for the passengers was that it might be
beached before the flames drove them overboard. The endeavor to do this
brought out some examples of magnificent heroism among captains, pilots,
and engineers, who, time and again, stood manfully at their posts, though
scorched by flames, and cut off from any hope of escape, until the boat's
prow was thrust well into the bank, and the passengers were all saved. The
pilots, in the presence of such disaster, were in the sorest straits, and
were, moreover, the ones of the boat's company upon whom most depended the
fate of those on board. Perched at the very top of a large tinder-box, all
avenues of escape except a direct plunge overboard were quickly closed to
them. If they left the wheel the current would inevitably swing the boat's
head downstream, and she would drift, aimlessly, a flaming funeral pyre
for all on board. Many a pilot stood, with clenched teeth, and eyes firm
set upon the distant shore, while the fire roared below and behind him,
and the terrified passengers edged further and further forward as the
flames pressed their way toward the bow, until at last came the grinding
sound under the hull, and the sudden shock that told of shoal water and
safety. Then, those on the lower deck might drop over the side, or swarm
along the windward gangplank to safety, but the pilot too often was hemmed
in by the flames, and perished with his vessel.


In the year 1840 alone there were 109 steamboat disasters chronicled, with
a loss of fifty-nine vessels and 205 lives. The high-pressure boilers used
on the river, cheaply built, and for many years not subjected to any
official inspection, contributed more than their share to the list of
accidents. Boiler explosions were so common as to be reckoned upon every
time a voyage was begun. Passengers were advised to secure staterooms aft
when possible, as the forward part of the boat was the more apt to be
shattered if the boiler "went up." Every river town had its citizens who
had survived an explosion, and the stock form into which to put the
humorous quip or story of the time was to have it told by the clerk going
up as he met the captain in the air coming down, with the débris of the
boat flying all about them. As the river boats improved in character,
disasters of this sort became less frequent, and the United States, by
establishing a rigid system of boiler inspection, and compelling engineers
to undergo a searching examination into their fitness before receiving a
license, has done much to guard against them. Yet to-day, we hear all too
frequently of river steamers blown to bits, and all on board lost, though
it is a form of disaster almost unknown on Eastern waters where crowded
steamboats ply the Sound, the Hudson, the Connecticut, and the Potomac,
year after year, with never a disaster. The cheaper material of Western
boats has something to do with this difference, but a certain
happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care spirit, which has characterized the Western
riverman since the days of the broadhorns, is chiefly responsible. Most
often an explosion is the result of gross carelessness--a sleepy engineer,
and a safety-valve "out of kilter," as too many of them often are, have
killed their hundreds on the Western rivers. Sometimes, however, the
almost criminal rashness, of which captains were guilty, in a mad rush for
a little cheap glory, ended in a deafening crash, the annihilation of a
good boat, and the death of scores of her people by drowning, or the awful
torture of inhaling scalding steam. Rivalry between the different boats
was fierce, and now and then at the sight of a competitor making for a
landing where freight and passengers awaited the first boat to land her
gangplank, the alert captain would not unnaturally take some risks to get
there first. Those were the moments that resulted in methods in the engine
room picturesquely described as "feeding the fires with fat bacon and
resin, and having a nigger sit on the safety valve." To such impromptu
races might be charged the most terrifying accidents in the history of the

But the great races, extending sometimes for more than a thousand miles up
the river, and carefully planned for months in advance, were seldom, if
ever, marred by an accident. For then every man on both boats was on the
alert, from pilot down to fuel passer. The boat was trimmed by guidance of
a spirit level until she rode the water at precisely the draft that
assured the best speed. Her hull was scraped and oiled, her machinery
overhauled, and her fuel carefully selected. Picked men made up her crew,
and all the upper works that could be disposed of were landed before the
race, in order to decrease air resistance. It was the current pleasantry
to describe the captain as shaving off his whiskers lest they catch the
breeze, and parting his hair in the middle, that the boat might be the
better trimmed. Few passengers were taken, for they could not be relied
upon to "trim ship," but would be sure to crowd to one side or the other
at a critical moment. Only through freight was shipped--and little of
that--for there would be no stops made from starting-point to goal. Of
course, neither boat could carry all the fuel--pine-wood slabs--needed for
a long voyage, but by careful prearrangement, great "flats" loaded with
wood, awaited them at specified points in midstream. The steamers slowed
to half-speed, the flats were made fast alongside by cables, and nimble
negroes transferred the wood, while the race went on. At every riverside
town the wharves and roofs would be black with people, awaiting the two
rivals, whose appearance could be foretold almost as exactly as that of a
railway train running on schedule time. The firing of rifles and cannon,
the blowing of horns, the waving of flags, greeted the racers from the
shores by day, and great bonfires saluted them by night. At some of the
larger towns they would touch for a moment to throw off mail, or to let a
passenger leap ashore. Then every nerve of captain, pilot, and crew was on
edge with the effort to tie up and get away first. Up in the pilot-house
the great man of the wheel took shrewd advantage of every eddy and back
current; out on the guards the humblest roustabout stood ready for a
life-risking leap to get the hawser to the dock at the earliest instant.
All the operations of the boat had been reduced to an exact science, so
that when the crack packets were pitted against each other in a long race,
their maneuvers would be as exactly matched in point of time consumed as
those of two yachts sailing for the "America's" cup. Side by side, they
would steam for hundreds of miles, jockeying all the way for the most
favorable course. It was a fact that often such boats were so evenly
matched that victory would hang almost entirely on the skill of the pilot,
and where of two pilots on one boat one was markedly inferior, his watch
at the wheel could be detected by the way the rival boat forged ahead.
During the golden days on the river, there were many of these races, but
the most famous of them all was that between the "Robert E. Lee" and the
"Natchez," in 1870. These boats, the pride of all who lived along the
river at that time, raced from New Orleans to St. Louis. At Natchez, 268
miles, they were six minutes apart; at Cairo, 1024 miles, the "Lee" was
three hours and thirty-four minutes ahead. She came in winner by six hours
and thirty-six minutes, but the officers of the "Natchez" claimed that
this was not a fair test of the relative speed of the boats, as they had
been delayed by fog and for repairs to machinery for about seven hours.

Spectacular and picturesque was the riverside life of the great
Mississippi towns in the steamboat days. Mark Twain has described the
scenes along the levee at New Orleans at "steamboat time" in a bit of
word-painting, which brings all the rush and bustle, the confusion,
turmoil and din, clearly to the eye:

"It was always the custom for boats to leave New Orleans between four and
five o'clock in the afternoon. From three o'clock onward, they would be
burning resin and pitch-pine (the sign of preparation) and so one had the
spectacle of a rank, some two or three miles long, of tall, ascending
columns of coal-black smoke, a colonnade which supported a roof of the
same smoke, blending together and spreading abroad over the city. Every
outward-bound boat had its flag flying at the jack-staff, and sometimes a
duplicate on the verge-staff astern. Two or three miles of mates were
commanding and swearing with more than usual emphasis. Countless
processions of freight, barrels, and boxes, were spinning athwart the
levee, and flying aboard the stage-planks. Belated passengers were dodging
and skipping among these frantic things, hoping to reach the forecastle
companion-way alive, but having their doubts about it. Women with
reticules and bandboxes were trying to keep up with husbands freighted
with carpet sacks and crying babies, and making a failure of it by losing
their heads in the whirl and roar and general distraction. Drays and
baggage-vans were clattering hither and thither in a wild hurry, every now
and then getting blocked and jammed together, and then, during ten
seconds, one could not see them for the profanity, except vaguely and
dimly. Every windlass connected with every forehatch from one end of that
long array of steamboats to the other, was keeping up a deafening whiz and
whir, lowering freight into the hold, and the half-naked crews of
perspiring negroes that worked them were roaring such songs as 'De las'
sack! De las' sack!!' inspired to unimaginable exaltation by the chaos of
turmoil and racket that was driving everybody else mad. By this time the
hurricane and boiler decks of the packets would be packed and black with
passengers, the last bells would begin to clang all down the line, and
then the pow-wows seemed to double. In a moment or two the final warning
came, a simultaneous din of Chinese gongs with the cry, 'All dat aint
going, please to get ashore,' and, behold, the pow-wow quadrupled. People
came swarming ashore, overturning excited stragglers that were trying to
swarm aboard. One moment later, a long array of stage-planks was being
hauled in, each with its customary latest passenger clinging to the end of
it, with teeth, nails, and everything else, and the customary latest
procrastinator making a wild spring ashore over his head.

"Now a number of the boats slide backward into the stream, leaving wide
gaps in the serried rank of steamers. Citizens crowd on the decks of boats
that were not to go, in order to see the sight. Steamer after steamer
straightens herself up, gathers all her strength, and presently comes
swinging by, under a tremendous head of steam, with flags flying, smoke
rolling, and her entire crew of firemen and deck hands (usually swarthy
negroes) massed together on the forecastle, the best voice in the lot
towering in their midst (being mounted on the capstan) waving his hat or a
flag, all roaring in a mighty chorus, while the parting cannons boom, and
the multitudinous spectators swing their hats and huzza. Steamer after
steamer pulls into the line, and the stately procession goes winging its
flight up the river."

Until 1865 the steamboats controlled the transportation business of all
the territory drained by the Mississippi and its tributaries. But two
causes for their undoing had already begun to work. The long and
fiercely-fought war had put a serious check to the navigation of the
rivers. For long months the Mississippi was barricaded by the Confederate
works at Island Number 10, at New Madrid and at Vicksburg. Even after
Grant and Farragut had burst these shackles navigation was attended with
danger from guerrillas on the banks and trade was dead. When peace brought
the promise of better things, the railroads were there to take advantage
of it. From every side they were pushing their way into New Orleans,
building roadways across the "trembling prairies," and crossing the
water-logged country about the Rigolets on long trestles. They penetrated
the cotton country and the mineral country. They paralleled the Ohio, the
Tennessee, and the Cumberland, as well as the Father of Waters, and the
steamboat lines began to feel the heavy hand of competition. Captains and
clerks found it prudent to abate something of their dignity. Instead of
shippers pleading for deck-room on the boats, the boats' agents had to do
the pleading. Instead of levees crowded with freight awaiting carriage
there were broad, empty spaces by the river's bank, while the railroad
freight-houses up town held the bales of cotton, the bundles of staves,
the hogsheads of sugar, the shingles and lumber. On long hauls the
railroads quickly secured all the North and South business, though indeed,
the hauling of freight down the river for shipment to Europe was ended for
both railroads and steamboats, so far as the products raised north of the
Tennessee line was concerned. For a new water route to the sea had been
opened and wondrously developed. The Great Lakes were the shortest
waterway to the Atlantic, and New York dug its Erie Canal which afforded
an outlet--pinched and straitened, it is true, but still an outlet--for
the cargoes of the lake schooners and the early steamers of the unsalted
seas. Even the commonwealths forming the north bank of the Ohio River
turned their faces away from the stream that had started them on the
pathway to wealth and greatness, and dug canals to Lake Erie, that their
wheat, corn, and other products might reach tidewater by the shortest
route. The great cargoes from Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Louisville, began
to be legends of the past, and the larger boats were put on routes in
Louisiana, or on the Mississippi, from Natchez south, while others were
reduced to mere local voyages, gathering up freight from points tributary
to St. Louis. The glory of the river faded fast, and the final stroke was
dealt it when some man of inventive mind discovered that a little, puffing
tug, costing one-tenth as much as a fine steamboat, could push broad acres
of flatboats, loaded with coal, lumber, or cotton, down the tortuous
stream, and return alone at one-tenth the expense of a heavy steamer. That
was the final stroke to the picturesqueness and the romance of river life.
The volume of freight carried still grows apace, but the glory of
Mississippi steamboat life is gone forever.

**Transcriber's Note: Page 268: change infreqently to infrequently



The summer yachtsman whiling away an idle month in cruises up and down
that New England coast which, once stern and rock-bound, has come to be
the smiling home of midsummer pleasures, encounters at each little port
into which he may run, moldering and decrepit wharves, crowned with
weatherbeaten and leaky structures, waterside streets lined with shingled
fish-houses in an advanced stage of decay, and acres of those low
platforms known as flakes, on which at an earlier day the product of the
New England fisheries was spread out to dry in the sun, but which now are
rapidly disintegrating and mingling again with the soil from which the
wood of their structures sprung. Every harbor on the New England coast,
from New Bedford around to the Canadian line, bears these dumb memorials
to the gradual decadence of what was once our foremost national industry.
For the fisheries which once nursed for us a school of the hardiest
seamen, which aroused the jealousy of England and France, which built up
our seaport towns, and carried our flag to the furthest corners of the
globe, and which in the records both of diplomacy and war fill a prominent
place have been for the last twenty years appreciably tending to
disappear. Many causes are assigned for this. The growing scarcity of
certain kinds of fish, the repeal of encouraging legislation, a change in
the taste of certain peoples to whom we shipped large quantities of the
finny game, the competition of Canadians and Frenchmen, the great
development of the salmon fisheries and salmon canning on the Pacific
coast, all have contributed to this decay. It is proper, however, to note
that the decadence of the fisheries is to some extent more apparent than
real. True, there are fewer towns supported by this industry, fewer boats
and men engaged in it; but in part this is due to the fact that the steam
fishing boat carrying a large fleet of dories accomplishes in one season
with fewer hands eight or ten times the work that the old-fashioned pink
or schooner did. And, moreover, as the population of the seaport towns has
grown, the apparent prominence of the fishing industry has decreased, as
that industry has not grown in proportion to the population. Forty years
ago Marblehead and Nantucket were simply fishing villages, and nothing
else. To-day the remnants of the fishing industry attract but little
attention, in the face of the vastly more profitable and important calling
of entertaining the summer visitor. New Bedford has become a great factory
town, Lynn and Hull are great centers for the shoemaking industries.

When the Pilgrim Fathers first concluded to make their journey to the New
England coast and sought of the English king a charter, they were asked by
the thrifty James, what profit might arise. "Fishing," was the answer.
Whereupon, according to the narrative of Edward Winslow, the king replied,
"So, God have my soul; 'tis an honest trade; 'twas the apostles' own
calling." The redoubtable Captain John Smith, making his way to the New
England coast from Virginia, happened to drop a fishline over what is
known now as George's Bank. The miraculous draught of fishes which
followed did not awaken in his mind the same pious reflections to which
King James gave expression. Rather was he moved to exultation over the
profit which he saw there. "Truly," he said, in a letter to his
correspondent in London, "It is a pleasant thing to drop a line and pull
up threepence, fivepence, and sixpence as fast as one may haul in." The
gallant soldier of fortune was evidently quite awake to the possibilities
of profit upon which he had stumbled. Yet, probably even he would have
been amazed could he have known that within fifty years not all the land
in the colony of Massachusetts Bay, nor in the Providence and Rhode Island
plantations produced so much of value as the annual crop the fishermen
harvested on the shallow banks off Cape Cod.

As early as 1633 fish began to be exported from Boston, and very shortly
thereafter the industry had assumed so important a position that the
general court adopted laws for its encouragement, exempting vessels, and
stock from taxation, and granting to fishermen immunity from military
duty. At the close of the seventeenth century, Massachusetts was exporting
over $400,000 worth of fish annually. From that time until well into the
middle of the last century the fisheries were so thoroughly the leading
industry of Massachusetts that the gilded codfish which crowns the dome of
the State House at Boston, only fitly typifies by its prominence above the
city the part which its natural prototypes played in building up the
commonwealth. In the Revolution and the early wars of the United States,
the fishermen suffered severely. Crowded together on the banks, they were
easy prey for the British cruisers, who, in time of peace or in time of
war, treated them about as they chose, impressing such sailors as seemed
useful, and seizing such of their cargo as the whim of the captain of the
cruiser might suggest. And even before the colonies had attained the
status of a nation, the jealousy and hostility of Great Britain bore
heavily on the fortunes of the New England fishermen. It was then, as it
has been until the present day, the policy of Great Britain to build up in
every possible way its navy, and to encourage by all imaginable devices
the development of a large body of able seamen, by whom the naval vessels
might be manned. Accordingly parliament undertook to discourage the
American fisherman by hostile legislation, so that a body of deep-sea
fishermen might be created claiming English ports for their home. At first
the effort was made to prohibit the colonies from exporting fish. The
great Roman Catholic countries of France, Spain, and Portugal took by far
the greater share of the fish sent out, though the poorer qualities were
shipped to the West Indies and there exchanged for sugar and molasses.
Against this trade Lord North leveled some of his most offensive measures,
proposing bills, indeed, so unjust and tyrannical that outcries were
raised against them even in the British House of Lords. To cut off
intercourse with the foreign peoples who took the fish of the Yankees by
hundreds and thousands of quintals, and gave in return rum, molasses, and
bills of exchange on England, to destroy the calling in which every little
New England seacoast village was interested above all things, Lord North
first proposed to prohibit the colonies trading in fish with any country
save the "mother" country, and secondly, to refuse to the people of New
England the right to fish on the Great Banks of Newfoundland, thus
confining them to the off-shore banks, which already began to show signs
of being fished out. Even a hostile parliament was shocked by these
measures. Every witness who appeared before the House of Commons testified
that they would work irreparable injury to New England, would rob six
thousand of her able-bodied men of their means of livelihood, and would
drive ten thousand more into other vocations. But the power of the
ministry forced the bills through, though twenty-one peers joined in a
solemn protest. "We dissent," said they, "because the attempt to coerce,
by famine, the whole body of the inhabitants of great and populous
provinces, is without example in the history of this, or, perhaps, of any
civilized nations." This was in 1775, and the revolution in America had
already begun. It was the policy of Lord North to force the colonists to
stop their opposition to unjust and offensive laws by imposing upon them
other laws more unjust and more offensive still--a sort of homeopathic
treatment, not infrequently applied by tyrants, but which seldom proves
effective. In this case it aligned the New England fishermen to a man with
the Revolutionists. A Tory fisherman would have fared as hard as

    "Old Floyd Ireson for his hard heart
    Tarr'd and feathered and carried in a cart,
    By the woman of Marblehead."

Nor was this any inconsiderable or puny element which Lord North had
deliberately forced into revolt. Massachusetts alone had at the outbreak
of the Revolution five hundred fishing vessels, and the town of Marblehead
one hundred and fifty sea-going fishing schooners. Gloucester had nearly
as many, and all along the coast, from Maine to New York, there were
thrifty settlers, farmers and fishermen, by turns, as the season served.
New England was preeminently a maritime state. Its people had early
discovered that a livelihood could more easily be plucked from the green
surges of ocean, white-capped as they sometimes were, than wrested from
the green and boulder-crowned hills. Upon the fisheries rested practically
all the foreign commerce. They were the foundation upon which were built
the superstructure of comfort and even luxury, the evidences of which are
impressive even in the richer New England of to-day. Therefore, when the
British ministry attacked this calling, it roused against the crown not
merely the fisherman and the sailor, but the merchants as well--not only
the denizens of the stuffy forecastles of pinks and schooners, but the
owners of the fair great houses in Boston and New Bedford. Lord North's
edicts stopped some thousands of sturdy sailors from catching cod and
selling them to foreign peoples. They accordingly became privateers, and
preyed upon British commerce until it became easier for a mackerel to slip
through the meshes of a seine than for a British ship to make its usual
voyages. The edicts touched the commercial Bostonians in their pockets,
and stimulated them to give to the Revolution that countenance and support
of the "business classes" which revolutionary movements are apt to lack,
and lacking which, are apt to fail.

The war, of course, left the fisheries crippled and almost destroyed. It
had been a struggle between the greatest naval power of the world, and a
loose coalition of independent colonies, without a navy and without a
centralized power to build and maintain one. Massachusetts did, indeed,
equip an armed ship to protect her fishermen, but partly because the
protection was inadequate, and partly as a result of the superior
attractions of privateering, the fishing boats were gradually laid up,
until scarcely enough remained in commission to supply the demands of the
home merchant for fish. Where there had been prosperity and bustle about
wharves, and fish-houses, there succeeded idleness and squalor.
Shipbuilding was prostrate, commerce was dead. The sailors returned to the
farms, shipped on the privateers, or went into Washington's army. But when
peace was declared, they flocked to their boats, and began to rebuild
their shattered industry. Marblehead, which went into the war with 12,000
tons of shipping, came out with 1500. Her able-bodied male citizens had
decreased in numbers from 1200 to 500. Six hundred of her sons, used to
hauling the seine and baiting the trawl, were in British prisons. How many
from this and other fishing ports were pressed against their will into
service on British men-of-war, history has no figures to show; but there
were hundreds. Yet, prostrate as the industry was, it quickly revived, and
soon again attained those noble proportions that had enabled Edmund Burke
to say of it, in defending the colonies before the House of Commons:

"No ocean but what is vexed with their fisheries; no climate that is not
witness of their toils. Neither the perseverance of Holland, nor the
activity of France, nor the dextrous and firm sagacity of English
enterprise ever carried this perilous mode of hardy enterprise to the
extent to which it has been pushed by this recent people--a people who are
still, as it were, in the gristle, and not yet hardened into the bone of

In 1789, immediately upon the formation of the Government under which we
now live, the system of giving bounties to the deep-sea fishermen was
inaugurated and was continued down to the middle of the last century,
when a treaty with England led to its discontinuance. The wisest
statesmen and publicists differ sharply concerning the effect of bounties
and special governmental favors, like tariffs and rebates, upon the
favored industry, and so, as long as the fishing bounty was continued, its
needfulness was sharply questioned by one school, while ever since its
withdrawal the opposing school has ascribed to that act all the later ills
of the industry. Indeed, as this chapter is being written, a subsidy
measure before Congress for the encouragement of American shipping,
contains a proviso for a direct payment from the national treasury to
fishing vessels, proportioned to their size and the numbers of their
crews. It is not my purpose to discuss the merits, either of the measure
now pending, or of the many which have, from time to time, encouraged or
depressed our fishermen. It would be hard, however, for any one to read
the history of the fisheries without being impressed by the fact that the
hardy and gallant men who have risked their lives in this most arduous of
pursuits, have suffered from too much government, often being sorely
injured by a measure intended solely for their good, as in the case of the
Treaty of 1818. That instrument was negotiated for the purpose of
maintaining the rights of American fishermen on the banks off
Newfoundland, Labrador, and Nova Scotia. The American commissioners failed
to insist upon the right of the fishermen to land for bait, and this
omission, together with an ambiguity in defining the "three-mile limit,"
enabled the British government to harass, harry, and even confiscate
American fishermen for years. American fleets were sent into the disputed
waters, and two nations were brought to the point of war over the question
which should control the taking of fish in waters that belonged to
neither, and that held more than enough for all peoples. To settle the
dispute the United States finally entered into another treaty which
secured the fishermen the rights ignored in the treaty of 1818, but threw
American markets open to Canadian fishermen. This the men of Gloucester
and Marblehead, nurtured in the school of protection, declared made their
last state worse than the first. So the tinkering of statutes and treaties
went on, even to the present day, the fisheries languishing meanwhile, not
in our country alone, but in all engaged in the effort to get special
privileges on the fishing grounds. Whenever man tries thus to monopolize,
by sharp practise or exclusive laws, the bounty which God has provided in
abundance for all, the end is confusion, distress, disaster, and too often

But the story of what the politicians, and those postgraduates of
politics, the statesmen, have done for and against the fishermen of New
England, is not that which I have to tell. Rather, it is my purpose to
tell something of the lives of the fishermen, the style of their vessels,
the portions of the rolling Atlantic which they visit in search of their
prey, their dire perils, their rough pleasures, and their puny profits.
First, then, as to their prey, and its haunts.

The New England fishermen, in the main, seek three sorts of fish--the
mackerel, the cod, and the halibut. These they find on the shallow banks
which border the coast from the southern end of Delaware to the very
entrance of Baffin's Bay. The mackerel is a summer fish, coming and going
with the regularity of the equinoxes themselves. Early in March, they
appear off the coast, and all summer work their way northward, until, in
early November, they disappear off the coast of Labrador, as suddenly as
though some titanic seine had swept the ocean clear of them. What becomes
of the mackerel in winter, neither the inquisitive fisherman nor the
investigating scientist has ever been able to determine. They do not, like
migratory birds, reappear in more temperate southern climes, but vanish
utterly from sight. Eight months, therefore, is the term of the mackerel
fishing, and the men engaged in it escape the bitterest rigors of the
winter fisheries on the Newfoundland Banks, where the cod is taken from
January to January. Yet it has dangers of its own--dangers of a sort that,
to the sailor, are more menacing than the icebergs or even the
swift-rushing ocean liners of the Great Banks. For mackerel fishing is
pursued close in shore, in shallow water, where the sand lies a scant two
fathoms below the surface, and a north-east wind will, in a few minutes,
raise, a roaring sea that will pound the stoutest vessel to bits against
the bottom. With plenty of sea-room, and water enough under the keel, the
sailor cares little for wind or waves; but in the shallows, with the beach
only a few miles to the leeward, and the breakers showing white through
the darkness, like the fangs of a beast of prey, the captain of a fishing
schooner on George's banks has need of every resource of the sailor, if he
is to beat his way off, and not feed the fishes that he came to take.
Nowhere is the barometer watched more carefully than on the boats cruising
about on George's. When its warning column falls, the whole fleet makes
for the open sea, however good the fishing may be. But, with all possible
caution, the losses are so many that George's, early in its history, came
to have the ghoulish nickname of "Dead Men's Bank."

North of George's Bank--which lies directly east of Cape Cod--are found,
in order, Brown's Bank, La Have, Western Bank--in the center of which lies
Sable Island, famed as an ocean graveyard, whose shifting sands are as
thickly strewn with the bleaching ribs of stout ships as an old green
churchyard is set with mossy marbles--St. Peter's Bank, and the Grand Bank
of Newfoundland. All of these lie further out to sea than George's, and
are tenanted only by cod and halibut, though in the waters near the shore
the fishermen pursue the mackerel, the herring--which, in cottonseed oil
masquerades as American sardines--and the menhaden, used chiefly for
fertilizer. The boats used in the fisheries are virtually of the same
model, whatever the fish they may seek--except in the case of the menhaden
fishery, which more and more is being prosecuted in slow-going steamers,
with machines for hauling seines, and trawl nets. But the typical fishing
boat engaged in the food fisheries is a trim, swift schooner, built almost
on the lines of a yacht, and modeled after a type designed by Edward
Burgess, one of New England's most famous yacht designers. Seaworthy and
speedy both are these fishing boats of to-day, fit almost to sail for the
"America's" cup, modeled, as they are, from a craft built by the designer
of a successful cup defender. That the fishermen ply their calling in
vessels so perfectly fitted to their needs is due to a notable exhibition
of common sense and enterprise on the part of the United States Fish
Commission. Some years ago almost anything that would float was thought
good enough for the bank fishermen. In the earliest days of the industry,
small sloops were used. These gave way to the "Chebacco boat," a boat
taking its name from the town of Chebacco, Massachusetts, where its rig
was first tested. This was a fifteen to twenty ton boat almost as sharp at
the stern as in the bow, carrying two masts, both cat-rigged. A perfect
marvel of crankiness a boat so rigged would seem; but the New England
seamen became so expert in handling them that they took them to all of the
fishing banks, and even made cruises to the West Indies with cargoes of
fish, bringing back molasses and rum. A development of the Chebacco boat
was the pink, differing only in its rig, which was of the schooner model.
But in time the regular schooner crowded out all other types of fishing
vessels. In 1882, the members of the Fish Commission, studying the
frightful record of wrecks and drownings among the Gloucester and
Marblehead fishermen, reached the conclusion that an improved model
fishing boat might be the means of saving scores of lives. The old model
was seen to be too heavily rigged, with too square a counter, and
insufficient draught. Accordingly, a model boat, the "Grampus," was
designed, the style of which has been pretty generally followed in the
fishing fleet.

[Illustration: ON THE BANKS.]

Such a typical craft is a schooner of about eighty tons, clean-cut about
the bows, and with a long overhang at the stern that would give her a
rakish, yacht-like air, except for the evidences of her trade, with which
her deck is piled. Her hull is of the cutter model, sharp and deep,
affording ample storage room. She has a cabin aft, and a roomy forecastle,
though such are the democratic conditions of the fishing trade that part
of the crew bunks aft with the skipper. The galley, a little box of a
place, is directly abaft the foremast, and back of it to the cabin, are
the fishbins for storing fish, after they are cleaned and salted or iced.
Nowadays, when the great cities, within a few hours' sail of the banks,
offer a quick market for fresh fish, many of the fishing boats bring in
their catch alive--a deep well, always filled with sea-water, taking the
place of the fishbins. The deck, forward of the trunk cabin, is flush, and
provided with "knockdown" partitions, so that hundreds of flapping fish
may be confined to any desired portion. Amidships of the bankers rises a
pile of five or six dories, the presence of which tells the story of the
schooner's purpose, for fishing on the Grand Banks for cod is mainly done
with trawls which must be tended from dories--a method which has resulted
in countless cruel tragedies.

The lives of the men who go down to the sea in ships are always full of
romance, the literary value of which has been fully exploited by such
writers of sea stories as Cooper and Clark Russell. But the romance of
the typical sailor's life is that which grows out of a ceaseless
struggle with the winds and waves, out of world-wide wanderings, and
encounters with savages and pirates. It is the romance which makes up
melodrama, rather than that of the normal life. The early New England
fishermen, however, were something more than vagrants on the surface of
the seas. In their lives were often combined the peaceful vocations of
the farmer or woodsman, with the adventurous calling of the sailor. For
months out of the year, the Maine fisherman would be working in the
forests, felling great trees, guiding the tugging ox-teams to the frozen
rivers, which with spring would float the timber down to tidewater. When
winter's grip was loosened, he, like the sturdy logs his axe had shaped,
would find his way to where the air was full of salt, and the owners of
pinks and schooners were painting their craft, running over the rigging,
and bargaining with the outfitters for stores for the spring cruise.
From Massachusetts and Rhode Island farms men would flock to the little
ports, leaving behind the wife and younger boys to take care of the
homestead, until the husband and father returned from the banks in the
fall, with his summer's earnings. His luck at fishing, her luck with
corn and calves and pigs, determined the scale of the winter's living.
Some of the fishermen were not only farmers, as well, but ship-builders
and ship-owners, too. If the farm happened to front on some little cove,
the frame of a schooner would be set up there on the beach, and all
winter long the fisherman-farmer-builder would work away with adze and
saw and hammer, putting together the stout hull that would defend him in
time against the shock of the north-east sea. His own forest land
supplied the oak trees, keelson, ribs, and stem. The neighboring sawmill
shaped his planks. One lucky cruise as a hand on a fishing boat owned by
a friend would earn him enough to pay for the paint and cordage. With
Yankee ingenuity he shaped the iron work at his own forge--evading in
its time the stupid British law that forbade the colonists to make
nails or bolts. Two winters' labor would often give the thrifty builder
a staunch boat of his own, to be christened the "Polly Ann," or the
"Mary Jane"--more loyal to family ties than to poetic euphony were the
Yankee fishermen--with which he would drive into the teeth of the
north-east gale, breaking through the waves as calmly as in early spring
at home he forced his plough through the stubble.

There was, too, in those early days of the fisheries, a certain
patriarchal relation maintained between owner and crew that finds no
parallel in modern times. The first step upward of the fisherman was to
the quarter-deck. As captain, he had a larger responsibility, and received
a somewhat larger share of the catch, than any of his crew. Then, if
thrifty, or if possessed of a shipyard at home, such as I have described,
he soon became an owner. In time, perhaps, he would add one or two
schooners to his fleet, and then stay ashore as owner and outfitter,
sending out his boats on shares. Fishermen who had attained to this
dignity, built those fine, old, great houses, which we see on the
water-front in some parts of New England--square, simple, shingled to the
ground, a deck perched on the ridge-pole of the hipped roof, the frame
built of oak shaped like a ship's timbers, with axe and adze. The lawns
before the houses sloped down to the water where, in the days of the old
prosperity, the owner's schooner might be seen, resting lightly at anchor,
or tied up to one of the long, frail wharves, discharging cargo--wharves
black and rotting now, and long unused to the sailor's cheery cry. There,
too, would be the flakes for drying fish, the houses on the wharves for
storing supplies, and the packed product, and the little store in which
the outfitter kept the simple stock of necessaries from which all who
shipped on his fleet were welcome to draw for themselves and their
families, until their "ship came in." To such a fishing port would flock
the men from farm and forest, as the season for mackerel drew nigh. The
first order at the store would include a pair of buck (red leather) or
rubber boots, ten or fifteen pounds of tobacco, clay pipe, sou'-westers, a
jack-knife, and oil-clothes. If the sailor was single, the account would
stop there, until his schooner came back to port. If he had a family, a
long list of groceries, pork and beans, molasses, coffee, flour, and
coarse cloth, would be bought on credit, for the folks at home. It came
about naturally that these folks preferred to be near the store at which
the family had credit, and so the sailors would, in time, buy little plots
of land in the neighborhood, and build thereon their snug shingled
cottages. So sprung up the fishing villages of New England.

The boys who grew up in these villages were able to swim as soon as they
could walk; rowed and sailed boats before they could guide a plow; could
give the location of every bank, the sort of fish that frequented it, and
the season for taking them. They could name every rope and clew, every
brace and stay on a pink or Chebacco boat before they reached words of two
syllables in Webster's blue-backed spelling-book; the mysteries of trawls
and handlines, of baits and hooks were unraveled to them while still in
the nursery, and the songs that lulled them to sleep were often doleful
ditties of castaways on George's Bank. Often they were shipped as early as
their tenth year, going as a rule in schooners owned or commanded by
relatives. It was no easy life that the youngster entered upon when first
he attained the dignity of being a "cut-tail," but such as it was, it was
the life he had looked forward to ever since he was old enough to consider
the future. He lived in a little forecastle, heated by a stuffy stove,
which it was his business to keep supplied with fuel. The bunks on either
side held rough men, not over nice of language or of act, smoking and
playing cards through most of their hours of leisure. From time immemorial
it has been a maxim of the forecastle that the way to educate a boy is to
"harden" him, and the hardening process has usually taken the form of
persistent brutality of usage--the rope's end, the heavy hand, the
hard-flung boot followed swift upon transgression of the laws or customs
of ship or forecastle. The "cut-tail" was everybody's drudge, yet gloried
in it, and a boy of Gloucester or Marblehead, who had lived his twelve
years without at least one voyage to his credit, was in as sorry a state
among his fellow urchins as a "Little Lord Fauntleroy" would be in the
company of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

The intimacies of the village streets were continued on the ocean. Fish
supplanted marbles as objects of prime importance in the urchin's mind.
The smallest fishing village would have two or three boats out on the
banks, and the larger town several hundred. Between the crews of these
vessels existed always the keenest rivalry, which had abundant opportunity
for its exhibition, since the conditions of the fishery were such that the
schooners cruised for weeks, perhaps, in fleets of several hundred. Every
maneuver was made under the eyes of the whole fleet, and each captain and
sailor felt that among the critics were probably some of his near
neighbors at home. Charles Nordhoff, who followed a youth spent at sea
with a long life of honorable and brilliant activity in journalism,
describes the watchfulness of the fleet as he had often seen it:

"The fleet is the aggregate of all the vessels engaged in the mackerel
fishery. Experience has taught fishermen that the surest way to find
mackerel is to cruise in one vast body, whose line of search will then
extend over an area of many miles. When, as sometimes happens, a single
vessel falls in with a large 'school,' the catch is, of course, much
greater. But vessels cruising separately or in small squads are much less
likely to fall in with fish than is the large fleet. 'The fleet' is
therefore the aim of every mackerel fisherman. The best vessels generally
maintain a position to the windward. Mackerel mostly work to windward
slowly, and those vessels furthest to windward in the fleet are therefore
most likely to fall in with fish first, while from their position they can
quickly run down should mackerel be raised to leeward.

"Thus, in a collection of from six hundred to a thousand vessels, cruising
in one vast body, and spreading over many miles of water, is kept up a
constant, though silent and imperceptible communication, by means of
incessant watching with good spy-glasses. This is so thorough that a
vessel at one end of the fleet cannot have mackerel 'alongside,'
technically speaking, five minutes, before every vessel in a circle, the
diameter of which may be ten miles, will be aware of the fact, and every
man of the ten thousand composing their crews will be engaged in spreading
to the wind every available stitch of canvas to force each little bark as
quickly as possible into close proximity to the coveted prize."

To come upon the mackerel fleet suddenly, perhaps with the lifting of the
fog's gray curtain, or just as the faint dawn above the tossing horizon
line to the east began to drive away the dark, was a sight to stir the
blood of a lad born to the sea. Sometimes nearly a thousand vessels would
be huddled together in a space hardly more than a mile square. At night,
their red and green lights would swing rhythmically up and down as the
little craft were tossed by the long rollers of old Atlantic, in whose
black bosom the gay colors were reflected in subdued hues. From this
floating city, with a population of perhaps ten thousand souls, no sound
arises except the occasional roar of a breaking swell, the creaking of
cordage, and the "chug-chug" of the vessel's bows as they drop into the
trough of the sea. All sails are furled, the bare poles showing black
against the starlit sky, and, with one man on watch on the deck, each
drifts idly before the breeze. Below, in stuffy cabins and fetid
forecastles, the men are sleeping the deep and dreamless sleep that hard
work in the open air brings as one of its rewards. All is as quiet as
though a mystic spell were laid on all the fleet. But when the sky to the
eastward begins to turn gray, signs of life reappear. Here and there in
the fleet a sail will be seen climbing jerkily to the masthead, and hoarse
voices sound across the waters. It is only a minute or two after the first
evidence of activity before the whole fleet is tensely active. Blocks and
cordage are creaking, captains and mates shouting. Where there was a
forest of bare poles are soon hundreds of jibs and mainsails, rosy in the
first rays of the rising sun. The schooners that have been drifting idly,
are, as by magic, under weigh, cutting across each other's bows, slipping
out of menacing entanglements, avoiding collisions by a series of nautical
miracles. From a thousand galleys rise a thousand slender wreaths of
smoke, and the odors of coffee and of the bean dear to New England
fishermen, mingle with the saline zephyrs of the sea. The fleet is awake.

They who have sailed with the fleet say that one of the marvels of the
fisherman's mind is the unerring skill with which he will identify vessels
in the distant fleet, To the landsman all are alike--a group of somewhat
dingy schooners, not over trig, and apt to be in need of paint. But the
trained fisherman, pursing his eyes against the sun's glitter on the
waves, points them out one by one, with names, port-of-hail, name of
captain, and bits of gossip about the craft. As the mountaineer identifies
the most distant peak, or the plainsman picks his way by the trail
indistinguishable to the untrained eye, so the fisherman, raised from
boyhood among the vessels that make up the fleet, finds in each
characteristics so striking, so individual, as to identify the vessel
displaying them as far as a keen eye can reach.


The fishing schooners, like the whalers, were managed upon principles of
profit-sharing. The methods of dividing the proceeds of the catch
differed, but in no sense did the wage system exist, except for one man on
board--the cook, who was paid from $40 to $60 a month, besides being
allowed to fish in return for caring for the vessel when all the men were
out in dories. Sometimes the gross catch of the boat was divided into two
parts, the owners who outfitted the boat, supplying all provisions,
equipment, and salt, taking one part, the other being divided among the
fishermen in proportion to the catch of each. Every fish caught was
carefully tallied, the customary method being to cut the tongues, which
at the lose of the day's work were counted by the captain, and each man's
catch credited. The boys, of whom each schooner carried one or two, marked
their fish by cutting off the tails, wherefore these hardy urchins, who
generally took the sea at the age of ten, were called "cut-tails." The
captain, for his more responsible part in the management of the boat, was
not always expected to keep tally of his fish, but was allowed an average
catch, plus from three to five per cent. of the gross value of the cargo.
Not infrequently the captain was owner of the boat, and his crew, thrifty
neighbors of his, owning their own houses by the waterside, and able to
outfit the craft and provide for the sustenance of their wives and
children at home without calling upon the capitalist for aid. In such a
case, the whole value of the catch was divided among the men who made it.
At best, these shares were not of a sort to open the doors of a financial
paradise to the men. The fisheries have always afforded impressive
illustrations of the iron rule of the business world that the more arduous
and more dangerous an occupation is, the less it pays. It was for the
merest pittance that the fishermen risked their lives, and those who had
families at home drawing their weekly provender from the outfitter were
lucky if, at the end of the cruise they found themselves with the bill at
the store paid, and a few dollars over for necessaries during the winter.
In 1799, when the spokesmen of the fishery interests appeared before
Congress to plead for aid, they brought papers from the town of Marblehead
showing that the average earnings of the fishing vessels hailing from that
port were, in 1787, $483; in 1788, $456; and in 1789, $273. The expenses
of each vessel averaged $275. In the best of the three years, then, there
was a scant $200 to be divided among the captain, the crew, and the
owner. This was, of course, one of the leanest of the lean years that the
fishermen encountered; but with all the encouragement in the way of
bounties and protected markets that Congress could give them, they never
were able to earn in a life, as much as a successful promoter of trusts
nowadays will make in half an hour. The census figures of 1890--the latest
complete figures on occupations and earnings--give the total value of
American fisheries as $44,500,000; the number of men employed in them,
132,000, and the average earnings $337 a man. The New England fisheries
alone were then valued at $14,270,000. In the gross total of the value of
American fisheries are included many methods foreign to the subject of
this book, as for example, the system of fishing from shore with pound
nets, the salmon fisheries of the Columbia River, and the fisheries of the
Great Lakes.

Mackerel are taken both with the hook and in nets--taken in such
prodigious numbers that the dories which go out to draw the seine are
loaded until their gunwales are almost flush with the sea, and each haul
seems indeed a miraculous draught of fishes. It is the safest and
pleasantest form of fishing known to the New Englander, for its season is
in summer only; the most frequented banks are out of the foggy latitude,
and the habit of the fish of going about in monster schools keeps the
fishing fleet together, conducing thus to safety and sociability both. In
one respect, too, it is the most picturesque form of fishing. The mackerel
is not unlike his enemy, man, in his curiosity concerning the significance
of a bright light in the dark. Shrewd shopkeepers, who are after gudgeons
of the human sort, have worked on this failing of the human family so that
by night some of our city streets blaze with every variety of electric
fire. The mackerel fisherman gets after his prey in much the same
fashion. When at night the lookout catches sight of the phosphorescent
gleams in the water that tells of the restless activity beneath of a great
school of fish the schooner is headed straightway for the spot. Perhaps
forty or fifty other schooners will be turning their prows the same way,
their red and green lights glimmering through the black night on either
side, the white waves under the bows showing faintly, and the creaking of
the cordage sounding over the waters. It is a race for first chance at the
school, and a race conducted with all the dash and desperation of a
steeple-chase. The skipper of each craft is at his own helm, roaring out
orders, and eagerly watchful of the lights of his encroaching neighbors.
With the schooner heeled over to leeward, and rushing along through the
blackness, the boats are launched, and the men tumble over the side into
them, until perhaps the cook, the boy, and the skipper are alone on deck.
One big boat, propelled by ten stout oarsmen, carries the seine, and with
one dory is towed astern the schooner until the school is overhauled, then
casts off and leaps through the water under the vigorous tugs of its
oarsmen. In the stern a man stands throwing over the seine by armsful. It
is the plan of campaign for the long boat and the dory, each carrying one
end of the net, to make a circuit of the school, and envelope as much of
it as possible in the folds of the seine. Perhaps at one time boats from
twenty or thirty schooners will be undertaking the same task, their
torches blazing, their helmsmen shouting, the oars tossing phosphorescent
spray into the air. In and out among the boats the schooners pick their
way--a delicate task, for each skipper wishes to keep as near as possible
to his men, yet must run over neither boats or nets belonging to his
rival. Wonderfully expert helmsmen they become after years of this sort
of work--more trying to the nerves and exacting quite as much skill as the
"jockeying" for place at the start of an international yacht race.

When the slow task of drawing together the ends of the seine until the
fish are fairly enclosed in a sort of marine canal, a signal brings the
schooner down to the side of the boats. The mackerel are fairly trapped,
but the glare of the torches blinds them to their situation, and they
would scarcely escape if they could. One side of the net is taken up on
the schooner's deck, and there clamped firmly, the fish thus lying in the
bunt, or pocket between the schooners, and the two boats which lie off
eight or ten feet, rising and falling with the sea. There, huddled
together in the shallow water, growing ever shallower as the net is
raised, the shining fish, hundreds and thousands of them, bushels,
barrels, hogsheads of them, flash and flap, as the men prepare to swing
them aboard in the dip net. This great pocket of cord, fit to hold perhaps
a bushel or more, is swung from the boom above, and lowered into the midst
of the catch. Two men in the boat seize its iron rim, and with a twist and
shove scoop it full of mackerel. "Yo-heave-oh" sing out the men at the
halliards, and the net rises into the air, and swings over the deck of the
schooner. Two men perched on the rail seize the collar and, turning it
inside out, drop the whole finny load upon the deck. "Fine, fat,
fi-i-ish!" cry out the crew in unison, and the net dips back again into
the corral for another load. So, by the light of smoky torches, fastened
to the rigging, the work goes on, the men singing and shouting, the tackle
creaking, the waves splashing, the wind singing in the shrouds, the boat's
bow bumping dully on the waves as she falls. To all these sounds of the
sea comes soon to be added one that is peculiar to the banks, a sound
rising from the deck of the vessel, a multitude of little taps,
rhythmical, muffled, soft as though a corps of clog-dancers were dancing a
lively jig in rubber-soled shoes. It is the dance of death of the hapless
mackerel. All about the deck they flap and beat their little lives away.
Scales fly in every direction, and the rigging, almost to the masthead, is
plastered with them.

When the deck is nearly full--and sometimes a single haul of the seine
will more than fill it twice--the labor of dipping is interrupted and all
hands turn to with a will to dress and pack the fish. Not pretty work,
this, and as little pleasing to perform. Barrels, boards, and sharp knives
are in requisition. Torches are set up about the deck. The men divide up
into gangs of four each and group themselves about the "keelers," or
square, shallow boxes into which the fish to be dressed are bailed from
the deck. Two men in each gang are "splitters"; two "gibbers." The first,
with a dextrous slash of a sharp knife splits the fish down the back, and
throws it to the "gibber," who, with a twist of his thumb--armed with a
mitt--extracts the entrails and throws the fish into a barrel of brine. By
long practise the men become exceedingly expert in the work, and rivalry
among the gangs keeps the pace of all up to the highest possible point.
All through the night they work until the deck is cleaned of fish, and
slimy with blood and scales. The men, themselves, are ghastly, besmeared
as they are from top to toe with the gore of the mackerel. From time to
time, full barrels are rolled away, and lowered into the hold, and fresh
fish raised from the slowly emptying seine alongside. Until the last fish
has been sliced, cleaned, plunged into brine, and packed away there can be
little respite from the muscle grinding work. From time to time, the pail
of tepid water is passed about; once at least during the night, the cook
goes from gang to gang with steaming coffee, and now and then some man
whose wrist is wearied beyond endurance, knocks off, and with contortions
of pain, rubs his arm from wrist to elbow. But save for these momentary
interruptions, there is little break in the work. Meanwhile the boat is
plunging along through the water, the helm lashed or in beckets, and the
skipper hard at work with a knife or gibbing mitt. A score of other boats
in a radius of half a mile or so, will be in like case, so there is always
danger of collision. Many narrow escapes and not a few accidents have
resulted from the practice of cleaning up while under sail.


The mackerel, however, is not caught solely in nets, but readily takes
that oldest of man's predatory instruments, the hook. To attract them to
the side of the vessel, a mixture of clams and little fish called
"porgies," ground together in a mill, is thrown into the sea, which,
sinking to the depths at which the fish commonly lie, attract them to the
surface and among the enticing hooks. Every fisherman handles two lines,
and when the fishing is good he is kept busy hauling in and striking off
the fish until his arms ache, and the tough skin on his hands is nearly
chafed through. Sometimes the hooks are baited with bits of clam or porgy,
though usually the mackerel, when biting at all, will snap with avidity at
a naked hook, if tinned so as to shine in the water. Mr. Nordhoff, whose
reminiscences of life on a fishing boat I have already quoted, describes
this method of fishing and its results graphically:

"At midnight, when I am called up out of my warm bed to stand an hour's
watch, I find the vessel pitching uneasily, and hear the breeze blowing
fretfully through the naked rigging. Going on deck, I perceive that both
wind and sea have 'got up' since we retired to rest. The sky looks
lowering, and the clouds are evidently surcharged with rain. In fine the
weather, as my predecessor on watch informs me, bears every sign of an
excellent fishday on the morrow. I accordingly grind some bait, sharpen up
my hooks once more, see my lines clear, and my heaviest jigs (the
technical term for hooks with pewter on them) on the rail ready for use,
and at one o'clock return to my comfortable bunk. I am soon again asleep,
and dreaming of hearing fire-bells ringing, and seeing men rush to the
fire, and just as I see 'the machine' round the corner of the street, am
startled out of my propriety, my dream, sleep, and all by the loud cry of

"I start up desperately in my narrow bunk, bringing my cranium in violent
contact with a beam overhead, which has the effect of knocking me flat
down in my berth again. After recovering as much consciousness as is
necessary to appreciate my position, I roll out of bed, jerk savagely at
my boots, and snatching up my cap and pea-jacket, make a rush _at_ the
companion-way, _up_ which I manage to fall in my haste, and then spring
into the hold for a strike-barrel.

"And now the mainsail is up, the jib down, and the captain is throwing
bait. It is not yet quite light, but we hear other mainsails going up all
round us. A cool drizzle makes the morning unmistakably uncomfortable, and
we stand around half asleep, with our sore hands in our pockets, wishing
we were at home. The skipper, however, is holding his lines over the rail
with an air which clearly intimates that the slightest kind of a nibble
will be quite sufficient this morning to seal the doom of a mackerel.

"'There, by Jove!' the captain hauls back--'there, I told you so!
Skipper's got him--no--aha, captain, you haul back too savagely!'

"With the first movement of the captain's arm, indicating the presence of
fish, everybody rushes madly to the rail. Jigs are heard on all sides
plashing into the water, and eager hands and arms are stretched at their
full length over the side, feeling anxiously for a nibble.

"'Sh--hish--there's something just passed my fly--I felt him,' says an old
man standing alongside of me.

"'Yes, and I've got him,' triumphantly shouts out the next man on the
other side of him, hauling in as he speaks, a fine mackerel, and striking
him off into his barrel in the most approved style.

"Z-z-zip goes my line through and deep into my poor fingers, as a huge
mackerel rushes savagely away with what he finds not so great a prize as
he thought it was. I get confoundedly flurried, miss stroke half a dozen
times in hauling in as many fathoms of line, and at length succeed in
landing my first fish safely in my barrel, where he flounders away 'most
melodiously,' as my neighbor says.

"And now it is fairly daylight, and the rain, which has been threatening
all night, begins to pour down in right earnest. As the heavy drops patter
on the sea the fish begin to bite fast and furiously.

"'Shorten up,' says the skipper, and we shorten in our lines to about
eight feet from the rail to the hooks, when we can jerk them in just as
fast as we can move our hands and arms. 'Keep your lines clear,' is now
the word, as the doomed fish slip faster and faster into the barrels
standing to receive them. Here is one greedy fellow already casting
furtive glances behind him, and calculating in his mind how many fish he
will have to lose in the operation of getting his second strike-barrel.

"Now you hear no sound except the steady flip of fish into the barrels.
Every face wears an expression of anxious determination; everybody moves
as though by springs; every heart beats loud with excitement, and every
hand hauls in fish and throws out hooks with a methodical precision, a
kind of slow haste, which unites the greatest speed with the utmost
security against fouling lines.

"And now the rain increases. We hear jibs rattling down; and glancing up
hastily, I am surprised to find our vessel surrounded on all sides by the
fleet, which has already become aware that we have got fish alongside.
Meantime the wind rises, and the sea struggles against the rain, which is
endeavoring with its steady patter to subdue the turmoil of old ocean. We
are already on our third barrel each, and still the fish come in as fast
as ever, and the business (sport it has ceased to be some time since),
continues with vigor undiminished. Thick beads of perspiration chase each
other down our faces. Jackets, caps, and even over-shirts, are thrown off,
to give more freedom to the limbs that are worked to their utmost.

"'Hillo! Where are the fish?' All gone. Every line is felt eagerly for a
bite, but not the faintest nibble is perceptible. The mackerel, which but
a moment ago were fairly rushing on board, have in that moment disappeared
so completely that not a sign of one is left. The vessel next under our
lee holds them a little longer than we, but they finally also disappear
from her side. And so on all around us.

"And now we have time to look about us--to compare notes on each other's
successes--to straighten our backbones, nearly broken and aching horribly
with the constant reaching over; to examine our fingers, cut to pieces and
grown sensationless with the perpetual dragging of small lines across
them--to--'There, the skipper's got a bite! Here they are again, boys, and
big fellows, too!' Everybody rushes once more to the rail, and business
commences again, but not at so fast a rate as before. By-and-by there is
another cessation, and we hoist our jib and run off a little way, into a
new berth.

"While running across, I take the first good look at the state of affairs
in general. We lie, as before said, nearly in the center of the whole
fleet, which from originally covering an area of perhaps fifteen miles
each way, has 'knotted up' into a little space, not above two miles
square. In many places, although the sea is tolerably rough, the vessels
lie so closely together that one could almost jump from one to the other.
The greatest skill and care are necessary on such occasions to keep them
apart, and prevent the inevitable consequences of a collision, a general
smash-up of masts, booms, bulwarks, etc. Yet a great fish-day like this
rarely passes off without some vessel sustaining serious damage. We thread
our way among the vessels with as much care and as daintily as a man would
walk over ground covered with eggs; and finally get into a berth under the
lee of a vessel which seems to hold the fish pretty well. Here we fish
away by spells, for they have become 'spirty,' that is, they are
capricious, and appear and disappear suddenly."

[Illustration: TRAWLING FROM A DORY]

Three causes make the occupation of those fishermen who go for cod and
halibut to the Newfoundland Banks extra hazardous--the almost continual
fog, the swift steel Atlantic liners always plowing their way at high
speed across the fishing grounds, heedless of fog or darkness, and the
custom of fishing with trawls which must be tended from dories. The trawl,
which is really only an extension of hand-lines, is a French device
adopted by American fishermen early in the last century. One long
hand-line, supported by floats, is set at some distance from the
schooner. From it depend a number of short lines with baited hooks, set at
brief intervals. The fisherman, in his dory, goes from one to the other of
these lines pulling them in, throwing the fish in the bottom of the boat
and rebaiting his hooks. When his dory is full he returns with his load to
the schooner--if he can find her.

That is the peril ever present to the minds of the men in the dory--the
danger of losing the schooner. On the Banks the sea is always running
moderately high, and the great surges, even on the clearest days, will
often shut out the dories from the vision of the lookout. The winds and
the currents tend to sweep the little fishing-boats away, and though a
schooner with five or six dories out hovers about them like a hen guarding
her chickens, sailing a triangular beat planned to include all the smaller
boats, yet it too often happens that night falls with one boat missing.
Then on the schooner all is watchfulness. Cruising slowly about, burning
flares and blowing the hoarse fog-horn, those on board search for the
missing ones until day dawns or the lost are found. Sometimes day comes in
a fog, a dense, dripping, gray curtain, more impenetrable than the
blackest night, for through it no flare will shine, and even the sound of
the braying horn or tolling bell is so curiously distorted, that it is
difficult to tell from what quarter it comes. No one who has not seen a
fog on the Banks can quite imagine its dense opaqueness. When it settles
down on a large fleet of fishermen, with hundreds of dories out, the peril
and perplexity of the skippers are extreme. In one instant after the dull
gray curtain falls over the ocean, each vessel is apparently as isolated
as though alone on the Banks. A dory forty feet away is invisible. The
great fleet of busy schooners, tacking back and forth, watching their
boats, is suddenly, obliterated. Hoarse cries, the tooting of horns and
the clanging of bells, sound through the misty air, and now and then a
ghostly schooner glides by, perhaps scraping the very gunwale and carrying
away bits of rail and rigging to the accompaniment of New England
profanity. This is the dangerous moment for every one on the Banks, for
right through the center of the fishing ground lies the pathway of the
great steel ocean steamships plying between England and the United States.
Colossal engines force these great masses of steel through sea and fog.
Each captain is eager to break a record; each one knows that a reputation
for fast trips will make his ship popular and increase his usefulness to
the company. In theory he is supposed to slow down in crossing the Banks;
in fact his great 12,000-ton ship rushes through at eighteen miles an
hour. If she hits a dory and sends two men to their long rest, no one
aboard the ocean leviathan will ever know it. If she strikes a schooner
and shears through her like a knife through cheese, there will be a slight
vibration of the steel fabric, but not enough to alarm the passengers; the
lookout will have caught a hasty glimpse of a ghostly craft, and heard
plaintive cries for help, then the fog shuts down on all, like the curtain
on the last act of a tragedy. Even if the great steamship were stopped at
once, her momentum would carry her a mile beyond the spot before a boat
could be lowered, and then it would be almost impossible to find the
floating wreckage in the fog. So, usually, the steamships press on with
unchecked speed, their officers perhaps breathing a sigh of pity for the
victims, but reflecting that it is a sailor's peril to which those on the
biggest and staunchest of ships are exposed almost equally with the
fishermen. For was it not on the Banks and in a fog that the blow was
struck which sent "La Bourgogne" to the bottom with more than four hundred


Ordinarily there is but short shrift for the helpless folks on a fishing
vessel when struck by a liner. The keen prow cuts right through planking
and stout oak frame, and the dissevered portions of the hull are tossed to
starboard and to port, to sink before the white foam has faded from the
wake of the destroying monster. They tell ghoulish tales of bodies sliced
in twain as neatly as the boat itself; of men asleep in their bunks being
decapitated, or waking, to find themselves struggling in the water with an
arm or leg shorn off. And again, there are stories of escapes that were
almost miraculous; of men thrown by the shock of collision out of the
foretop of the schooner onto the deck of the steamship, and carried abroad
in safety, while their partners mourned them as dead; of men, dozing in
their bunks, startled suddenly by the grinding crash of steel and timbers,
and left gazing wide-eyed at the gray sea lapping the side of their
berths, where an instant before the tough oak skin of the schooner had
been; of men stunned by some flying bit of wood, who, all unconscious,
floated on the top of the hungry waves, until as by Divine direction,
their inert bodies touched the side of a vagrant dory and were dragged
aboard to life again. The Banks can perform their miracles of humanity as
well as of cruelty.

Few forms of manual work are more exacting, involve more physical
suffering and actual peril to life, than fishing with trawls. Under the
happiest circumstances, with the sky clear, the sea moderately calm, and
the air warm, it is arduous, muscle-trying, nerve-racking work. Pulling up
half a mile of line, with hooks catching on the bottom, big fish
floundering and fighting for freedom, and the dory dancing on the waves
like mad, is no easy task. The line cuts the fingers, and the long, hard
pull wearies the wrists until they ache, as though with inflammatory
rheumatism. But when all this had to be done in a wet, chilling fog, or
in a nipping winter's wind that freezes the spray in beard and hair, while
the frost bites the fingers that the line lacerates, then the fisherman's
lot is a bitter one.

The method of setting and hauling the trawls has been well described by
Mr. John Z. Rogers, in "Outing," and some extracts from his story will be
of interest to readers:

    "The trawls were of cod-line, and tied to them at distances of
    six feet were smaller lines three feet in length, with a hook
    attached to the end. Each dory had six trawls, each one eighteen
    hundred feet long. The trawls were neatly coiled in tubs made by
    sawing flour barrels in two, and as fast as they were baited
    with pieces of herring they were carefully coiled into another
    tub, that they might run out quickly without snarling when being

    "The last trawl was finished just before supper, at five
    o'clock. After supper the men enjoyed a Half-hour smoke, then
    preparations were made to set the gear, as the trawls are
    called. The schooner got well to windward of the place where the
    set was to be made, and the first dory was lowered by a block
    and tackle. One of the men jumped into it, and his partner
    handed him the tubs of gear and then jumped in himself. The dory
    was made fast to the schooner by her painter as she drifted
    astern, and the other dories were put over in the same manner.
    When all the dories were disposed of the first one was cast off.
    One of the men rowed the boat before the wind while the other
    ran out the gear. First, he threw over a keg for a buoy, which
    could be seen from some distance. Fastened to the buoy-line at
    some sixty fathoms, or three hundred and sixty feet from the
    keg, was the trawl with a small anchor attached to sink it to
    the bottom. When this was dropped overboard the trawl was
    rapidly run out, and as fast as the end of one was reached it
    was tied to the next one, thus making a line of trawl ten
    thousand eight hundred feet long, with eighteen hundred hooks
    attached. After the schooner had sailed on a straight course a
    few hundred yards, the captain cast off the second dory, then
    along a little farther the third one, and so on till the five
    boats were all setting gear in parallel lines to each other.
    When all set this gear practically represented a fishing line
    over _ten miles_ long with nine _thousand hooks_ tied to it."

The trawls thus set were left out over night, the schooner picking up the
dories and anchoring near the buoy of the first trawl. At daybreak the
work of hauling in was begun:

    "All the dories were made fast astern and left at the head of
    their respective trawls as the schooner sailed along. One of the
    men in each dory, after pulling up the anchor, put the trawl in
    the roller--a grooved wooden wheel eight inches in diameter.
    This was fastened to one side of the dory. The trawl was hauled
    in hand over hand, the heavy strain necessarily working the dory
    slowly along. The fish were taken off as fast as they appeared.
    A gaff--a stick about the size and length of a broom handle with
    a large, sharp hook attached--lay near at hand, and was
    frequently used in landing a fish over the side. Occasionally a
    fish would free itself from the trawl hook as it reached the
    surface, but the fisherman, with remarkable dexterity, would
    grab the gaff, and hook the victim before it could swim out of
    reach. What would be on the next hook was always an interesting
    uncertainty, for it seemed that all kinds of fish were
    represented. Cod and haddock were, of course, numerous, but hake
    and pollock struggled on many a hook. Besides these, there was
    the brim, a small, red fish, which is excellent fried; the cat
    fish, also a good pan fish; the cusk, which is best baked; the
    whiting, the eel, the repulsive-looking skate, the monk, of
    which it can almost be said that his mouth is bigger than
    himself, and last, but not least, that ubiquitous fish, the
    curse of amateur harbor fishers, the much-abused sculpin. Nor
    were fish alone caught on the hooks, for stones were frequently
    pulled up, and one dory brought in a lobster, which had been
    hooked by his tail. Some of the captives showed where large
    chunks had been bitten out of them by larger fish, and
    sometimes, when a hook appeared above water, there would be
    nothing on it but a fish head. This was certainly a case of one
    fish taking a mean advantage of another."

Such is the routine of trawling when weather and all the fates are
propitious. But the Banks have other stories to tell--stories of men lost
in the fog, drifting for long days and nights until the little keg of
fresh water and the scanty store of biscuit are exhausted, and then slowly
dying of starvation, alone on the trackless sea; of boats picked up in
winter with frozen bodies curled together on the floor, huddled close in a
vain endeavor to keep warm; of trawlers looking up from their work to see
towering high above them the keen prow of an ocean grayhound, and
thereafter seeing nothing that their dumb lips could tell to mortal ears.
Many a story of suffering and death the men skilled in the lore of the
Banks could tell, but most eloquent of all stories are those told by the
figures of the men lost from the fishing ports of New England. From
Gloucester alone, in 1879, two hundred and fifty fishermen were lost. In
one storm in 1846 Marblehead lost twelve vessels and sixty-six men and
boys. In 1894, and the first month of 1895, one hundred and twenty-two men
sailing out of Gloucester, were drowned. In fifty years this little town
gave to the hungry sea two thousand two hundred men, and vessels valued at
nearly two million, dollars. Full of significance is the fact that every
fishing-boat sets aside part of the proceeds of its catch for the widows'
and orphans' fund before making the final division among the men. One of
the many New England poets who have felt and voiced the pathos of life in
the fishing villages, Mr. Frank H. Sweet, has told the story of the old
and oft-repeated tragedy of the sea in these verses:


    "The boats of the fishers met the wind
      And spread their canvas wide,
    And with bows low set and taffrails wet
      Skim onward side by side;
    The wives of the fishers watch from shore,
      And though the sky be blue,
    They breathe a prayer into the air
      As the boats go from view.

    "The wives of the fishers wait on shore
      With faces full of fright,
    And the waves roll in with deafening din
      Through the tempestuous night;
    The boats of the fishers meet the wind
      Cast up by a scornful sea;
    But the fishermen come not again,
      Though the wives watch ceaselessly."

**Transcriber's Notes:
Page 317: changed cherry to cheery.

Page 329: page ends "cry of 'Fish"; next page begins with a new paragraph,
punctuation added to read 'Fish!'

Page 330: changed volent to violent
          changed trumphantly to triumphantly



Into the long struggle between men and the ocean the last half century has
witnessed the entrance of System, Science and Cooperation on the side of
man. They are three elements of strength which ordinarily assure victory
to the combatant who enlists them, but complete victory over the ocean is
a thing never to be fully won. Build his ships as he may, man them as he
will, map out the ocean highways never so precisely, and mark as he may
with flaring beacons each danger point, yet in some moment of wrath the
winds and the waves will rise unconquerable and sweep all the barriers,
and all the edifices erected by man out of their path. To-day all
civilized governments join in devices and expedients for the protection
and safeguard of the mariner. Steel vessels are made unsinkable with
water-tight compartments, and officially marked with a Plimsoll load line
beneath which they must not be submerged. Charts of every ocean are
prepared under governmental supervision by trained scientists. Myriads of
lights twinkle from headland to reef all round the world. Pilots are
taught to find the way into the narrowest harbors, though they can scarce
see beyond the ship's jibboom, and electric-lighted buoys mark the
channel, while foghorns and sirens shriek their warnings through flying
scud and mist. Revenue cutters ply up and down the coast specially charged
to go swiftly to the rescue of vessels in distress, and life-saving
stations dot the beaches, fitted with every device for cheating the
breakers of their prey. The skill of marine architects, and all the
resources of Government are taxed to the utmost to defeat the wrath of
Ocean, yet withal his toll of life and property is a heavy one.

Now and again men discuss the nature of courage, and try to fix upon the
bravest deed of history. Doubtless _the_ bravest deed has no place in
history, for it must have been the act of some unknown man committed with
none to observe and recount the deed. Gallantry under the stimulus of
onlookers ready to cheer on the adventurer and to make history out of his
exploit, is not the supremest type. Surely first among the brave, though
unknown men, we must rank that navigator, who, ignorant of the compass and
even of the art of steering by the stars, pressed his shallop out beyond
sight of land, into the trackless sea after the fall of night. Such a one
braved, beside the ordinary dangers of the deep, the uncouth and mythical
terrors with which world-wide ignorance and superstition had invested it.
The sea was thought to be the domain of fierce and ravenous monsters, and
of gods quite as dangerous to men. Prodigious whirlpools, rapids, and
cataracts, quite without any physical reason for existence, were thought
to roar and roll just beyond the horizon. It is only within a few decades
that the geographies have abandoned the pleasing fiction of the
maelstrom, and a few centuries ago the sudden downpour of the waters at
the "end of the world" was a thoroughly accepted tenet of physical
geography. Yet men, adventurous and inquisitive, kept ever pushing forward
into the unknown, until now there remain no strange seas and few uncharted
and unlighted. The mariner of these days has literally plain sailing in
comparison with his forbears of one hundred and fifty years ago.

Easily first among the sailor's safeguards is the lighthouse system. That
of the United States is under the direct control of the Light House Board,
which in turn is subject to the authority of the Secretary of the
Treasury. It is the practice of every nation to light its own coast;
though foreign vessels enjoy equal advantages thereby with the ships of
the home country. But the United States goes farther. Not only does it
furnish the beacons to guide foreign ships to its ports; but, unlike Great
Britain and some other nations, it levies no charge upon the
beneficiaries. In order that American vessels might not be hampered by the
light dues imposed by foreign nations, the United States years ago bought
freedom from several states for a lump sum; but Great Britain still exacts
dues, a penny a ton, from every vessel passing a British light and
entering a British port.

The history of the lighthouses of the world is a long one, beginning with
the story of the famous Pharos, at Alexandria, 400 feet high, whose light,
according to Ptolemy, could be seen for 40 miles. Pharos long since
disappeared, overthrown, it is thought, by an earthquake. France possesses
to-day the oldest and the most impressive lighthouse--the Corduan tower,
at the mouth of the Gironde, begun in the fifteenth century. In the United
States, the lighthouse system dates only from 1715, when the first
edifice of this character was begun at the entrance to Boston harbor. It
was only an iron basket perched on a beacon, in which were burned "fier
bales of pitch and ocum," as the colonial records express it Sometimes
tallow candles illuminated this pioneer light of the establishment of
which announcement was made in the Boston _News_, of September 17, 1716,
in this wise: "Boston. By Vertue of an Act of Assembly made in the First
Year of His Majesty's Reign, For Building & Maintaining a Light House upon
the Great Brewster (called Beacon Island) at the Entrance of the Harbor of
Boston, in order to prevent the loss of the Lives & Estates of His
Majesty's Subjects; the said Light House has been built; And on Fryday
last the 14th Currant the Light was kindled; which will be very useful for
all Vessels going out and coming in to the Harbor of Boston for which all
Masters shall pay to the Receiver of Impost, One Peny per Ton Inwards, and
another Peny Outwards, except Coasters, who are to pay Two Shillings each
at their clearance Out. And all Fishing Vessels, Wood Sloops, &c. Five
Shillings each by the Year."

When the United States Government was formed, with the adoption of the
Constitution in 1789, there were just eight lights on the coast, namely,
Portsmouth Light, N.H.; the Boston Light, mentioned above; Guerney Light,
near Plymouth, Mass.; Brand Point Light, on Nantucket; Beaver Tail Light,
R.I.; Sandy Hook Light; Cape Henlopen Light, Del.; and Charleston Main
Light, on Morris Island, S.C. The Pacific coast, of course, was dark. So,
too, was the Gulf of Mexico, though already a considerable shipping was
finding its way thither. Of the multitudes of lights that gleam and
sparkle in Long Island Sound or on the banks of the navigable rivers that
open pathways into the interior, not one was then established. But as
soon as a national government took the duty in hand, the task of lighting
the mariner's pathway was pressed with vigor. By 1820 the eight lights had
increased to fifty-five. To-day there are 1306 lighthouses and lighted
beacons, and forty-five lightships. As for buoys, foghorns, day beacons,
etc., they are almost uncounted. The board which directs this service was
organized in 1852. It consists of two officers of high rank in the navy,
two engineer officers of the army, and two civilians of high scientific
attainments. One officer of the army and one of the navy are detailed as
secretaries. The Secretary of the Treasury is _ex officio_ president of
the board. Each of the sixteen districts into which the country is
divided is inspected by an army and a navy officer, and a small navy of
lighthouse tenders perform the duty of carrying supplies and relief to the
lighthouses up and down our three coasts.

[Illustration: MINOT'S LEDGE LIGHT]

The planning of a lighthouse to stand on a submerged reef, in a stormy
sea, is an engineering problem which requires extraordinary qualities of
technical skill and scientific daring for its solution, while to raise the
edifice, to seize the infrequent moments of low calm water for thrusting
in the steel anchors and laying the heavy granite substructure on which
shall rise the slender stone column that shall defy the assaults of wind
and wave, demands coolness, determination, and reckless courage. Many
lights have been built at such points on our coast, but the ponderous
tower of Minot's Ledge, at the entrance to Boston Harbor, may well be
taken as a type.

Minot's Ledge is three miles off the mouth of Boston Bay, a jagged reef of
granite, wholly submerged at high tide, and showing a scant hundred yards
of rock above the water at the tide's lowest stage. It lies directly in
the pathway of ships bound into Boston, and over it, on even calm days,
the breakers crash in an incessant chorus. Two lighthouses have reared
their heads here to warn away the mariner. The first was completed in
1848, an octagonal tower, set on wrought-iron piles extending five feet
into the rock. The skeleton structure was expected to offer little surface
to the shock of the waves, and the wrought iron of which it was built
surely seemed tough enough to resist any combined force of wind and water;
but in an April gale in 1851 all was washed away, and two brave keepers,
who kept the lamp burning until the tower fell, went with it. Late at
night, the watchers on the shore at Cohasset, three miles away, heard the
tolling of the lighthouse bell, and through the flying scud caught
occasional glimpses of the light; but morning showed nothing left of the
structure except twisted stumps of iron piles, bent and gnarled, as though
the waves which tore them to pieces had been harder than they.

Then, for a time, a lightship tossed and tugged at its cables to warn
shipping away from Minot's Ledge. Old Bostonians may still remember the
gallant Newfoundland dog that lived on the ship, and, when excursion boats
passed, would plunge into the sea and swim about, barking, until the
excursionists would throw him tightly rolled newspapers, which he would
gather in his jaws, and deliver to the lightship keepers to be dried for
the day's reading. But, while the lightship served for a temporary beacon,
a new tower was needed that might send the warning pencil of light far out
to sea. Minot's was too treacherous a reef and too near a populous ocean
highway to be left without the best guardian that science could devise.
Accordingly, the present stone tower was planned and its construction
begun in 1855. The problem before the designer was no easy one. The famous
Eddystone and Skerryvore lighthouses, whose triumphs over the sea are
related in English verse and story, were easier far to build, for there
the foundation rock is above water at every low tide, while at Minot's
Ledge the bedrock on which the base of the tower rests is below the level
of low tide most of the year. The working season could only be from April
1 to September 15. Nominally, that is almost six months; but in the first
season the sea permitted exactly 130 hours' work; in the second season
157, and in the third season, 130 hours and 21 minutes. The rest of the
time the roaring surf held Minot's Ledge for its own. Nor was this all.
After two years' work, the piles and débris of the old lighthouse had
been cleared away, and a new iron framework, intended to be anchored in
solid masonry, had been set, when up came a savage gale from the
northeast; and when it cleared all was swept away. Then the spirit of the
builder wavered, and he began to doubt that any structure built by men
could withstand the powers of nature at Minot's Ledge. But, in time, the
truth appeared. A bark, the _New Eagle_, heavy laden with cotton, had been
swept right over the reef, and grounded at Cohasset. Examination showed
that she had carried away in her hull the framework of the new tower.
Three years' heart-trying work were necessary before the first cut stone
could be laid upon the rock. In the meantime, on a great table at
Cohasset, a precise model of the new tower was built, each stone cut to
the exact shape, on a scale of one inch to the foot, and laid in mortar.
This model completed, the soil on the hillside near by was scraped away.
The granite rock thus laid bare was smoothed and leveled off into a great
flat circle, and there, stone by stone, the tower was built exactly as in
time it should rise in the midst of the seething cauldron of foam three
miles out at sea. While the masons ashore worked at the tower, the men at
the reef watched their chance, and the moment a square yard of ledge was
out of water at the fall of the tide, they would leap from their boats,
and begin cutting it. A circle thirty feet in diameter had to be leveled,
and iron rods sunk into it as anchorages for the masonry. To do that took
just three years of time, though actually less than twenty-five days of
working time. From the time the first cut stone was laid until the
completion of the tower, was three years and three months, though in all
there were but 1102 working hours.

One keeper and three assistants guard the light over Minot's Ledge. Three
miles away across the sea, now blue and smiling, now black and wrathful,
they can see the little group of dwellings on the Cohasset shore which the
Government provides for them, and which shelter their families. The term
of duty on the rocks is two weeks; at the end of each fortnight two happy
men go ashore and two grumpy ones come off; that is, if the weather
permits a landing, for keepers have been stormbound for as long as seven
weeks. The routine of duty is much the same in all of the lighthouses. By
night there must be unceasing watch kept of the great revolving light;
and, if there be other lights within reach of the keeper's glass, a watch
must be kept on them as well, and any eclipse, however brief, must be
noted in the lighthouse log. By day the lens must be rubbed laboriously
with a dry cloth until it shines like the facets of a diamond. Not at all
like the lens we are familiar with in telescopes and cameras is this
scientifically contrived device. It is built up of planes and prisms of
the finest flint glass, cut and assembled according to abtruse
mathematical calculations so as to gather the rays of light from the great
sperm-oil lamp into parallel rays, a solid beam, which, in the case of
Minot's Ledge light, pierces the night to a distance of fifteen miles. On
foggy days, too, the keepers must toll the fog-bell, or, if the light be
on the mainland, operate the steam siren which sends its hoarse bellow
booming through the gray mist to the alert ears of the sailor miles away.

The regulations do not prescribe that the keeper of a light shall hold
himself ready to go to the assistance of castaways or of wrecked vessels;
but, as a matter of fact, not a few of the most heroic rescues in the
history of the coast have been performed by light-keepers. In the number
of lives saved a woman--Ida Lewis, the keeper of the Limerock Light in
Newport Harbor--leads all the rest. But there is hardly any light so
placed that a boat can be launched that has not a story to tell of brave
men putting out in frail boats in the teeth of a roaring gale to bring in
some exhausted castaways, to carry a line to some stranded ship, or to
guide some imperiled pleasure-seekers to safety.

While the building of the Minot's Ledge light had in it more of the
picturesque element than attaches to the record of construction of the
other beacons along the coast of the United States, there are but few
erected on exposed points about which the builders could not tell some
curious stories of difficult problems surmounted, or dire perils met and
conquered. The Great Lakes, on which there are more than 600 light
stations, offer problems of their own to the engineer. Because of the
shallowness of their waters, a gale speedily kicks up a sea which old
Ocean itself can hardly outdo, and they have an added danger in that
during the winter they are frozen to such a depth that navigation is
entirely abandoned. The lights, too, are abandoned during this season, the
Lighthouse Board fixing a period in the early winter for extinguishing
them and another in spring for reilluminating them. But between these
dates the structures stand exposed to the tremendous pressure of such
shifting floes of ice as are not found on the ocean outside of the Arctic
regions. The lake lighthouse, the builders of which had most to apprehend
from this sort of attack, is that at Spectacle Reef, in Lake Huron, near
the Straits of Mackinaw. It is ten miles from land, standing on a
limestone reef, and in the part of the lakes where the ice persists
longest and moves out with the most resistless crush. To protect this
lighthouse, it was necessary to build a rampart all about it, against
which the ice floes in the spring, as the current moves them down into
Lake Huron, are piled up in tumultuous disorder. In order to get a
foundation for the lighthouse, a huge coffer-dam was built, which was
launched like a ship, towed out to the reef and there grounded. When it
was pumped out the men worked inside with the water surrounding them
twelve to fourteen feet above their heads. Twenty months of work, or three
years in time, were occupied in erecting this light. Once in the spring,
when the keepers returned after the closed season to prepare for the
summer's navigation, they found the ice piled thirty feet against the
tower, and seventy feet above the doorway, so that they were compelled, in
order to enter the lighthouse, to cut through a huge iceberg of which it
was the core.

The Spectacle Reef light, like that at Minot's Ledge, is a simple tower of
massive masonry, and this is the approved design for lighthouses exposed
to very heavy strain from waves or ice. A simpler structure, used in
tranquil bays and in the less turbulent waters of the Gulf, is the
"screw-pile" lighthouse, built upon a skeleton framework of iron piling,
the piles having been so designed that they bore into the bed of the ocean
like augers on being turned. The "bug-light" in Boston Harbor, and the
light at the entrance to Hampton Roads are familiar instances of this sort
of construction. For all their apparent lightness of construction, they
are stout and seaworthy, and in their erection the builders have often had
to overcome obstacles and perils offered by the sea scarcely less savage
than those overcome at Minot's Ledge. Indeed, a lighthouse standing in its
strength, perhaps rising out of a placid summer sea, or towering from a
crest of rock which it seems incredible the sea should have ever swept,
gives little hint to the casual observer of the struggle that brave and
skilful men had to go through with before it could be erected. The light
at Tillamook Rock, near the mouth of the Columbia River, offers a striking
illustration of this. It is no slender shaft rising from a tumultuous sea,
but a spacious dwelling from which springs a square tower supporting the
light, the whole perched on the crest of a small rock rising precipitously
from the sea to the height of some forty feet. Yet, sturdy and secure as
the lighthouse now looks, its erection was one of the hardest tasks that
the board ever undertook. So steep are the sides of Tillamook Rock that to
land upon it, even in calm weather, is perilous, and the foreman of the
first party that went to prepare the ground for the light was drowned in
the attempt. Only after repeated efforts were nine men successfully landed
with tools and provisions. Though only one mile from shore they made
provision for a prolonged stay, built a heavy timber hut, bolting it to
the rock, and began blasting away the crest of the island to prepare
foundations for the new lighthouse. High as they were above the water, the
sea swept over the rock in a torrent when the storms raged. In one tempest
the hut was swept away and the men were barely able to cling to the rock
until the waves moderated. That same night an English bark went to pieces
under the rock, so near that the workmen above, clinging for dear life to
their precarious perch, could hear the shouts of her officers giving their
commands. A bonfire was kindled, in hope of warning the doomed sailors of
their peril, but it was too late, for the ship could not be extricated
from her position, and became a total wreck, with the loss of the lives of
twenty of her company. To-day a clear beam of light shines out to sea,
eighteen miles from the top of Tillamook, and only the criminally careless
captain can come near enough to be in any danger whatsoever. Such is one
bit of progress made in safeguarding the sea.

More wearing even than life in a lighthouse is that aboard the lightships,
of which the United States Government now has forty-five in commission.
The lightship is regarded by the Government as merely a makeshift, though
some of them have been in use for more than a quarter of a century. They
are used to mark shoals and reefs where it has thus far been impossible to
construct a lighthouse, or obstructions to navigation which may be but
temporary. While costing less than lighthouses, they are not in favor with
the Lighthouse Board, because the very conditions which make a light most
necessary, are likely to cause these vessels to break from their moorings
and drift away, leaving their post unguarded. Their keepers suffer all the
discomforts of a sailor's life and most of its dangers, while enjoying
none of its novelty and freedom. The ships are usually anchored in shoal
water, where the sea is sure to run high, and the tossing and rolling of
the craft makes life upon it insupportable. They are always farther out to
sea than the lighthouses, and the opportunities for the keepers to get
ashore to their families are correspondingly fewer. In heavy storms their
decks are awash, and their cabins dripping; the lights, which must be
watched, instead of being at the top of a firm, dry tower, are perched on
reeling masts over which the spray flies thick with every wave, and on
which is no shelter for the watcher. During long weeks in the stormy
season there is no possible way of escaping from the ship, or of bringing
supplies or letters aboard, and the keepers are as thoroughly shut off
from their kind as though on a desert island, although all day they may
see the great ocean liners steaming by, and through their glasses may be
able to pick out the roofs of their cottages against the green fields far
across the waves.

[Illustration: WHISTLING BUOY]

Less picturesque than lighthouses and lightships, and with far less of
human interest about them, are the buoys of various sorts of which the
Lighthouse Board has more than one thousand in place, and under constant
supervision. Yet, among the sailor's safeguards, they rank near the head.
They point out for him the tortuous pathway into different harbors; with
clanging bell or dismal whistle, they warn him away from menacing shallows
and sunken wrecks. The resources of science and inventive genius have been
drawn upon to devise ways for making them more effective. At night they
shine with electric lights fed from a submarine cable, or with steady gas
drawn from a reservoir that needs refilling only three or four times a
year. If sound is to be trusted rather than light, recourse is had to a
bell-buoy which tolls mournfully as the waves toss it about above the
danger spot, or to a whistling buoy which toots unceasingly a locomotive
whistle, with air compressed by the action of the waves. The whistling
buoy is the giant of his family, for the necessity for providing a heavy
charge of compressed air compels the attachment to the buoy of a tube
thirty-two feet or more deep, which reaches straight down into the water.
The sea rising and falling in this, as the buoy tosses on the waves, acts
as a sort of piston, driving out the air through the whistle, as the water
rises, admitting more air as it falls.

Serving a purpose akin to the lighthouses, are the post and range-lights
on the great rivers of the West. Very humble devices, these, in many
instances, but of prodigious importance to traffic on the interior
waterways. A lens lantern, hanging from the arm of a post eight or ten
feet high, and kept lighted by some neighboring farmer at a cost of $160 a
year, lacks the romantic quality of a lighthouse towering above a hungry
sea, but it is because there are nearly two thousand such lights on our
shallow and crooked rivers that we have an interior shipping doing a
carrying trade of millions a year, and giving employment to thousands of

Chief among the sailors' safeguards is the service performed by the United
States revenue cutters. The revenue cutter service, like the lighthouse
system, was established very shortly after the United States became a
nation by the adoption of the Constitution. Its primary purpose, of
course, is to aid in the enforcement of the revenue laws and to suppress
smuggling. The service, therefore, is a branch of the Treasury Department,
and is directly under the charge of the Secretary of the Treasury. In the
course of years, however, the revenue cutter service has extended its
functions. In time of war, the cutters have acted as adjuncts to the navy,
and some of the very best armed service on the high seas has been
performed by them. Piracy in the Gulf of Mexico was largely suppressed by
officers of revenue cutters, and pitched battles have more than once been
fought between small revenue cutters and the pirates of the Louisiana and
the Central American coasts.

But the feature of the service which is of particular pertinence to our
story of American ships and sailors, is the part that it has taken in
aiding vessels that were wrecked, or in danger of being wrecked. Many
years ago, the Secretary of the Treasury directed the officers of the
revenue marine to give all possible aid to vessels in distress wherever
encountered. Perhaps the order was hardly necessary. It is the chiefest
glory of the sailor, whether in the official service, or in the merchant
marine, that he has never permitted a stranger ship to go unaided to
destruction, if by any heroic endeavor he could save either the ship or
her crew. The annals of the sea are full of stories of captains who risked
their own vessels, their own lives, and the lives of their people, in
order to take castaways from wrecked or foundering vessels in a high sea.
But the records of the revenue marine service are peculiarly fruitful of
such incidents, because it was determined some thirty years ago that
cutters should be kept cruising constantly throughout the turbulent winter
seasons for the one sole purpose of rendering aid to vessels in distress.
In these late years, when harbors are thoroughly policed, and when steam
navigation has come to dominate the ocean, there is little use for the
revenue cutter in its primary quality of a foe to smugglers. People who
smuggle come over in the cabins of the finest ocean liners, and the
old-time contraband importer, of the sort we read of in "Cast Up By The
Sea," who brings a little lugger into some obscure port under cover of a
black night, has entirely disappeared.

A duty which at times has come very near to true war service, has been the
enforcement of the _modus vivendi_ agreed upon by Great Britain and the
United States, as a temporary solution of the problem of the threatened
extinction of the fur-bearing seals. This story of the seal "fishery," and
the cruel and wholesale slaughter which for years attended it, is one of
the most revolting chapters in the long history of civilized man's warfare
on dumb animals. It is to be noted that it is only the civilized man who
pursues animals to the point of extinction. The word "savage" has come to
mean murderous, bloodthirsty, but the savages of North America hunted up
and down the forests and plains for uncounted centuries, living wholly on
animal food, finding at once their livelihood and their sport in the
chase, dressing in furs and skins, and decking themselves with feathers,
but never making such inroads upon wild animal life as to affect the herds
and flocks. Civilized man came with his rifles and shot-guns, his
eagerness to kill for the sake of killing, his cupidity, which led him to
ignore breeding-seasons, and seek the immediate profit which might accrue
from a big kill, even though thereby that particular form of animal life
should be rendered extinct. In less than forty years after his coming to
the great western plains, the huge herds of buffalo had disappeared. The
prairie chicken and the grouse became scarce, and fled to the more remote
regions. Of lesser animal life, the woods and fields in our well-settled
states are practically stripped bare. A few years ago, it became apparent
that for the seals of the North Pacific ocean and Bering Sea, early
extinction was in store. These gentle and beautiful animals are easily
taken by hunters who land on the ice floes, where they bask by the
thousands, and slaughter them right and left with heavy clubs. The eager
demand of fashionable women the world over for garments made of their
soft, warm fur, stimulated pot-hunters to prodigious efforts of murder. No
attention was given to the breeding season, mothers with young cubs were
slain as ruthlessly as any. Schooners and small steamers manned by as
savage and lawless men as have sailed the seas since the days of the
slave-trade, put out from scores of ports, each captain eager only to make
the biggest catch of the year, and heedless whether after him there should
be any more seals left for the future. This sort of hunting soon began to
tell on the numbers of the hapless animals, and the United States
Government sent out a party of scientific men in the revenue cutter
"Lincoln," to investigate conditions, particularly in the Pribylof
Islands, which had long been the favorite sealing ground. As a result of
this investigation, the United States and Great Britain entered into a
treaty prohibiting the taking of seals within sixty miles of these
islands, thus establishing for the animals a safe breeding-place. The
enforcement of the provisions of this treaty has fallen upon the vessels
of the revenue service, which are kept constantly patrolling the waters
about the islands, boarding vessels, counting the skins, and investigating
the vessel's movements. It has been a duty requiring much tact and
firmness, for many of the sealers are British, and the gravest
international dissension might have arisen from any unwarrantable or
arbitrary interference with their acts. The extent of the duty devolving
upon the cutters is indicated by some figures of their work in a single
year. The territory they patrolled covered sixty degrees of longitude and
twenty-five of latitude, and the cruising distance of the fleet was 77,461
miles. Ninety-four vessels were boarded and examined, over 31,000 skins
counted, and four vessels were seized for violation of the treaty. In the
course of this work, the cutters engaged in it have performed many useful
and picturesque services. On one occasion it fell to one of them to go to
the rescue of a fleet of American whalers who, nipped by an unusually
early winter in the polar regions, were caught in a great ice floe, and in
grave danger of starving to death. The men from the cutters hauled food
across the broad expanse of ice, and aided the imprisoned sailors to win
their freedom. The revenue officers, furthermore, have been to the people
of Alaska the respected representatives of law and order, and in many
cases the arbiters and enforcers of justice. Along the coast of Alaska
live tribes of simple and ignorant Indians, who were for years the prey of
conscienceless whites, many of whom turned from the business of sealing,
when the two Governments undertook its regulation, to take up the easier
trade of fleecing the Indians. The natives were all practised trappers and
hunters, and as the limitations upon sealing did not apply to them, they
had pelts to sell that were well worth the buying. Ignorant of the values
of goods, eager for guns and glittering knives, and always easily
stupefied with whisky, the Indians were easy prey to the sea traders. For
a gun of doubtful utility, or a jug of fiery whisky, the Indian would not
infrequently barter away the proceeds of a whole year of hunting and
fishing, and be left to face the winter with his family penniless. It has
been the duty of the officers of the revenue cutters serving on the North
Pacific station to suppress this illicit trade, and to protect the
Indians, as far as possible, from fraud and extortion. The task has been
no easy one, but it has been discharged so far as human capacity would
permit, so that the Alaska Indians have come to look upon the men wearing
the revenue uniform as friends and counselors, while to a great extent
the semi-piratical sailors who infested the coast have been driven into
other lines of dishonest endeavor. Perhaps not since the days of Lafitte
and the pirates of Barataria has any part of the coast of the United
States been cursed with so criminal and abandoned a lot of sea marauders
as have for a decade frequented the waters off Alaska, the Pribylof
Islands, and the sealing regions. The outlawry of a great part of the seal
trade, and the consequent heavy profits of those who are able to make one
or two successful cruises uncaught by officers of the law, have attracted
thither the reckless and desperate characters of every sea, and with these
the revenue cutters have to cope. Yet so diversified are the duties of
this service that the revenue officers may turn from chasing an illicit
sealer to go to the rescue of whalers nipped in the ice, or may make a
cruise along the coast to deliver supplies from the Department of
Education to mission schools along Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean, or to
carry succor to a party of miners known to be in distress. The rapid
development of Alaska since the discoveries of gold has greatly added to
the duties of this fleet.

[Illustration: REVENUE CUTTER]

The revenue service stands midway between the merchant service and the
navy. It may almost be said that the officers engaged in it suffer the
disadvantages of both forms of sea service without enjoying the advantages
of either. Unlike navy officers, they do not have a "retired list" to look
forward to, against the time when they shall be old, decrepit, and unfit
for duty. Congress has, indeed, made provision for placing certain
specified officers on a roll called "permanent waiting orders," but this
has been but a temporary makeshift, and no officer can feel assured that
this provision will be made for him. Promotion, too, while quite as slow
as in the navy, is limited. The highest officer in the service is a
captain, his pay $2500 a year--but a sorry reward for a lifetime of
arduous labor at sea, during which the officer may have been in frequent
peril of his life, knowing all the time that for death in the discharge of
duty, the Government will pay no pension to his heirs unless the disaster
occurred while he was "cooperating with the navy." In one single year the
records of the revenue service show more than one hundred lives saved by
its activity, without taking into consideration those on vessels warned
away from dangerous points by cutters. Yet neither in pay, in provision
for their old age, or for their families in case of death met in the
discharge of duty, are the revenue officers rewarded by the Government as
are navy officers, while public knowledge and admiration for the service
is vastly less than for the navy. It is a curious phenomenon, and yet one
as old at least as the records of man, that the professional killer--that
is to say, the officer of the army or navy--has always been held in higher
esteem socially, and more lavishly rewarded, than the man whose calling it
is to save life.

To a very considerable degree the life-saving service of the United States
is an outgrowth of the revenue marine. To sojourners by the waterside, on
the shores of either ocean or lake, the trim little life-saving stations
are a familiar sight, and summer pleasure-seekers are entertained with the
exhibition drills of the crews in the surf. It is the holiday side of this
service as a rule that the people chiefly know, but its records show how
far from being all holiday pleasure it is. In 1901 the men of the
life-saving corps were called to give aid to 377 wrecked ships. Of
property in jeopardy valued at $7,354,000, they saved $6,405,035 worth. Of
93,792 human beings in peril of death in the waters, all save 979 were
saved. These are the figures relating only to considerable shipwrecks, but
as life-saving stations are established at nearly every harbor's mouth,
and are plentiful about the pleasure cruising grounds of yachts and small
sailboats, hundreds of lives are annually saved by the crews in ways that
attract little attention. In 1901 the records show 117 such rescues.

The idea of the life-saving service originated with a distinguished
citizen of New Jersey, a State whose sandy coast has been the scene of
hundreds of fatal shipwrecks. In the summer of 1839 William A. Newell, a
young citizen of that State, destined later to be its Governor, stood on
the beach near Barnegat in a raging tempest, and watched the Austrian brig
"Count Perasto" drift onto the shoals. Three hundred yards from shore she
struck, and lay helpless with the breakers foaming over her. The crew
clung to the rigging for a time, but at last, fearing that she was about
to go to pieces, flung themselves into the raging sea, and strove to swim
ashore. All were drowned, and when the storm went down, the dead bodies of
thirteen sailors lay strewn along the beach, while the ship itself was
stranded high and dry, but practically unhurt, far above the water line.

"The bow of the brig being elevated and close to the shore after the storm
had ceased," wrote Mr. Newell, in describing the event long years after,
"the idea was forced quickly upon my mind that those unfortunate sailors
might have been saved if a line could have been thrown to them across the
fatal chasm. It was only a short distance to the bar, and they could have
been hauled ashore in their small boat through, or in, the surf.... I
instituted experiments by throwing light lines with bows and arrows, by
rockets, and by a shortened blunderbuss with ball and line. My idea
culminated in complete success, however, by the use of a mortar, or a
carronade, and a ball and line. Then I found, to my great delight, that it
was an easy matter to carry out my desired purpose."

Shortly after interesting himself in this matter Mr. Newell was elected to
Congress, and there worked untiringly to persuade the national Government
to lend its aid to the life-saving system of which he had conceived the
fundamental idea. In 1848 he secured the first appropriation for a service
to cover only the coast of New Jersey. Since then it has been continually
extended until in 1901 the life-saving establishment embraced 270 stations
on the Atlantic, Pacific, and lake coasts. The appropriation for the year
was $1,640,000. For many years the service was a branch of the revenue
marine, and when in 1878 it was made a separate bureau, the former chief
of the revenue marine bureau was put at its head. The drill-masters for
the crews are chosen from the revenue service, as also are the inspectors.


The methods of work in the life-saving service have long been familiar,
partly because at each of the recurring expositions of late years, the
service has been represented by a model station and a crew which went
daily through all the operations of shooting a line over a stranded ship,
bringing a sailor ashore in the breeches-buoy or the life-car, and
drilling in the non-sinkable, self-righting surf-boat. Along the Atlantic
coast the stations are so thickly distributed that practically the whole
coast from Sandy Hook to Hatteras is continually under patrol by watchful
sentries. Night and day, if the weather be stormy or threatening,
patrolmen set out from each station, walking down the beach and keeping a
sharp eye out for any vessel in the offing. Midway between the stations
they meet, then each returns to his own post. In the bitter nights of
winter, with an icy northeaster blowing and the flying spray, half-frozen,
from the surf, driven by the gale until it cuts like a knife, the
patrolman's task is no easy one. Indeed, there is perhaps no form of human
endeavor about which there is more constant discomfort and positive danger
than the life-saving service. It is the duty of the men to defy danger, to
risk their lives whenever occasion demands, and the long records of the
service show uncounted cases of magnificent heroism, and none of failure
in the face of duty.

A form of seafaring which still retains many of the characteristics of the
time when Yankee sailors braved all seas and all weather in trig little
wooden schooners, is the pilot service at American ports, and notably at
New York. Even here, however, the inroads of steam are beginning to rob
the life of its old-time picturesqueness, though as they tend to make it
more certain that the pilot shall survive the perils of his calling, they
are naturally welcomed. Under the law every foreign vessel entering an
American port must take a pilot. If the captain thinks himself able to
thread the channel himself, he may do so; but nevertheless he has to pay
the regular pilot fee, and if the vessel is lost, he alone is responsible,
and his owners will have trouble with the insurance companies. So the law
is acquiesced in, perhaps not very cheerfully, and there have grown up at
each American port men who from boyhood have studied the channels until
they can thread them with the biggest steamship in the densest fog and
never touch bottom. New York as the chief port has the largest body of
pilots, and in the old days, before the triumph of steam, had a fleet of
some thirty boats, trim little schooners of about eighty tons, rigged like
yachts, and often outsailing the best of them. In those days the rivalry
between the pilots for ships was keen and the pilot-boats would not
infrequently cruise as far east as Sable Island to lay in wait for their
game. That was in the era of sailing ships and infrequent steamers, and it
was the period of the greatest mortality among the pilots; for staunch as
their little boats were, and consummate as was their seamanship, they were
not fitted for such long cruises. The marine underwriters in those days
used to reckon on a loss of at least one pilot-boat annually. Since 1838
forty-six have been lost, thirteen going down with all on board. In late
years, however, changes in the methods of pilotage have greatly decreased
the risks run by the boats. When the great ocean liners began trying to
make "record trips" between their European ports and Sandy Hook, their
captains became unwilling to slow up five hundred miles from New York to
take a pilot. They want to drive their vessels for every bit of speed that
is in them, at least until reported from Fire Island. The slower boats,
the ocean tramps, too, look with disfavor on shipping a pilot far out at
sea, for it meant only an idler aboard, to be fed until the mouth of the
harbor was reached. So the rivalry between the pilots gave way to
cooperation. A steamer was built to serve as a station-boat, which keeps
its position just outside New York harbor, and supplies pilots for the
eight boats of the fleet that cruise over fixed beats a few score miles
away. But this change in the system has not so greatly reduced the
individual pilot's chance of giving up his life in tribute to Neptune, for
the great peril of his calling--that involved in getting from his
pilot-boat to the deck of the steamer he is to take in--remains unabated.


Professional pride no less than hope of profit makes the pilot take every
imaginable risk to get to his ship. He draws no regular salary, but his
fee is graduated by the draft of the vessel he pilots. When a ship is
sighted coming into port, the pilot-boat makes for her. If she has a blue
flag in her rigging, half way up, by day, she has a pilot aboard. At
night, the pilot-boats show a blue flare, by way of query. If the ship
makes no answer, she is known to be supplied, and passes without slowing
up; but if in response to signal she indicates that she is in need of a
pilot, the exciting moment in the pilot's trade is at hand. Perhaps the
night is pitchy dark, with a gale blowing and a heavy sea on: but the
pilot slips on his shore clothes and his derby hat--it is considered
unprofessional to wear anything more nautical--and makes ready to board.
The little schooner runs up to leeward of where the great liner, with her
long rows of gleaming portholes, lies rolling heavily in the sea. Sharp up
into the wind comes the midget, and almost before she has lost steerage
way a yawl is slid over the side, the pilot and two oarsmen tumble into
it, and make for the side of the steamship. To climb a rope-ladder up the
perpendicular face of a precipice thirty feet high on an icy night is no
easy task at best; but if your start is from a boat that is being tossed
up and down on a rolling sea, if your precipice has a way of varying from
a strict perpendicular to an overhanging cliff, and then in an instant
thrusting out its base so that the climber's knees and knuckles come with
a sharp bang against it, while the next moment he is dropped to his
shoulders in icy sea-water, the difficulties of the task are naturally
increased. The instant the pilot puts his feet on the ladder he must run
up it for dear life if he would escape a ducking, and lucky he is if the
upward roll does not hurl him against the side of the ship with force
enough to break his hold and drop him overboard. Sometimes in the dead of
winter the ship is iced from the water-line to the rail, and the task of
boarding is about equivalent to climbing a rolling iceberg. But whatever
the difficulty, the pilot meets and conquers it--or else dies trying. It
is all in the day's work for them. Accidents come in the form of boats run
down by careless steamers, pilots crushed against the side or thrown into
the sea by the roll of the vessel, the foundering of the pilot-boat or its
loss on a lee shore; but still the ranks of the pilots are kept full by
the admission to a long apprenticeship of boys who are ready to enter this
adventurous and arduous calling. Few occupations require a more assiduous
preparation, and the members of but few callings are able to guard
themselves so well against the danger of over-competition. Nevertheless
the earnings of the pilots are not great. They come under the operation of
the rule already noted, that the more dangerous a calling is, the less are
its rewards. Three thousand dollars a year is a high income for a pilot
sailing out of New York harbor, and even this is decreasing as the ships
grow bigger and fewer. Nor can he be at all certain as to what his income
will be at any time, for the element of luck enters into it almost as much
as into gambling. For weeks he may catch only small ships, or, the worst
ill-luck that can befall a pilot, he may get caught on an outbound ship
and be carried away for a six weeks' voyage, during which time he can earn
nothing. But the pilot, like the typical sailor of whatever grade, is
inured to hard luck and accustomed to danger.

Such are some of the safeguards which modern science and organization have
provided for the sailor in pursuit of his always hazardous calling. Many
others of course could be enumerated. The service of the weather bureau,
by which warning of impending storms is given to mariners, is already of
the highest utility. The new invention of wireless telegraphy, by which a
ship at sea may call for aid from ashore, perhaps a thousand miles away,
has great possibilities. Modern marine architecture is making steamships
almost unsinkable, more quickly responsive to their helms, more seaworthy
in every way. Perhaps with the perfection of the submarine boat, ships,
instead of being tossed on the boisterous surface of the waves, may go
straight to their destination through the placid depths of ocean. But
whatever the future may bring, the history of the American sailor will
always bear evidence that he did not wait for the perfection of safety
devices to wrest from the ocean all that there was of value in the
conquest; that no peril daunted him, nor was any sea, however distant, a
stranger to his adventurous sail.

Much has been said and written of the improvidence of the sailor, of his
profligacy when in port, his childlike helplessness when in the hands of
the landsharks who haunt the waterside streets, his blind reliance upon
luck to get him out of difficulties, and his utter indifference to all
precautionary provisions for the proverbial rainy day. Perhaps the sailor
has been getting a shade the worse of it in the literature on this
subject, for he, himself, is hardly literary in his habits, and has not
been able to tell his own story. The world has heard much of the jolly
Jack Tars who spend in a few days' revel in waterside dives the whole
proceeds of a year's cruise; but it has heard less of the shrewd schemes
which are devised for fleecing poor Jack, and applied by every one with
whom he comes in contact, from the prosperous owner who pays him off in
orders that can only be conveniently cashed at some outfitter's, who
charges usurious rates for the accommodation, down to the tawdry drab who
collects advance money on account of half a dozen sailor husbands. The
seaman landing with money in his pocket in any large town is like the
hapless fish in some of our much-angled streams. It is not enough to avoid
the tempting bait displayed on every side. So thick are the hooks and
snares that merely to swim along, intent on his own business, is likely to
result sooner or later in his being impaled on some cruel barb. Not enough
has been said, either, of the hundreds of American lads who shipped before
the mast, made their voyages around Cape Horn and through all the Seven
Seas, resisted the temptations of the sailors' quarters in a score of
ports, kept themselves clean morally and physically, and came, in time, to
the command and even the ownership of vessels. Among sailors, as in other
callings, there are the idle and the industrious apprentices, and the
lesson taught by Hogarth's famous pictures is as applicable to them that
go down to the sea in ships as to the workers at the loom. It is doubtful,
too, whether the sailor is either more gullible or more dissolute when in
port than the cowboy when in town for a day's frolic, or the miner just in
camp with a pocket full of dust, after months of solitude on his claim.
Men are much of a sort, whatever their calling. After weeks of monotonous
and wearing toil, they are apt to go to extremes when the time for
relaxation comes. Men whose physical natures only are fully developed seek
physical pleasures, and the sailor's life is not one to cultivate a taste
for the quieter forms of recreation.

But the romance that has always surrounded the sailor's character, his
real improvidence, and his supposedly unique simplicity have, in some
slight degree, redounded to his advantage. They have led people in all
lands to form organizations for his aid, protection, and guidance,
hospitals to care for him in illness, asylums and homes to provide for the
days of his old age and decrepitude. Best known of all these charitable
institutions for the good of Jack Tar is the Sailor's Snug Harbor, whose
dignified buildings on Staten Island look out across the finest harbor in
the world to where New York's tall buildings tower high above the
maintop-gallant mast of the biggest ship ever built. This institution,
founded just one hundred years ago by the will of Captain Robert R.
Randall, himself an American sailor of the old type, who amassed his
fortune trading to all the countries on the globe, now has an income of
$400,000 annually, and cares for 900 old sailors, each of whom must have
sailed for at least five years under the American flag.

       *       *       *       *       *

A new chapter in the story of the American sailor is opening as this book
is closed. The period of the decadence of the American merchant marine is
clearly ended, and everything gives assurance that the first quarter of
this new century will do as much toward re-establishing the United States
flag on the high seas as the first quarter of the nineteenth century did
toward first putting it there. As these words are being written, every
shipyard in the United States is busy, and some have orders that will tax
their capacity for three years to come. New yards are being planned and
small establishments, designed only to build pleasure craft, are reaching
out after greater things. The two biggest steamships ever planned are
building near New London, where four years ago was no sign of shipyard or
factory. The Great Lakes and the Pacific coast ring with the sound of the
steel ship-builder's hammer.

But will the American sailor share in the new life of the American ship?
The question is no easy one to answer. Modern shipping methods offer
little opportunity for ambitious lads to make their way from the
forecastle to the owner's desk. The methods by which the Cleavelands,
Crowninshields, Lows, and their fellows in the early shipping trade won
their success, have no place in modern economy. As I write, the actual
head of the greatest shipping concern the world has ever known, is a Wall
Street banker, whose knowledge of the sea was gained from the deck of a
private steam yacht or the cabin _de luxe_ of a fast liner, and who has
applied to the shipping business only the same methods of stock
manipulating that made him the greatest railroad director in the world
before he thought to control the ocean as well. With steam, the sailor has
become a mere deckhand; the captain a man of business and a
disciplinarian, who may not know the names of the ropes on a real ship;
the owner a corporation; the voyages mere trips to and fro between
designated ports made with the regularity and the monotony of a
sleeping-car's trips between Chicago and San Francisco. Until these
conditions shall materially change, there is little likelihood that the
sea will again attract restless, energetic, and ambitious young Americans.
Men of the type that we have described in earlier chapters of this book do
not adopt a life calling that will forever keep them in subordinate
positions, subject to the whims and domination of an employing
corporation. A genial satirist, writing of the sort of men who became
First Lords of the Admiralty in England, said:

    "Mind your own business and never go to sea,
     And you'll come to be the ruler of the Queen's navee."

Perhaps a like situation confronts the American merchant marine in its new

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "American Merchant Ships and Sailors" ***

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