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´╗┐Title: The Old Merchant Marine: A Chronicle of American Ships and Sailors
Author: Paine, Ralph Delahaye, 1871-1925
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Old Merchant Marine: A Chronicle of American Ships and Sailors" ***

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By Ralph D. Paine






The story of American ships and sailors is an epic of blue water which
seems singularly remote, almost unreal, to the later generations. A
people with a native genius for seafaring won and held a brilliant
supremacy through two centuries and then forsook this heritage of
theirs. The period of achievement was no more extraordinary than was its
swift declension. A maritime race whose topsails flecked every ocean,
whose captains courageous from father to son had fought with pike and
cannonade to defend the freedom of the seas, turned inland to seek a
different destiny and took no more thought for the tall ships and rich
cargoes which had earned so much renown for its flag.

Vanished fleets and brave memories--a chronicle of America which had
written its closing chapters before the Civil War! There will be other
Yankee merchantmen in times to come, but never days like those when
skippers sailed on seas uncharted in quest of ports mysterious and

The Pilgrim Fathers, driven to the northward of their intended
destination in Virginia, landed on the shore of Cape Cod not so much to
clear the forest and till the soil as to establish a fishing settlement.
Like the other Englishmen who long before 1620 had steered across to
harvest the cod on the Grand Bank, they expected to wrest a livelihood
mostly from salt water. The convincing argument in favor of Plymouth was
that it offered a good harbor for boats and was "a place of profitable
fishing." Both pious and amphibious were these pioneers whom the
wilderness and the red Indian confined to the water's edge, where
they were soon building ships to trade corn for beaver skins with the
Kennebec colony.

Even more energetic in taking profit from the sea were the Puritans who
came to Massachusetts Bay in 1629, bringing carpenters and shipbuilders
with them to hew the pine and oak so close at hand into keelsons,
frames, and planking. Two years later, Governor John Winthrop launched
his thirty-ton sloop Blessing of the Bay, and sent her to open "friendly
commercial relations" with the Dutch of Manhattan. Brisk though the
traffic was in furs and wampum, these mariners of Boston and Salem
were not content to voyage coastwise. Offshore fishing made skilled,
adventurous seamen of them, and what they caught with hook and line,
when dried and salted, was readily exchanged for other merchandise in
Bermuda, Barbados, and Europe.

A vessel was a community venture, and the custom still survives in the
ancient ports of the Maine coast where the shapely wooden schooners are
fashioned. The blacksmith, the rigger, the calker, took their pay
in shares. They became part owners, as did likewise the merchant who
supplied stores and material; and when the ship was afloat, the master,
the mates, and even the seamen, were allowed cargo space for commodities
which they might buy and sell to their own advantage. Thus early
they learned to trade as shrewdly as they navigated, and every voyage
directly concerned a whole neighborhood.

This kind of enterprise was peculiar to New England because other
resources were lacking. To the westward the French were more interested
in exploring the rivers leading to the region of the Great Lakes and in
finding fabulous rewards in furs. The Dutch on the Hudson were similarly
engaged by means of the western trails to the country of the Iroquois,
while the planters of Virginia had discovered an easy opulence in the
tobacco crop, with slave labor to toil for them, and they were not
compelled to turn to the hardships and the hazards of the sea. The New
Englander, hampered by an unfriendly climate, hard put to it to grow
sufficient food, with land immensely difficult to clear, was between the
devil and the deep sea, and he sagaciously chose the latter. Elsewhere
in the colonies the forest was an enemy to be destroyed with infinite
pains. The New England pioneer regarded it with favor as the stuff with
which to make stout ships and step the straight masts in them.

And so it befell that the seventeenth century had not run its course
before New England was hardily afloat on every Atlantic trade route,
causing Sir Josiah Child, British merchant and economist, to lament in
1668 that in his opinion nothing was "more prejudicial and in prospect
more dangerous to any mother kingdom than the increase of shipping in
her colonies, plantations, or provinces."

This absorbing business of building wooden vessels was scattered in
almost every bay and river of the indented coast from Nova Scotia to
Buzzard's Bay and the sheltered waters of Long Island Sound. It was
not restricted, as now, to well-equipped yards with crews of trained
artisans. Hard by the huddled hamlet of log houses was the row of
keel-blocks sloping to the tide. In winter weather too rough for
fishing, when the little farms lay idle, this Yankee Jack-of-all-trades
plied his axe and adze to shape the timbers, and it was a routine task
to peg together a sloop, a ketch, or a brig, mere cockleshells, in which
to fare forth to London, or Cadiz, or the Windward Islands--some of them
not much larger and far less seaworthy than the lifeboat which hangs
at a liner's davits. Pinching poverty forced him to dispense with the
ornate, top-heavy cabins and forecastles of the foreign merchantmen,
while invention, bred of necessity, molded finer lines and less clumsy
models to weather the risks of a stormy coast and channels beset with
shoals and ledges. The square-rig did well enough for deepwater voyages,
but it was an awkward, lubberly contrivance for working along shore,
and the colonial Yankee therefore evolved the schooner with her flat
fore-and-aft sails which enabled her to beat to windward and which
required fewer men in the handling.

Dimly but unmistakably these canny seafarers in their rude beginnings
foreshadowed the creation of a merchant marine which should one day
comprise the noblest, swiftest ships driven by the wind and the finest
sailors that ever trod a deck. Even then these early vessels were
conspicuously efficient, carrying smaller crews than the Dutch or
English, paring expenses to a closer margin, daring to go wherever
commerce beckoned in order to gain a dollar at peril of their skins.

By the end of the seventeenth century more than a thousand vessels
were registered as built in the New England colonies, and Salem already
displayed the peculiar talent for maritime adventure which was to make
her the most illustrious port of the New World. The first of her line
of shipping merchants was Philip English, who was sailing his own ketch
Speedwell in 1676 and so rapidly advanced his fortunes that in a few
years he was the richest man on the coast, with twenty-one vessels which
traded coastwise with Virginia and offshore with Bilbao, Barbados,
St. Christopher's, and France. Very devout were his bills of lading,
flavored in this manner: "Twenty hogsheads of salt, shipped by the Grace
of God in the good sloop called the Mayflower.... and by God's Grace
bound to Virginia or Merriland."

No less devout were the merchants who ordered their skippers to cross
to the coast of Guinea and fill the hold with negroes to be sold in the
West Indies before returning with sugar and molasses to Boston or Rhode
Island. The slave-trade flourished from the very birth of commerce in
Puritan New England and its golden gains and exotic voyages allured
high-hearted lads from farm and counter. In 1640 the ship Desire, built
at Marblehead, returned from the West Indies and "brought some cotton
and tobacco and negroes, etc. from thence." Earlier than this the Dutch
of Manhattan had employed black labor, and it was provided that the
Incorporated West India Company should "allot to each Patroon twelve
black men and women out of the Prizes in which Negroes should be found."

It was in the South, however, that this kind of labor was most needed
and, as the trade increased, Virginia and the Carolinas became the most
lucrative markets. Newport and Bristol drove a roaring traffic in "rum
and niggers," with a hundred sail to be found in the infamous Middle
Passage. The master of one of these Rhode Island slavers, writing home
from Guinea in 1736, portrayed the congestion of the trade in this wise:
"For never was there so much Rum on the Coast at one time before. Not
ye like of ye French ships was never seen before, for ye whole coast is
full of them. For my part I can give no guess when I shall get away,
for I purchast but 27 slaves since I have been here, for slaves is very
scarce. We have had nineteen Sail of us at one time in ye Road, so that
ships that used to carry pryme slaves off is now forced to take any that
comes. Here is seven sail of us Rum men that are ready to devour one
another, for our case is desprit."

Two hundred years of wickedness unspeakable and human torture beyond all
computation, justified by Christian men and sanctioned by governments,
at length rending the nation asunder in civil war and bequeathing a
problem still unsolved--all this followed in the wake of those
first voyages in search of labor which could be bought and sold as
merchandise. It belonged to the dark ages with piracy and witchcraft,
better forgotten than recalled, save for its potent influence in
schooling brave seamen and building faster ships for peace and war.

These colonial seamen, in truth, fought for survival amid dangers so
manifold as to make their hardihood astounding. It was not merely a
matter of small vessels with a few men and boys daring distant voyages
and the mischances of foundering or stranding, but of facing an
incessant plague of privateers, French and Spanish, Dutch and English,
or a swarm of freebooters under no flag at all. Coasts were unlighted,
charts few and unreliable, and the instruments of navigation almost as
crude as in the days of Columbus. Even the savage Indian, not content
with lurking in ambush, went afloat to wreak mischief, and the records
of the First Church of Salem contain this quaint entry under date of
July 25, 1677: "The Lord having given a Commission to the Indians to
take no less than 13 of the Fishing Ketches of Salem and Captivate the
men... it struck a great consternation into all the people here. The
Pastor moved on the Lord's Day, and the whole people readily consented,
to keep the Lecture Day following as a Fast Day, which was accordingly
done.... The Lord was pleased to send in some of the Ketches on the Fast
Day which was looked on as a gracious smile of Providence. Also there
had been 19 wounded men sent into Salem a little while before; also a
Ketch sent out from Salem as a man-of-war to recover the rest of the
Ketches. The Lord give them Good Success."

To encounter a pirate craft was an episode almost commonplace and often
more sordid than picturesque. Many of these sea rogues were thieves with
small stomach for cutlasses and slaughter. They were of the sort that
overtook Captain John Shattuck sailing home from Jamaica in 1718 when he
reported his capture by one Captain Charles Vain, "a Pyrat" of 12 guns
and 120 men who took him to Crooked Island, plundered him of various
articles, stripped the brig, abused the crew, and finally let him go.
In the same year the seamen of the Hopewell related that near Hispaniola
they met with pirates who robbed and ill-treated them and carried off
their mate because they had no navigator.

Ned Low, a gentleman rover of considerable notoriety, stooped to filch
the stores and gear from a fleet of fourteen poor fishermen of Cape
Sable. He had a sense of dramatic values, however, and frequently
brandished his pistols on deck, besides which, as set down by one of his
prisoners, "he had a young child in Boston for whom he entertained such
tenderness that on every lucid interval from drinking and revelling, I
have seen him sit down and weep plentifully."

A more satisfying figure was Thomas Pounds, who was taken by the sloop
Mary, sent after him from Boston in 1689. He was discovered in Vineyard
Sound, and the two vessels fought a gallant action, the pirate flying
a red flag and refusing to strike. Captain Samuel Pease of the Mary
was mortally wounded, while Pounds, this proper pirate, strode his
quarter-deck and waved his naked sword, crying, "Come on board, ye dogs,
and I will strike YOU presently." This invitation was promptly accepted
by the stout seamen from Boston, who thereupon swarmed over the bulwark
and drove all hands below, preserving Thomas Pounds to be hanged in

In 1703 John Quelch, a man of resource, hoisted what he called "Old
Roger" over the Charles--a brigantine which had been equipped as a
privateer to cruise against the French of Acadia. This curious flag of
his was described as displaying a skeleton with an hour-glass in one
hand and "a dart in the heart with three drops of blood proceeding from
it in the other." Quelch led a mutiny, tossed the skipper overboard, and
sailed for Brazil, capturing several merchantmen on the way and looting
them of rum, silks, sugar, gold dust, and munitions. Rashly he came
sailing back to Marblehead, primed with a plausible yarn, but his men
talked too much when drunk and all hands were jailed. Upon the gallows
Quelch behaved exceedingly well, "pulling off his hat and bowing to the
spectators," while the somber Puritan merchants in the crowd were, many
of them, quietly dealing in the merchandise fetched home by pirates who
were lucky enough to steer clear of the law.

This was a shady industry in which New York took the more active part,
sending out supplies to the horde of pirates who ravaged the waters of
the Far East and made their haven at Madagascar, and disposing of the
booty received in exchange. Governor Fletcher had dirtied his hands by
protecting this commerce and, as a result, Lord Bellomont was named
to succeed him. Said William III, "I send you, my Lord, to New York,
because an honest and intrepid man is wanted to put these abuses down,
and because I believe you to be such a man."

Such were the circumstances in which Captain William Kidd, respectable
master mariner in the merchant service, was employed by Lord Bellomont,
royal Governor of New York, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, to command
an armed ship and harry the pirates of the West Indies and Madagascar.
Strangest of all the sea tales of colonial history is that of Captain
Kidd and his cruise in the Adventure-Galley. His name is reddened with
crimes never committed, his grisly phantom has stalked through the
legends and literature of piracy, and the Kidd tradition still has magic
to set treasure-seekers exploring almost every beach, cove, and headland
from Halifax to the Gulf of Mexico. Yet if truth were told, he never cut
a throat or made a victim walk the plank. He was tried and hanged for
the trivial offense of breaking the head of a mutinous gunner of his
own crew with a wooden bucket. It was even a matter of grave legal doubt
whether he had committed one single piratical act. His trial in London
was a farce. In the case of the captured ships he alleged that they
were sailing under French passes, and he protested that his privateering
commission justified him, and this contention was not disproven. The
suspicion is not wanting that he was condemned as a scapegoat because
certain noblemen of England had subscribed the capital to outfit his
cruise, expecting to win rich dividends in gold captured from the
pirates he was sent to attack. Against these men a political outcry was
raised, and as a result Captain Kidd was sacrificed. He was a seaman who
had earned honorable distinction in earlier years, and fate has played
his memory a shabby trick.

It was otherwise with Blackbeard, most flamboyant of all colonial
pirates, who filled the stage with swaggering success, chewing
wine-glasses in his cabin, burning sulphur to make his ship seem
more like hell, and industriously scourging the whole Atlantic coast.
Charleston lived in terror of him until Lieutenant Maynard, in a small
sloop, laid him alongside in a hammer-and-tongs engagement and cut off
the head of Blackbeard to dangle from the bowsprit as a trophy.

Of this rudely adventurous era, it would be hard to find a seaman more
typical than the redoubtable Sir William Phips who became the first
royal Governor of the Massachusetts Colony in 1692. Born on a frontier
farm of the Maine coast while many of the Pilgrim fathers were living,
"his faithful mother," wrote Cotton Mather, "had no less than twenty-six
children, whereof twenty-one were sons; but equivalent to them all was
William, one of the youngest, whom, his father dying, was left
young with his mother, and with her he lived, keeping ye sheep in Ye
Wilderness until he was eighteen years old." Then he apprenticed himself
to a neighboring shipwright who was building sloops and pinnaces and,
having learned the trade, set out for Boston. As a ship-carpenter he
plied his trade, spent his wages in the taverns of the waterside and
there picked up wondrous yarns of the silver-laden galleons of Spain
which had shivered their timbers on the reefs of the Bahama Passage or
gone down in the hurricanes that beset those southerly seas. Meantime
he had married a wealthy widow whose property enabled him to go
treasure-hunting on the Spanish main. From his first voyage thither in a
small vessel he escaped with his life and barely enough treasure to pay
the cost of the expedition.

In no wise daunted he laid his plans to search for a richly ladened
galleon which was said to have been wrecked half a century before off
the coast of Hispaniola. Since his own funds were not sufficient for
this exploit, he betook himself to England to enlist the aid of the
Government. With bulldog persistence he besieged the court of James II
for a whole year, this rough-and-ready New England shipmaster, until
he was given a royal frigate for his purpose. He failed to fish up more
silver from the sands but, nothing daunted, he persuaded other patrons
to outfit him with a small merchantman, the James and Mary, in which he
sailed for the coast of Hispaniola. This time he found his galleon and
thirty-two tons of silver. "Besides that incredible treasure of plate,
thus fetched up from seven or eight fathoms under water, there were vast
riches of Gold, and Pearls, and Jewels.... All that a Spanish frigot was
to be enriched withal."

Up the Thames sailed the lucky little merchantman in the year of
1687, with three hundred thousand pounds sterling as her freightage
of treasure. Captain Phips made honest division with his backers and,
because men of his integrity were not over plentiful in England after
the Restoration, King James knighted him. He sailed home to Boston, "a
man of strong and sturdy frame," as Hawthorne fancied him, "whose face
had been roughened by northern tempests and blackened by the burning sun
of the West Indies.... He wears an immense periwig flowing down over
his shoulders.... His red, rough hands which have done many a good day's
work with the hammer and adze are half-covered by the delicate lace rues
at the wrist." But he carried with him the manners of the forecastle,
a man hasty and unlettered but superbly brave and honest. Even after he
had become Governor he thrashed the captain of the Nonesuch frigate of
the royal navy, and used his fists on the Collector of the Port after
cursing him with tremendous gusto. Such behavior in a Governor was too
strenuous, and Sir William Phips was summoned to England, where he died
while waiting his restoration to office and royal favor. Failing both,
he dreamed of still another treasure voyage, "for it was his purpose,
upon his dismission from his Government once more to have gone upon his
old Fishing-Trade, upon a mighty shelf of rock and banks of sand that
lie where he had informed himself."


The wars of England with France and Spain spread turmoil upon the high
seas during the greater part of the eighteenth century. Yet with an
immense tenacity of purpose, these briny forefathers increased their
trade and multiplied their ships in the face of every manner of
adversity. The surprising fact is that most of them were not driven
ashore to earn their bread. What Daniel Webster said of them at a later
day was true from the beginning: "It is not, sir, by protection and
bounties, but by unwearied exertion, by extreme economy, by that manly
and resolute spirit which relies on itself to protect itself. These
causes alone enable American ships still to keep the element and show
the flag of their country in distant seas."

What was likely to befall a shipmaster in the turbulent eighteenth
century may be inferred from the misfortunes of Captain Michael Driver
of Salem. In 1759 he was in command of the schooner Three Brothers,
bound to the West Indies on his lawful business. Jogging along with
a cargo of fish and lumber, he was taken by a privateer under British
colors and sent into Antigua as a prize. Unable to regain either his
schooner or his two thousand dollar cargo, he sadly took passage for
home. Another owner gave him employment and he set sail in the schooner
Betsy for Guadaloupe. During this voyage, poor man, he was captured and
carried into port by a French privateer. On the suggestion that he might
ransom his vessel on payment of four thousand livres, he departed for
Boston in hope of finding the money, leaving behind three of his sailors
as hostages.

Cash in hand for the ransom, the long-suffering Captain Michael Driver
turned southward again, now in the schooner Mary, and he flew a flag
of truce to indicate his errand. This meant nothing to the ruffian
who commanded the English privateer Revenge. He violently seized the
innocent Mary and sent her into New Providence. Here Captain Driver
made lawful protest before the authorities, and was set at liberty with
vessel and cargo--an act of justice quite unusual in the Admiralty Court
of the Bahamas.

Unmolested, the harassed skipper managed to gain Cape Francois and
rescue his three seamen and his schooner in exchange for the ransom
money. As he was about to depart homeward bound, a French frigate
snatched him and his crew out of their vessel and threw them ashore at
Santiago, where for two months they existed as ragged beachcombers until
by some judicial twist the schooner was returned to them. They worked
her home and presented their long list of grievances to the colonial
Government of Massachusetts, which duly forwarded them--and that was
the end of it. Three years had been spent in this catalogue of
misadventures, and Captain Driver, his owners, and his men were helpless
against such intolerable aggression. They and their kind were a prey to
every scurvy rascal who misused a privateering commission to fill his
own pockets.

Stoutly resolved to sail and trade as they pleased, these undaunted
Americans, nevertheless, increased their business on blue water until
shortly before the Revolution the New England fleet alone numbered six
hundred sail. Its captains felt at home in Surinam and the Canaries.
They trimmed their yards in the reaches of the Mediterranean and
the North Sea or bargained thriftily in the Levant. The whalers of
Nantucket, in their apple-bowed barks, explored and hunted in distant
seas, and the smoke of their try-pots darkened the waters of Baffin Bay,
Guinea, and Brazil. It was they who inspired Edmund Burke's familiar
eulogy: "No sea but is vexed by their fisheries. No climate that is not
a witness to their toils. Neither the perseverance of Holland nor the
activity of France, nor the dexterous and firm sagacity of England ever
carried this most perilous mode of hardy industry to the extent to which
it has been pushed by this recent people--a people who are still, as it
were, but in the gristle and not yet hardened into the bone of manhood."

In 1762, seventy-eight whalers cleared from American ports, of which
more than half were from Nantucket. Eight years later there were one
hundred and twenty-five whalers out of Nantucket which took 14,331
barrels of oil valued at $358,200. In size these vessels averaged no
more than ninety tons, a fishing smack of today, and yet they battered
their way half around the watery globe and comfortably supported six
thousand people who dwelt on a sandy island unfit for farming and having
no other industries. Every Nantucket lad sailed for his "lay" or share
of the catch and aspired to command eventually a whaler of his own.

Whaler, merchantman, and slaver were training a host of incomparable
seamen destined to harry the commerce of England under the new-born
Stars and Stripes, and now, in 1775, on the brink of actual war,
Parliament flung a final provocation and aroused the furious enmity of
the fishermen who thronged the Grand Bank. Lord North proposed to forbid
the colonies to export fish to those foreign markets in which every
seacoast village was vitally concerned, and he also contemplated driving
the fishing fleets from their haunts off Newfoundland. This was to rob
six thousand sturdy men of a livelihood afloat and to spread ruin among
the busy ports, such as Marblehead and Gloucester, from which sailed
hundreds of pinks, snows, and schooners. This measure became law
notwithstanding the protests of twenty-one peers of the realm who
declared: "We dissent 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 nation."

The sailormen bothered their heads very little about taxation without
representation but whetted their anger with grudges more robust. They
had been beggared and bullied and shot at from the Bay of Biscay to
Barbados, and no sooner was the Continental Congress ready to issue
privateering commissions and letters of marque than for them it was up
anchor and away to bag a Britisher. Scarcely had a shipmaster signaled
his arrival with a deep freight of logwood, molasses, or sugar than
he received orders to discharge with all speed and clear his decks for
mounting heavier batteries and slinging the hammocks of a hundred eager
privateersmen who had signed articles in the tavern rendezvous. The
timbered warehouses were filled with long-toms and nine-pounders,
muskets, blunderbusses, pistols, cutlases, boarding-pikes, hand
grenades, tomahawks, grape, canister, and doubleheaded shot.

In the narrow, gabled streets of Salem, Boston, New York, and Baltimore,
crowds trooped after the fifes and drums with a strapping recruiting
officer to enroll "all gentlemen seamen and able-bodied landsmen who had
a mind to distinguish themselves in the glorious cause of their country
and make their fortunes." Many a ship's company was mustered between
noon and sunset, including men who had served in armed merchantmen and
who in times of nominal peace had fought the marauders of Europe or
whipped the corsairs of Barbary in the Strait of Gibraltar. Never was a
race of seamen so admirably fitted for the daring trade of privateering
as the crews of these tall sloops, topsail schooners, and smart
square-riggers, their sides checkered with gun-ports, and ready to drive
to sea like hawks.

In some instances the assurance of these hardy men was both absurd and
sublime. Ramshackle boats with twenty or thirty men aboard, mounting one
or two old guns, sallied out in the expectation of gold and glory, only
to be captured by the first British cruiser that chanced to sight them.
A few even sailed with no cannon at all, confident of taking them out
of the first prize overhauled by laying alongside--and so in some cases
they actually did.

The privateersmen of the Revolution played a larger part in winning the
war than has been commonly recognized. This fact, however, was clearly
perceived by Englishmen of that era, as "The London Spectator" candidly
admitted: "The books at Lloyds will recount it, and the rate of
assurances at that time will prove what their diminutive strength was
able to effect in the face of our navy, and that when nearly one hundred
pennants were flying on our coast. Were we able to prevent their going
in and out, or stop them from taking our trade and our storeships even
in sight of our garrisons? Besides, were they not in the English and
Irish Channels, picking up our homeward bound trade, sending their
prizes into French and Spanish ports to the great terror of our
merchants and shipowners?"

The naval forces of the Thirteen Colonies were pitifully feeble in
comparison with the mighty fleets of the enemy whose flaming broadsides
upheld the ancient doctrine that "the Monarchs of Great Britain have a
peculiar and Sovereign authority upon the Ocean... from the Laws of God
and of Nature, besides an uninterrupted Fruition of it for so many Ages
past as that its Beginnings cannot be traced out." *

    * "The Seaman's Vade-Mecum." London, 1744.

In 1776 only thirty-one Continental cruisers of all classes were in
commission, and this number was swiftly diminished by capture and
blockade until in 1782 no more than seven ships flew the flag of the
American Navy. On the other hand, at the close of 1777, one hundred and
seventy-four private armed vessels had been commissioned, mounting two
thousand guns and carrying nine thousand men. During this brief period
of the war they took as prizes 733 British merchantmen and inflicted
losses of more than two million pounds sterling. Over ten thousand
seamen were made prisoners at a time when England sorely needed them for
drafting into her navy. To lose them was a far more serious matter than
for General Washington to capture as many Hessian mercenaries who could
be replaced by purchase.

In some respects privateering as waged a century and more ago was a
sordid, unlovely business, the ruling motive being rather a greed of
gain than an ardent love of country. Shares in lucky ships were bought
and sold in the gambling spirit of a stock exchange. Fortunes were won
and lost regardless of the public service. It became almost impossible
to recruit men for the navy because they preferred the chance of booty
in a privateer. For instance, the State of Massachusetts bought a
twenty-gun ship, the Protector, as a contribution to the naval strength,
and one of her crew, Ebenezer Fox, wrote of the effort to enlist
sufficient men: "The recruiting business went on slowly, however, but
at length upwards of three hundred men were carried, dragged, and driven
abroad; of all ages, kinds, and descriptions; in all the various stages
of intoxication from that of sober tipsiness to beastly drunkenness;
with the uproar and clamor that may be more easily imagined than
described. Such a motley group has never been seen since Falstaff's
ragged regiment paraded the streets of Coventry."

There was nothing of glory to boast of in fetching into port some little
Nova Scotia coasting schooner with a cargo of deals and potatoes, whose
master was also the owner and who lost the savings of a lifetime because
he lacked the men and guns to defend his property against spoliation.
The war was no concern of his, and he was the victim of a system now
obsolete among civilized nations, a relic of a barbarous and piratical
age whose spirit has been revived and gloried in recently only by the
Government of the German Empire. The chief fault of the privateersman
was that he sailed and fought for his own gain, but he was never guilty
of sinking ships with passengers and crew aboard, and very often he
played the gentleman in gallant style. Nothing could have seemed to him
more abhorrent and incredible than a kind of warfare which should drown
women and children because they had embarked under an enemy's flag.

Extraordinary as were the successes of the Yankee privateers, it was a
game of give-and-take, a weapon which cut both ways, and the temptation
is to extol their audacious achievements while glossing over the
heavy losses which their own merchant marine suffered. The weakness
of privateering was that it was wholly offensive and could not, like
a strong navy, protect its own commerce from depredation. While the
Americans were capturing over seven hundred British vessels during the
first two years of the war, as many as nine hundred American ships were
taken or sunk by the enemy, a rate of destruction which fairly swept
the Stars and Stripes from the tracks of ocean commerce. As prizes these
vessels were sold at Liverpool and London for an average amount of two
thousand pounds each and the loss to the American owners was, of course,
ever so much larger.

The fact remains, nevertheless--and it is a brilliant page of history
to recall--that in an inchoate nation without a navy, with blockading
squadrons sealing most of its ports, with ragged armies on land which
retreated oftener than they fought, private armed ships dealt the
maritime prestige of Great Britain a far deadlier blow than the Dutch,
French, and Spanish were able to inflict. In England, there resulted
actual distress, even lack of food, because these intrepid seamen could
not be driven away from her own coasts and continued to snatch their
prizes from under the guns of British forts and fleets. The plight of
the West India Colonies was even worse, as witness this letter from a
merchant of Grenada: "We are happy if we can get anything for money by
reason of the quantity of vessels taken by the Americans. A fleet
of vessels came from Ireland a few days ago. From sixty vessels
that departed from Ireland not above twenty-five arrived in this and
neighboring islands, the others, it is thought, being all taken by
American privateers. God knows, if this American war continues much
longer, we shall all die of hunger."

On both sides, by far the greater number of captures was made during the
earlier period of the war which cleared the seas of the smaller, slower,
and unarmed vessels. As the war progressed and the profits flowed
in, swifter and larger ships were built for the special business of
privateering until the game resembled actual naval warfare. Whereas,
at first, craft of ten guns with forty or fifty men had been considered
adequate for the service, three or four years later ships were afloat
with a score of heavy cannon and a trained crew of a hundred and fifty
or two hundred men, ready to engage a sloop of war or to stand up to
the enemy's largest privateers. In those days single ship actions, now
almost forgotten in naval tactics, were fought with illustrious skill
and courage, and commanders won victories worthy of comparison with
deeds distinguished in the annals of the American Navy.


Salem was the foremost privateering port of the Revolution, and from
this pleasant harbor, long since deserted by ships and sailormen, there
filled away past Cape Ann one hundred and fifty-eight vessels of all
sizes to scan the horizon for British topsails. They accounted for four
hundred prizes, or half the whole number to the credit of American arms
afloat. This preeminence was due partly to freedom from a close blockade
and partly to a seafaring population which was born and bred to its
trade and knew no other. Besides the crews of Salem merchantmen,
privateering enlisted the idle fishermen of ports nearby and the
mariners of Boston whose commerce had been snuffed out by the British
occupation. Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Charleston sent some splendid
armed ships to sea but not with the impetuous rush nor in anything like
the numbers enrolled by this gray old town whose fame was unique.

For the most part, the records of all these brave ships and the
thousands of men who sailed and sweated and fought in them are dim and
scanty, no more than routine entries in dusty log-books which read like
this: "Filled away in pursuit of a second sail in the N. W. At 4.30 she
hoisted English colors and commenced firing her stern guns. At 5.90 took
in the steering sails, at the same time she fired a broadside. We opened
a fire from our larboard battery and at 5.30 she struck her colors. Got
out the boats and boarded her. She proved to be the British brig Acorn
from Liverpool to Rio Janeiro, mounting fourteen cannon." * But now and
then one finds in these old sea-journals an entry more intimate and
human, such as the complaint of the master of the privateer Scorpion,
cruising in 1778 and never a prize in sight. "This Book I made to keep
the Accounts of my Voyage but God knows beste what that will be, for I
am at this time very Impashent but I hope soon there will be a Change to
ease my Trubled Mind. On this Day I was Chaced by Two Ships of War which
I tuck to be Enemies, but coming on thick Weather I have lost site of
them and so conclude myself escaped which is a small good Fortune in the
midste of my Discouragements." * * A burst of gusty laughter still echoes
along the crowded deck of the letter-of-marque schooner Success, whose
master, Captain Philip Thrash, inserted this diverting comment in his
humdrum record of the day's work: "At one half past 8 discovered a sail
ahead. Tacked ship. At 9 tacked ship again and past just to Leeward of
the Sail which appeared to be a damn'd Comical Boat, by G-d."

    * From the manuscript collections of the Essex Institute, Salem, Mass.

    * * From the manuscript collections of the Essex Institute, Salem, Mass.

There are a few figures of the time and place which stand out,
full-length, in vivid colors against a background that satisfies the
desire of romance and thrillingly conveys the spirit of the time and the
place. Such a one was Captain Jonathan Haraden, Salem privateersman, who
captured one thousand British cannon afloat and is worthy to be ranked
as one of the ablest sea-fighters of his generation. He was a merchant
mariner, a master at the outbreak of the Revolution, who had followed
the sea since boyhood. But it was more to his taste to command the Salem
ship General Pickering of 180 tons which was fitted out under a letter
of marque in the spring of 1780. She carried fourteen six-pounders and
forty-five men and boys, nothing very formidable, when Captain Haraden
sailed for Bilbao with a cargo of sugar. During the voyage, before his
crew had been hammered into shape, he beat off a British privateer of
twenty guns and safely tacked into the Bay of Biscay.

There he sighted another hostile privateer, the Golden Eagle, larger
than his own ship. Instead of shifting his course to avoid her, Haraden
clapped on sail and steered alongside after nightfall, roaring through
his trumpet: "What ship is this? An American frigate, sir. Strike, or
I'll sink you with a broadside."

Dazed by this unexpected summons in the gloom, the master of the Golden
Eagle promptly surrendered, and a prize crew was thrown aboard with
orders to follow the Pickering into Bilbao. While just outside that
Spanish harbor, a strange sail was descried and again Jonathan Haraden
cleared for action. The vessel turned out to be the Achilles, one of the
most powerful privateers out of London, with forty guns and a hundred
and fifty men, or almost thrice the fighting strength of the little
Pickering. She was, in fact, more like a sloop of war. Before Captain
Haraden could haul within gunshot to protect his prize, it had been
recaptured by the Achilles, which then maneuvered to engage the

Darkness intervened, but Jonathan Haraden had no idea of escaping under
cover of it. He was waiting for the morning breeze and a chance to
fight it out to a finish. He was a handsome man with an air of serene
composure and a touch of the theatrical such as Nelson displayed in his
great moments. Having prepared his ship for battle, he slept soundly
until dawn and then dressed with fastidious care to stroll on deck,
where he beheld the Achilles bearing down on him with her crew at

His own men were clustered behind their open ports, matches lighted,
tackles and breechings cast off, crowbars, handspikes, and sponge-staves
in place, gunners stripped to the waist, powder-boys ready for the word
like sprinters on the mark. Forty-five of them against a hundred and
fifty, and Captain Haraden, debonair, unruffled, walking to and fro with
a leisurely demeanor, remarking that although the Achilles appeared to
be superior in force, "he had no doubt they would beat her if they were
firm and steady and did not throw away their fire."

It was, indeed, a memorable sea-picture, the sturdy Pickering riding
deep with her burden of sugar and seeming smaller than she really was,
the Achilles towering like a frigate, and all Bilbao turned out to
watch the duel, shore and headlands crowded with spectators, the blue
harbor-mouth gay with an immense flotilla of fishing boats and pleasure
craft. The stake for which Haraden fought was to retake the Golden
Eagle prize and to gain his port. His seamanship was flawless. Vastly
outnumbered if it should come to boarding, he handled his vessel so as
to avoid the Achilles while he poured the broadsides into her. After two
hours the London privateer emerged from the smoke which had obscured the
combat and put out to sea in flight, hulled through and through, while
a farewell flight of crowbars, with which the guns of the Pickering had
been crammed to the muzzle, ripped through her sails and rigging.

Haraden hoisted canvas and drove in chase, but the Achilles had the
heels of him "with a mainsail as large as a ship of the line," and
reluctantly he wore ship and, with the Golden Eagle again in his
possession, he sailed to an anchorage in Bilbao harbor. The Spanish
populace welcomed him with tremendous enthusiasm. He was carried through
the streets in a holiday procession and was the hero of banquets and
public receptions.

Such a man was bound to be the idol of his sailors and one of them quite
plausibly related that "so great was the confidence he inspired that if
he but looked at a sail through his glass and told the helmsman to steer
for her, the observation went round,'If she is an enemy, she is ours.'"

It was in this same General Pickering, no longer sugar-laden but in
cruising trim, that Jonathan Haraden accomplished a feat which Paul
Jones might have been proud to claim. There lifted above the sky-line
three armed merchantmen sailing in company from Halifax to New York, a
brig of fourteen guns, a ship of sixteen guns, a sloop of twelve guns.
When they flew signals and formed in line, the ship alone appeared
to outmatch the Pickering, but Haraden, in that lordly manner of his,
assured his men that "he had no doubt whatever that if they would
do their duty he would quickly capture the three vessels." Here
was performance very much out of the ordinary, naval strategy of an
exceptionally high order, and yet it is dismissed by the only witness
who took the trouble to mention it in these few, casual words: "This he
did with great ease by going alongside of each of them, one after the

One more story of this master sea-rover of the Revolution, sailor and
gentleman, who served his country so much more brilliantly than many
a landsman lauded in the written histories of the war. While in the
Pickering he attacked a heavily armed royal mail packet bound to England
from the West Indies, one of the largest merchant vessels of her day and
equipped to defend herself against privateers. A tough antagonist and a
hard nut to crack! They battered each other like two pugilists for four
hours and even then the decision was still in the balance. Then Haraden
sheered off to mend his damaged gear and splintered hull before closing
in again.

He then discovered that all his powder had been shot away excepting one
last charge. Instead of calling it a drawn battle, he rammed home this
last shot in the locker, and ran down to windward of the packet, so
close that he could shout across to the other quarter-deck: "I will give
you five minutes to haul down your colors. If they are not down at the
end of that time, I will fire into you and sink you, so help me God."

It was the bluff magnificent--courage cold-blooded and calculating.
The adversary was still unbeaten. Haraden stood with watch in hand and
sonorously counted off the minutes. It was the stronger will and not the
heavier metal that won the day. To be shattered by fresh broadsides at
pistol-range was too much for the nerves of the gallant English skipper
whose decks were already like a slaughterhouse. One by one, Haraden
shouted the minutes and his gunners blew their matches. At "four" the
red ensign came fluttering down and the mail packet was a prize of war.

Another merchant seaman of this muster-roll of patriots was Silas
Talbot, who took to salt water as a cabin boy at the age of twelve and
was a prosperous shipmaster at twenty-one with savings invested in a
house of his own in Providence. Enlisting under Washington, he was made
a captain of infantry and was soon promoted, but he was restless ashore
and glad to obtain an odd assignment. As Colonel Talbot he selected
sixty infantry volunteers, most of them seamen by trade, and led them
aboard the small sloop Argo in May, 1779, to punish the New York Tories
who were equipping privateers against their own countrymen and working
great mischief in Long Island Sound. So serious was the situation that
General Gates found it almost impossible to obtain food supplies for the
northern department of the Continental army.

Silas Talbot and his nautical infantrymen promptly fell in with the New
York privateer Lively, a fair match for him, and as promptly sent her
into port. He then ran offshore and picked up and carried into Boston
two English privateers headed for New York with large cargoes of
merchandise from the West Indies. But he was particularly anxious to
square accounts with a renegade Captain Hazard who made Newport his base
and had captured many American vessels with the stout brig King George,
using her for "the base purpose of plundering his old neighbors and

On his second cruise in the Argo, young Silas Talbot encountered the
perfidious King George to the southward of Long Island and riddled her
with one broadside after another, first hailing Captain Hazard by name
and cursing him in double-shotted phrases for the traitorous swab that
he was. Then the seagoing infantry scrambled over the bulwarks and
tumbled the Tories down their own hatches without losing a man. A prize
crew with the humiliated King George made for New London, where there
was much cheering in the port, and "even the women, both young and old,
expressed the greatest joy."

With no very heavy fighting, Talbot had captured five vessels and was
keen to show what his crew could do against mettlesome foemen. He found
them at last well out to sea in a large ship which seemed eager to
engage him. Only a few hundred feet apart through a long afternoon, they
briskly and cheerily belabored each other with grape and solid shot.
Talbot's speaking-trumpet was shot out of his hand, the tails of his
coat were shorn off, and all the officers and men stationed with him on
the quarter-deck were killed or wounded.

His crew reported that the Argo was in a sinking condition, with the
water flooding the gun-deck, but he told them to lower a man or two in
the bight of a line and they pluckily plugged the holes from overside.
There was a lusty huzza when the Englishman's mainmast crashed to
the deck and this finished the affair. Silas Talbot found that he had
trounced the privateer Dragon, of twice his own tonnage and with the
advantage in both guns and men.

While his crew was patching the Argo and pumping the water from her
hold, the lookout yelled that another sail was making for them. Without
hesitation Talbot somehow got this absurdly impudent one-masted craft
of his under way and told those of his sixty men who survived to prepare
for a second tussle. Fortunately another Yankee privateer joined the
chase and together they subdued the armed brig Hannah. When the Argo
safely convoyed the two prizes into New Bedford, "all who beheld her
were astonished that a vessel of her diminutive size could suffer so
much and yet get safely to port."

Men fought and slew each other in those rude and distant days with a
certain courtesy, with a fine, punctilious regard for the etiquette of
the bloody game. There was the Scotch skipper of the Betsy, a privateer,
whom Silas Talbot hailed as follows, before they opened fire:

"You must now haul down those British colors, my friend."

"Notwithstanding I find you an enemy, as I suspected," was the dignified
reply, "yet, sir, I shall let them hang a little bit longer,--with your
permission,--so fire away, Flanagan."

During another of her cruises the Argo pursued an artfully disguised
ship of the line which could have blown her to kingdom come with a
broadside of thirty guns. The little Argo was actually becalmed within
short range, but her company got out the sweeps and rowed her some
distance before darkness and a favoring slant of wind carried them
clear. In the summer of 1780, Captain Silas Talbot, again a mariner by
title, was given the private cruiser General Washington with one hundred
and twenty men, but he was less fortunate with her than when afloat in
the tiny Argo with his sixty Continentals. Off Sandy Hook he ran into
the British fleet under Admiral Arbuthnot and, being outsailed in a
gale of wind, he was forced to lower his flag to the great seventy-four
Culloden. After a year in English prisons he was released and made his
way home, serving no more in the war but having the honor to command the
immortal frigate Constitution in 1799 as a captain in the American Navy.

In several notable instances the privateersmen tried conclusions with
ships that flew the royal ensign, and got the better of them. The hero
of an uncommonly brilliant action of this sort was Captain George Geddes
of Philadelphia, who was entrusted with the Congress, a noble privateer
of twenty-four guns and two hundred men. Several of the smaller British
cruisers had been sending parties ashore to plunder estates along the
southern shores, and one of them, the sloop of war Savage, had even
raided Washington's home at Mount Vernon. Later she shifted to the
coast of Georgia in quest of loot and was unlucky enough to fall athwart
Captain Geddes in the Congress.

The privateer was the more formidable ship and faster on the wind,
forcing Captain Sterling of the Savage to accept the challenge. Disabled
aloft very early in the fight, Captain Geddes was unable to choose his
position, for which reason they literally battled hand-to-hand, hulls
grinding against each other, the gunners scorched by the flashes of the
cannon in the ports of the opposing ship, with scarcely room to ply
the rammers, and the sailors throwing missiles from the decks, hand
grenades, cold shot, scraps of iron, belaying-pins.

As the vessels lay interlocked, the Savage was partly dismasted and
Captain Geddes, leaping upon the forecastle head, told the boarders to
follow him. Before they could swing their cutlases and dash over the
hammock-nettings, the British boatswain waved his cap and yelled that
the Savage had surrendered. Captain Sterling was dead, eight others were
killed, and twenty-four wounded. The American loss was about the same.
Captain Geddes, however, was unable to save his prize because a British
frigate swooped down and took them both into Charleston.

When peace came in 1783, it was independence dearly bought by land and
sea, and no small part of the price was the loss of a thousand merchant
ships which would see their home ports no more. Other misfortunes added
to the toll of destruction. The great fishing fleets which had been the
chief occupation of coastwise New England were almost obliterated and
their crews were scattered. Many of the men had changed their allegiance
and were sailing out of Halifax, and others were impressed into British
men-of-war or returned broken in health from long confinement in British
prisons. The ocean was empty of the stanch schooners which had raced
home with lee rails awash to cheer waiting wives and sweethearts.

The fate of Nantucket and its whalers was even more tragic. This colony
on its lonely island amid the shoals was helpless against raids by sea,
and its ships and storehouses were destroyed without mercy. Many vessels
in distant waters were captured before they were even aware that a
state of war existed. Of a fleet numbering a hundred and fifty sail, one
hundred and thirty-four were taken by the enemy and Nantucket whaling
suffered almost total extinction. These seamen, thus robbed of their
livelihood, fought nobly for their country's cause. Theirs was not the
breed to sulk or whine in port. Twelve hundred of them were killed or
made prisoners during the Revolution. They were to be found in the
Army and Navy and behind the guns of privateers. There were twenty-five
Nantucket whalemen in the crew of the Ranger when Paul Jones steered
her across the Atlantic on that famous cruise which inspired the old
forecastle song that begins

    'Tis of the gallant Yankee ship
    That flew the Stripes and Stars,
    And the whistling wind from the west nor'west
    Blew through her pitch pine spars.
    With her starboard tacks aboard, my boys,
    She hung upon the gale.
    On an autumn night we raised the light
    Off the Old Head of Kinsale.

Pitiful as was the situation of Nantucket, with its only industry wiped
out and two hundred widows among the eight hundred families left on the
island, the aftermath of war seemed almost as ruinous along the whole
Atlantic coast. More ships could be built and there were thousands of
adventurous sailors to man them, but where were the markets for the
product of the farms and mills and plantations? The ports of Europe had
been so long closed to American shipping that little demand was left for
American goods. To the Government of England the people of the Republic
were no longer fellow-countrymen but foreigners. As such they were
subject to the Navigation Acts, and no cargoes could be sent to that
kingdom unless in British vessels. The flourishing trade with the West
Indies was made impossible for the same reason, a special Order in
Council aiming at one fell stroke to "put an end to the building and
increase of American vessels" and to finish the careers of three hundred
West Indiamen already afloat. In the islands themselves the results
were appalling. Fifteen thousand slaves died of starvation because the
American traders were compelled to cease bringing them dried fish
and corn during seasons in which their own crops were destroyed by

In 1776, one-third of the seagoing merchant marine of Great Britain had
been bought or built to order in America because lumber was cheaper
and wages were lower. This lucrative business was killed by a law which
denied Englishmen the privilege of purchasing ships built in American
yards. So narrow and bitter was this commercial enmity, so ardent
this desire to banish the Stars and Stripes from blue water, that Lord
Sheffield in 1784 advised Parliament that the pirates of Algiers and
Tripoli really benefited English commerce by preying on the shipping of
weaker nations. "It is not probable that the American States will have
a very free trade in the Mediterranean," said he. "It will not be to the
interest of any of the great maritime Powers to protect them from the
Barbary States. If they know their interests, they will not encourage
the Americans to be carriers. That the Barbary States are advantageous
to maritime Powers is certain."

Denied the normal ebb and flow of trade and commerce and with the
imports from England far exceeding the value of the merchandise exported
thence, the United States, already impoverished, was drained of its
money, and a currency of dollars, guineas, joes, and moidores grew
scarcer day by day. There was no help in a government which consisted of
States united only in name. Congress comprised a handful of respectable
gentlemen who had little power and less responsibility, quarreling among
themselves for lack of better employment. Retaliation against England by
means of legislation was utterly impossible. Each State looked after
its commerce in its own peculiar fashion and the devil might take
the hindmost. Their rivalries and jealousies were like those of petty
kingdoms. If one State should close her ports is to English ships, the
others would welcome them in order to divert the trade, with no feeling
of national pride or federal cooperation.

The Articles of Confederation had empowered Congress to make treaties of
commerce, but only such as did not restrain the legislative power of
any State from laying imposts and regulating exports and imports. If a
foreign power imposed heavy duties upon American shipping, it was for
the individual States and not for Congress to say whether the vessels of
the offending nation should be allowed free entrance to the ports of the
United States: It was folly to suppose, ran the common opinion, that
if South Carolina should bar her ports to Spain because rice and indigo
were excluded from the Spanish colonies, New Hampshire, which furnished
masts and lumber for the Spanish Navy, ought to do the same. The idea of
turning the whole matter over to Congress was considered preposterous by
many intelligent Americans.

In these thirteen States were nearly three and a quarter million people
hemmed in a long and narrow strip between the sea and an unexplored
wilderness in which the Indians were an ever present peril. The Southern
States, including Maryland, prosperous agricultural regions, contained
almost one-half the English-speaking population of America. As colonies,
they had found the Old World eager for their rice, tobacco, indigo,
and tar, and slavery was the means of labor so firmly established that
one-fifth of the inhabitants were black. By contrast, the Northern
States were still concerned with commerce as the very lifeblood of their
existence. New England had not dreamed of the millions of spindles which
should hum on the banks of her rivers and lure her young men and women
from the farms to the clamorous factory towns. The city of New York
had not yet outgrown its traffic in furs and its magnificent commercial
destiny was still unrevealed. It was a considerable seaport but not yet
a gateway. From Sandy Hook, however, to the stormy headlands of Maine,
it was a matter of life and death that ships should freely come and
go with cargoes to exchange. All other resources were trifling in


In such compelling circumstances as these, necessity became the mother
of achievement. There is nothing finer in American history than the
dogged fortitude and high-hearted endeavor with which the merchant
seamen returned to their work after the Revolution and sought and
found new markets for their wares. It was then that Salem played
that conspicuous part which was, for a generation, to overshadow the
activities of all other American seaports. Six thousand privateersmen
had signed articles in her taverns, as many as the total population of
the town, and they filled it with a spirit of enterprise and daring.
Not for them the stupid monotony of voyages coastwise if more hazardous
ventures beckoned and there were havens and islands unvexed by trade
where bold men might win profit and perhaps fight for life and cargo.

Now there dwelt in Salem one of the great men of his time, Elias Hasket
Derby, the first American millionaire, and very much more than this. He
was a shipping merchant with a vision and with the hard-headed sagacity
to make his dreams come true. His was a notable seafaring family,
to begin with. His father, Captain Richard Derby, born in 1712, had
dispatched his small vessels to the West Indies and Virginia and with
the returns from these voyages he had loaded assorted cargoes for Spain
and Madeira and had the proceeds remitted in bills of exchange to
London or in wine, salt, fruit, oil, lead, and handkerchiefs to America.
Richard Derby's vessels had eluded or banged away at the privateers
during the French War from 1756 to 1763, mounting from eight to twelve
guns, "with four cannon below decks for close quarters." Of such a
temper was this old sea-dog who led the militia and defiantly halted
General Gage's regulars at the North River bridge in Salem, two full
months before the skirmish at Lexington. Eight of the nineteen cannon
which it was proposed to seize from the patriots had been taken from the
ships of Captain Richard Derby and stored in his warehouse for the use
of the Provincial Congress.

It was Richard's son, Captain John Derby, who carried to England in the
swift schooner Quero the first news of the affair at Lexington, ahead of
the King's messenger. A sensational arrival, if ever there was one! This
Salem shipmaster, cracking on sail like a proper son of his sire, making
the passage in twenty-nine days and handsomely beating the lubberly
Royal Express Packet Sukey which left Boston four days sooner, and
startling the British nation with the tidings which meant the loss of an
American empire! A singular coincidence was that this same Captain John
Derby should have been the first mariner to inform the United States
that peace had come, when he arrived from France in 1783 with the
message that a treaty had been signed.

Elias Hasket Derby was another son of Richard. When his manifold
energies were crippled by the war, he diverted his ability and abundant
resources into privateering. He was interested in at least eighty of the
privateers out of Salem, invariably subscribing for such shares as might
not be taken up by his fellow-townsmen. He soon perceived that many
of these craft were wretchedly unfit for the purpose and were easily
captured or wrecked. It was characteristic of his genius that he
should establish shipyards of his own, turn his attention to naval
architecture, and begin to build a class of vessels vastly superior in
size, model, and speed to any previously launched in the colonies. They
were designed to meet the small cruiser of the British Navy on even
terms and were remarkably successful, both in enriching their owner and
in defying the enemy.

At the end of the war Elias Hasket Derby discovered that these fine
ships were too large and costly to ply up and down the coast. Instead
of bewailing his hard lot, he resolved to send them to the other side of
the globe. At a time when the British and the Dutch East India companies
insolently claimed a monopoly of the trade of the Orient, when American
merchant seamen had never ventured beyond the two Atlantics, this was a
conception which made of commerce a surpassing romance and heralded the
golden era of the nation's life upon the sea.

His Grand Turk of three hundred tons was promptly fitted out for a
pioneering voyage as far as the Cape of Good Hope. Salem knew her as
"the great ship" and yet her hull was not quite one hundred feet long.
Safely Captain Jonathan Ingersoll took her out over the long road, his
navigating equipment consisting of a few erroneous maps and charts, a
sextant, and Guthrie's Geographical Grammar. In Table Bay he sold his
cargo of provisions and then visited the coast of Guinea to dispose of
his rum for ivory and gold dust but brought not a single slave back,
Mr. Derby having declared that "he would rather sink the whole capital
employed than directly or indirectly be concerned in so infamous a
trade"--an unusual point of view for a shipping merchant of New England
in 1784!

Derby ships were first to go to Mauritius, then called the Isle of
France, first at Calcutta, and among the earliest to swing at anchor off
Canton. When Elias Hasket Derby decided to invade this rich East India
commerce, he sent his eldest son, Elias Hasket, Jr., to England and the
Continent after a course at Harvard. The young man became a linguist
and made a thorough study of English and French methods of trade. Having
laid this foundation for the venture, the son was now sent to India,
where he lived for three years in the interests of his house, building
up a trade almost fabulously profitable.

How fortunes were won in those stirring days may be discerned from
the record of young Derby's ventures while in the Orient. In 1788 the
proceeds of one cargo enabled him to buy a ship and a brigantine in the
Isle of France. These two vessels he sent to Bombay to load with cotton.
Two other ships of his fleet, the Astrea and Light Horse, were filled
at Calcutta and Rangoon and ordered to Salem. It was found, when the
profits of these transactions were reckoned, that the little squadron
had earned $100,000 above all outlay.

To carry on such a business as this enlisted many men and industries.
While the larger ships were making their distant voyages, the brigs and
schooners were gathering cargoes for them, crossing to Gothenburg and
St. Petersburg for iron, duck, and hemp, to France, Spain, and Madeira
for wine and lead, to the French West Indies for molasses to be turned
into rum, to New York, Philadelphia, and Richmond for flour, provisions,
and tobacco. These shipments were assembled in the warehouses on Derby
Wharf and paid for the teas, coffees, pepper, muslin, silks, and ivory
which the ships from the Far East were fetching home. In fourteen years
the Derby ships made one hundred and twenty-five voyages to Europe and
far eastern ports and out of the thirty-five vessels engaged only one
was lost at sea.

It was in 1785 when the Grand Turk, on a second voyage, brought back
a cargo of silks, teas, and nankeens from Batavia and China, that "The
Independent Chronicle" of London, unconsciously humorous, was moved to
affirm that "the Americans have given up all thought of a China trade
which can never be carried on to advantage without some settlement in
the East Indies."

As soon as these new sea-trails had been furrowed by the keels of Elias
Hasket Derby, other Salem merchants were quick to follow in a rivalry
which left no sea unexplored for virgin markets and which ransacked
every nook and corner of barbarism which had a shore. Vessels slipped
their cables and sailed away by night for some secret destination with
whose savage potentate trade relations had been established. It might
be Captain Jonathan Carnes who, while at the port of Bencoolen in
1793, heard that pepper grew wild on the northern coast of Sumatra. He
whispered the word to the Salem owner, who sent him back in the schooner
Rajah with only four guns and ten men. Eighteen months later, Jonathan
Carnes returned to Salem with a cargo of pepper in bulk, the first
direct importation, and cleared seven hundred per cent on the voyage.
When he made ready to go again, keeping his business strictly to
himself, other owners tracked him clear to Bencoolen, but there he
vanished in the Rajah, and his secret with him, until he reappeared with
another precious cargo of pepper. When, at length, he shared this trade
with other vessels, it meant that Salem controlled the pepper market of
Sumatra and for many years supplied a large part of the world's demand.

And so it happened that in the spicy warehouses that overlooked Salem
Harbor there came to be stored hemp from Luzon, gum copal from Zanzibar,
palm oil from Africa, coffee from Arabia, tallow from Madagascar, whale
oil from the Antarctic, hides and wool from the Rio de la Plata, nutmeg
and cloves from Malaysia. Such merchandise had been bought or bartered
for by shipmasters who were much more than mere navigators. They had to
be shrewd merchants on their own accounts, for the success or failure
of a voyage was mostly in their hands. Carefully trained and highly
intelligent men, they attained command in the early twenties and were
able to retire, after a few years more afloat, to own ships and exchange
the quarterdeck for the counting-room, and the cabin for the solid
mansion and lawn on Derby Street. Every opportunity, indeed, was offered
them to advance their own fortunes. They sailed not for wages but for
handsome commissions and privileges--in the Derby ships, five per cent
of a cargo outward bound, two and a half per cent of the freightage
home, five per cent profit on goods bought and sold between foreign
ports, and five per cent of the cargo space for their own use.

Such was the system which persuaded the pick and flower of young
American manhood to choose the sea as the most advantageous career
possible. There was the Crowninshield family, for example, with five
brothers all in command of ships before they were old enough to vote and
at one time all five away from Salem, each in his own vessel and three
of them in the East India trade. "When little boys," to quote from
the memoirs of Benjamin Crowninshield, "they were all sent to a common
school and about their eleventh year began their first particular study
which should develop them as sailors and ship captains. These boys
studied their navigation as little chaps of twelve years old and were
required to thoroughly master the subject before being sent to sea....
As soon as the art of navigation was mastered, the youngsters were sent
to sea, sometimes as common sailors but commonly as ship's clerks, in
which position they were able to learn everything about the management
of a ship without actually being a common sailor."

This was the practice in families of solid station and social rank, for
to be a shipmaster was to follow the profession of a gentleman. Yet the
bright lad who entered by way of the forecastle also played for high
stakes. Soon promoted to the berth of mate, he was granted cargo space
for his own adventures in merchandise and a share of the profits.
In these days the youth of twenty-one is likely to be a college
undergraduate, rated too callow and unfit to be intrusted with the
smallest business responsibilities and tolerantly regarded as unable
to take care of himself. It provokes both a smile and a glow of pride,
therefore, to recall those seasoned striplings and what they did.

No unusual instance was that of Nathaniel Silsbee, later United States
Senator from Massachusetts, who took command of the new ship Benjamin in
the year 1792, laden with a costly cargo from Salem for the Cape of
Good Hope and India, "with such instructions," says he, "as left the
management of the voyage very much to my own discretion. Neither
myself nor the chief mate, Mr. Charles Derby, had attained the age
of twenty-one years when we left home. I was not then twenty." This
reminded him to speak of his own family. Of the three Silsbee brothers,
"each of us obtained the command of vessels and the consignment of their
cargoes before attaining the age of twenty years, viz., myself at the
age of eighteen and a half, my brother William at nineteen and a half,
and my brother Zachariah before he was twenty years old. Each and all of
us left off going to sea before reaching the age of twenty-nine years."

How resourcefully these children of the sea could handle affairs was
shown in this voyage of the Benjamin. While in the Indian Ocean young
Silsbee fell in with a frigate which gave him news of the beginning of
war between England and France. He shifted his course for Mauritius and
there sold the cargo for a dazzling price in paper dollars, which he
turned into Spanish silver. An embargo detained him for six months,
during which this currency increased to three times the value of the
paper money. He gave up the voyage to Calcutta, sold the Spanish dollars
and loaded with coffee and spices for Salem. At the Cape of Good Hope,
however, he discovered that he could earn a pretty penny by sending his
cargo home in other ships and loading the Benjamin again for Mauritius.
When, at length, he arrived in Salem harbor, after nineteen months away,
his enterprises had reaped a hundred per cent for Elias Hasket Derby and
his own share was the snug little fortune of four thousand dollars. Part
of this he, of course, invested at sea, and at twenty-two he was part
owner of the Betsy, East Indiaman, and on the road to independence.

As second mate in the Benjamin had sailed Richard Cleveland, another
matured mariner of nineteen, who crowded into one life an Odyssey of
adventure noteworthy even in that era and who had the knack of writing
about it with rare skill and spirit. In 1797, when twenty-three years
old, he was master of the bark Enterprise bound from Salem to Mocha for
coffee. The voyage was abandoned at Havre and he sent the mate home
with the ship, deciding to remain abroad and gamble for himself with the
chances of the sea. In France he bought on credit a "cutter-sloop"
of forty-three tons, no larger than the yachts whose owners think it
venturesome to take them off soundings in summer cruises. In this little
box of a craft he planned to carry a cargo of merchandise to the Cape of
Good Hope and thence to Mauritius.

His crew included two men, a black cook, and a brace of boys who were
hastily shipped at Havre. "Fortunately they were all so much in debt
as not to want any time to spend their advance, but were ready at the
instant, and with this motley crew, (who, for aught I knew, were robbers
or pirates) I put to sea." The only sailor of the lot was a Nantucket
lad who was made mate and had to be taught the rudiments of navigation
while at sea. Of the others he had this to say, in his lighthearted

"The first of my fore-mast hands is a great, surly, crabbed, raw-boned,
ignorant Prussian who is so timid aloft that the mate has frequently
been obliged to do his duty there. I believe him to be more of a
soldier than a sailor, though he has often assured me that he has been
a boatswain's mate of a Dutch Indiaman, which I do not believe as he
hardly knows how to put two ends of a rope together.... My cook... a
good-natured negro and a tolerable cook, so unused to a vessel that in
the smoothest weather he cannot walk fore and aft without holding onto
something with both hands. This fear proceeds from the fact that he is
so tall and slim that if he should get a cant it might be fatal to
him. I did not think America could furnish such a specimen of the negro
race... nor did I ever see such a simpleton. It is impossible to teach
him anything and... he can hardly tell the main-halliards from the

"Next is an English boy of seventeen years old, who from having lately
had the small-pox is feeble and almost blind, a miserable object,
but pity for his misfortunes induces me to make his duty as easy as
possible. Finally I have a little ugly French boy, the very image of a
baboon, who from having served for some time on different privateers has
all the tricks of a veteran man-of-war's man, though only thirteen years
old, and by having been in an English prison, has learned enough of the
language to be a proficient in swearing."

With these human scrapings for a ship's company, the cutter Caroline was
three months on her solitary way as far as the Cape of Good Hope, where
the inhabitants "could not disguise their astonishment at the size of
the vessel, the boyish appearance of the master and mate, and the queer
and unique characters of the two men and boy who composed the crew." The
English officials thought it strange indeed, suspecting some scheme of
French spies or smuggled dispatches, but Richard Cleveland's petition
to the Governor, Lord McCartney, ingenuously patterned after certain
letters addressed to noblemen as found in an old magazine aboard his
vessel, won the day for him and he was permitted to sell the cutter and
her cargo, having changed his mind about proceeding farther.

Taking passage to Batavia, he looked about for another venture but found
nothing to his liking and wandered on to Canton, where he was attracted
by the prospect of a voyage to the northwest coast of America to buy
furs from the Indians. In a cutter no larger than the Caroline he risked
all his cash and credit, stocking her with $20,000 worth of assorted
merchandise for barter, and put out across the Pacific, "having on board
twenty-one persons, consisting, except two Americans, of English, Irish,
Swedes and French, but principally the first, who were runaways from
the men-of-war and Indiamen, and two from a Botany Bay ship who had made
their escape, for we were obliged to take such as we could get, served
to complete a list of as accomplished villains as ever disgraced any

After a month of weary, drenching hardship off the China coast, this
crew of cutthroats mutinied. With a loyal handful, including the black
cook, Cleveland locked up the provisions, mounted two four-pounders
on the quarterdeck, rammed them full of grape-shot, and fetched up the
flint-lock muskets and pistols from the cabin. The mutineers were then
informed that if they poked their heads above the hatches he would blow
them overboard. Losing enthusiasm and weakened by hunger, they asked to
be set ashore; so the skipper marooned the lot. For two days the cutter
lay offshore while a truce was argued, the upshot being that four of the
rascals gave in and the others were left behind.

Fifty days more of it and, washed by icy seas, racked and storm-beaten,
the vessel made Norfolk Sound. So small was the crew, so imminent the
danger that the Indians might take her by boarding, that screens
of hides were rigged along the bulwarks to hide the deck from view.
Stranded and getting clear, warding off attacks, Captain Richard
Cleveland stayed two months on the wilderness coast of Oregon, trading
one musket for eight prime sea-otter skins until there was no more
room below. Sixty thousand dollars was the value of the venture when
he sailed for China by way of the Sandwich Islands, forty thousand
of profit, and he was twenty-five years old with the zest for roving

He next appeared in Calcutta, buying a twenty-five-ton pilot boat under
the Danish flag for a fling at Mauritius and a speculation in prizes
brought in by French privateers. Finding none in port, he loaded seven
thousand bags of coffee in a ship for Copenhagen and conveyed as a
passenger a kindred spirit, young Nathaniel Shaler, whom he took into
partnership. At Hamburg these two bought a fast brig, the Lelia Byrd,
to try their fortune on the west coast of South America, and recruited
a third partner, a boyish Polish nobleman, Count de Rousillon, who had
been an aide to Kosciusko. Three seafaring musketeers, true gentlemen
rovers, all under thirty, sailing out to beard the viceroys of Spain!

From Valparaiso, where other American ships were detained and robbed,
they adroitly escaped and steered north to Mexico and California. At
San Diego they fought their way out of the harbor, silencing the
Spanish fort with their six guns. Then to Canton with furs, and Richard
Cleveland went home at thirty years of age after seven years' absence
and voyaging twice around the world, having wrested success from almost
every imaginable danger and obstacle, with $70,000 to make him a rich
man in his own town. He was neither more nor less than an American
sailor of the kind that made the old merchant marine magnificent.

It was true romance, also, when the first American shipmasters set foot
in mysterious Japan, a half century before Perry's squadron shattered
the immemorial isolation of the land of the Shoguns and the Samurai.
Only the Dutch had been permitted to hold any foreign intercourse
whatever with this hermit nation and for two centuries they had
maintained their singular commercial monopoly at a price measured in
terms of the deepest degradation of dignity and respect. The few Dutch
merchants suffered to reside in Japan were restricted to a small
island in Nagasaki harbor, leaving it only once in four years when the
Resident, or chief agent, journeyed to Yeddo to offer gifts and most
humble obeisance to the Shogun, "creeping forward on his hands and feet,
and falling on his knees, bowed his head to the ground, and retired
again in absolute silence, crawling exactly like a crab," said one of
these pilgrims who added: "We may not keep Sundays or fast days, or
allow our spiritual hymns or prayers to be heard; never mention the name
of Christ. Besides these things, we have to submit to other insulting
imputations which are always painful to a noble heart. The reason which
impels the Dutch to bear all these sufferings so patiently is simply the
love of gain."

In return for these humiliations the Dutch East India Company was
permitted to send one or two ships a year from Batavia to Japan and to
export copper, silk, gold, camphor, porcelain, bronze, and rare woods.
The American ship Franklin arrived at Batavia in 1799 and Captain James
Devereux of Salem learned that a charter was offered for one of these
annual voyages. After a deal of Yankee dickering with the hard-headed
Dutchmen, a bargain was struck and the Franklin sailed for Nagasaki with
cloves, chintz, sugar, tin, black pepper, sapan wood, and elephants'
teeth. The instructions were elaborate and punctilious, salutes to be
fired right and left, nine guns for the Emperor's guard while passing
in, thirteen guns at the anchorage; all books on board to be sealed
up in a cask, Bibles in particular, and turned over to the Japanese
officials, all firearms sent ashore, ship dressed with colors whenever
the "Commissaries of the Chief" graciously came aboard, and a carpet on
deck for them to sit upon.

Two years later, the Margaret of Salem made the same sort of a voyage,
and in both instances the supercargoes, one of whom happened to be a
younger brother of Captain Richard Cleveland, wrote journals of the
extraordinary episode. For these mariners alone was the curtain lifted
which concealed the feudal Japan from the eyes of the civilized world.
Alert and curious, these Yankee traders explored the narrow streets of
Nagasaki, visited temples, were handsomely entertained by officers and
merchants, and exchanged their wares in the marketplace. They were as
much at home, no doubt, as when buying piculs of pepper from a rajah of
Qualah Battoo, or dining with an elderly mandarin of Cochin China. It
was not too much to say that "the profuse stores of knowledge brought
by every ship's crew, together with unheard of curiosities from
every savage shore, gave the community of Salem a rare alertness of

It was a Salem bark, the Lydia, that first displayed the American
flag to the natives of Guam in 1801. She was chartered by the Spanish
government of Manila to carry to the Marianne Islands, as those dots on
the chart of the Pacific were then called, the new Governor, his family,
his suite, and his luggage. First Mate William Haswell kept a diary in a
most conscientious fashion, and here and there one gleans an item with
a humor of its own. "Now having to pass through dangerous straits," he
observes, "we went to work to make boarding nettings and to get our arms
in the best order, but had we been attacked we should have been taken
with ease. Between Panay and Negros all the passengers were in the
greatest confusion for fear of being taken and put to death in the dark
and not have time to say their prayers."

The decks were in confusion most of the time, what with the Governor,
his lady, three children, two servant girls and twelve men servants,
a friar and his servant, a judge and two servants, not to mention some
small hogs, two sheep, an ox, and a goat to feed the passengers who were
too dainty for sea provender. The friar was an interesting character. A
great pity that the worthy mate of the Lydia should not have been more
explicit! It intrigues the reader of his manuscript diary to be told
that "the Friar was praying night and day but it would not bring a
fair wind. His behavior was so bad that we were forced to send him to
Coventry, or in other words, no one would speak to him."

The Spanish governors of Guam had in operation an economic system which
compelled the admiration of this thrifty Yankee mate. The natives
wore very few clothes, he concluded, because the Governor was the only
shopkeeper and he insisted on a profit of at least eight hundred per
cent. There was a native militia regiment of a thousand men who were
paid ten dollars a year. With this cash they bought Bengal goods,
cottons, Chinese pans, pots, knives, and hoes at the Governor's store,
so that "all this money never left the Governor's hands. It was fetched
to him by the galleons in passing, and when he was relieved he carried
it with him to Manila, often to the amount of eighty or ninety thousand
dollars." A glimpse of high finance without a flaw!

There is pathos, simple and moving, in the stories of shipwreck and
stranding on hostile or desert coasts. These disasters were far more
frequent then than now, because navigation was partly guesswork and
ships were very small. Among these tragedies was that of the Commerce,
bound from Boston to Bombay in 1793. The captain lost his bearings and
thought he was off Malabar when the ship piled up on the beach in the
night. The nearest port was Muscat and the crew took to the boats in the
hope of reaching it. Stormy weather drove them ashore where armed Arabs
on camels stripped them of clothes and stores and left them to die among
the sand dunes.

On foot they trudged day after day in the direction of Muscat, and how
they suffered and what they endured was told by one of the survivors,
young Daniel Saunders. Soon they began to drop out and die in their
tracks in the manner of "Benjamin Williams, William Leghorn, and Thomas
Barnard whose bodies were exposed naked to the scorching sun and finding
their strength and spirits quite exhausted they lay down expecting
nothing but death for relief." The next to be left behind was Mr. Robert
Williams, merchant and part owner, "and we therefore with reluctance
abandoned him to the mercy of God, suffering ourselves all the horrors
that fill the mind at the approach of death." Near the beach and a
forlorn little oasis, they stumbled across Charles Lapham, who had
become separated from them. He had been without water for five days "and
after many efforts he got upon his feet and endeavored to walk. Seeing
him in so wretched a condition I could not but sympathize enough with
him in his torments to go back with him" toward water two miles away,
"which both my other companions refused to do. Accordingly they walked
forward while I went back a considerable distance with Lapham until, his
strength failing him, he suddenly fell on the ground, nor was he able
to rise again or even speak to me. Finding it vain to stay with him, I
covered him with sprays and leaves which I tore from an adjacent tree,
it being the last friendly office I could do him."

Eight living skeletons left of eighteen strong seamen tottered into
Muscat and were cared for by the English consul. Daniel Saunders worked
his passage to England, was picked up by a press-gang, escaped, and so
returned to Salem. It was the fate of Juba Hill, the black cook from
Boston, to be detained among the Arabs as a slave. It is worth noting
that a black sea-cook figured in many of these tales of daring and
disaster, and among them was the heroic and amazing figure of one Peter
Jackson who belonged in the brig Ceres. While running down the river
from Calcutta she was thrown on her beam ends and Peter, perhaps dumping
garbage over the rail, took a header. Among the things tossed to him as
he floated away was a sail-boom on which he was swiftly carried out of
sight by the turbid current. All on board concluded that Peter Jackson
had been eaten by sharks or crocodiles and it was so reported when they
arrived home. An administrator was appointed for his goods and chattels
and he was officially deceased in the eyes of the law. A year or so
later this unconquerable sea-cook appeared in the streets of Salem,
grinning a welcome to former shipmates who fled from him in terror as
a ghostly visitation. He had floated twelve hours on his sail-boom,
it seemed, fighting off the sharks with his feet; and finally drifting
ashore. "He had hard work to do away with the impressions of being
dead," runs the old account, "but succeeded and was allowed the rights
and privileges of the living."

The community of interests in these voyages of long ago included not
only the ship's company but also the townspeople, even the boys and
girls, who entrusted their little private speculations or "adventures"
to the captain. It was a custom which flourished well into the
nineteenth century. These memoranda are sprinkled through the account
books of the East Indiamen out of Salem and Boston. It might be Miss
Harriet Elkins who requested the master of the Messenger "please to
purchase at Calcutta two net beads with draperies; if at Batavia or any
spice market, nutmegs or mace; or if at Canton, two Canton shawls of the
enclosed colors at $5 per shawl. Enclosed is $10."

Again, it might be Mr. John R. Tucker who ventured in the same ship one
hundred Spanish dollars to be invested in coffee and sugar, or Captain
Nathaniel West who risked in the Astrea fifteen boxes of spermaceti
candles and a pipe of Teneriffe wine. It is interesting to discover what
was done with Mr. Tucker's hundred Spanish dollars, as invested for him
by the skipper of the Messenger at Batavia and duly accounted for.
Ten bags of coffee were bought for $83.30, the extra expenses of duty,
boat-hire, and sacking bringing the total outlay to $90.19. The coffee
was sold at Antwerp on the way home for $183.75, and Mr. Tucker's
handsome profit on the adventure was therefore $93.56, or more than one
hundred per cent.

It was all a grand adventure, in fact, and the word was aptly chosen to
fit this ocean trade. The merchant freighted his ship and sent her
out to vanish from his ken for months and months of waiting, with the
greater part of his savings, perhaps, in goods and specie beneath her
hatches. No cable messages kept him in touch with her nor were there
frequent letters from the master. Not until her signal was displayed by
the fluttering flags of the headland station at the harbor mouth could
he know whether he had gained or lost a fortune. The spirit of such
merchants was admirably typified in the last venture of Elias Hasket
Derby in 1798, when unofficial war existed between the United States and

American ships were everywhere seeking refuge from the privateers under
the tricolor, which fairly ran amuck in the routes of trade. For this
reason it meant a rich reward to land a cargo abroad. The ship Mount
Vernon, commanded by Captain Elias Hasket Derby, Jr., was laden with
sugar and coffee for Mediterranean ports, and was prepared for trouble,
with twenty guns mounted and fifty men to handle them. A smart ship and
a powerful one, she raced across to Cape Saint Vincent in sixteen days,
which was clipper speed. She ran into a French fleet of sixty sail,
exchanged broadsides with the nearest, and showed her stern to the

"We arrived at 12 o'clock [wrote Captain Derby from Gibraltar] popping
at Frenchmen all the forenoon. At 10 A.M. off Algeciras Point we were
seriously attacked by a large latineer who had on board more than one
hundred men. He came so near our broadside as to allow our six-pound
grape to do execution handsomely. We then bore away and gave him our
stern guns in a cool and deliberate manner, doing apparently great
execution. Our bars having cut his sails considerably, he was thrown
into confusion, struck both his ensign and his pennant. I was then
puzzled to know what to do with so many men; our ship was running large
with all her steering sails out, so that we could not immediately bring
her to the wind, and we were directly off Algeciras Point from whence I
had reason to fear she might receive assistance, and my port Gibraltar
in full view. These were circumstances that induced me to give up the
gratification of bringing him in. It was, however, a satisfaction to
flog the rascal in full view of the English fleet who were to leeward."


Soon after the Revolution the spirit of commercial exploration began
to stir in other ports than Salem. Out from New York sailed the ship
Empress of China in 1784 for the first direct voyage to Canton, to make
the acquaintance of a vast nation absolutely unknown to the people
of the United States, nor had one in a million of the industrious and
highly civilized Chinese ever so much as heard the name of the little
community of barbarians who dwelt on the western shore of the North
Atlantic. The oriental dignitaries in their silken robes graciously
welcomed the foreign ship with the strange flag and showed a lively
interest in the map spread upon the cabin table, offering every facility
to promote this new market for their silks and teas. After an absence
of fifteen months the Empress of China returned to her home port and her
pilgrimage aroused so much attention that the report of the supercargo,
Samuel Shaw, was read in Congress.

Surpassing this achievement was that of Captain Stewart Dean, who very
shortly afterward had his fling at the China trade in an eighty-ton
sloop built at Albany. He was a stout-hearted old privateersman of the
Revolution whom nothing could dismay, and in this tiny Experiment of
his he won merited fame as one of the American pioneers of blue water.
Fifteen men and boys sailed with him, drilled and disciplined as if the
sloop were a frigate, and when the Experiment hauled into the stream, of
Battery Park, New York, "martial music and the boatswain's whistle were
heard on board with all the pomp and circumstance of war." Typhoons
and Malay proas, Chinese pirates and unknown shoals, had no terrors for
Stewart Dean. He saw Canton for himself, found a cargo, and drove home
again in a four months' passage, which was better than many a clipper
could do at a much later day. Smallest and bravest of the first Yankee
East Indiamen, this taut sloop, with the boatswain's pipe trilling
cheerily and all hands ready with cutlases and pikes to repel boarders,
was by no means the least important vessel that ever passed in by Sandy

In the beginnings of this picturesque relation with the Far East, Boston
lagged behind Salem, but her merchants, too, awoke to the opportunity
and so successfully that for generations there were no more conspicuous
names and shipping-houses in the China trade than those of Russell,
Perkins, and Forbes. The first attempt was very ambitious and rather
luckless. The largest merchantman ever built at that time in the United
States was launched at Quincy in 1789 to rival the towering ships of the
British East India Company. This Massachusetts created a sensation.
Her departure was a national event. She embodied the dreams of Captain
Randall and of the Samuel Shaw who had gone as supercargo in the Empress
of China. They formed a partnership and were able to find the necessary

This six-hundred-ton ship loomed huge in the ayes of the crowds which
visited her. She was in fact no larger than such four-masted coasting
schooners as claw around Hatteras with deck-loads of Georgia pine or
fill with coal for down East, and manage it comfortably with seven or
eight men for a crew. The Massachusetts, however, sailed in 411 the
old-fashioned state and dignity of a master, four mates, a purser,
surgeon, carpenter, gunner, four quartermasters, three midshipmen, a
cooper, two cooks, a steward, and fifty seamen. The second officer was
Amasa Delano, a man even more remarkable than the ship, who wandered far
and wide and wrote a fascinating book about his voyages, a classic of
its kind, the memoirs of an American merchant mariner of a breed long
since extinct.

While the Massachusetts was fitting out at Boston, one small annoyance
ruffled the auspicious undertaking. Three different crews were signed
before a full complement could be persuaded to tarry in the forecastle.
The trouble was caused by a fortune-teller of Lynn, Moll Pitcher by
name, who predicted disaster for the ship. Now every honest sailor knows
that certain superstitions are gospel fact, such as the bad luck brought
by a cross-eyed Finn, a black cat, or going to sea on Friday, and
these eighteenth century shellbacks must not be too severely chided for
deserting while they had the chance. As it turned out, the voyage did
have a sorry ending and death overtook an astonishingly large number of
the ship's people.

Though she had been designed and built by master craftsmen of New
England who knew their trade surpassingly well, it was discovered when
the ship arrived at Canton that her timbers were already rotting. They
were of white oak which had been put into her green instead of properly
seasoned. This blunder wrecked the hopes of her owners. To cap it, the
cargo of masts and spars had also been stowed while wet and covered
with mud and ice, and the hatches had been battened. As a result the
air became so foul with decay that several hundred barrels of beef were
spoiled. To repair the ship was beyond the means of Captain Randall
and Samuel Shaw, and reluctantly they sold her to the Danish East India
Company at a heavy loss. Nothing could have been more unexpected than to
find that, for once, the experienced shipbuilders had been guilty of a

The crew scattered, and perhaps the prediction of the fortune-teller of
Lynn followed their roving courses, for when Captain Amasa Delano tried
to trace them a few years later, he jotted down such obituaries as these
on the list of names:

 "John Harris. A slave in Algiers at last accounts.
  Roger Dyer. Died and thrown overboard off Cape Horn.
  William Williams. Lost overboard off Japan.
  James Crowley. Murdered by the Chinese near Macao.
  John Johnson. Died on board an English Indiaman.
  Seth Stowell. Was drowned at Whampoa in 1790.
  Jeremiah Chace. Died with the small-pox at Whampoa in 1791.
  Humphrey Chadburn. Shot and died at Whampoa in 1791.
  Samuel Tripe. Drowned off Java Head in 1790.
  James Stackpole. Murdered by the Chinese.
  Nicholas Nicholson. Died with the leprosy at Macao.
  William Murphy. Killed by Chinese pirates.
  Larry Conner. Killed at sea."

There were more of these gruesome items--so many of them that it appears
as though no more than a handful of this stalwart crew survived the
Massachusetts by a dozen years. Incredible as it sounds, Captain
Delano's roster accounted for fifty of them as dead while he was still
in the prime of life, and most of them had been snuffed out by violence.
As for his own career, it was overcast by no such unlucky star, and he
passed unscathed through all the hazards and vicissitudes that could
be encountered in that rugged and heroic era of endeavor. Set adrift in
Canton when the Massachusetts was sold, he promptly turned his hand to
repairing a large Danish ship which had been wrecked by storm, and he
virtually rebuilt her to the great satisfaction of the owners.

Thence, with money in his pocket, young Delano went to Macao, where
he fell in with Commodore John McClure of the English Navy, who was
in command of an expedition setting out to explore a part of the South
Seas, including the Pelew Islands, New Guinea, New Holland, and the
Spice Islands. The Englishman liked this resourceful Yankee seaman and
did him the honor to say, recalls Delano, "that he considered I should
be a very useful man to him as a seaman, an officer, or a shipbuilder;
and if it was agreeable to me to go on board the Panther with him, I
should receive the some pay and emoluments with his lieutenants and
astronomers." A signal honor it was at a time when no love was lost
between British and American seafarers who had so recently fought each
other afloat.

And so Amasa Delano embarked as a lieutenant of the Bombay Marine, to
explore tropic harbors and goons until then unmapped and to parley with
dusky kings. Commodore McClure, diplomatic and humane, had almost no
trouble with the untutored islanders, except on the coast of New Guinea,
where the Panther was attacked by a swarm of canoes and the surgeon was
killed. It was a spirited little affair, four-foot arrows pelting like
hail across the deck, a cannon hurling grapeshot from the taffrail,
Amasa Delano hit in the chest and pulling out the arrow to jump to his
duty again.

Only a few years earlier the mutineers of the Bounty had established
themselves on Pitcairn Island, and Delano was able to compile the first
complete narrative of this extraordinary colony, which governed itself
in the light of the primitive Christian virtues. There was profound
wisdom in the comment of Amasa Delano: "While the present natural,
simple, and affectionate character prevails among these descendants
of the mutineers, they will be delightful to our minds, they will be
amiable and acceptable in the sight of God, and they will be useful
and happy among themselves. Let it be our fervent prayer that neither
canting and hypocritical emissaries from schools of artificial theology
on the one hand, nor sensual and licentious crews and adventurers on the
other, may ever enter the charming village of Pitcairn to give disease
to the minds or the bodies of the unsuspecting inhabitants."

Two years of this intensely romantic existence, and Delano started
homeward. But there was a chance of profit at Mauritius, and there he
bought a tremendous East Indiaman of fourteen hundred tons as a joint
venture with a Captain Stewart and put a crew of a hundred and fifty men
on board. She had been brought in by a French privateer and Delano was
moved to remark, with an indignation which was much in advance of his
times: "Privateering is entirely at variance with the first principle of
honorable warfare.... This system of licensed robbery enables a wicked
and mercenary man to insult and injure even neutral friends on the
ocean; and when he meets an honest sailor who may have all his earnings
on board his ship but who carries an enemy's flag, he plunders him of
every cent and leaves him the poor consolation that it is done according
to law.... When the Malay subjects of Abba Thule cut down the cocoanut
trees of an enemy, in the spirit of private revenge, he asked them why
they acted in opposition to the principles on which they knew he always
made and conducted a war. They answered, and let the reason make us
humble, 'The English do so.'"

In his grand East Indiaman young Captain Delano traded on the coast of
India but soon came to grief. The enterprise had been too large for him
to swing with what cash and credit he could muster, and the ship was
sold from under him to pay her debts. Again on the beach, with one
solitary gold moidore in his purse, he found a friendly American skipper
who offered him a passage to Philadelphia, which he accepted with the
pious reflection that, although his mind was wounded and mortified by
the financial disaster, his motives had been perfectly pure and honest.
He never saw his native land with so little pleasure as on this return
to it, he assures us, and the shore on which he would have leaped with
delight was covered with gloom and sadness.

Now what makes it so well worth while to sketch in brief outline the
careers of one and another of these bygone shipmasters is that they
accurately reflected the genius and the temper of their generation.
There was, in truth, no such word as failure in their lexicon. It is
this quality that appeals to us beyond all else. Thrown on their beam
ends, they were presently planning something else, eager to shake dice
with destiny and with courage unbroken. It was so with Amasa Delano, who
promptly went to work "with what spirits I could revive within me. After
a time they returned to their former elasticity."

He obtained a position as master builder in a shipyard, saved some
money, borrowed more, and with one of his brothers was soon blithely
building a vessel of two hundred tons for a voyage into the Pacific
and to the northwest coast after seals. They sailed along Patagonia and
found much to interest them, dodged in and out of the ports of Chili and
Peru, and incidentally recaptured a Spanish ship which was in the hands
of the slaves who formed her cargo.

This was all in the day's work and happened at the island of Santa
Maria, not far from Juan Fernandez, where Captain Delano's Perseverance
found the high-pooped Tryal in a desperate state. Spanish sailors who
had survived the massacre were leaping overboard or scrambling up to the
mastheads while the African savages capered on deck and flourished their
weapons. Captain Delano liked neither the Spaniard nor the slavetrade,
but it was his duty to help fellow seamen in distress; so he cleared
for action and ordered two boats away to attend to the matter. The chief
mate, Rufus Low, was in charge, and a gallant sailor he showed himself.
They had to climb the high sides of the Tryal and carry, in hand-to-hand
conflict, the barricades of water-casks and bales of matting which the
slaves had built across the deck. There was no hanging back, and even
a mite of a midshipman from Boston pranced into it with his dirk. The
negroes were well armed and fought ferociously. The mate was seriously
wounded, four seamen were stabbed, the Spanish first mate had two musket
balls in him, and a passenger was killed in the fray.

Having driven the slaves below and battened them down, the American
party returned next morning to put the irons on them. A horrid sight
confronted them. Thirsting for vengeance, the Spanish sailors had
spread-eagled several of the negroes to ringbolts in the deck and were
shaving the living flesh from them with razor-edged boarding lances.
Captain Delano thereupon disarmed these brutes and locked them up in
their turn, taking possession of the ship until he could restore order.
The sequel was that he received the august thanks of the Viceroy of
Chili and a gold medal from His Catholic Majesty. As was the custom, the
guilty slaves, poor wretches, were condemned to be dragged to the gibbet
at the tails of mules, to be hanged, their bodies burned, and their
heads stuck upon poles in the plaza.

It was while in this Chilean port of Talcahuano that Amasa Delano heard
the tale of the British whaler which had sailed just before his arrival.
He tells it so well that I am tempted to quote it as a generous tribute
to a sailor of a rival race. After all, they were sprung from a common
stock and blood was thicker than water. Besides, it is the sort of
yarn that ought to be dragged to the light of day from its musty burial
between the covers of Delano's rare and ancient "Voyages and Travels."

The whaler Betsy, it seems, went in and anchored under the guns of the
forts to seek provisions and make repairs. The captain went ashore
to interview the officials, leaving word that no Spaniards should be
allowed to come aboard because of the bad feeling against the English.
Three or four large boats filled with troops presently veered alongside
and were ordered to keep clear. This command was resented, and the
troops opened fire, followed by the forts. Now for the deed of a man
with his two feet under him.

"The chief officer of the Betsy whose name was Hudson, a man of
extraordinary bravery, cut his cable and his ship swung the wrong way,
with her head in shore, passing close to several Spanish ships which,
with every vessel in the harbor that could bring a gun to bear, together
with three hundred soldiers in boats and on ship's decks and the two
batteries, all kept up a constant fire on him. The wind was light,
nearly a calm. The shot flew so thick that it was difficult for him to
make sail, some part of the rigging being cut away every minute.

"He kept his men at the guns, and when the ship swung her broadside so
as to bear upon any of the Spanish ships, he kept up a fire at them. In
this situation the brave fellow continued to lie for three-quarters of
an hour before he got his topsails sheeted home. The action continued
in this manner for near an hour and a half. He succeeded in getting the
ship to sea, however, in defiance of all the force that could be brought
against him. The ship was very much cut to pieces in sails, rigging, and
hull; and a considerable number of men were killed and wounded on board.

"Hudson kept flying from one part of the deck to the other during the
whole time of action, encouraging and threatening the men as occasion
required. He kept a musket in his hand most part of the time, firing
when he could find the leisure. Some of the men came aft and begged him
to give up the ship, telling him they should all be killed--that the
carpenter had all one side of him shot away--that one man was cut in
halves with a double-headed shot as he was going aloft to loose the
foretopsail and the body had fallen on deck in two separate parts--that
such a man was killed at his duty on the forecastle, and one more had
been killed in the maintop--that Sam, Jim, Jack, and Tom were wounded
and that they would do nothing more towards getting the ship out of the

"His reply to them was, 'then you shall be sure to die, for if they
do not kill you I will, so sure as you persist in any such cowardly
resolution,' saying at the same time, 'OUT SHE GOES, OR DOWN SHE GOES.'"

By this resolute and determined conduct he kept the men to their duty
and succeeded in accomplishing one of the most daring enterprises
perhaps ever attempted.

An immortal phrase, this simple dictum of first mate Hudson of the
Betsy, "Out she goes, or down she goes," and not unworthy of being
mentioned in the same breath with Farragut's "Damn the torpedoes."

Joined by his brother Samuel in the schooner Pilgrim, which was used
as a tender in the sealing trade, Amasa Delano frequented unfamiliar
beaches until he had taken his toll of skins and was ready to bear away
for Canton to sell them. There were many Yankee ships after seals in
those early days, enduring more peril and privation than the whalemen,
roving over the South Pacific among the rock-bound islands unknown
to the merchant navigator. The men sailed wholly on shares, a seaman
receiving one per cent of the catch and the captain ten per cent, and
they slaughtered the seal by the million, driving them from the most
favored haunts within a few years. For instance, American ships first
visited Mas a Fuera in 1797, and Captain Delano estimated that during
the seven years following three million skins were taken to China from
this island alone. He found as many as fourteen vessels there at one
time, and he himself carried away one hundred thousand skins. It was a
gold mine for profit while it lasted.

There were three Delano brothers afloat in two vessels, and of their
wanderings Amasa set down this epitome: "Almost the whole of our
connections who were left behind had need of our assistance, and to look
forward it was no more than a reasonable calculation to make that
our absence would not be less than three years... together with the
extraordinary uncertainty of the issue of the voyage, as we had nothing
but our hands to depend upon to obtain a cargo which was only to be done
through storms, dangers, and breakers, and taken from barren rocks in
distant regions. But after a voyage of four years for one vessel and
five for the other, we were all permitted to return safe home to our
friends and not quite empty-handed. We had built both of the vessels we
were in and navigated them two and three times around the globe." Each
one of the brothers had been a master builder and rigger and a navigator
of ships in every part of the world.

By far the most important voyage undertaken by American merchantmen
during the decade of brilliant achievement following the Revolution was
that of Captain Robert Gray in the Columbia, which was the first ship
to visit and explore the northwest coast and to lead the way for such
adventurers as Richard Cleveland and Amasa Delano. On his second voyage
in 1792, Captain Gray discovered the great river he christened Columbia
and so gave to the United States its valid title to that vast territory
which Lewis and Clark were to find after toiling over the mountains
thirteen years later.


When the first Congress under the new Federal Constitution assembled
in 1789, a spirit of pride was manifested in the swift recovery and the
encouraging growth of the merchant marine, together with a concerted
determination to promote and protect it by means of national
legislation. The most imperative need was a series of retaliatory
measures to meet the burdensome navigation laws of England, to give
American ships a fair field and no favors. The Atlantic trade was
therefore stimulated by allowing a reduction of ten per cent of the
customs duties on goods imported in vessels built and owned by American
citizens. The East India trade, which already employed forty New England
ships, was fostered in like manner. Teas brought direct under the
American flag paid an average duty of twelve cents a pound while teas in
foreign bottoms were taxed twenty-seven cents. It was sturdy protection,
for on a cargo of one hundred thousand pounds of assorted teas from
India or China, a British ship would pay $27,800 into the custom house
and a Salem square-rigger only $10,980.

The result was that the valuable direct trade with the Far East was
absolutely secured to the American flag. Not content with this, Congress
decreed a system of tonnage duties which permitted the native owner to
pay six cents per ton on his vessel while the foreigner laid down fifty
cents as an entry fee for every ton his ship measured, or thirty cents
if he owned an American-built vessel. In 1794, Congress became even more
energetic in defense of its mariners and increased the tariff rates on
merchandise in foreign vessels. A nation at last united, jealous of its
rights, resentful of indignities long suffered, and intelligently alive
to its shipping as the chief bulwark of prosperity, struck back with
peaceful weapons and gained a victory of incalculable advantage.
Its Congress, no longer feeble and divided, laid the foundations for
American greatness upon the high seas which was to endure for more than
a half century. Wars, embargoes, and confiscations might interrupt but
they could not seriously harm it.

In the three years after 1789 the merchant shipping registered for the
foreign trade increased from 123,893 tons to 411,438 tons, presaging a
growth without parallel in the history of the commercial world. Foreign
ships were almost entirely driven out of American ports, and ninety-one
per cent of imports and eighty-six per cent of exports were conveyed
in vessels built and manned by Americans. Before Congress intervened,
English merchantmen had controlled three-fourths of our commerce
overseas. When Thomas Jefferson, as Secretary of State, fought down
Southern opposition to a retaliatory shipping policy, he uttered a
warning which his countrymen were to find still true and apt in the
twentieth century: "If we have no seamen, our ships will be useless,
consequently our ship timber, iron, and hemp; our shipbuilding will be
at an end; ship carpenters will go over to other nations; our young men
have no call to the sea; our products, carried in foreign bottoms,
will be saddled with war-freight and insurance in time of war--and the
history of the last hundred years shows that the nation which is our
carrier has three years of war for every four years of peace."

The steady growth of an American merchant marine was interrupted only
once in the following decade. In the year 1793 war broke out between
England and France. A decree of the National Convention of the French
Republic granted neutral vessels the same rights as those which flew the
tricolor. This privilege reopened a rushing trade with the West Indies,
and hundreds of ships hastened from American ports to Martinique,
Guadeloupe, and St. Lucia.

Like a thunderbolt came the tidings that England refused to look upon
this trade with the French colonies as neutral and that her cruisers
had been told to seize all vessels engaged in it and to search them
for English-born seamen. This ruling was enforced with such barbarous
severity that it seemed as if the War for Independence had been fought
in vain. Without warning, unable to save themselves, great fleets of
Yankee merchantmen were literally swept from the waters of the West
Indies. At St. Eustatius one hundred and thirty of them were condemned.
The judges at Bermuda condemned eleven more. Crews and passengers were
flung ashore without food or clothing, were abused, insulted, or perhaps
impressed in British privateers. The ships were lost to their owners.
There was no appeal and no redress. At Martinique an English fleet and
army captured St. Pierre in February, 1794. Files of marines boarded
every American ship in the harbor, tore down the colors, and flung two
hundred and fifty seamen into the foul holds of a prison hulk. There
they were kept, half-dead with thirst and hunger while their vessels,
uncared for, had stranded or sunk at their moorings. Scores of outrages
as abominable as this were on record in the office of the Secretary of
State. Shipmasters were afraid to sail to the southward and, for lack
of these markets for dried cod, the fishing schooners of Marblehead were

For a time a second war with England seemed imminent. An alarmed
Congress passed laws to create a navy and to fortify the most important
American harbors. President Washington recommended an embargo of thirty
days, which Congress promptly voted and then extended for thirty
more. It was a popular measure and strictly enforced by the mariners
themselves. The mates and captains of the brigs and snows in the
Delaware River met and resolved not to go to sea for another ten days,
swearing to lie idle sooner than feed the British robbers in the West
Indies. It was in the midst of these demonstrations that Washington
seized the one hope of peace and recommended a special mission to

The treaty negotiated by John Jay in 1794 was received with an outburst
of popular indignation. Jay was damned as a traitor, while the sailors
of Portsmouth burned him in effigy. By way of an answer to the terms of
the obnoxious treaty, a seafaring mob in Boston raided and burned
the British privateer Speedwell, which had put into that port as a
merchantman with her guns and munitions hidden beneath a cargo of West
India produce.

The most that can be said of the commercial provisions of the treaty is
that they opened direct trade with the East Indies but at the price of
complete freedom of trade for British shipping in American ports. It
must be said, too, that although the treaty failed to clear away the
gravest cause of hostility--the right of search and impressment--yet it
served to postpone the actual dash, and during the years in which it was
in force American shipping splendidly prospered, freed of most irksome

The quarrel with France had been brewing at the same time and for
similar reasons. Neutral trade with England was under the ban, and the
Yankee shipmaster was in danger of losing his vessel if he sailed to or
from a port under the British flag. It was out of the frying-pan into
the fire, and French privateers welcomed the excuse to go marauding in
the Atlantic and the Caribbean. What it meant to fight off these greedy
cutthroats is told in a newspaper account of the engagement of
Captain Richard Wheatland, who was homeward bound to Salem in the ship
Perseverance in 1799. He was in the Old Straits of Bahama when a
fast schooner came up astern, showing Spanish colors and carrying
a tremendous press of canvas. Unable to run away from her, Captain
Wheatland reported to his owners:

"We took in steering sails, wore ship, hauled up our courses, piped all
hands to quarters and prepared for action. The schooner immediately took
in sail, hoisted an English Union flag and passed under our lee at a
considerable distance. We wore ship, she did the same, and we passed
each other within half a musket. A fellow hailed us in broken English
and ordered the boat hoisted out and the captain to come aboard, which
he refused. He again ordered our boat out and enforced his orders with a
menace that in case of refusal he would sink us, using at the same time
the vilest and most infamous language it is possible to conceive of.
... We hauled the ship to wind and as he passed poured a whole
broadside into him with great success. Sailing faster than we, he ranged
considerably ahead, tacked and again passed, giving us a broadside and
furious discharge of musketry, which he kept up incessantly until the
latter part of the engagement. His musket balls reached us in every
direction but his large shot either fell short or went considerably over
us while our guns loaded with round shot and square bars of iron were
plied so briskly and directed with such good judgment that before he
got out of range we had cut his mainsail and foretopsail all to rags and
cleared his decks so effectively that when he bore away from us there
were scarcely ten men to be seen. He then struck his English flag and
hoisted the flag of The Terrible Republic and made off with all the sail
he could carry, much disappointed, no doubt, at not being able to give
us a fraternal embrace. We feel confidence that we have rid the world of
some infamous pests of society."

By this time, the United States was engaged in active hostilities with
France, although war had not been declared. The news of the indignities
which American commissions had suffered at the hands of the French
Directory had stirred the people to war pitch. Strong measures for
national defense were taken, which stopped little short of war. The
country rallied to the slogan, "Millions for defense but not one cent
for tribute," and the merchants of the seaports hastened to subscribe
funds to build frigates to be loaned to the Government. Salem launched
the famous Essex, ready for sea six months after the keel was laid, at
a cost of $75,000. Her two foremost merchants, Elias Hasket Derby and
William Gray, led the list with ten thousand dollars each. The call sent
out by the master builder, Enos Briggs, rings with thrilling effect:

"To Sons of Freedom! All true lovers of Liberty of your Country! Step
forth and give your assistance in building the frigate to oppose French
insolence and piracy. Let every man in possession of a white oak tree be
ambitious to be foremost in hurrying down the timber to Salem where the
noble structure is to be fabricated to maintain your rights upon the
seas and make the name of America respected among the nations of the
world. Your largest and longest trees are wanted, and the arms of them
for knees and rising timber. Four trees are wanted for the keel which
altogether will measure 146 feet in length, and hew sixteen inches

This handsome frigate privately built by patriots of the republic
illuminates the coastwise spirit and conditions of her time. She was
a Salem ship from keel to truck. Captain Jonathan Haraden, the finest
privateersman of the Revolution, made the rigging for the mainmast at
his ropewalk in Brown Street. Joseph Vincent fitted out the foremast and
Thomas Briggs the mizzenmast in their lofts at the foot of the Common.
When the huge hemp cables were ready for the frigate, the workmen
carried them to the shipyard on their shoulders, the parade led by fife
and drum. Her sails were cut from duck woven in Daniel Rust's factory
in Broad Street and her iron work was forged by Salem shipsmiths. It
was not surprising that Captain Richard Derby was chosen to command
the Essex, but he was abroad in a ship of his own and she sailed under
Captain Edward Preble of the Navy.

The war cloud passed and the merchant argosies overflowed the wharves
and havens of New England, which had ceased to monopolize the business
on blue water. New York had become a seaport with long ranks of
high-steeved bowsprits soaring above pleasant Battery Park and a forest
of spars extending up the East River. In 1790 more than two thousand
ships, brigs, schooners, and smaller craft had entered and cleared,
and the merchants met in the coffee-houses to discuss charters,
bills-of-lading, and adventures. Sailors commanded thrice the wages of
laborers ashore. Shipyards were increasing and the builders could build
as large and swift East Indiamen as those of which Boston and Salem

Philadelphia had her Stephen Girard, whose wealth was earned in ships,
a man most remarkable and eccentric, whose career was one of the great
maritime romances. Though his father was a prosperous merchant of
Bordeaux engaged in the West India trade, he was shifting for himself as
a cabin-boy on his father's ships when only fourteen years old. With
no schooling, barely able to read and write, this urchin sailed between
Bordeaux and the French West Indies for nine years, until he gained
the rank of first mate. At the age of twenty-six he entered the port of
Philadelphia in command of a sloop which had narrowly escaped capture by
British frigates. There he took up his domicile and laid the foundation
of his fortune in small trading ventures to New Orleans and Santo

In 1791 he began to build a fleet of beautiful ships for the China
and India trade, their names, Montesquieu, Helvetius, Voltaire, and
Rousseau, revealing his ideas of religion and liberty. So successfully
did he combine banking and shipping that in 1813 he was believed to be
the wealthiest merchant in the United States. In that year one of his
ships from China was captured off the Capes of the Delaware by a British
privateer. Her cargo of teas, nankeens, and silks was worth half a
million dollars to him but he succeeded in ransoming it on the spot by
counting out one hundred and eighty thousand Spanish milled dollars. No
privateersman could resist such strategy as this.

Alone in his old age, without a friend or relative to close his eyes
in death, Stephen Girard, once a penniless, ignorant French cabin-boy,
bequeathed his millions to philanthropy, and the Girard College for
orphan boys, in Philadelphia, is his monument.

The Treaty of Amiens brought a little respite to Europe and a peaceful
interlude for American shipmasters, but France and England came to grips
again in 1803. For two years thereafter the United States was almost the
only important neutral nation not involved in the welter of conflict on
land and sea, and trade everywhere sought the protection of the
Stars and Stripes. England had swept her own rivals, men-of-war and
merchantmen, from the face of the waters. France and Holland ceased to
carry cargoes beneath their own ensigns. Spain was afraid to send her
galleons to Mexico and Peru. All the Continental ports were begging for
American ships to transport their merchandise. It was a maritime harvest
unique and unexpected.

Yankee skippers were dominating the sugar trade of Cuba and were rolling
across the Atlantic with the coffee, hides, and indigo of Venezuela and
Brazil. Their fleets crowded the roadsteads of Manila and Batavia
and packed the warehouses of Antwerp, Lisbon, and Hamburg. It was a
situation which England could not tolerate without attempting to thwart
an immense traffic which she construed as giving aid and comfort to her
enemies. Under cover of the so-called Rule of 1756 British admiralty
courts began to condemn American vessels carrying products from enemies'
colonies to Europe, even when the voyage was broken by first entering an
American port. It was on record in September, 1805, that fifty American
ships had been condemned in England and as many more in the British West

This was a trifling disaster, however, compared with the huge calamity
which befell when Napoleon entered Berlin as a conqueror and proclaimed
his paper blockade of the British Isles. There was no French navy to
enforce it, but American vessels dared not sail for England lest they
be snapped up by French privateers. The British Government savagely
retaliated with further prohibitions, and Napoleon countered in like
manner until no sea was safe for a neutral ship and the United States
was powerless to assert its rights. Thomas Jefferson as President used
as a weapon the Embargo of 1807, which was, at first, a popular measure,
and which he justified in these pregnant sentences: "The whole world
is thus laid under interdict by these two nations, and our own vessels,
their cargoes, and crews, are to be taken by the one or the other for
whatever place they may be destined out of our limits. If, therefore, on
leaving our harbors we are certainly to lose them, is it not better as
to vessels, cargoes, and seamen, to keep them at home?"

A people proud, independent, and pugnacious, could not long submit to a
measure of defense which was, in the final sense, an abject surrender to
brute force. New England, which bore the brunt of the embargo, was first
to rebel against it. Sailors marched through the streets clamoring for
bread or loaded their vessels and fought their way to sea. In New
York the streets of the waterside were deserted, ships dismantled,
countinghouses unoccupied, and warehouses empty. In one year foreign
commerce decreased in value from $108,000,000 to $22,000,000.

After fifteen months Congress repealed the law, substituting a
Non-Intercourse Act which suspended trade with Great Britain and France
until their offending orders were repealed. All such measures were
doomed to be futile. Words and documents, threats and arguments could
not intimidate adversaries who paid heed to nothing else than broadsides
from line-of-battle ships or the charge of battalions. With other
countries trade could now be opened. Hopefully the hundreds of American
ships long pent-up in harbor winged it deep-laden for the Baltic, the
North Sea, and the Mediterranean. But few of them ever returned. Like
a brigand, Napoleon lured them into a trap and closed it, advising the
Prussian Government, which was under his heel: "Let the American ships
enter your ports. Seize them afterward. You shall deliver the cargoes to
me and I will take them in part payment of the Prussian war debt."

Similar orders were executed wherever his mailed fist reached, the
pretext being reprisal for the Non-Intercourse Act. More than two
hundred American vessels were lost to their owners, a ten-million-dollar
robbery for which France paid an indemnity of five millions after
twenty years. It was the grand climax of the exploitation which American
commerce had been compelled to endure through two centuries of tumult
and bloodshed afloat. There lingers today in many a coastwise town an
inherited dislike for France. It is a legacy of that far-off catastrophe
which beggared many a household and filled the streets with haggard,
broken shipmasters.

It was said of this virile merchant marine that it throve under pillage
and challenged confiscation. Statistics confirm this brave paradox. In
1810, while Napoleon was doing his worst, the deep-sea tonnage amounted
to 981,019; and it is a singular fact that in proportion to population
this was to stand as the high tide of American foreign shipping until
thirty-seven years later. It ebbed during the War of 1812 but rose again
with peace and a real and lasting freedom of the seas.

This second war with England was fought in behalf of merchant seamen
and they played a nobly active part in it. The ruthless impressment
of seamen was the most conspicuous provocation, but it was only one
of many. Two years before hostilities were openly declared, British
frigates were virtually blockading the port of New York, halting and
searching ships as they pleased, making prizes of those with French
destinations, stealing sailors to fill their crews, waging war in
everything but name, and enjoying the sport of it. A midshipman of
one of them merrily related: "Every morning at daybreak we set about
arresting the progress of all the vessels we saw, firing off guns to the
right and left to make every ship that was running in heave to or wait
until we had leisure to send a boat on board to see, in our lingo, what
she was made of. I have frequently known a dozen and sometimes a couple
of dozen ships lying a league or two off the port, losing their fair
wind, their tide, and worse than all, their market for many hours,
sometimes the whole day, before our search was completed."

The right of a belligerent to search neutral vessels for contraband of
war or evidence of a forbidden destination was not the issue at stake.
This was a usage sanctioned by such international law as then existed.
It was the alleged right to search for English seamen in neutral vessels
that Great Britain exercised, not only on the high seas but even in
territorial waters, which the American Government refused to recognize.
In vain the Government had endeavored to protect its sailors from
impressment by means of certificates of birth and citizenship. These
documents were jeered at by the English naval lieutenant and his
boarding gang, who kidnapped from the forecastle such stalwart tars as
pleased their fancy. The victim who sought to inform an American consul
of his plight was lashed to the rigging and flogged by a boatswain's
mate. The files of the State Department, in 1807, had contained the
names of six thousand American sailors who were as much slaves and
prisoners aboard British men-of-war as if they had been made captives by
the Dey of Algiers. One of these incidents, occurring on the ship Betsy,
Captain Nathaniel Silsbee, while at Madras in 1795, will serve to show
how this brutal business was done.

"I received a note early one morning from my chief mate that one of my
sailors, Edward Hulen, a fellow townsman whom I had known from boyhood,
had been impressed and taken on board of a British frigate then being
in port.... I immediately went on board my ship and having there learned
all the facts in the case, proceeded to the frigate, where I found Hulen
and in his presence was informed by the first lieutenant of the frigate
that he had taken Hulen from my ship under a peremptory order from his
commander to visit every American ship in port and take from each of
them one or more of their seamen.... I then called upon Captain Cook,
who commanded the frigate, and sought first by all the persuasive means
that I was capable of using and ultimately by threats to appeal to the
Government of the place to obtain Hulen's release, but in vain....
It remained for me only to recommend Hulen to that protection of
the lieutenant which a good seaman deserves, and to submit to the
high-handed insult thus offered to the flag of my country which I had no
means either of preventing or resisting."

After several years' detention in the British Navy, Hulen returned to
Salem and lived to serve on board privateers in the second war with

Several years' detention! This was what it meant to be a pressed man,
perhaps with wife and children at home who had no news of him nor any
wages to support them. At the time of the Nore Mutiny in 1797, there
were ships in the British fleet whose men had not been paid off for
eight, ten, twelve, and in one instance fifteen years. These wooden
walls of England were floating hells, and a seaman was far better off in
jail. He was flogged if he sulked and again if he smiled flogged until
the blood ran for a hundred offenses as trivial as these. His food was
unspeakably bad and often years passed before he was allowed to set foot
ashore. Decent men refused to volunteer and the ships were filled with
the human scum and refuse caught in the nets of the press-gangs of
Liverpool, London, and Bristol.

It is largely forgotten or unknown that this system of recruiting was
as intolerable in England as it was in the United States and as fiercely
resented. Oppressive and unjust, it was nevertheless endured as the
bulwark of England's defense against her foes. It ground under its heel
the very people it protected and made them serfs in order to keep them
free. No man of the common people who lived near the coast of England
was safe from the ruffianly press-gangs nor any merchant ship that
entered her ports. It was the most cruel form of conscription ever
devised. Mob violence opposed it again and again, and British East
Indiamen fought the King's tenders sooner than be stripped of their
crews and left helpless. Feeling in America against impressment was
never more highly inflamed, even on the brink of the War of 1812, than
it had long been in England itself, although the latter country was
unable to rise and throw it off. Here are the words, not of an angry
American patriot but of a modern English historian writing of his own
nation: * "To the people the impress was an axe laid at the foot of the
tree. There was here no question, as with trade, of the mere loss of
hands who could be replaced. Attacking the family in the person of its
natural supporter and protector, the octopus system of which the gangs
were the tentacles, struck at the very foundations of domestic life and
brought to thousands of households a poverty as bitter and a grief as
poignant as death. ... The mutiny at the Nore brought the people face to
face with the appalling risks attendant on wholesale pressing while the
war with America, incurred for the sole purpose of upholding the right
to press, taught them the lengths to which their rulers were still
prepared to go in order to enslave them." *

    * The Press Gang Afloat and Ashore, by J. R. Hutchinson.


American privateering in 1812 was even bolder and more successful than
during the Revolution. It was the work of a race of merchant seamen who
had found themselves, who were in the forefront of the world's trade and
commerce, and who were equipped to challenge the enemy's pretensions to
supremacy afloat. Once more there was a mere shadow of a navy to protect
them, but they had learned to trust their own resources. They would send
to sea fewer of the small craft, slow and poorly armed, and likely to
meet disaster. They were capable of manning what was, in fact, a
private navy comprised of fast and formidable cruisers. The intervening
generation had advanced the art of building and handling ships beyond
all rivalry, and England grudgingly acknowledged their ability. The year
of 1812 was indeed but a little distance from the resplendent modern era
of the Atlantic packet and the Cape Horn clipper.

Already these Yankee deep-water ships could be recognized afar by their
lofty spars and snowy clouds of cotton duck beneath which the slender
hull was a thin black line. Far up to the gleaming royals they carried
sail in winds so strong that the lumbering English East Indiamen were
hove to or snugged down to reefed topsails. It was not recklessness but
better seamanship. The deeds of the Yankee privateers of 1812 prove this
assertion to the hilt. Their total booty amounted to thirteen hundred
prizes taken over all the Seven Seas, with a loss to England of forty
million dollars in ships and cargoes. There were, all told, more
than five hundred of them in commission, but New England no longer
monopolized this dashing trade. Instead of Salem it was Baltimore that
furnished the largest fleet--fifty-eight vessels, many of them the fast
ships and schooners which were to make the port famous as the home
of the Baltimore clipper model. All down the coast, out of Norfolk,
Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans, sallied the
privateers to show that theirs was, in truth, a seafaring nation
ardently united in a common cause.

Again and more vehemently the people of England raised their voices in
protest and lament, for these saucy sea-raiders fairly romped to and fro
in the Channel, careless of pursuit, conducting a blockade of their own
until London was paying the famine price of fifty-eight dollars a barrel
for flour, and it was publicly declared mortifying and distressing
that "a horde of American cruisers should be allowed, unresisted and
unmolested, to take, burn, or sink our own vessels in our own inlets and
almost in sight of our own harbors." It was Captain Thomas Boyle in the
Chasseur of Baltimore who impudently sent ashore his proclamation of a
blockade of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, which he
requested should be posted in Lloyd's Coffee House.

A wonderfully fine figure of a fighting seaman was this Captain Boyle,
with an Irish sense of humor which led him to haunt the enemy's coast
and to make sport of the frigates which tried to catch him. His Chasseur
was considered one of the ablest privateers of the war and the most
beautiful vessel ever seen in Baltimore. A fleet and graceful schooner
with a magical turn for speed, she mounted sixteen long twelve-pounders
and carried a hundred officers, seamen, and marines, and was never
outsailed in fair winds or foul. "Out of sheer wantonness," said an
admirer, "she sometimes affected to chase the enemy's men-of-war of
far superior force." Once when surrounded by two frigates and two naval
brigs, she slipped through and was gone like a phantom. During his
first cruise in the Chasseur, Captain Boyle captured eighteen valuable
merchantmen. It was such defiant rovers as he that provoked the "Morning
Chronicle" of London to splutter "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 was when the schooner Syren had captured His Majesty's cutter
Landrail while crossing the Irish Sea with dispatches; when the Governor
Tompkins burned fourteen English vessels in the English Channel in quick
succession; when the Harpy of Baltimore cruised for three months off
the Irish and English coasts and in the Bay of Biscay, and returned to
Boston filled with spoils, including a half million dollars of money;
when the Prince de Neuchatel hovered at her leisure in the Irish
Channel and made coasting trade impossible; and when the Young Wasp of
Philadelphia cruised for six months in those same waters.

Two of the privateers mentioned were first-class fighting ships whose
engagements were as notable, in their way, as those of the American
frigates which made the war as illustrious by sea as it was ignominious
by land. While off Havana in 1815, Captain Boyle met the schooner St.
Lawrence of the British Navy, a fair match in men and guns. The Chasseur
could easily have run away but stood up to it and shot the enemy
to pieces in fifteen minutes. Brave and courteous were these two
commanders, and Lieutenant Gordon of the St. Lawrence gave his captor a
letter which read, in part: "In the event of Captain Boyle's becoming
a prisoner of war to any British cruiser I consider it a tribute justly
due to his humane and generous treatment of myself, the surviving
officers, and crew of His Majesty's late schooner St. Lawrence, to state
that his obliging attention and watchful solicitude to preserve our
effects and render us comfortable during the short time we were in his
possession were such as justly entitle him to the indulgence and respect
of every British subject."

The Prince de Neuchatel had the honor of beating off the attack of a
forty-gun British frigate--an exploit second only to that of the General
Armstrong in the harbor of Fayal. This privateer with a foreign name
hailed from New York and was so fortunate as to capture for her owners
three million dollars' worth of British merchandise. With Captain J.
Ordronaux on the quarterdeck, she was near Nantucket Shoals at noon on
October 11, 1814, when a strange sail was discovered. As this vessel
promptly gave chase, Captain Ordronaux guessed-and as events proved
correctly--that she must be a British frigate. She turned out to be the
Endymion. The privateer had in tow a prize which she was anxious to
get into port, but she was forced to cast off the hawser late in the
afternoon and make every effort to escape.

The breeze died with the sun and the vessels were close inshore.
Becalmed, the privateer and the frigate anchored a quarter of a mile
apart. Captain Ordronaux might have put his crew on the beach in boats
and abandoned his ship. This was the reasonable course, for, as he had
sent in several prize crews, he was short-handed and could muster no
more than thirty-seven men and boys. The Endymion, on the other hand,
had a complement of three hundred and fifty sailors and marines, and in
size and fighting power she was in the class of the American frigates
President and Constitution. Quite unreasonably, however, the master of
the privateer decided to await events.

The unexpected occurred shortly after dusk when several boats loaded to
the gunwales with a boarding party crept away from the frigate. Five
of them, with one hundred and twenty men, made a concerted attack
at different points, alongside and under the bow and stern. Captain
Ordronaux had told his crew that he would blow up the ship with all
hands before striking his colors, and they believed him implicitly. This
was the hero who was described as "a Jew by persuasion, a Frenchman by
birth, an American for convenience, and so diminutive in stature as
to make him appear ridiculous, in the eyes of others, even for him to
enforce authority among a hardy, weatherbeaten crew should they do aught
against his will." He was big enough, nevertheless, for this night's
bloody work, and there was no doubt about his authority. While the
British tried to climb over the bulwarks, his thirty-seven men and boys
fought like raging devils, with knives, pistols, cutlases, with their
bare fists and their teeth. A few of the enemy gained the deck, but
the privateersmen turned and killed them. Others leaped aboard and were
gradually driving the Americans back, when the skipper ran to the hatch
above the powder magazine, waving a lighted match and swearing to drop
it in if his crew retreated one step further. Either way the issue
seemed desperate. But again they took their skipper's word for it and
rallied for a bloody struggle which soon swept the decks.

No more than twenty minutes had passed and the battle was won. The enemy
was begging for quarter. One boat had been sunk, three had drifted away
filled with dead and wounded, and the fifth was captured with thirty-six
men in it of whom only eight were unhurt. The American loss was
seven killed and twenty-four wounded, or thirty-one of her crew of
thirty-seven. Yet they had not given up the ship. The frigate Endymion
concluded that once was enough, and next morning the Prince de Neuchatel
bore away for Boston with a freshening breeze.

Those were merchant seamen also who held the General Armstrong against
a British squadron through that moonlit night in Fayal Roads, inflicting
heavier losses than were suffered in any naval action of the war. It is
a story Homeric, almost incredible in its details and so often repeated
that it can be only touched upon in this brief chronicle. The leader
was a kindly featured man who wore a tall hat, side-whiskers, and a tail
coat. His portrait might easily have served for that of a New England
deacon of the old school. No trace of the swashbuckler in this Captain
Samuel Reid, who had been a thrifty, respected merchant skipper until
offered the command of a privateer.

Touching at the Azores for water and provisions in September, 1814,
he was trapped in port by the great seventy-four-gun ship of the
line Plantagenet, the thirty-eight-gun frigate Rota, and the warbrig
Carnation. Though he was in neutral water, they paid no heed to this
but determined to destroy a Yankee schooner which had played havoc with
their shipping. Four hundred men in twelve boats, with a howitzer in
the bow of each boat, were sent against the General Armstrong in one
flotilla. But not a man of the four hundred gained her deck. Said an
eyewitness: "The Americans fought with great firmness but more like
bloodthirsty savages than anything else. They rushed into the boats
sword in hand and put every soul to death as far as came within their
power. Some of the boats were left without a single man to row them,
others with three or four. The most that any one returned with was about
ten. Several boats floated ashore full of dead bodies.... For three days
after the battle we were employed in burying the dead that washed on
shore in the surf."

This tragedy cost the British squadron one hundred and twenty men in
killed and one hundred and thirty in wounded, while Captain Reid lost
only two dead and had seven wounded. He was compelled to retreat ashore
next day when the ships stood in to sink his schooner with their big
guns, but the honors of war belonged to him and well-earned were the
popular tributes when he saw home again, nor was there a word too much
in the florid toast: "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."

It is not to glorify war nor to rekindle an ancient feud that such
episodes as these are recalled to mind. These men, and others like them,
did their duty as it came to them, and they were sailors of whom
the whole Anglo-Saxon race might be proud. In the crisis they were
Americans, not privateersmen in quest of plunder, and they would gladly
die sooner than haul down the Stars and Stripes. The England against
which they fought was not the England of today. Their honest grievances,
inflicted by a Government too intent upon crushing Napoleon to be fair
to neutrals, have long ago been obliterated. This War of 1812 cleared
the vision of the Mother Country and forever taught her Government that
the people of the Republic were, in truth, free and independent.

This lesson was driven home not only by the guns of the Constitution and
the United States, but also by the hundreds of privateers and the forty
thousand able seamen who were eager to sail in them. They found no great
place in naval history, but England knew their prowess and respected it.
Every schoolboy is familiar with the duels of the Wasp and the Frolic,
of the Enterprise and the Boxer; but how many people know what happened
when the privateer Decatur met and whipped the Dominica of the British
Navy to the southward of Bermuda?

Captain Diron was the man who did it as he was cruising out of
Charleston, South Carolina, in the summer of 1813. Sighting an armed
schooner slightly heavier than his own vessel, he made for her and was
unperturbed when the royal ensign streamed from her gaff. Clearing for
action, he closed the hatches so that none of his men could hide below.
The two schooners fought in the veiling smoke until the American could
ram her bowsprit over the other's stern and pour her whole crew aboard.
In the confined space of the deck, almost two hundred men and lads were
slashing and stabbing and shooting amid yells and huzzas. Lieutenant
Barrette, the English commander, only twenty-five years old, was
mortally hurt and every other officer, excepting the surgeon and one
midshipman, was killed or wounded. Two-thirds of the crew were down but
still they refused to surrender, and Captain Diron had to pull down the
colors with his own hands. Better discipline and marksmanship had won
the day for him and his losses were comparatively small.

Men of his description were apt to think first of glory and let the
profits go hang, for there was no cargo to be looted in a King's ship.
Other privateersmen, however, were not so valiant or quarrelsome, and
there was many a one tied up in London River or the Mersey which had
been captured without very savage resistance. Yet on the whole it is
fair to say that the private armed ships outfought and outsailed the
enemy as impressively as did the few frigates of the American Navy.

There was a class of them which exemplified the rapid development of the
merchant marine in a conspicuous manner--large commerce destroyers too
swift to be caught, too powerful to fear the smaller cruisers. They were
extremely profitable business ventures, entrusted to the command of the
most audacious and skillful masters that could be engaged. Of this type
was the ship America of Salem, owned by the Crowninshields, which made
twenty-six prizes and brought safely into port property which realized
more than a million dollars. Of this the owners and shareholders
received six hundred thousand dollars as dividends. She was a stately
vessel, built for the East India trade, and was generally conceded to
be the fastest privateer afloat. For this service the upper deck was
removed and the sides were filled in with stout oak timber as an armored
protection, and longer yards and royal masts gave her a huge area
of sail. Her crew of one hundred and fifty men had the exacting
organization of a man-of-war, including, it is interesting to note,
three lieutenants, three mates, a sailingmaster, surgeon, purser,
captain of marines, gunners, seven prize masters, armorer, drummer,
and a fifer. Discipline was severe, and flogging was the penalty for
breaking the regulations.

During her four cruises, the America swooped among the plodding
merchantmen like a falcon on a dovecote, the sight of her frightening
most of her prey into submission, with a brush now and then to exercise
the crews of the twenty-two guns, and perhaps a man or two hit. Long
after the war, Captain James Chever, again a peaceful merchant mariner,
met at Valparaiso, Sir James Thompson, commander of the British frigate
Dublin, which had been fitted out in 1813 for the special purpose of
chasing the America. In the course of a cordial chat between the two
captains the Briton remarked:

"I was once almost within gun-shot of that infernal Yankee
skimming-dish, just as night came on. By daylight she had outsailed
the Dublin so devilish fast that she was no more than a speck on the
horizon. By the way, I wonder if you happen to know the name of the
beggar that was master of her."

"I'm the beggar," chuckled Captain Chever, and they drank each other's
health on the strength of it.

Although the Treaty of Ghent omitted mention of the impressment of
sailors, which had been the burning issue of the war, there were no more
offenses of this kind. American seafarers were safe against kidnapping
on their own decks, and they had won this security by virtue of their
own double-shotted guns. At the same time England lifted the curse of
the press-gang from her own people, who refused longer to endure it.

There seemed no reason why the two nations, having finally fought their
differences to a finish, should not share the high seas in peaceful
rivalry; but the irritating problems of protection and reciprocity
survived to plague and hamper commerce. It was difficult for England
to overcome the habit of guarding her trade against foreign invasion.
Agreeing with the United States to waive all discriminating duties
between the ports of the two countries--this was as much as she was at
that time willing to yield. She still insisted upon regulating the trade
of her West Indies and Canada. American East Indiamen were to be limited
to direct voyages and could not bring cargoes to Europe. Though this
discrimination angered Congress, to which it appeared as lopsided
reciprocity, the old duties were nevertheless repealed; and then,
presto! the British colonial policy of exclusion was enforced and eighty
thousand tons of American shipping became idle because the West India
market was closed.

There followed several years of unhappy wrangling, a revival of the old
smuggling spirit, the risk of seizure and confiscations, and shipping
merchants with long faces talking ruin. The theory of free trade versus
protection was as debatable and opinions were as conflicting then as
now. Some were for retaliation, others for conciliation; and meanwhile
American shipmasters went about their business, with no room for
theories in their honest heads, and secured more and more of the world's
trade. Curiously enough, the cries of calamity in the United States
were echoed across the water, where the "London Times" lugubriously
exclaimed: "The shipping interest, the cradle of our navy, is half
ruined. Our commercial monopoly exists no longer; and thousands of our
manufacturers are starving or seeking redemption in distant lands.
We have closed the Western Indies against America from feelings
of commercial rivalry. Its active seamen have already engrossed an
important branch of our carrying trade to the Eastern Indies. Her
starred flag is now conspicuous on every sea and will soon defy our

It was not until 1849 that Great Britain threw overboard her long
catalogue of protective navigation laws which had been piling up since
the time of Cromwell, and declared for free trade afloat. Meanwhile the
United States had drifted in the same direction, barring foreign
flags from its coastwise shipping but offering full exemption from all
discriminating duties and tonnage duties to every maritime nation which
should respond in like manner. This latter legislation was enacted in
1828 and definitely abandoned the doctrine of protection in so far as
it applied to American ships and sailors. For a generation thereafter,
during which ocean rivalry was a battle royal of industry, enterprise,
and skill, the United States was paramount and her merchant marine
attained its greatest successes.

There is one school of modern economists who hold that the seeds of
decay and downfall were planted by this adoption of free trade in 1828,
while another faction of gentlemen quite as estimable and authoritative
will quote facts and figures by the ream to prove that governmental
policies had nothing whatever to do with the case. These adversaries
have written and are still writing many volumes in which they almost
invariably lose their tempers. Partisan politics befog the tariff issue
afloat as well as ashore, and one's course is not easy to chart. It is
indisputable, however, that so long as Yankee ships were better, faster,
and more economically managed, they won a commanding share of the
world's trade. When they ceased to enjoy these qualities of superiority,
they lost the trade and suffered for lack of protection to overcome the

The War of 1812 was the dividing line between two eras of salt water
history. On the farther side lay the turbulent centuries of hazard and
bloodshed and piracy, of little ships and indomitable seamen who pursued
their voyages in the reek of gunpowder and of legalized pillage by the
stronger, and of merchant adventurers who explored new markets wherever
there was water enough to float their keels. They belonged to the rude
and lusty youth of a world which lived by the sword and which gloried
in action. Even into the early years of the nineteenth century these
mariners still sailed--Elizabethan in deed and spirit.

On the hither side of 1812 were seas unvexed by the privateer and the
freebooter. The lateen-rigged corsairs had been banished from their
lairs in the harbors of Algiers, and ships needed to show no broadsides
of cannon in the Atlantic trade. For a time they carried the
old armament among the lawless islands of the Orient and off
Spanish-American coasts where the vocation of piracy made its last
stand, but the great trade routes of the globe were peaceful highways
for the white-winged fleets of all nations. The American seamen who
had fought for the right to use the open sea were now to display their
prowess in another way and in a romance of achievement that was no less
large and thrilling.


It was on the stormy Atlantic, called by sailormen the Western Ocean,
that the packet ships won the first great contest for supremacy and knew
no rivals until the coming of the age of steam made them obsolete. Their
era antedated that of the clipper and was wholly distinct. The Atlantic
packet was the earliest liner: she made regular sailings and carried
freight and passengers instead of trading on her owners' account as was
the ancient custom. Not for her the tranquillity of tropic seas and
the breath of the Pacific trades, but an almost incessant battle with
swinging surges and boisterous winds, for she was driven harder in all
weathers and seasons than any other ships that sailed. In such battering
service as this the lines of the clipper were too extremely fine, her
spars too tall and slender. The packet was by no means slow and if
the list of her record passages was superb, it was because they were
accomplished by masters who would sooner let a sail blow away than take
it in and who raced each other every inch of the way.

They were small ships of three hundred to five hundred tons when the
famous Black Ball Line was started in 1816. From the first they were the
ablest vessels that could be built, full-bodied and stoutly rigged. They
were the only regular means of communication between the United States
and Europe and were entrusted with the mails, specie, government
dispatches, and the lives of eminent personages. Blow high, blow low,
one of the Black Ball packets sailed from New York for Liverpool on the
first and sixteenth of every month. Other lines were soon competing--the
Red Star and the Swallow Tail out of New York, and fine ships from
Boston and Philadelphia. With the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825
the commercial greatness of New York was assured, and her Atlantic
packets increased in size and numbers, averaging a thousand tons each in
the zenith of their glory.

England, frankly confessing herself beaten and unable to compete
with such ships as these, changed her attitude from hostility to open
admiration. She surrendered the Atlantic packet trade to American
enterprise, and British merchantmen sought their gains in other waters.
The Navigation Laws still protected their commerce in the Far East and
they were content to jog at a more sedate gait than these weltering
packets whose skippers were striving for passages of a fortnight, with
the forecastle doors nailed fast and the crew compelled to stay on deck
from Sandy Hook to Fastnet Rock.

No blustering, rum-drinking tarpaulin was the captain who sailed the
Independence, the Ocean Queen, or the Dreadnought but a man very careful
of his manners and his dress, who had been selected from the most highly
educated merchant service in the world. He was attentive to the comfort
of his passengers and was presumed to have no other duties on deck than
to give the proper orders to his first officer and work out his daily
reckoning. It was an exacting, nerve-racking ordeal, however, demanding
a sleepless vigilance, courage, and cool judgment of the first order.
The compensations were large. As a rule, he owned a share of the ship
and received a percentage of the freights and passage money. His rank
when ashore was more exalted than can be conveyed in mere words. Any
normal New York boy would sooner have been captain of a Black Ball
packet than President of the United States, and he knew by heart the
roaring chantey

    It is of a flash packet,
      A packet of fame.
    She is bound to New York
      And the Dreadnought's her name.
    She is bound to the west'ard
      Where the stormy winds blow.
    Bound away to the west'ard,
      Good Lord, let her go.

There were never more than fifty of these ships afloat, a trifling
fraction of the American deep-water tonnage of that day, but the laurels
they won were immortal. Not only did the English mariner doff his hat to
them, but a Parliamentary committee reported in 1837 that "the American
ships frequenting the ports of England are stated by several witnesses
to be superior to those of a similar class among the ships of Great
Britain, the commanders and officers being generally considered to be
more competent as seamen and navigators and more uniformly persons of
education than the commanders and officers of British ships of a similar
size and class trading from England to America."

It was no longer a rivalry with the flags of other nations but an
unceasing series of contests among the packets of the several lines, and
their records aroused far more popular excitement than when the great
steamers of this century were chipping off the minutes, at an enormous
coal consumption, toward a five-day passage. Theirs were tests of real
seamanship, and there were few disasters. The packet captain scorned a
towboat to haul him into the stream if the wind served fair to set all
plain sail as his ship lay at her wharf. Driving her stern foremost,
he braced his yards and swung her head to sea, clothing the masts with
soaring canvas amid the farewell cheers of the crowds which lined the

A typical match race was sailed between the Black Ball liner Columbus,
Captain De Peyster, and the Sheridan, Captain Russell, of the splendid
Dramatic fleet, in 1837. The stake was $10,000 a side, put up by the
owners and their friends. The crews were picked men who were promised a
bonus of fifty dollars each for winning. The ships sailed side by side
in February, facing the wild winter passage, and the Columbus reached
Liverpool in the remarkable time of sixteen days, two days ahead of the

The crack packets were never able to reel off more than twelve or
fourteen knots under the most favorable conditions, but they were kept
going night and day, and some of them maintained their schedules almost
with the regularity of the early steamers. The Montezuma, the Patrick
Henry, and the Southampton crossed from New York to Liverpool in fifteen
days, and for years the Independence held the record of fourteen days
and six hours. It remained for the Dreadnought, Captain Samuel Samuels,
in 1859, to set the mark for packet ships to Liverpool at thirteen days
and eight hours.

Meanwhile the era of the matchless clipper had arrived and it was one of
these ships which achieved the fastest Atlantic passage ever made by a
vessel under sail. The James Baines was built for English owners to be
used in the Australian trade. She was a full clipper of 2515 tons, twice
the size of the ablest packets, and was praised as "the most perfect
sailing ship that ever entered the river Mersey." Bound out from Boston
to Liverpool, she anchored after twelve days and six hours at sea.

There was no lucky chance in this extraordinary voyage, for this clipper
was the work of the greatest American builder, Donald McKay, who at the
same time designed the Lightning for the same owners. This clipper,
sent across the Atlantic on her maiden trip, left in her foaming wake a
twenty-four hour run which no steamer had even approached and which
was not equaled by the fastest express steamers until twenty-five years
later when the greyhound Arizona ran eighteen knots in one hour on her
trial trip. This is a rather startling statement when one reflects
that the Arizona of the Guion line seems to a generation still living
a modern steamer and record-holder. It is even more impressive when
coupled with the fact that, of the innumerable passenger steamers
traversing the seas today, only a few are capable of a speed of more
than eighteen knots.

This clipper Lightning did her 436 sea miles in one day, or eighteen and
a half knots, better than twenty land miles an hour, and this is how the
surpassing feat was entered in her log, or official journal: "March 1.
Wind south. Strong gales; bore away for the North Channel, carrying away
the foretopsail and lost jib; hove the log several times and found the
ship going through the water at the rate of 18 to 18 1/2 knots; lee rail
under water and rigging slack. Distance run in twenty-four hours, 436
miles." The passage was remarkably fast, thirteen days and nineteen and
a half hours from Boston Light, but the spectacular feature was this
day's work. It is a fitting memorial of the Yankee clipper, and, save
only a cathedral, the loveliest, noblest fabric ever wrought by man's

The clipper, however, was a stranger in the Atlantic and her chosen
courses were elsewhere. The records made by the James Baines and the
Lightning were no discredit to the stanch, unconquerable packet ships
which, year in and year out, held their own with the steamer lines until
just before the Civil War. It was the boast of Captain Samuels that
on her first voyage in 1853 the Dreadnought reached Sandy Hook as
the Cunarder Canada, which had left Liverpool a day ahead of her, was
passing in by Boston Light. Twice she carried the latest news to Europe,
and many seasoned travelers preferred her to the mail steamers.

The masters and officers who handled these ships with such magnificent
success were true-blue American seamen, inspired by the finest
traditions, successors of the privateersmen of 1812. The forecastles,
however, were filled with English, Irish, and Scandinavians. American
lads shunned these ships and, in fact, the ambitious youngster of the
coastwise towns began to cease following the sea almost a century ago.
It is sometimes forgotten that the period during which the best American
manhood sought a maritime career lay between the Revolution and the War
of 1812. Thereafter the story became more and more one of American ships
and less of American sailors, excepting on the quarter-deck.

In later years the Yankee crews were to be found in the ports where the
old customs survived, the long trading voyage, the community of interest
in cabin and forecastle, all friends and neighbors together, with
opportunities for profit and advancement. Such an instance was that of
the Salem ship George, built at Salem in 1814 and owned by the great
merchant, Joseph Peabody. For twenty-two years she sailed in the East
India trade, making twenty-one round voyages, with an astonishing
regularity which would be creditable for a modern cargo tramp. Her
sailors were native-born, seldom more than twenty-one years old,
and most of them were studying navigation. Forty-five of them became
shipmasters, twenty of them chief mates, and six second mates. This
reliable George was, in short, a nautical training-school of the best
kind and any young seaman with the right stuff in him was sure of

Seven thousand sailors signed articles in the counting-room of Joseph
Peabody and went to sea in his eighty ships which flew the house-flag
in Calcutta, Canton, Sumatra, and the ports of Europe until 1844. These
were mostly New England boys who followed in the footsteps of their
fathers because deep-water voyages were still "adventures" and a career
was possible under a system which was both congenial and paternal.
Brutal treatment was the rare exception. Flogging still survived in the
merchant service and was defended by captains otherwise humane, but
a skipper, no matter how short-tempered, would be unlikely to abuse a
youth whose parents might live on the same street with him and attend
the same church.

The Atlantic packets brought a different order of things, which was to
be continued through the clipper era. Yankee sailors showed no love for
the cold and storms of the Western Ocean in these foaming packets which
were remorselessly driven for speed. The masters therefore took
what they could get. All the work of rigging, sail-making, scraping,
painting, and keeping a ship in perfect repair was done in port instead
of at sea, as was the habit in the China and California clippers, and
the lore and training of the real deep-water sailor became superfluous.
The crew of a packet made sail or took it in with the two-fisted mates
to show them how.

From these conditions was evolved the "Liverpool packet rat," hairy and
wild and drunken, the prey of crimps and dive-keepers ashore, brave and
toughened to every hardship afloat, climbing aloft in his red shirt,
dungaree breeches, and sea-boots, with a snow-squall whistling, the
rigging sheathed with ice, and the old ship burying her bows in the
thundering combers. It was the doctrine of his officers that he could
not be ruled by anything short of violence, and the man to tame and
hammer him was the "bucko" second mate, the test of whose fitness was
that he could whip his weight in wild cats. When he became unable to
maintain discipline with fists and belaying-pins, he was deposed for a
better man.

Your seasoned packet rat sought the ship with a hard name by choice.
His chief ambition was to kick in the ribs or pound senseless some
invincible bucko mate. There was provocation enough on both sides.
Officers had to take their ships to sea and strain every nerve to make
a safe and rapid passage with crews which were drunk and useless when
herded aboard, half of them greenhorns, perhaps, who could neither
reef nor steer. Brutality was the one argument able to enforce instant
obedience among men who respected nothing else. As a class the packet
sailors became more and more degraded because their life was intolerable
to decent men. It followed therefore that the quarterdeck employed
increasing severity, and, as the officer's authority in this respect was
unchecked and unlimited, it was easy to mistake the harshest tyranny for
wholesome discipline.

Reenforcing the bucko mate was the tradition that the sailor was a dog,
a different human species from the landsman, without laws and usages
to protect him. This was a tradition which, for centuries, had been
fostered in the naval service, and it survived among merchant sailors as
an unhappy anachronism even into the twentieth century, when an
American Congress was reluctant to bestow upon a seaman the decencies of
existence enjoyed by the poorest laborer ashore.

It is in the nature of a paradox that the brilliant success of the
packet ships in dominating the North Atlantic trade should have been a
factor in the decline of the nation's maritime prestige and resources.
Through a period of forty years the pride and confidence in these ships,
their builders, and the men who sailed them, was intense and universal.
They were a superlative product of the American genius, which still
displayed the energies of a maritime race. On other oceans the situation
was no less gratifying. American ships were the best and cheapest in the
world. The business held the confidence of investors and commanded an
abundance of capital. It was assumed, as late as 1840, that the wooden
sailing ship would continue to be the supreme type of deep-water vessel
because the United States possessed the greatest stores of timber,
the most skillful builders and mechanics, and the ablest merchant
navigators. No industry was ever more efficiently organized and
conducted. American ships were most in demand and commanded the highest
freights. The tonnage in foreign trade increased to a maximum of 904,476
in 1845. There was no doubt in the minds of the shrewdest merchants and
owners and builders of the time that Great Britain would soon cease to
be the mistress of the seas and must content herself with second place.

It was not considered ominous when, in 1838, the Admiralty had requested
proposals for a steam service to America. This demand was prompted by
the voyages of the Sirius and Great Western, wooden-hulled sidewheelers
which thrashed along at ten knots' speed and crossed the Atlantic in
fourteen to seventeen days. This was a much faster rate than the average
time of the Yankee packets, but America was unperturbed and showed no
interest in steam. In 1839 the British Government awarded an Atlantic
mail contract, with an annual subsidy of $425,000 to Samuel Cunard and
his associates, and thereby created the most famous of the Atlantic
steamship companies.

Four of these liners began running in 1840--an event which foretold the
doom of the packet fleets, though the warning was almost unheeded in
New York and Boston. Four years later Enoch Train was establishing a new
packet line to Liverpool with the largest, finest ships built up to that
time, the Washington Irving, Anglo-American, Ocean Monarch, Anglo-Saxon,
and Daniel Webster. Other prominent shipping houses were expanding
their service and were launching noble packets until 1853. Meanwhile the
Cunard steamers were increasing in size and speed, and the service was
no longer an experiment.

American capital now began to awaken from its dreams, and Edward K.
Collins, managing owner of the Dramatic line of packets, determined to
challenge the Cunarders at their own game. Aided by the Government
to the extent of $385,000 a year as subsidy, he put afloat the four
magnificent steamers, Atlantic, Pacific, Baltic, and Arctic, which were
a day faster than the Cunarders in crossing, and reduced the voyage to
nine and ten days. The Collins line, so auspiciously begun in 1850, and
promising to give the United States the supremacy in steam which it had
won under sail, was singularly unfortunate and short-lived. The Arctic
and the Pacific were lost at sea, and Congress withdrew its financial
support after five years. Deprived of this aid, Mr. Collins was unable
to keep the enterprise afloat in competition with the subsidized
Cunard fleet. In this manner and with little further effort by American
interests to compete for the prize, the dominion of the Atlantic passed
into British hands.

The packet ships had held on too long. It had been a stirring episode
for the passengers to cheer in mid-ocean when the lofty pyramids of
canvas swept grandly by some wallowing steamer and left her far astern,
but in the fifties this gallant picture became less frequent, and a
sooty banner of smoke on the horizon proclaimed the new era and the
obliteration of all the rushing life and beauty of the tall ship under
sail. Slow to realize and acknowledge defeat, persisting after the
steamers were capturing the cabin passenger and express freight
traffic, the American ship-owners could not visualize this profound
transformation. Their majestic clippers still surpassed all rivals in
the East India and China trade and were racing around the Horn, making
new records for speed and winning fresh nautical triumphs for the Stars
and Stripes.

This reluctance to change the industrial and commercial habits of
generations of American shipowners was one of several causes for the
decadence which was hastened by the Civil War. For once the astute
American was caught napping by his British cousin, who was swayed by no
sentimental values and showed greater adaptability in adopting the iron
steamer with the screw propeller as the inevitable successor of the
wooden ship with arching topsails.

The golden age of the American merchant marine was that of the
square-rigged ship, intricate, capricious, and feminine in her beauty,
with forty nimble seamen in the forecastle, not that of the metal trough
with an engine in the middle and mechanics sweating in her depths. When
the Atlantic packet was compelled to abdicate, it was the beginning
of the end. After all, her master was the fickle wind, for a slashing
outward passage might be followed by weeks of beating home to the
westward. Steadily forging ahead to the beat of her paddles or
the thrash of her screw, the steamer even of that day was far more
dependable than the sailing vessel. The Lightning clipper might run a
hundred miles farther in twenty-four hours than ever a steamer had
done, but she could not maintain this meteoric burst of speed. Upon the
heaving surface of the Western Ocean there was enacted over again the
fable of the hare and the tortoise.

Most of the famous chanteys were born in the packet service and shouted
as working choruses by the tars of this Western Ocean before the
chanteyman perched upon a capstan and led the refrain in the clipper
trade. You will find their origin unmistakable in such lines as these:

    As I was a-walking down Rotherhite Street,
      'Way, ho, blow the man down;
    A pretty young creature I chanced for to meet,
      Give me some time to blow the man down.
    Soon we'll be in London City,
      Blow, boys, blow,
    And see the gals all dressed so pretty,
      Blow, my bully boys, blow.

Haunting melodies, folk-song as truly as that of the plantation negro,
they vanished from the sea with a breed of men who, for all their
faults, possessed the valor of the Viking and the fortitude of the
Spartan. Outcasts ashore--which meant to them only the dance halls of
Cherry Street and the grog-shops of Ratcliffe Road--they had virtues
that were as great as their failings. Across the intervening years, with
a pathos indefinable, come the lovely strains of

    Shenandoah, I'll ne'er forget you,
      Away, ye rolling river,
      Till the day I die I'll love you ever,
    Ah, ha, we're bound away.


The American clipper ship was the result of an evolution which can be
traced back to the swift privateers which were built during the War of
1812. In this type of vessel the shipyards of Chesapeake Bay excelled
and their handiwork was known as the "Baltimore clipper," the name
suggested by the old English verb which Dryden uses to describe the
flight of the falcon that "clips it down the wind." The essential
difference between the clipper ship and other kinds of merchant craft
was that speed and not capacity became the chief consideration. This was
a radical departure for large vessels, which in all maritime history had
been designed with an eye to the number of tons they were able to
carry. More finely molded lines had hitherto been found only in the much
smaller French lugger, the Mediterranean galley, the American schooner.

To borrow the lines of these fleet and graceful models and apply them
to the design of a deepwater ship was a bold conception. It was first
attempted by Isaac McKim, a Baltimore merchant, who ordered his builders
in 1832 to reproduce as closely as possible the superior sailing
qualities of the renowned clipper brigs and schooners of their own port.
The result was the Ann McKim, of nearly five hundred tons, the first
Yankee clipper ship, and distinguished as such by her long, easy
water-lines, low free-board, and raking stem. She was built and finished
without regard to cost, copper-sheathed, the decks gleaming with
brasswork and mahogany fittings. But though she was a very fast and
handsome ship and the pride of her owner, the Ann McKim could stow so
little cargo that shipping men regarded her as unprofitable and swore by
their full-bodied vessels a few years longer.

That the Ann McKim, however, influenced the ideas of the most
progressive builders is very probable, for she was later owned by the
New York firm of Howland and Aspinwall, who placed an order for the
first extremely sharp clipper ship of the era. This vessel, the Rainbow,
was designed by John W. Griffeths, a marine architect, who was a pioneer
in that he studied shipbuilding as a science instead of working by
rule-of-thumb. The Rainbow, which created a sensation while on the
stocks because of her concave or hollowed lines forward, which defied
all tradition and practice, was launched in 1845. She was a more radical
innovation than the Ann McKim but a successful one, for on her second
voyage to China the Rainbow went out against the northeast monsoon in
ninety-two days and came home in eighty-eight, a record which few ships
were able to better. Her commander, Captain John Land, declared her to
be the fastest ship in the world and there were none to dispute him.

Even the Rainbow however, was eclipsed when not long afterward Howland
and Aspinwall, now converted to the clipper, ordered the Sea Witch to be
built for Captain Bob Waterman. Among all the splendid skippers of the
time he was the most dashing figure. About his briny memory cluster a
hundred yarns, some of them true, others legendary. It has been argued
that the speed of the clippers was due more to the men who commanded
them than to their hulls and rigging, and to support the theory the
career of Captain Bob Waterman is quoted. He was first known to fame in
the old Natchez, which was not a clipper at all and was even rated as
slow while carrying cotton from New Orleans to New York. But Captain Bob
took this full-pooped old packet ship around the Horn and employed her
in the China tea trade. The voyages which he made in her were all fast,
and he crowned them with the amazing run of seventy-eight days from
Canton to New York, just one day behind the swiftest clipper passage
ever sailed and which he himself performed in the Sea Witch. Incredulous
mariners simply could not explain this feat of the Natchez and suggested
that Bob Waterman must have brought the old hooker home by some new
route of his own discovery.

Captain Bob had won a reputation for discipline as the mate of a Black
Ball liner, a rough school, and he was not a mild man. Ashore his
personality was said to have been a most attractive one, but there is
no doubt that afloat he worked the very souls out of his sailors. The
rumors that he frightfully abused them were not current, however,
until he took the Sea Witch and showed the world the fastest ship under
canvas. Low in the water, with black hull and gilded figurehead, she
seemed too small to support her prodigious cloud of sail. For her
there were to be no leisurely voyages with Captain Bob Waterman on the
quarter-deck. Home from Canton she sped in seventy-seven days and then
in seventy-nine--records which were never surpassed.

With what consummate skill and daring this master mariner drove his ship
and how the race of hardy sailors to which he belonged compared with
those of other nations may be descried in the log of another of them,
Captain Philip Dumaresq, homeward bound from China in 1849 in the
clipper Great Britain. Three weeks out from Java Head she had overtaken
and passed seven ships heading the same way, and then she began to rush
by them in one gale after another. Her log records her exploits in such
entries as these: "Passed a ship under double reefs, we with our royals
and studdingsails set.... Passed a ship laying-to under a close-reefed
maintopsail.... Split all three topsails and had to heave to.... Seven
vessels in sight and we outsail all of them.... Under double-reefed
topsails passed several vessels hove-to." Much the same record might be
read in the log of the medium clipper Florence--and it is the same story
of carrying sail superbly on a ship which had been built to stand
up under it: "Passed two barks under reefed courses and close-reefed
topsails standing the same way, we with royals and topgallant
studding-sails," or "Passed a ship under topsails, we with our royals
set." For eleven weeks "the topsail halliards were started only once, to
take in a single reef for a few hours." It is not surprising, therefore,
to learn that, seventeen days out from Shanghai, the Florence exchanged
signals with the English ship John Hagerman, which had sailed thirteen
days before her.

Two notable events in the history of the nineteenth century occurred
within the same year, 1849, to open new fields of trade to the Yankee
clipper. One of these was the repeal of the British Navigation Laws
which had given English ships a monopoly of the trade between London
and the British East Indies, and the other was the discovery of gold
in California. After centuries of pomp and power, the great East India
Company had been deprived of its last exclusive rights afloat in 1833.
Its ponderous, frigate-built merchantmen ceased to dominate the British
commerce with China and India and were sold or broken up. All British
ships were now free to engage in this trade, but the spirit and customs
of the old regime still strongly survived. Flying the house-flags of
private owners, the East Indiamen and China tea ships were still built
and manned like frigates, slow, comfortable, snugging down for the night
under reduced sail. There was no competition to arouse them until the
last barrier of the Navigation Laws was let down and they had to meet
the Yankee clipper with the tea trade as the huge stake.

Then at last it was farewell to the gallant old Indianian and her
ornate, dignified prestige. With a sigh the London Times confessed: "We
must run a race with our gigantic and unshackled rival. We must set our
long-practised skill, our steady industry, and our dogged determination
against his youth, ingenuity, and ardor. Let our shipbuilders and
employers take warning in time. There will always be an abundant supply
of vessels good enough and fast enough for short voyages. But we
want fast vessels for the long voyages which otherwise will fall into
American hands."

Before English merchants could prepare themselves for these new
conditions, the American clipper Oriental was loading in 1850 at Hong
Kong with tea for the London market. Because of her reputation for
speed, she received freightage of six pounds sterling per ton while
British ships rode at anchor with empty holds or were glad to sail at
three pounds ten per ton. Captain Theodore Palmer delivered his sixteen
hundred tons of tea in the West India Docks, London, after a crack
passage of ninety-one days which had never been equaled. His clipper
earned $48,000, or two-thirds of what it had cost to build her. Her
arrival in London created a profound impression. The port had seen
nothing like her for power and speed; her skysail yards soared far
above the other shipping; the cut of her snowy canvas was faultless; all
clumsy, needless tophamper had been done away with; and she appeared
to be the last word in design and construction, as lean and fine and
spirited as a race-horse in training.

This new competition dismayed British shipping until it could rally
and fight with similar weapons The technical journal, Naval Science,
acknowledged that the tea trade of the London markets had passed almost
out of the hands of the English ship-owner, and that British vessels,
well-manned and well-found, were known to lie for weeks in the harbor
of Foo-chow, waiting for a cargo and seeing American clippers come in,
load, and sail immediately with full cargoes at a higher freight than
they could command. Even the Government viewed the loss of trade with
concern and sent admiralty draftsmen to copy the lines of the Oriental
and Challenge while they were in drydock.

British clippers were soon afloat, somewhat different in model from the
Yankee ships, but very fast and able, and racing them in the tea trade
until the Civil War. With them it was often nip and tuck, as in the
contest between the English Lord of the Isles and the American clipper
bark Maury in 1856. The prize was a premium of one pound per ton for
the first ship to reach London with tea of the new crop. The Lord of
the Isles finished loading and sailed four days ahead of the Maury, and
after thirteen thousand miles of ocean they passed Gravesend within ten
minutes of each other. The British skipper, having the smartest tug
and getting his ship first into dock, won the honors. In a similar race
between the American Sea Serpent and the English Crest of the Wave, both
ships arrived off the Isle of Wight on the same day. It was a notable
fact that the Lord of the Isles was the first tea clipper built of iron
at a date when the use of this stubborn material was not yet thought of
by the men who constructed the splendid wooden ships of America.

For the peculiar requirements of the tea trade, English maritime talent
was quick to perfect a clipper type which, smaller than the great Yankee
skysail-yarder, was nevertheless most admirable for its beauty and
performance. On both sides of the Atlantic partizans hotly championed
their respective fleets. In 1852 the American Navigation Club, organized
by Boston merchants and owners, challenged the shipbuilders of Great
Britain to race from a port in England to a port in China and return,
for a stake of $50,000 a side, ships to be not under eight hundred nor
over twelve hundred tons American register. The challenge was aimed at
the Stornaway and the Chrysolite, the two clippers that were known to be
the fastest ships under the British flag. Though this sporting defiance
caused lively discussion, nothing came of it, and it was with a spirit
even keener that Sampson and Tappan of Boston offered to match their
Nightingale for the same amount against any clipper afloat, British or

In spite of the fact that Yankee enterprise had set the pace in the
tea trade, within a few years after 1850 England had so successfully
mastered the art of building these smaller clippers that the honors were
fairly divided. The American owners were diverting their energies to
the more lucrative trade in larger ships sailing around the Horn to San
Francisco, a long road which, as a coastwise voyage, was forbidden
to foreign vessels under the navigation laws. After the Civil War the
fastest tea clippers flew the British flag and into the seventies they
survived the competition of steam, racing among themselves for the
premiums awarded to the quickest dispatch. No more of these beautiful
vessels were launched after 1869, and one by one they vanished into
other trades, overtaken by the same fate which had befallen the Atlantic
packet and conquered by the cargo steamers which filed through the Suez

Until 1848 San Francisco had been a drowsy little Mexican trading-post,
a huddle of adobe huts and sheds where American ships collected
hides--vividly described in Two Years Before the Mast--or a whaler
called for wood and water. During the year preceding the frenzied
migration of the modern Argonauts, only two merchant ships, one bark
and one brig, sailed in through the Golden Gate. In the twelve months
following, 775 vessels cleared from Atlantic ports for San Francisco,
besides the rush from other countries, and nearly fifty thousand
passengers scrambled ashore to dig for gold. Crews deserted their
ships, leaving them unable to go to sea again for lack of men, and in
consequence a hundred of them were used as storehouses, hotels, and
hospitals, or else rotted at their moorings. Sailors by hundreds jumped
from the forecastle without waiting to stow the sails or receive their
wages. Though offered as much as two hundred dollars a month to sign
again, they jeered at the notion. Of this great fleet at San Francisco
in 1849, it was a lucky ship that ever left the harbor again.

It seemed as if the whole world were bound to California and almost
overnight there was created the wildest, most extravagant demand for
transportation known to history. A clipper costing $70,000 could pay for
herself in one voyage, with freights at sixty dollars a ton. This gold
stampede might last but a little while. To take instant advantage of it
was the thing. The fastest ships, and as many of them as could be built,
would skim the cream of it. This explains the brief and illustrious era
of the California clipper, one hundred and sixty of which were launched
from 1850 to 1854. The shipyards of New York and Boston were crowded
with them, and they graced the keel blocks of the historic old ports
of New England--Medford, Mystic, Newburyport, Portsmouth, Portland,
Rockland, and Bath--wherever the timber and the shipwrights could be

Until that time there had been few ships afloat as large as a thousand
tons. These were of a new type, rapidly increased to fifteen hundred,
two thousand tons, and over. They presented new and difficult problems
in spars and rigging able to withstand the strain of immense areas of
canvas which climbed two hundred feet to the skysail pole and which,
with lower studdingsails set, spread one hundred and sixty feet from
boom-end to boom-end. There had to be the strength to battle with the
furious tempests of Cape Horn and at the same time the driving power to
sweep before the sweet and steadfast tradewinds. Such a queenly clipper
was the Flying Cloud, the achievement of that master builder, Donald
McKay, which sailed from New York to San Francisco in eighty-nine days,
with Captain Josiah Creesy in command. This record was never lowered and
was equaled only twice--by the Flying Cloud herself and by the Andrew
Jackson nine years later. It was during this memorable voyage that
the Flying Cloud sailed 1256 miles in four days while steering to the
northward under topgallantsails after rounding Cape Horn. This was a
rate of speed which, if sustained, would have carried her from New York
to Queenstown in eight days and seventeen hours. This speedy passage was
made in 1851, and only two years earlier the record for the same voyage
of fifteen thousand miles had been one hundred and twenty days, by the
clipper Memnon.

Donald McKay now resolved to build a ship larger and faster than the
Flying Cloud, and his genius neared perfection in the Sovereign of the
Seas, of 2421 tons register, which exceeded in size all merchant vessels
afloat. This Titan of the clipper fleet was commanded by Donald's
brother, Captain Lauchlan McKay, with a crew of one hundred and five
men and boys. During her only voyage to San Francisco she was partly
dismasted, but Lauchlan McKay rigged her anew at sea in fourteen days
and still made port in one hundred and three days, a record for the
season of the year.

It was while running home from Honolulu in 1853 that the Sovereign of
the Seas realized the hopes of her builder. In eleven days she sailed
3562 miles, with four days logged for a total of 1478 knots. Making
allowance for the longitudes and difference in time, this was an average
daily run of 378 sea miles or 435 land miles. Using the same comparison,
the distance from Sandy Hook to Queenstown would have been covered in
seven days and nine hours. Figures are arid reading, perhaps, but these
are wet by the spray and swept by the salt winds of romance. During one
of these four days the Sovereign of the Seas reeled off 424 nautical
miles, during which her average speed was seventeen and two-thirds knots
and at times reached nineteen and twenty. The only sailing ship which
ever exceeded this day's work was the Lightning, built later by the
same Donald McKay, which ran 436 knots in the Atlantic passage already
referred to. The Sovereign of the Seas could also boast of a sensational
feat upon the Western Ocean, for between New York and Liverpool she
outsailed the Cunard liner Canada by 325 miles in five days.

It is curiously interesting to notice that the California clipper era
is almost generally ignored by the foremost English writers of maritime
history. For one thing, it was a trade in which their own ships were not
directly concerned, and partizan bias is apt to color the views of
the best of us when national prestige is involved. American historians
themselves have dispensed with many unpleasant facts when engaged with
the War of 1812. With regard to the speed of clipper ships, however,
involving a rivalry far more thrilling and important than all the races
ever sailed for the America's cup, the evidence is available in concrete

Lindsay's "History of Merchant Shipping" is the most elaborate English
work of the kind. Heavily ballasted with facts and rather dull reading
for the most part, it kindles with enthusiasm when eulogizing the
Thermopylae and the Sir Launcelot, composite clippers of wood and iron,
afloat in 1870, which it declares to be "the fastest sailing ships
that ever traversed the ocean." This fairly presents the issue which a
true-blooded Yankee has no right to evade. The greatest distance sailed
by the Sir Launcelot in twenty-four hours between China and London was
354 knots, compared with the 424 miles of the Sovereign of the Seas and
the 436 miles of the Lightning. Her best sustained run was one of seven
days for an average of a trifle more than 300 miles a day. Against this
is to be recorded the performance of the Sovereign of the Seas, 3562
miles in eleven days, at the rate of 324 miles every twenty-four hours,
and her wonderful four-day run of 1478 miles, an average of 378 miles.

The Thermopylae achieved her reputation in a passage of sixty-three days
from London to Melbourne--a record which was never beaten. Her fastest
day's sailing was 330 miles, or not quite sixteen knots an hour. In six
days she traversed 1748 miles, an average of 291 miles a day. In this
Australian trade the American clippers made little effort to compete.
Those engaged in it were mostly built for English owners and sailed by
British skippers, who could not reasonably be expected to get the most
out of these loftily sparred Yankee ships, which were much larger than
their own vessels of the same type. The Lightning showed what she could
do from Melbourne to Liverpool by making the passage in sixty-three'
days, with 3722 miles in ten consecutive days and one day's sprint of
412 miles.

In the China tea trade the Thermopylae drove home from Foo-chow in
ninety-one days, which was equaled by the Sir Launcelot. The American
Witch of the Wave had a ninety-day voyage to her credit, and the Comet
ran from Liverpool to Shanghai in eighty-four days. Luck was a larger
factor on this route than in the California or Australian trade because
of the fitful uncertainty of the monsoons, and as a test of speed it was
rather unsatisfactory. In a very fair-minded and expert summary, Captain
Arthur H. Clark, * in his youth an officer on Yankee clippers, has
discussed this question of rival speed and power under sail--a question
which still absorbs those who love the sea. His conclusion is that
in ordinary weather at sea, when great power to carry sail was not
required, the British tea clippers were extremely fast vessels, chiefly
on account of their narrow beam. Under these conditions they were
perhaps as fast as the American clippers of the same class, such as the
Sea Witch, White Squall, Northern Light, and Sword-Fish. But if speed
is to be reckoned by the maximum performance of a ship under the most
favorable conditions, then the British tea clippers were certainly no
match for the larger American ships such as the Flying Cloud, Sovereign
of the Seas, Hurricane, Trade Wind, Typhoon, Flying Fish, Challenge, and
Red Jacket. The greater breadth of the American ships in proportion to
their length meant power to carry canvas and increased buoyancy which
enabled them, with their sharper ends, to be driven in strong gales and
heavy seas at much greater speed than the British clippers. The latter
were seldom of more than one thousand tons' register and combined in a
superlative degree the good qualities of merchant ships.

    * "The Clipper Ship Era." N.Y., 1910.

It was the California trade, brief and crowded and fevered, which saw
the roaring days of the Yankee clipper and which was familiar with
racing surpassing in thrill and intensity that of the packet ships of
the Western Ocean. In 1851, for instance, the Raven, Sea Witch, and
Typhoon sailed for San Francisco within the same week. They crossed the
Equator a day apart and stood away to the southward for three thousand
miles of the southeast trades and the piping westerly winds which
prevailed farther south. At fifty degrees south latitude the Raven and
the Sea Witch were abeam of each other with the Typhoon only two days

Now they stripped for the tussle to windward around Cape Horn, sending
down studdingsail booms and skysail yards, making all secure with extra
lashings, plunging into the incessant head seas of the desolate ocean,
fighting it out tack for tack, reefing topsails and shaking them out
again, the vigilant commanders going below only to change their clothes,
the exhausted seamen stubbornly, heroically handling with frozen,
bleeding fingers the icy sheets and canvas. A fortnight of this inferno
and the Sea Witch and the Raven gained the Pacific, still within sight
of each other, and the Typhoon only one day behind. Then they swept
northward, blown by the booming tradewinds, spreading studdingsails,
skysails, and above them, like mere handkerchiefs, the water-sails and
ring-tails. Again the three clippers crossed the Equator. Close-hauled
on the starboard tack, their bowsprits were pointed for the last stage
of the journey to the Golden Gate. The Typhoon now overhauled her rivals
and was the first to signal her arrival, but the victory was earned
by the Raven, which had set her departure from Boston Light while the
others had sailed from New York. The Typhoon and the Raven were only a
day apart, with the Sea Witch five days behind the leader.

Clipper ship crews included men of many nations. In the average
forecastle there would be two or three Americans, a majority of English
and Norwegians, and perhaps a few Portuguese and Italians. The hardiest
seamen, and the most unmanageable, were the Liverpool packet rats who
were lured from their accustomed haunts to join the clippers by the
magical call of the gold-diggings. There were not enough deep-water
sailors to man half the ships that were built in these few years, and
the crimps and boarding-house runners decoyed or flung aboard on sailing
day as many men as were demanded, and any drunken, broken landlubber was
good enough to be shipped as an able seaman. They were things of rags
and tatters--their only luggage a bottle of whiskey.

The mates were thankful if they could muster enough real sailors to
work the ship to sea and then began the stern process of whipping the
wastrels and incompetents into shape for the perils and emergencies of
the long voyage. That these great clippers were brought safely to port
is a shining tribute to the masterful skill of their officers. While
many of them were humane and just, with all their severity, the stories
of savage abuse which are told of some are shocking in the extreme.
The defense was that it was either mutiny or club the men under. Better
treatment might have persuaded better men to sail. Certain it is that
life in the forecastle of a clipper was even more intolerable to the
self-respecting American youth than it had previously been aboard the
Atlantic packet.

When Captain Bob Waterman arrived at San Francisco in the Challenge
clipper in 1851, a mob tried very earnestly to find and hang him and his
officers because of the harrowing stories told by his sailors. That
he had shot several of them from the yards with his pistol to make
the others move faster was one count in the indictment. For his part,
Captain Waterman asserted that a more desperate crew of ruffians had
never sailed out of New York and that only two of them were Americans.
They were mutinous from the start, half of them blacklegs of the vilest
type who swore to get the upper hand of him. His mates, boatswain,
and carpenter had broken open their chests and boxes and had removed a
collection of slung-shots, knuckle-dusters, bowie-knives, and pistols.
Off Rio Janeiro they had tried to kill the chief mate, and Captain
Waterman had been compelled to jump in and stretch two of them dead with
an iron belaying-pin. Off Cape Horn three sailors fell from aloft and
were lost. This accounted for the casualties.

The truth of such episodes as these was difficult to fathom. Captain
Waterman demanded a legal investigation, but nothing came of his request
and he was commended by his owners for his skill and courage in bringing
the ship to port without losing a spar or a sail. It was a skipper of
this old school who blandly maintained the doctrine that if you wanted
the men to love you, you must starve them and knock them down. The fact
is proven by scores of cases that the discipline of the American clipper
was both famously efficient and notoriously cruel. It was not until long
after American sailors had ceased to exist that adequate legislation was
enacted to provide that they should be treated as human beings afloat
and ashore. Other days and other customs! It is perhaps unkind to judge
these vanished master-mariners too harshly, for we cannot comprehend the
crises which continually beset them in their command.

No more extreme clipper ships were built after 1854. The California
frenzy had subsided and speed in carrying merchandise was no longer
so essential; besides, the passenger traffic was seeking the Isthmian
route. What were called medium clippers enjoyed a profitable trade
for many years later, and one of them, the Andrew Jackson, was never
outsailed for the record from New York to San Francisco. This splendid
type of ship was to be found on every sea, for the United States was
still a commanding factor in the maritime activities of South America,
India, China, Europe, and Australia. In 1851 its merchant tonnage
rivaled that of England and was everywhere competing with it.

The effects of the financial panic of 1857 and the aftermath of business
depression were particularly disastrous to American ships. Freights were
so low as to yield no profit, and the finest clippers went begging for
charters. The yards ceased to launch new tonnage. British builders had
made such rapid progress in design and construction that the days of
Yankee preference in the China trade had passed. The Stars and Stripes
floated over ships waiting idle in Manila Bay, at Shanghai, Hong-Kong,
and Calcutta. The tide of commerce had slackened abroad as well as at
home and the surplus of deep-water tonnage was world-wide.

In earlier generations afloat, the American spirit had displayed amazing
recuperative powers. The havoc of the Revolution had been unable to
check it, and its vigor and aggressive enterprise had never been
more notable than after the blows dealt by the Embargo, the French
Spoliations, and the War of 1812. The conditions of trade and the temper
of the people were now so changed that this mighty industry, aforetime
so robust and resilient, was unable to recover from such shocks as the
panic of 1857 and the Civil War. Yet it had previously survived and
triumphed over calamities far more severe. The destruction wrought by
Confederate cruisers was trifling compared with the work of the British
and French privateers when the nation was very small and weak.

The American spirit had ceased to concern itself with the sea as the
vital and dominant element. The footsteps of the young men no longer
turned toward the wharf and the waterside and the tiers of tall ships
outward bound. They were aspiring to conquer an inland empire of prairie
and mountain and desert, impelled by the same pioneering and adventurous
ardor which had burned in their seafaring sires. Steam had vanquished
sail--an epochal event in a thousand years of maritime history--but the
nation did not care enough to accept this situation as a new challenge
or to continue the ancient struggle for supremacy upon the sea. England
did care, because it was life or death to the little, sea-girt island,
but as soon as the United States ceased to be a strip of Atlantic
seaboard and the panorama, of a continent was unrolled to settlement,
it was foreordained that the maritime habit of thought and action
should lose its virility in America. All great seafaring races, English,
Norwegian, Portuguese, and Dutch, have taken to salt water because there
was lack of space, food, or work ashore, and their strong young men
craved opportunities. Like the Pilgrim Fathers and their fishing
shallops they had nowhere else to go.

When the Flying Cloud and the clippers of her kind--taut, serene,
immaculate--were sailing through the lonely spaces of the South Atlantic
and the Pacific, they sighted now and then the stumpy, slatternly rig
and greasy hull of a New Bedford whaler, perhaps rolling to the weight
of a huge carcass alongside. With a poor opinion of the seamanship
of these wandering barks, the clipper crews rolled out, among their
favorite chanteys:

    Oh, poor Reuben Ranzo,
    Ranzo, boys, O Ranzo,
    Oh, Ranzo was no sailor,
    So they shipped him aboard a whaler,
    Ranzo, boys, O Ranzo.

This was crass, intolerant prejudice. The whaling ship was careless of
appearances, it is true, and had the air of an ocean vagabond; but there
were other duties more important than holystoning decks, scraping spars,
and trimming the yards to a hair. On a voyage of two or three
years, moreover, there was always plenty of time tomorrow. Brave and
resourceful seamen were these New England adventurers and deep-sea
hunters who made nautical history after their own fashion. They
flourished coeval with the merchant marine in its prime, and they passed
from the sea at about the same time and for similar reasons. Modernity
dispensed with their services, and young men found elsewhere more
profitable and easier employment.

The great days of Nantucket as a whaling port were passed before the
Revolution wiped out her ships and killed or scattered her sailors.
It was later discovered that larger ships were more economical, and
Nantucket harbor bar was too shoal to admit their passage. For this
reason New Bedford became the scene of the foremost activity, and
Nantucket thereafter played a minor part, although her barks went
cruising on to the end of the chapter and her old whaling families were
true to strain. As explorers the whalemen rambled into every nook
and corner of the Pacific before merchant vessels had found their way
thither. They discovered uncharted islands and cheerfully fought savages
or suffered direful shipwreck. The chase led them into Arctic regions
where their stout barks were nipped like eggshells among the grinding
floes, or else far to the southward where they broiled in tropic calms.
The New Bedford lad was as keen to go a-whaling as was his counterpart
in Boston or New York to be the dandy mate of a California clipper, and
true was the song:

      I asked a maiden by my side,
    Who sighed and looked to me forlorn,
      "Where is your heart?" She quick replied,
    "Round Cape Horn."

Yankee whaling reached its high tide in 1857 when the New Bedford fleet
alone numbered 329 sail and those owned in other ports of Buzzard's Bay
swelled the total to 426 vessels, besides thirty more hailing from New
London and Sag Harbor. In this year the value of the catch was more
than ten million dollars. The old custom of sailing on shares or
"lays" instead of wages was never changed. It was win or lose for
all hands--now a handsome fortune or again an empty hold and pockets
likewise. There was Captain W.T. Walker of New Bedford who, in 1847,
bought for a song a ship so old that she was about to be broken up for
junk and no insurance broker would look at her. In this rotten relic
he shipped a crew and went sailing in the Pacific. Miraculously keeping
afloat, this Envoy of his was filled to the hatches with oil and bones,
twice running, before she returned to her home port; and she earned
$138,450 on a total investment of eight thousand dollars.

The ship Sarah of Nantucket, after a three years' cruise, brought
back 3497 barrels of sperm oil which sold for $89,000, and the William
Hamilton of New Bedford set another high mark by stowing 4181 barrels of
a value of $109,269. The Pioneer of New London, Captain Ebenezer Morgan,
was away only a year and stocked a cargo of oil and whalebone which sold
for $150,060. Most of the profits of prosperous voyages were taken
as the owners' share, and the incomes of the captain and crew were
so niggardly as to make one wonder why they persisted in a calling so
perilous, arduous, and poorly paid. During the best years of whaling,
when the ships were averaging $16,000 for a voyage, the master received
an eighteenth, or about nine hundred dollars a year. The highly skilled
hands, such as the boat-steerers and harpooners, had a lay of only one
seventy-fifth, or perhaps a little more than two hundred dollars cash as
the reward of a voyage which netted the owner at least fifty per cent on
his investment. Occasionally they fared better than this and sometimes
worse. The answer to the riddle is that they liked the life and had
always the gambling spirit which hopes for a lucky turn of the cards.

The countless episodes of fragile boats smashed to kindling by fighting
whales, of the attack renewed with harpoon and lance, of ships actually
rammed and sunk, would fill a volume by themselves and have been
stirringly narrated in many a one. Zanzibar and Kamchatka, Tasmania and
the Seychelles knew the lean, sun-dried Yankee whaleman and his motto of
a "dead whale or a stove boat." The Civil War did not drive him from the
seas. The curious fact is that his products commanded higher prices
in 1907 than fifty years before, but the number of his ships rapidly
decreased. Whales were becoming scarce, and New England capital
preferred other forms of investment. The leisurely old sailing craft was
succeeded by the steam whaler, and the explosive bomb slew, instead of
the harpoon and lance hurled by the sinewy right arm of a New Bedford
man or Cape Verde islander.

Roving whaler and armed East Indiaman, plunging packet ship and stately
clipper, they served their appointed days and passed on their several
courses to become mere memories, as shadowy and unsubstantial as the
gleam of their own topsails when seen at twilight. The souls of their
sailors have fled to Fiddler's Green, where all dead mariners go. They
were of the old merchant marine which contributed something fine and
imperishable to the story of the United States. Down the wind, vibrant
and deep-throated, comes their own refrain for a requiem:

    We're outward bound this very day,
    Good-bye, fare you well,
    Good-bye, fare you well.
    We're outward bound this very day,
      Hurrah, my boys, we're outward bound.


One thinks of the old merchant marine in terms of the clipper ship and
distant ports. The coasting trade has been overlooked in song and story;
yet, since the year 1859, its fleets have always been larger and more
important than the American deep-water commerce nor have decay and
misfortune overtaken them. It is a traffic which flourished from the
beginning, ingeniously adapting itself to new conditions, unchecked by
war, and surviving with splendid vigor, under steam and sail, in this
modern era.

The seafaring pioneers won their way from port to port of the
tempestuous Atlantic coast in tiny ketches, sloops, and shallops when
the voyage of five hundred miles from New England to Virginia was a
prolonged and hazardous adventure. Fog and shoals and lee shores beset
these coastwise sailors, and shipwrecks were pitifully frequent. In
no Hall of Fame will you find the name of Captain Andrew Robinson
of Gloucester, but he was nevertheless an illustrious benefactor and
deserves a place among the most useful Americans. His invention was the
Yankee schooner of fore-and-aft rig, and he gave to this type of vessel
its name. * Seaworthy, fast, and easily handled, adapted for use in
the early eighteenth century when inland transportation was almost
impossible, the schooner carried on trade between the colonies and was
an important factor in the growth of the fisheries.

    * It is said that as the odd two-master slid gracefully into the water,
a spectator exclaimed: "See how she scoons!" "Aye," answered Captain
Robinson, "a SCHOONER let her be!" This launching took place in 1718 or

Before the Revolution the first New England schooners were beating up
to the Grand Bank of Newfoundland after cod and halibut. They were of
no more than fifty tons' burden, too small for their task but manned
by fishermen of surpassing hardihood. Marblehead was then the foremost
fishing port with two hundred brigs and schooners on the offshore banks.
But to Gloucester belongs the glory of sending the first schooner to the
Grand Bank. * From these two rock-bound harbors went thousands of trained
seamen to man the privateers and the ships of the Continental navy,
slinging their hammocks on the gun-decks beside the whalemen of
Nantucket. These fishermen and coastwise sailors fought on the land as
well and followed the drums of Washington's armies until the final
scene at Yorktown. Gloucester and Marblehead were filled with widows and
orphans, and half their men-folk were dead or missing.

    * Marvin's "American Merchant Marine," p. 287.

The fishing-trade soon prospered again, and the men of the old ports
tenaciously clung to the sea even when the great migration flowed
westward to people the wilderness and found a new American empire.
They were fishermen from father to son, bound together in an intimate
community of interests, a race of pure native or English stock,
deserving this tribute which was paid to them in Congress: "Every
person on board our fishing vessels has an interest in common with his
associates; their reward depends upon their industry and enterprise.
Much caution is observed in the selection of the crews of our fishing
vessels; it often happens that every individual is connected by blood
and the strongest ties of friendship; our fishermen are remarkable for
their sobriety and good conduct, and they rank with the most skillful

Fishing and the coastwise merchant trade were closely linked. Schooners
loaded dried cod as well as lumber for southern ports and carried back
naval stores and other southern products. Well-to-do fishermen owned
trading vessels and sent out their ventures, the sailors shifting from
one forecastle to the other. With a taste for an easier life than the
stormy, freezing Banks, the young Gloucesterman would sign on for a
voyage to Pernambuco or Havana and so be fired with ambition to become
a mate or master and take to deep water after a while. In this way was
maintained a school of seamanship which furnished the most intelligent
and efficient officers of the merchant marine. For generations they were
mostly recruited from the old fishing and shipping ports of New England
until the term "Yankee shipmaster" had a meaning peculiarly its own.

Seafaring has undergone so many revolutionary changes and old days and
ways are so nearly obliterated that it is singular to find the sailing
vessel still employed in great numbers, even though the gasolene motor
is being installed to kick her along in spells of calm weather. The
Gloucester fishing schooner, perfect of her type, stanch, fleet, and
powerful, still drives homeward from the Banks under a tall press of
canvas, and her crew still divide the earnings, share and share, as did
their forefathers a hundred and fifty years ago. But the old New England
strain of blood no longer predominates, and Portuguese, Scandinavians,
and Nova Scotia "Bluenoses" bunk with the lads of Gloucester stock. Yet
they are alike for courage, hardihood, and mastery of the sea, and the
traditions of the calling are undimmed.

There was a time before the Civil War when Congress jealously protected
the fisheries by means of a bounty system and legislation aimed against
our Canadian neighbors. The fishing fleets were regarded as a source
of national wealth and the nursery of prime seamen for the navy and
merchant marine. In 1858 the bounty system was abandoned, however, and
the fishermen were left to shift for themselves, earning small profits
at peril of their lives and preferring to follow the sea because they
knew no other profession. In spite of this loss of assistance from the
Government, the tonnage engaged in deep-sea fisheries was never so great
as in the second year of the Civil War. Four years later the industry
had shrunk one-half; and it has never recovered its early importance *

    * In 1882, the tonnage amounted to 193,459; in 1866, to 89,336.

The coastwise merchant trade, on the other hand, has been jealously
guarded against competition and otherwise fostered ever since 1789, when
the first discriminatory tonnage tax was enforced. The Embargo Act of
1808 prohibited domestic commerce to foreign flags, and this edict was
renewed in the American Navigation Act of 1817. It remained a firmly
established doctrine of maritime policy until the Great War compelled
its suspension as an emergency measure. The theories of protection
and free trade have been bitterly debated for generations, but in this
instance the practice was eminently successful and the results were
vastly impressive. Deepwater shipping dwindled and died, but the
increase in coastwise sailing was consistent. It rose to five million
tons early in this century and makes the United States still one of the
foremost maritime powers in respect to saltwater activity.

To speak of this deep-water shipping as trade coastwise is misleading,
in a way. The words convey an impression of dodging from port to port
for short distances, whereas many of the voyages are longer than those
of the foreign routes in European waters. It is farther by sea from
Boston to Philadelphia than from Plymouth, England, to Bordeaux. A
schooner making the run from Portland to Savannah lays more knots over
her stern than a tramp bound out from England to Lisbon. It is a shorter
voyage from Cardiff to Algiers than an American skipper pricks off on
his chart when he takes his steamer from New York to New Orleans or
Galveston. This coastwise trade may lack the romance of the old school
of the square-rigged ship in the Roaring Forties, but it has always
been the more perilous and exacting. Its seamen suffer hardships unknown
elsewhere, for they have to endure winters of intense cold and heavy
gales and they are always in risk of stranding or being driven ashore.

The story of these hardy men is interwoven, for the most part, with the
development of the schooner in size and power. This graceful craft,
so peculiar to its own coast and people, was built for utility and
possessed a simple beauty of its own when under full sail. The schooners
were at first very small because it was believed that large fore-and-aft
sails could not be handled with safety. They were difficult to reef or
lower in a blow until it was discovered that three masts instead of two
made the task much easier. For many years the three-masted schooner was
the most popular kind of American merchant vessel. They clustered in
every Atlantic port and were built in the yards of New England, New
York, New Jersey, and Virginia,--built by the mile, as the saying was,
and sawed off in lengths to suit the owners' pleasure. They carried
the coal, ice, lumber of the whole seaboard and were so economical of
man-power that they earned dividends where steamers or square-rigged
ships would not have paid for themselves.

As soon as a small steam-engine was employed to hoist the sails, it
became possible to launch much larger schooners and to operate them at
a marvelously low cost. Rapidly the four-master gained favor, and then
came the five- and six-masted vessels, gigantic ships of their kind.
Instead of the hundred-ton schooner of a century ago, Hampton Roads
and Boston Harbor saw these great cargo carriers which could stow under
hatches four and five thousand tons of coal, and whose masts soared a
hundred and fifty feet above the deck. Square-rigged ships of the same
capacity would have required crews of a hundred men, but these schooners
were comfortably handled by a company of fifteen all told, only ten of
whom were in the forecastle. There was no need of sweating and hauling
at braces and halliards. The steam-winch undertook all this toil. The
tremendous sails, stretching a hundred feet from boom to gaff could
not have been managed otherwise. Even for trimming sheets or setting
topsails, it was necessary merely to take a turn or two around the drum
of the winch engine and turn the steam valve. The big schooner was the
last word in cheap, efficient transportation by water. In her own sphere
of activity she was as notable an achievement as the Western Ocean
packet or the Cape Horn clipper.

The masters who sailed these extraordinary vessels also changed and had
to learn a new kind of seamanship. They must be very competent men, for
the tests of their skill and readiness were really greater than those
demanded of the deepwater skipper. They drove these great schooners
alongshore winter and summer; across Nantucket Shoals and around Cape
Cod, and their salvation depended on shortening sail ahead of the gale.
Let the wind once blow and the sea get up, and it was almost impossible
to strip the canvas off an unwieldy six-master. The captain's chief fear
was of being blown offshore, of having his vessel run away with him!
Unlike the deep-water man, he preferred running in toward the beach and
letting go his anchors. There he would ride out the storm and hoist sail
when the weather moderated.

These were American shipmasters of the old breed, raised in schooners
as a rule, and adapting themselves to modern conditions. They sailed for
nominal wages and primage, or five per cent of the gross freight paid
the vessel. Before the Great War in Europe, freights were low and the
schooner skippers earned scanty incomes. Then came a world shortage
of tonnage and immediately coastwise freights soared skyward. The big
schooners of the Palmer fleet began to reap fabulous dividends and their
masters shared in the unexpected opulence. Besides their primage they
owned shares in their vessels, a thirty-second or so, and presently
their settlement at the end of a voyage coastwise amounted to an income
of a thousand dollars a month. They earned this money, and the
managing owners cheerfully paid them, for there had been lean years and
uncomplaining service and the sailor had proved himself worthy of his
hire. So tempting was the foreign war trade, that a fleet of them was
sent across the Atlantic until the American Government barred them from
the war zone as too easy a prey for submarine attack. They therefore
returned to the old coastwise route or loaded for South American
ports--singularly interesting ships because they were the last bold
venture of the old American maritime spirit, a challenge to the Age of

No more of these huge, towering schooners have been built in the last
dozen years. Steam colliers and barges have won the fight because time
is now more valuable than cheapness of transportation. The schooner
might bowl down to Norfolk from Boston or Portland in four days and be
threshing about for two weeks in head winds on the return voyage.

The small schooner appeared to be doomed somewhat earlier. She had
ceased to be profitable in competition with the larger, more modern
fore-and-after, but these battered, veteran craft died hard. They
harked back to a simpler age, to the era of the stage-coach and the
spinning-wheel, to the little shipyards that were to be found on every
bay and inlet of New England. They were still owned and sailed by men
who ashore were friends and neighbors. Even now you may find during your
summer wanderings some stumpy, weatherworn two-master running on for
shelter overnight, which has plied up and down the coast for fifty or
sixty years, now leaking like a basket and too frail for winter voyages.
It was in a craft very much like this that your rude ancestors went
privateering against the British. Indeed, the little schooner Polly,
which fought briskly in the War of 1812, is still afloat and loading
cargoes in New England ports.

These little coasters, surviving long after the stately merchant marine
had vanished from blue water, have enjoyed a slant of favoring fortune
in recent years. They, too, have been in demand, and once again there is
money to spare for paint and cordage and calking. They have been granted
a new lease of life and may be found moored at the wharfs, beached on
the marine railways, or anchored in the stream, eagerly awaiting their
turn to refit. It is a matter of vital concern that the freight on
spruce boards from Bangor to New York has increased to five dollars a
thousand feet. Many of these craft belong to grandfatherly skippers who
dared not venture past Cape Cod in December, lest the venerable Matilda
Emerson or the valetudinarian Joshua R. Coggswell should open up and
founder in a blow. During the winter storms these skippers used to hug
the kitchen stove in bleak farmhouses until spring came and they could
put to sea again. The rigor of circumstances, however, forced others to
seek for trade the whole year through. In a recent winter fifty-seven
schooners were lost on the New England coast, most of which were unfit
for anything but summer breezes. As by a miracle, others have been able
to renew their youth, to replace spongy planking and rotten stems, and
to deck themselves out in white canvas and fresh paint!

The captains of these craft foregather in the ship-chandler's shops,
where the floor is strewn with sawdust, the armchairs are capacious,
and the environment harmonizes with the tales that are told. It is an
informal club of coastwise skippers and the old energy begins to show
itself once more. They move with a brisker gait than when times were so
hard and they went begging for charters at any terms. A sinewy patriarch
stumps to a window, flourishes his arm at an ancient two-master, and
booms out:

"That vessel of mine is as sound as a nut, I tell ye. She ain't as big
as some, but I'd like nothin' better than to fill her full of suthin'
for the west coast of Africy, same as the Horace M. Bickford that
cleared t'other day, stocked for SIXTY THOUSAND DOLLARS."

"Huh, you'd get lost out o' sight of land, John," is the cruel retort,
"and that old shoe-box of yours 'ud be scared to death without a harbor
to run into every time the sun clouded over. Expect to navigate to
Africy with an alarm-clock and a soundin'-lead, I presume."

"Mebbe I'd better let well enough alone," replies the old man. "Africy
don't seem as neighborly as Phippsburg and Machiasport. I'll chance it
as far as Philadelphy next voyage and I guess the old woman can buy a
new dress."

The activity and the reawakening of the old shipyards, their slips all
filled with the frames of wooden vessels for the foreign trade, is
like a revival of the old merchant marine, a reincarnation of ghostly
memories. In mellowed dignity the square white houses beneath the New
England elms recall to mind the mariners who dwelt therein. It seems
as if their shipyards also belonged to the past; but the summer visitor
finds a fresh attraction in watching the new schooners rise from the
stocks, and the gay pageant of launching them, every mast ablaze with
bunting, draws crowds to the water-front. And as a business venture,
with somewhat of the tang of old-fashioned romance, the casual stranger
is now and then tempted to purchase a sixty-fourth "piece" of a splendid
Yankee four-master and keep in touch with its roving fortunes. The
shipping reports of the daily newspaper prove more fascinating than the
ticker tape, and the tidings of a successful voyage thrill one with a
sense of personal gratification. For the sea has not lost its magic
and its mystery, and those who go down to it in ships must still battle
against elemental odds--still carry on the noble and enduring traditions
of the Old Merchant Marine.


As a rule, American historians like McMaster, Adams, and Rhodes give
too little space to the maritime achievements of the nation. The gap has
been partially filled by the following special works:

Winthrop L. Marvin, "The American Merchant Marine: Its History and
Romance from 1620 to 1902" (1902). This is the most nearly complete
volume of its kind by an author who knows the subject and handles it
with accuracy.

John R. Spears, "The Story of the American Merchant Marine" (1910), "The
American Slave Trade" (1901), "The Story of the New England Whalers"
(1908). Mr. Spears has sought original sources for much of his material
and his books are worth reading, particularly his history of the

Ralph D. Paine, "The Ships and Sailors of Old Salem: The Record of a
Brilliant Era of American Achievement" (1912). A history of the most
famous seaport of the Atlantic coast, drawn from log-books and other
manuscript collections. "The Book of Buried Treasure: Being a True
History of the Gold, Jewels, and Plate of Pirates, Galleons, etc."
(1911). Several chapters have to do with certain picturesque pirates and
seamen of the colonies.

Edgar S. Maclay, "A History of American Privateers" (1899). The only
book of its kind, and indispensable to those who wish to learn the story
of Yankee ships and sailors.

J. R. Hutchinson, "The Press Gang Afloat and Ashore" (1914). This recent
volume, written from an English point of view, illuminates the system of
conscription which caused the War of 1812.

Nothing can take the place, however, of the narratives of those master
mariners who made the old merchant marine famous:

Richard Henry Dana, Jr., "Two Years Before the Mast" (1840). The latest
edition, handsomely illustrated, (1915). The classic narrative of
American forecastle life in the sailing-ship era.

Captain Richard Cleveland, "Narrative of Voyages and Commercial
Enterprises" (1842). This is one of the fascinating autobiographies of
the old school of shipmasters who had the gift of writing.

Captain Amasa Delano, "Narrative of Voyages and Travels" (1817).
Another of the rare human documents of blue water. It describes the most
adventurous period of activity, a century ago.

Captain Arthur H. Clark, "The Clipper Ship Era" (1910). A thrilling,
spray-swept, true story. Far and away the best account of the clipper,
by a man who was an officer of one in his youth.

Robert Bennet Forbes, "Notes on Ships of the Past" (1888). Random facts
and memories of a famous Boston ship-owner. It is valuable for its
records of noteworthy passages.

Captain John D. Whidden, "Ocean Life in the Old Sailing Ship Days"
(1908). The entertaining reminiscences of a veteran shipmaster.

Captain A. W. Nelson, "Yankee Swanson: Chapters from a Life at Sea"
(1913). Another of the true romances, recommended for a lively sense of
humor and a faithful portrayal of life aboard a windjammer.

There are many other personal narratives, some of them privately printed
and very old, which may be found in the libraries. Typical of them is
"A Journal of the Travels and Sufferings of Daniel Saunders" (1794), in
which a young sailor relates his adventures after shipwreck on the coast
of Arabia.

Among general works the following are valuable:

J. Grey Jewell, "Among Our Sailors" (1874). A plea for more humane
treatment of American seamen, with many instances on shocking
brutalities as reported to the author, who was a United States Consul.

E. Keble Chatterton, "Sailing Ships: The Story of their Development"
(1909). An elaborate history of the development of the sailing vessel
from the earliest times to the modern steel clipper.

W. S. Lindsay, "History of Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce," 4
vols. (1874-76). An English work, notably fair to the American marine,
and considered authoritative.

Douglas Owen, "Ocean Trade and Shipping" (1914). An English economist
explains the machinery of maritime trade and commerce.

William Wood, "All Afloat." In "The Chronicles of Canada Series."
Glasgow, Brook and Co., Toronto, 1914.

J. B. McMaster, "The Life and Times of Stephen Girard, Mariner and
Merchant," 2 vols. (1918).

The relation of governmental policy to the merchant marine is discussed
by various writers:

David A. Wells, "Our Merchant Marine: How It Rose, Increased, Became
Great, Declined, and Decayed" (1882). A political treatise in defense of
a protective policy.

William A. Bates, "American Marine: The Shipping Question in History
and Politics" (1892); "American Navigation: The Political History of Its
Rise and Ruin" (1902). These works are statistical and highly technical,
partly compiled from governmental reports, and are also frankly

Henry Hall, "American Navigation, With Some Account of the Causes of Its
Former Prosperity and Present Decline" (1878).

Charles S. Hill, "History of American Shipping: Its Prestige, Decline,
and Prospect" (1883).

J. D. J. Kelley, "The Question of Ships: The Navy and the Merchant
Marine" (1884).

Arthur J. Maginnis, "The Atlantic Ferry: Its Ships, Men, and Working"

A vast amount of information is to be found in the Congressional Report
of the Merchant Marine Commission, published in three volumes (1905).

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