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Sea StoriesReuben James Able Seaman
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Adventures Of Captain Woodward And Five Seamen In The Island Of Celebes
In the year 1791, Woodward sailed from Boston in the ship Robert
Morris, Captain Hay, for the East Indies. On his arrival there he was
employed in making country voyages until the 20th of January, when he
sailed as chief-mate in an American ship from Batavia bound to
In passing through the straits of Macassar, they found the wind and
current both against them, and after beating up for six weeks they
fell short of provision. Captain Woodward and five seamen were sent to
purchase some from a vessel about four leagues distant. They were
without water, provisions, or compass,--having on board only an axe, a
boat hook, two penknives, a useless gun and forty dollars in cash.
They reached the ship at sunset, and were told by the captain that he
had no provision to spare as he was bound to China and was victualled
for only one month. He advised them to stay until morning, which they
did. But when morning dawned, their own ship was out of sight even
from the mast head, and with a fair wind for her to go through the
straits of Macassar. Being treated coolly by the captain, they agreed
with one voice to leave the ship in search of their own. On leaving
the vessel, the captain gave them twelve musket cartridges and a round
bottle of brandy, but neither water nor provision of any sort.
They rowed till twelve o'clock at night, in hopes of seeing their own
vessel, and then drawing near an island they thought it prudent to go
there to get some fresh water.--They landed and made a large fire in
hopes their ship might see it. But not being able to see any thing of
her in the morning and finding no water or provisions on the island,
they continued their course in the middle of the straits six days
longer, without going on shore or tasting of any thing but brandy.
They soon had the shore of Celebes in sight, where they determined to
go in search of provisions and then to proceed to Macassar.
As they approached the shore they saw two proas full of natives, who
immediately put themselves in a posture of defence. The sailors made
signs to them that they wanted provisions, but instead of giving it
the Malays began to brandish their cresses or steel daggers. Three of
the men jumped on board a proa to beg some Indian corn, and got three
or four small ears. The chief seemed quite friendly and agreed to sell
captain Woodward two cocoa nuts for a dollar, but as soon as he had
received the money, he immediately began to strip him in search of
more. Captain Woodward defended himself with a hatchet and ordered the
boat to be shoved off, the chief levelled a musket at him, but
fortunately it missed him.
They then stood off, went round a point of land and landed out of
sight of the proas, when they found a plenty of cocoa nut trees.
Captain Woodward while engaged in cutting them down, heard the man
whom he had left to take care of the boat, scream out in a most bitter
manner. He ran immediately to the beach where he saw his own boat off
at some distance full of Malays and the poor fellow who guarded it
lying on his back with his throat cut, and his body stabbed in several
They now fled immediately to the mountains, and finding that they had
lost their boat, money, and most of their clothes, they concluded that
their only chance of escape was to get to Macassar by land. Being
afraid to travel in the day time they set out in the evening, taking a
star for their guide bearing south. But they soon lost sight of the
star and at daylight found themselves within a few rods of the place,
where they had set out. They had travelled on the side of a mountain,
and had gone quite round it instead of going straight over it. They
started again and travelled by the sea shore six nights successively,
living on berries and water found in the hollows of trees.
On the sixth they arrived at a bay where they saw a party of the Malays
fishing. Here Captain Woodward found some yellowish berries which were
to him quite palatable, but his men not liking them eat some of the
leaves. On the next day they concluded to make a raft and go to the
small island on which they first landed, thinking that they might be
taken off from it by some ship passing that way. But they were obliged
to abandon this project, for in the evening the men who had eaten the
leaves, were attacked with violent pains and were crying out in torture
during the whole night.--Although they got better towards evening yet
they were so weak and dejected that Captain Woodward was convinced that
they could not reach the island and asked them if they were willing to
surrender themselves to the Malays. On reflection they all thought this
the best course which they could take; and forthwith proceeded to the
bay where they had seen the Malays in the morning, in order at once
either to find friends or to meet their fate. At first they saw no one,
but Captain Woodward soon saw three of the natives approaching him; and
ordering his men to keep quiet, he advanced alone until he had come
within a short distance of them, where they stopped and drew out their
cresses or knives.--Captain Woodward fell on his knees and begged for
mercy. The Malays looked at him for about ten minutes with their knives
drawn, when one of them came towards him, knelt in the same manner and
offered both his hands. More natives now came up and stripped them of
their hats and handkerchiefs and even the buttons on their jackets,
which they took for money.
They were now taken to Travalla and carried to the court-house or
judgment hall, accompanied by a great concourse of people, including
women and children who made a circle at some distance from them. The
chief soon entered, looking as wild as a madman, carrying in his hand
a large drawn cress or knife, the blade of which was two feet and half
long and very bright. Captain Woodward approached so near to him as to
place the foot of the chief on his own head, as a token that he was
completely under his power and direction. The chief after holding a
short consultation, returned to his house and brought out five pieces
of betel nut, which he gave to the sailors as a token of friendship.
They were now permitted to rest until about eight o'clock when they
were carried to the Rajah's house, where they found a supper provided
for them of sago-bread and peas, but in all hardly enough for one man.
Their allowance afterwards was for each man a cocoa nut and an ear of
Indian corn at noon, and the same at night. In this manner they lived
about twenty days, but were not allowed to go out except to the water
to bathe. The natives soon began to relax their vigilance over them,
and in about four months, they were conveyed to the head Rajah of
Parlow. They had not been there long when the head Rajah sent to a
Dutch port called Priggia, which is at the head of a deep bay on the
east side of the island and which is under the care of a commandant
who was a Frenchman, and had been thirty years in the Dutch service.
He arrived at Parlow and sent for Capt. Woodward. He wished him to go
with him to Priggia where he resided, but Captain Woodward refused,
being apprehensive that he should be forced into the Dutch service.
The commandant then enquired where he intended to go. He answered to
Batavia or Macassar and thence to Bengal. He did not offer Captain
Woodward or his people either money, assistance, or clothes, but
seemed quite affronted.
The Rajah now gave him the liberty of returning to Travalla, taking
care, however, to send him in the night for fear that he should get
sight of Dungally, where there lived a Mahomedan priest called Juan
Hadgee. This priest had been at Travalla, and offered a ransom for
Captain Woodward and his men, but the natives were unwilling to take
it, and were fearful that their captives would try to escape to the
town where the priest lived. It happened however, that they were
becalmed off Dungally, so that Captain Woodward could observe its
situation. On arriving at Travalla, he attempted to escape alone by
water, but the canoe being leaky, he came very near losing his life.
But not discouraged, he started immediately for Dungally by land, and
reached it just as the day dawned.
Juan Hadgee received him kindly and provided him with food and
clothing. In the course of three days the chief of Travalla learning
that he had gone to Dungally, sent after him, but the old priest and
the Rajah of Dungally refused to let him go. They told him that in the
course of three months they would convey him to Batavia or Macassar,
and also desired him to send for the four men he had left at
Travalla.--This he did by means of a letter which he wrote with a pen
of bamboo, and sent by the captain of a proa, who delivered it
secretly. The men made their escape from Parlow at the time of a
feast, early in the evening, and arrived at Dungally at twelve o'clock
the next day. They were received with great rejoicing by the natives,
who immediately brought them plenty of victuals. And this fortunate
circumstance revived their hopes of reaching some European settlement,
after many narrow escapes and difficulties.
Juan Hadgee now informed Capt. Woodward that he should set off in
about two months, but that he must first make a short voyage for
provisions, which he did, leaving Captain Woodward in his house with
his wife and two servants.
They soon began to suffer exceedingly for the want of provisions, so
that the natives were obliged to convey them up the country, there to
be supplied by some of the same tribe, who regularly went from the
village into the country at a certain season to cultivate rice and
Indian corn. But the Rajah of Parlow making war on the Rajah of
Dungally, because the latter would not deliver them up, they were soon
brought back to Dungally. There was but one engagement, and then the
men of Parlow were beaten and driven back to their own town.
Provisions again growing scarce, Juan Hadgee was bound for another
port called Sawyah, situated about two degrees north of the line. He
gave Captain Woodward permission to accompany him, provided the Rajah
was willing, but the latter refused, saying that he must stay there
and keep guard. Captain Woodward now mustered his men, and taking
their guns they went to the house of the Rajah and told him they would
stand guard no longer for they wished to go to Macassar. He
immediately replied that they should not. Being determined not to live
longer in this manner, and finding no other means of escaping, Captain
Woodward came to the resolution of stealing a canoe, to which all the
men agreed. They were lucky enough to obtain one and seemed in a fair
way to make their escape, but just as they were getting into it they
were surrounded by about twenty natives and carried before the Rajah,
who ordered them to account for their conduct. They told him that they
could get nothing to eat, and were determined to quit the place on the
first opportunity that offered. Nothing of consequence resulted from
this.--Knowing the language and people they had now become fearless of
The Rajah refusing to let them go with Juan Hadgee they determined to
run away with him, which they were enabled to do, as the old man set
out at twelve o'clock at night, and there happened luckily to be a
canoe on the beach near his own.--This they took and followed him as
well as they could, but they soon parted from him, and in the morning
discovered a proa close by them filled with Malays. They told them
that they were bound with the old man to Sawyah. The Malays took them
at their word and carried them there instead of to Dungally, which was
a lucky escape to them for that time.--Whilst residing at Sawyah the
old priest carried Captain Woodward to an island in the bay of Sawyah,
which he granted to him, and in compliment called it Steersman's
Island, steersman being the appellation by which Captain Woodward was
distinguished by the natives. After staying some time in Sawyah and
making sago, which they bartered for fish and cocoa-nuts, they left
the place and proceeded to Dumpolis, a little to the southward of
Sawyah. Juan Hadgee soon left the place for Tomboo about a day's sail
south, where he had business. Here Captain Woodward and his men also
followed him. The old priest was willing to assist them to escape from
here, but was evidently unable to do it. Tomboo being under the
direction of the Rajah of Dungally.
Fortunately they succeeded in stealing a canoe in the night, and once
more shoving off, they directed their course to a small island in the
bay, where they landed at daybreak. Not being able to find water here
as they expected, they landed at another point of land, which they
knew to be uninhabited.--Having obtained water and repaired their
canoe, they directed their course to Macassar, which was then about
five degrees to the southward. After coasting along the island for the
space of eight days, during which time they were twice very nearly
taken by the Malays, they arrived at a part of the island of Celebes,
which was very thickly inhabited.
They passed many towns and saw many proas within the harbors. Having
observed a retired place, they landed to procure some fresh water, but
they had hardly got a draught each, when two canoes were seen coming
to the very place where they were. They immediately shoved off and
kept on their course all day. Just as the sun went down they
discovered two canoes not far from them fishing. As soon as the
natives saw them they made the best of their way to the shore. Captain
Woodward wished to inquire the distance to Macassar, but not being
able to stop them he made for one of two canoes which he saw at a
distance lying at anchor. Being told that the captain was below and
asleep he went down and awakened him. He came on deck with three or
four men all armed with spears, and inquired where they were going.
Captain Woodward told him to Macassar and inquired of him the distance
to that place. He answered that it would take a month and a day to
reach it. Captain Woodward told him it was not true and made the best
of his way off. The Malays however made chase, but Captain Woodward
and his men by putting out to sea and making great exertion, soon lost
sight of them and were able again to stand in towards the land.
At daylight they discovered a number of fishing canoes, two of which
made towards them. They let them come alongside as there was only one
man in each. One of them came on board and Captain Woodward put the
same question to him respecting Macassar. He first said it would take
thirty days to reach there and asked them to go on shore and see the
Rajah. But they declined doing this, and he afterwards acknowledged
that a proa could go there in two days.
They then left the canoe and sailed along the coast. At evening they
perceived a proa full of Malay men set off from the shore. It was soon
along side, and four of them jumping into the boat nearly upset her,
and thus Captain Woodward and his men were again prisoners of the
Malays. They were carried to a town called Pamboon and then conducted
to the Rajah's house. The Rajah demanded of them whence they came and
whither they were going. Captain Woodward answered the same as before;
he also told him that they must go immediately, and must not be
stopped. They had now become so familiar with dangers and with
captures, and were also so much nearer Macassar, than they could have
expected after so many narrow escapes, that they became more and more
desperate and confident, from the persuasion that they should at last
reach their destined port.
In the morning Captain Woodward again waited on the Rajah, and begged
to be sent to Macassar; telling him that the Governor had sent for
them, who would stop all his proas at Macassar if he detained them.
After thinking on it a short time, he called the captain of a proa,
and delivered the prisoners to him, telling him to carry them to
Macassar, and if he could get anything for them to take it, but if not
to let them go. The proa not being ready they stayed in the canoe
three days, quite overcome by their many hardships and fatigues.
Captain Woodward having had no shirt, the sun had burnt his shoulder
so as to lay it quite bare and produce a bad sore. Here he caught
cold, and was attacked with a violent fever, so that by the time the
proa was ready to sail he was unable to stand. He was carried and laid
on the deck without a mat or any kind of clothing. The cold nights and
frequent showers of rain would without doubt have killed him, had he
not been kept alive by the hopes of reaching Macassar, the thoughts of
which kept up all their spirits.
They landed at Macassar on the 15th of June 1795, after a voyage of
about nineteen days from Tomboo, and after having been two years and
five months in captivity; the reckoning which Captain Woodward kept
during that time, being wrong only one day.
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