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Sea StoriesThe Chase
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Adventures Of Philip Ashton Who After Escaping From Pirates Lived Sixteen Months In Solitude On A Desolate Island
On Friday the 15th of June 1722, after being out some time in a
schooner with four men and a boy, off Cape Sable, I stood in for Port
Rossaway, designing to lie there all Sunday. Having arrived about four
in the afternoon, we saw, among other vessels which had reached the
port before us, a brigantine supposed to be inward bound from the West
Indies. After remaining three or four hours at anchor, a boat from the
brigantine came alongside, with four hands, who leapt on deck, and
suddenly drawing out pistols, and brandishing cutlasses, demanded the
surrender both of ourselves and our vessel. All remonstrance was vain;
nor indeed, had we known who they were before boarding us, could we
have made any effectual resistance, being only five men and a boy,
and were thus under the necessity of submitting at discretion. We were
not single in misfortune, as thirteen or fourteen fishing-vessels were
in like manner surprised the same evening.
When carried on board the brigantine, I found myself in the hands of
Ned Low, an infamous pirate, whose vessel had two great guns, four
swivels, and about forty-two men. I was strongly urged to sign the
articles of agreement among the pirates, and to join their number,
which I steadily refused, and suffered much bad usage in consequence.
At length being conducted, along with five of the prisoners, to the
quarter-deck, Low came up to us with pistols in his hand, and loudly
demanded, "Are any of you married men?" This unexpected question,
added to the sight of the pistols, struck us all speechless; we were
alarmed lest there was some secret meaning in his words, and that he
would proceed to extremities, therefore none could reply. In a violent
passion he cocked a pistol, and clapping it to my head, cried out,
"You dog, why don't you answer?" swearing vehemently at the same time
that he would shoot me through the head. I was sufficiently terrified
by his threats and fierceness, but rather than lose my life in so
trifling a matter, I ventured to pronounce, as loud as I durst speak,
that I was not married. Hereupon he seemed to be somewhat pacified,
and turned away.
It appeared that Low was resolved to take no married men whatever,
which often seemed surprising to me until I had been a considerable
time with him. But his own wife had died lately before he became a
pirate; and he had a young child at Boston, for whom he entertained
such tenderness, on every lucid interval from drinking and revelling,
that, on mentioning it, I have seen him sit down and weep plentifully.
Thus I concluded, that his reason for taking only single men, was
probably, that they might have no ties, such as wives and children, to
divert them from his service, and render them desirous of returning
The pirates finding force of no avail in compelling us to join them,
began to use persuasion instead of it. They tried to flatter me into
compliance, by setting before me the share I should have in their
spoils, and the riches which I should become master of; and all the
time eagerly importuned me to drink along with them. But I still
continued to resist their proposals, whereupon Low, with equal fury as
before, threatened to shoot me through the head; and though I
earnestly entreated my release, he and his people wrote my name, and
that of my companions, in their books.
On the 19th of June, the pirates changed the privateer, as they called
their vessel, and went into a new schooner belonging to Marblehead,
which they had captured. They then put all the prisoners, whom they
designed sending home, on board of the brigantine, and sent her to
Boston, which induced me to make another unsuccessful attempt for
liberty; but though I fell on my knees to Low, he refused to let me
go: thus I saw the brigantine depart, with the whole captives,
excepting myself and seven more.
Very short time before she departed, I had nearly effected my escape;
for a dog belonging to Low being accidentally left on shore, he
ordered some hands into a boat to bring it off. Thereupon two young
men, captives, both belonging to Marblehead, readily leapt into the
boat, and I considering, that if I could once get on shore, means
might be found of effecting my escape, endeavored to go along with
them. But the quarter-master, called Russel, catching hold of my
shoulder, drew me back. As the young men did not return, he thought I
was privy to their plot, and, with the most outrageous oaths, snapped
his pistol, on my denying all knowledge of it. The pistol missing
fire, however, only served to enrage him the more: he snapped it three
times again, and as often it missed fire; on which he held it
overboard, and then it went off. Russel on this drew his cutlass, and
was about to attack me in the utmost fury, when I leapt down into the
hold and saved myself.
Off St. Michael's the pirates took a large Portuguese pink, laden with
wheat, coming out of the road; and being a good sailor, and carrying
14 guns, transferred their company into her. It afterwards became
necessary to careen her, whence they made three islands, called
Triangles, lying about 40 leagues to the eastward of Surinam.
In heaving down the pink, Low had ordered so many men to the shrouds
and yards, that the ports, by her heeling, got under water, and the
sea rushing in, she overset: he and the doctor were then in the cabin,
and as soon as he observed the water gushing in, he leaped out of the
stern port, while the doctor attempted to follow him. But the violence
of the sea repulsed the latter, and he was forced back into the cabin.
Low, however, contrived to thrust his arm into the port, and dragging
him out, saved his life. Meanwhile, the vessel completely overset.
Her keel turned out of the water; but as the hull filled, she sunk, in
the depth of about six fathoms.
The yard-arms striking the ground, forced the masts somewhat above the
water; as the ship overset, the people got from the shrouds and yards,
upon the hull, and as the hull went down, they again resorted to the
rigging, rising a little out of the sea.
Being an indifferent swimmer, I was reduced to great extremity; for,
along with other light lads, I had been sent up to the main-top-gallant
yard; and the people of a boat, who were now occupied in preserving the
men refusing to take me in, I was compelled to attempt reaching the
buoy. This I luckily accomplished, and as it was large secured myself
there until the boat approached. I once more requested the people to
take me in, but they still refused, as the boat was full. I was
uncertain whether they designed leaving me to perish in this situation:
however, the boat being deeply laden, made way very slowly, and one of
my comrades, captured at the same time with myself, calling to me to
forsake the buoy and swim towards her, I assented, and reaching the
boat, he drew me on board. Two men, John Bell, and Zana Gourdon, were
lost in the pink.
Though the schooner in company was very near at hand, her people were
employed mending their sails under an awning, and knew nothing of the
accident until the boat full of men, got alongside.
The pirates having thus lost their principal vessel, and the greatest
part of their provisions and water, were reduced to great extremities
for want of the latter. They were unable to get a supply at the
Triangles, nor on account of calms and currents, could they make the
island of Tobago. Thus they were forced to stand for Grenada, which
they reached, after being on short allowance for sixteen days
Grenada was a French settlement, and Low, on arriving, after having
sent all his men, except a sufficient number to manoeuvre the vessel,
below, said he was from Barbadoes; that he had lost the water on
board, and was obliged to put in here for a supply.
The people entertained no suspicion of his being a pirate, but
afterwards supposing him a smuggler, thought it a good opportunity to
make a prize of his vessel. Next day, therefore, they equipped a large
sloop of 70 tons, and four guns, with about 30 hands, as sufficient
for the capture, and came alongside, while Low was quite unsuspicious
of their design. But this being evidently betrayed by their number
and actions, he quickly called 90 men on deck, and, having 8 guns
mounted, the French sloop became an easy prey.
Provided with these two vessels, the pirates cruised about in the West
Indies, taking seven or eight prizes, and at length arrived at the
island of Santa Cruz, where they captured two more. While lying there,
Low thought he stood in need of a medicine chest, and, in order to
procure one, sent four Frenchmen, in a vessel he had taken, to St.
Thomas's, about twelve leagues distant, with money to purchase it;
promising them liberty, and the return of all their vessels, for the
service. But he declared at the same time, if it proved otherwise, he
would kill the rest of the men, and burn the vessels. In little more
than twenty-four hours, the Frenchmen returned with the object of
their mission, and Low punctually performed his promise by restoring
Having sailed for the Spanish American settlements, the pirates
descried two large ships, about half way between Carthagena and
Portobello, which proved to be the Mermaid, an English man-of-war, and
a Guineaman. They approached in chase until discovering the
man-of-war's great range of teeth, when they immediately put about,
and made the best of their way off. The man-of-war then commenced the
pursuit, and gained upon them apace, and I confess that my terrors
were now equal to any that I had previously suffered; for I concluded
that we should certainly be taken, and that I should no less certainly
be hanged for company's sake: so true are the words of Solomon, "A
companion of fools shall be destroyed." But the two pirate vessels
finding themselves outsailed, separated, and Farrington Spriggs, who
commanded the schooner in which I was, stood in for the shore. The
Mermaid observing the sloop with Low himself to be the larger of the
two, crowded all sail, and continued gaining still more, indeed until
her shot flew over; but one of the sloop's crew shewed Low a shoal,
which he could pass, and in the pursuit the man-of-war grounded. Thus
the pirates escaped hanging on this occasion.
Spriggs and one of his chosen companions dreading the consequences of
being captured and brought to justice, laid their pistols beside them
in the interval, and pledging a mutual oath in a bumper of liquor,
swore, if they saw no possibility of escape, to set foot to foot, and
blow out each other's brains. But standing towards the shore, they
made Pickeroon Bay, and escaped the danger.
Next we repaired to a small island called Utilla, about seven or
eight leagues to leeward of the island of Roatan, in the Bay of
Honduras, where the bottom of the schooner was cleaned. There were now
twenty-two persons on board, and eight of us engaged in a plot to
overpower our masters, and make our escape. Spriggs proposed sailing
for New England, in quest of provisions, and to increase his company;
and we intended on approaching the coast, when the rest had indulged
freely in liquor, and fallen sound asleep, to secure them under the
hatches, and then deliver ourselves up to government.
Although our plot was carried on with all possible privacy, Spriggs
had somehow or other got intelligence of it; and having fallen in with
Low on the voyage, went on board his ship to make a furious
declaration against us. But Low made little account of his
information, otherwise it might have been fatal to most of our number.
Spriggs, however, returned raging to the schooner, exclaiming, that
four of us should go forward to be shot, and to me in particular he
said, "You dog Ashton, you deserve to be hanged up at the yard-arm for
designing to cut us off." I replied, "that I had no intention of
injuring any man on board; but I should be glad if they would allow me
to go away quietly." At length this flame was quenched, and, through
the goodness of God, I escaped destruction.
Roatan harbour, as all about the Bay of Honduras, is full of small
islands, which pass under the general name of Keys; and having got in
here, Low, with some of his chief men, landed on a small island, which
they called Port Royal Key. There they erected huts, and continued
carousing, drinking, and firing, while the different vessels, of which
they now had possession, were repairing.
On Saturday the 9th of March 1723, the cooper, with six hands, in the
long-boat, was going ashore for water; and coming alongside of the
schooner, I requested to be of the party. Seeing him hesitate, I urged
that I had never hitherto been ashore, and thought it hard to be so
closely confined, when every one besides had the liberty of landing as
there was occasion. Low had before told me, on requesting to be sent
away in some of the captured vessels which he dismissed, that I should
go home when he did, and swore that I should never previously set my
foot on land. But now I considered, if I could possibly once get on
terra firma, though in ever such bad circumstances, I should account
it a happy deliverance, and resolved never to embark again.
The cooper at length took me into the long-boat, while Low, and his
chief people, were on a different island from Roatan, where the
watering place lay; my only clothing was an Osnaburgh frock and
trowsers, a milled cap, but neither shirt, shoes, stockings, nor any
When we first landed, I was very active in assisting to get the casks
out of the boat, and in rolling them to the watering-place. Then
taking a hearty draught of water, I strolled along the beach, picking
up stones and shells; but on reaching the distance of a musket-shot
from the party, I began to withdraw towards the skirts of the woods.
In answer to a question by the cooper of whither I was going? I
replied, "for cocoa nuts, as some cocoa trees were just before me;"
and as soon as I was out of sight of my companions, I took to my
heels, running as fast as the thickness of the bushes and my naked
feet would admit. Notwithstanding I had got a considerable way into
the woods, I was still so near as to hear the voices of the party if
they spoke loud, and I lay close in a thicket where I knew they could
not find me.
After my comrades had filled their casks, and were about to depart,
the cooper called on me to accompany them; however, I lay snug in the
thicket, and gave him no answer, though his words were plain enough.
At length, after hallooing loudly, I could hear them say to one
another, "The dog is lost in the woods, and cannot find the way out
again;" then they hallooed once more, and cried "he has run away and
won't come to us;" and the cooper observed, that, had he known my
intention, he would not have brought me ashore. Satisfied of their
inability to find me among the trees and bushes, the cooper at last,
to show his kindness, exclaimed, "If you do not come away presently, I
shall go off and leave you alone." Nothing, however, could induce me
to discover myself; and my comrades seeing it vain to wait any longer,
put off without me.
Thus I was left on a desolate island, destitute of all help, and
remote from the track of navigators; but compared with the state and
society I had quitted, I considered the wilderness hospitable, and the
When I thought the whole were gone, I emerged from my thicket, and
came down to a small run of water, about a mile from the place where
our casks were filled, and there sat down to observe the proceedings
of the pirates. To my great joy, in five days their vessels sailed,
and I saw the schooner part from them to shape a different course.
I then began to reflect on myself and my present condition. I was on
an island which I had no means of leaving; I knew of no human being
within many miles; my clothing was scanty, and it was impossible to
procure a supply. I was altogether destitute of provision, nor could
tell how my life was to be supported. This melancholy prospect drew a
copious flood of tears from my eyes; but as it had pleased God to
grant my wishes in being liberated from those whose occupation was
devising mischief against their neighbors, I resolved to account every
hardship light. Yet Low would never suffer his men to work on the
Sabbath, which was more devoted to play; and I have even seen some of
them sit down to read in a good book.
In order to ascertain how I was to live in time to come, I began to
range over the island, which proved ten or eleven leagues long, and
lay in about 16 deg north latitude. But I soon found that my only
companions would be the beasts of the earth, and fowls of the air; for
there were no indications of any habitations on the island, though
every now and then I found some shreds of earthen ware scattered in a
lime walk, said by some to be the remains of Indians formerly dwelling
The island was well watered, full of high hills and deep vallies.
Numerous fruit trees, such as figs, vines, and cocoa-nuts are found in
the latter; and I found a kind larger than an orange, oval-shaped, of
a brownish color without, and red within. Though many of these had
fallen under the trees, I could not venture to take them, until I saw
the wild hogs feeding with safety, and then I found them very
Stores of provisions abounded here, though I could avail myself of
nothing but the fruit; for I had no knife or iron implement, either to
cut up a tortoise on turning it, or weapons wherewith to kill animals;
nor had I any means of making a fire to cook my capture, even if I
Sometimes I entertained thoughts of digging pits, and covering them
over with small branches of trees, for the purpose of taking hogs or
deer; but I wanted a shovel and every substitute for the purpose, and
I was soon convinced that my hands were insufficient to make a cavity
deep enough to retain what should fall into it. Thus I was forced to
rest satisfied with fruit, which was to be esteemed very good
provision for any one in my condition.
In process of time, while poking among the sand with a stick, in quest
of tortoise eggs, which I had heard were laid in the sand, part of
one came up adhering to it; and, on removing the sand, I found nearly
an hundred and fifty, which had not lain long enough to spoil.
Therefore, taking some, I ate them, and strung others on a strip of
palmeto, which being hung up in the sun, became thick and somewhat
hard; so that they were more palatable. After all, they were not very
savoury food, though one, who had nothing but what fell from the
trees, behoved to be content. Tortoises lay their eggs in the sand, in
holes about a foot or a foot and a half deep, and smooth the surface
over them, so that there is no discovering where they lie. According
to the best of my observation, the young are hatched in eighteen or
twenty days, and then immediately take to the water.
Many serpents are on this and the adjacent islands; one, about twelve
or fourteen feet long, is as large as a man's waist, but not
poisonous. When lying at length, they look like old trunks of trees,
covered with short moss, though they usually assume a circular
position. The first time I saw one of these serpents, I had approached
very near before discovering it to be a living creature; it opened its
mouth wide enough to have received a hat, and breathed on me. A small
black fly creates such annoyance, that even if a person possessed ever
so many comforts, his life would be oppressive to him, unless for the
possibility of retiring to some small quay, destitute of wood and
bushes, where multitudes are dispersed by the wind.
To this place then was I confined during nine months, without seeing a
human being. One day after another was lingered out, I know not how,
void of occupation or amusement, except collecting food, rambling from
hill to hill, and from island to island, and gazing on sky and water.
Although my mind was occupied by many regrets, I had the reflection
that I was lawfully employed when taken, so that I had no hand in
bringing misery on myself: I was also comforted to think that I had
the approbation and consent of my parents in going to sea, and trusted
that it would please God, in his own time and manner, to provide for
my return to my father's house. Therefore, I resolved to submit
patiently to my misfortune.
It was my daily practice to ramble from one part of the island to
another, though I had a more special home near the water-side. Here I
built a hut to defend me against the heat of the sun by day, and the
heavy dews by night. Taking some of the best branches which I could
find fallen from the trees, I contrived to fix them against a low
hanging bough, by fastening them together with split palmeto leaves;
next I covered the whole with some of the largest and most suitable
leaves that I could get. Many of these huts were constructed by me,
generally near the beach, with the open part, fronting the sea, to
have the better look-out, and the advantage of the sea-breeze, which
both the heat and the vermin required.
But the insects were so troublesome, that I thought of endeavoring to
get over to some of the adjacent keys, in hopes of enjoying rest.
However, I was, as already said, a very indifferent swimmer; I had no
canoe, nor any means of making one. At length, having got a piece of
bamboo, which is hollow like a reed, and light as cork, I ventured,
after frequent trials with it under my breast and arms, to put off for
a small key about a gun-shot distant, which I reached in safety.
My new place of refuge was only about three or four hundred feet in
circuit, lying very low, and clear of woods and brush; from exposure
to the wind, it was quite free of vermin, and I seemed to have got
into a new world, where I lived infinitely more at ease. Hither I
retired, therefore, when the heat of the day rendered the insect tribe
most obnoxious; yet I was obliged to be much on Roatan, to procure
food and water, and at night on account of my hut.
When swimming back and forward between the two islands, I used to bind
my frock and trowsers about my head, and, if I could have carried over
wood and leaves, whereof to make a hut, with equal facility, I should
have passed more of my time on the smaller one.
Yet these excursions were not unattended with danger. Once, I
remember, when, passing from the larger island, the bamboo, before I
was aware, slipped from under me; and the tide, or current, set down
so strong, that it was with great difficulty I could reach the shore.
At another time, when swimming over to the small island, a
shovel-nosed shark, which, as well as alligators, abound in those
seas, struck me in the thigh, just as my foot could reach the bottom,
and grounded itself, from the shallowness of the water, as I suppose,
so that its mouth could not get round towards me. The blow I felt some
hours after making the shore. By repeated practice, I at length became
a pretty dexterous swimmer, and amused myself by passing from one
island to another, among the keys.
I suffered very much from being barefoot; so many deep wounds were
made in my feet from traversing the woods, where the ground was
covered with sticks and stones, and on the hot beach, over sharp
broken shells, that I was scarce able to walk at all. Often, when
treading with all possible caution, a stone or shell on the beach, or
a pointed stick in the woods, would penetrate the old wound, and the
extreme anguish would strike me down as suddenly as if I had been
shot. Then I would remain, for hours together, with tears gushing from
my eyes, from the acuteness of the pain. I could travel no more than
absolute necessity compelled me, in quest of subsistence; and I have
sat, my back leaning against a tree, looking out for a vessel during a
Once, while faint from such injuries, as well as smarting under the
pain of them, a wild boar rushed towards me. I knew not what to do,
for I had not strength to resist his attack; therefore, as he drew
nearer, I caught the bough of a tree, and suspended myself by means of
it. The boar tore away part of my ragged trowsers with his tusks, and
then left me. This, I think, was the only time that I was attacked by
any wild beast, and I considered myself to have had a very great
As my weakness continued to increase, I often fell to the ground
insensible, and then, as also when I laid myself to sleep, I thought I
should never awake again, or rise in life. Under this affliction I
first lost count of the days of the week; I could not distinguish
Sunday, and, as my illness became more aggravated, I became ignorant
of the month also.
All this time I had no healing balsam for my feet, nor any cordial to
revive my drooping spirits. My utmost efforts could only now and then
procure some figs and grapes. Neither had I fire; for, though I had
heard of a way to procure it by rubbing two sticks together, my
attempts in this respect, continued until I was tired, proved
abortive. The rains having come on, attended with chill winds, I
While passing nine months in this lonely, melancholy, and irksome
condition, my thoughts would sometimes wander to my parents; and I
reflected, that, notwithstanding it would be consolatory to myself if
they knew where I was it might be distressing to them. The nearer my
prospect of death, which I often expected, the greater my penitence
Sometime in November 1723, I descried a small canoe approaching with a
single man; but the sight excited little emotion. I kept my seat on
the beach, thinking I could not expect a friend, and knowing that I
had no enemy to fear, nor was I capable of resisting one. As the man
approached, he betrayed many signs of surprise; he called me to him,
and I told him he might safely venture ashore, for I was alone, and
almost expiring. Coming close up, he knew not what to make of me; my
garb and countenance seemed so singular, that he looked wild with
astonishment. He started back a little, and surveyed me more
thoroughly; but, recovering himself again, came forward, and, taking
me by the hand, expressed his satisfaction at seeing me.
This stranger proved to be a native of North Britain; he was well
advanced in years, of a grave and venerable aspect, and of a reserved
temper. His name I never knew, he did not disclose it, and I had not
inquired during the period of our acquaintance. But he informed me he
had lived twenty-two years with the Spaniards who now threatened to
burn him, though I know not for what crime; therefore he had fled
hither as a sanctuary, bringing his dog, gun, and ammunition, as also
a small quantity of pork, along with him. He designed spending the
remainder of his days on the island, where he could support himself by
I experienced much kindness from the stranger; he was always ready to
perform any civil offices, and assist me in whatever he could, though
he spoke little: and he gave me a share of his pork.
On the third day after his arrival, he said he would make an excursion
in his canoe among the neighboring islands, for the purpose of killing
wild-hogs and deer, and wished me to accompany him. Though my spirits
were somewhat recruited by his society, the benefit of the fire, which
I now enjoyed, and dressed provisions, my weakness and the soreness of
my feet, precluded me; therefore he set out alone, saying he would
return in a few hours. The sky was serene, and there was no prospect
of any danger during a short excursion, seeing he had come nearly
twelve leagues in safety in his canoe. But, when he had been absent
about an hour, a violent gust of wind and rain arose, in which he
probably perished, as I never heard of him more.
Thus, after having the pleasure of a companion almost three days, I
was as unexpectedly reduced to my former lonely state, as I had been
relieved from it. Yet through the goodness of God, I was myself
preserved from having been unable to accompany him; and I was left in
better circumstances than those in which he had found me, for now I
had about five pounds of pork, a knife, a bottle of gunpowder,
tobacco, tongs and flint, by which means my life could be rendered
more comfortable. I was enabled to have fire, extremely requisite at
this time, being the rainy months of winter. I could cut up a
tortoise, and have a delicate broiled meal.--Thus, by the help of the
fire, and dressed provisions, through the blessings of God, I began to
recover strength, though the soreness of my feet remained. But I had,
besides, the advantage of being able now and then to catch a dish of
cray-fish, which, when roasted, proved good eating. To accomplish this
I made up a small bundle of old broken sticks, nearly resembling
pitch-pine, or candle-wood, and having lighted one end, waded with it
in my hand, up to the waist in water. The cray-fish, attracted by the
light, would crawl to my feet, and lie directly under it, when, by
means of a forked stick, I could toss them ashore.
Between two and three months after the time of losing my companion, I
found a small canoe, while ranging along the shore. The sight of it
revived my regret for his loss, for I judged that it had been his
canoe; and, from being washed up here, a certain proof of his having
been lost in the tempest. But, on examining it more closely, I
satisfied myself that it was one which I had never seen before.
Master of this little vessel, I began to think myself admiral of the
neighboring seas, as well as sole possessor and chief commander of the
islands. Profiting by its use, I could transport myself to the places
of retreat more conveniently than by my former expedient of swimming.
In process of time, I projected an excursion to some of the larger and
more distant islands, partly to learn how they were stored or
inhabited, and partly for the sake of amusement.--Laying in a small
stock of figs and grapes, therefore, as also some tortoise to eat, and
carrying my implements for fire, I put off to steer for the island of
Bornacco, which is about four or five leagues long, and situated five
or six from Roatan.
In the course of the voyage, observing a sloop at the east end of the
island, I made the best of my way to the west, designing to travel
down by land, both because a point of rocks ran far into the sea,
beyond which I did not care to venture in the canoe, as was necessary
to come a-head of the sloop, and because I wished to ascertain
something concerning her people before I was discovered. Even in my
worst circumstances, I never could brook the thoughts of returning on
board of any piratical vessel, and resolved rather to live and die in
my present situation. Hauling up the canoe, and making it fast as well
as I was able, I set out on the journey. My feet were yet in such a
state, that two days, and the best part of two nights were occupied in
it. Sometimes the woods and bushes were so thick that it was necessary
to crawl half a mile together on my hands and knees, which rendered my
progress very slow.
When within a mile or two of the place where I supposed the sloop
might be, I made for the water side, and approached the sea gradually,
that I might not too soon disclose myself to view; however, on
reaching the beach, there was no appearance of the sloop, whence I
judged that she had sailed during the time spent by me in travelling.
Being much fatigued with the journey, I rested myself against the
stump of a tree, with my face towards the sea, where sleep overpowered
me. But I had not slumbered long before I was suddenly awakened by the
noise of firing.--Starting up in affright, I saw nine periaguas, or
large canoes, full of men, firing upon me from the sea; whence I soon
turned about and ran among the bushes as fast as my sore feet would
allow, while the men, who were Spaniards, cried after me, "O
Englishman, we will give you good quarter." However, my astonishment
was so great, and I was so suddenly roused from my sleep, that I had
no self-command to listen to their offers of quarter, which, it may
be, at another time, in my cooler moments, I might have done. Thus I
made into the woods, and the strangers continued firing after me, to
the number of 150 bullets at least, many of which cut small twigs off
the bushes close by my side. Having gained an extensive thicket beyond
reach of the shot, I lay close several hours, until observing, by the
sound of their oars, that the Spaniards were departing, I crept out. I
saw the sloop under English colors sailing away with the canoes in
tow, which induced me to suppose she was an English vessel which had
been at the Bay of Honduras, and taken there by the Spaniards.
Next day I returned to the tree, where I had been so nearly surprised,
and was astonished to find six or seven shot in the trunk, within a
foot or less of my head. Yet through the wonderful goodness of God,
though having been as a mark to shoot at, I was preserved.
After this I travelled to recover my canoe at the western end of the
island, which I reached in three days, but suffering severely from the
soreness of my feet, and the scantiness of provisions. This island is
not so plentifully stored as Roatan, so that during the five or six
days of my residence, I had difficulty in procuring subsistence; and
the insects were, besides, infinitely more numerous and harassing than
at my old habitation. These circumstances deterred me from further
exploring the island; and having reached the canoe very tired and
exhausted, I put off for Roatan, which was a royal palace to me,
compared with Bonacco, and arrived at night in safety.
Here I lived, if it may be called living, alone for about seven
months, after losing my North British companion.--My time was spent in
the usual manner, hunting for food, and ranging among the islands.
Some time in June 1724, while on the small quay, whither I often
retreated to be free from the annoyance of insects, I saw two canoes
making for the harbor. Approaching nearer, they observed the smoke of
a fire which I had kindled, and at a loss to know what it meant, they
hesitated on advancing.--What I had experienced at Bonacco, was still
fresh in my own memory, and loth to run the risk of such another
firing, I withdrew to my canoe, lying behind the quay, not above 100
yards distant, and immediately rowed over to Roatan. There I had
places of safety against an enemy, and sufficient accommodation for
any ordinary number of friends.
The people in the canoes observed me cross the sea to Roatan, the
passage not exceeding a gun-shot over; and being as much afraid of
pirates as I was of Spaniards, approached very cautiously towards the
shore. I then came down to the beach, shewing myself openly; for their
conduct led me to think that they could not be pirates, and I resolved
before being exposed to the danger of their shot, to inquire who they
were. If they proved such as I did not like, I could easily retire.
But before I spoke, they, as full of apprehension as I could be, lay
on their oars, and demanded who I was, and from whence I came? to
which I replied, "that I was an Englishman, and had run away from
pirates." On this they drew somewhat nearer, inquiring who was there
besides myself? when I assured them, in return, that I was alone.
Next, according to my original purpose, having put similar questions
to them, they said they had come from the Bay of Honduras; their words
encouraged me to bid them row ashore, which they accordingly did,
though at some distance, and one man landed, whom I advanced to meet.
But he started back at the sight of a poor ragged, wild, forlorn,
miserable object so near him. Collecting himself, however, he took me
by the hand, and we began embracing each other, he from surprise and
wonder, and I from a sort of ecstacy of joy. When this was over, he
took me in his arms, and carried me down to the canoes, when all his
comrades were struck with astonishment at my appearance; but they
gladly received me, and I experienced great tenderness from them.
I gave the strangers a brief account of my escape from Low, and my
lonely residence for sixteen months, all excepting three days, the
hardships I had suffered, and the dangers to which I had been exposed.
They stood amazed at the recital; they wondered I was alive, and
expressed much satisfaction at being able to relieve me. Observing me
very weak and depressed, they gave me about a spoonful of rum to
recruit my fainting spirits; but even this small quantity, from my
long disuse of strong liquors, threw me into violent agitation, and
produced a kind of stupor, which at last ended in privation of sense.
Some of the party perceiving a state of insensibility come on, would
have administered more rum, which those better skilled among them
prevented; and after lying a short time in a fit, I revived.
Then I ascertained, that the strangers were eighteen in number, the
chief of them named John Hope, an old man, called Father Hope, by his
companions, and John Ford, and all belonging to the Bay of Honduras.
The cause of their coming hither, was an alarm for an attack from the
sea, by the Spaniards, while the Indians should make a descent by
land, and cut off the Bay; thus they had fled for safety. On a former
occasion, the two persons above named, had for the like reason, taken
shelter among these islands, and lived four years at a time on a small
one, named Barbarat, about two leagues from Roatan. There they had two
plantations, as they called them; and now they brought two barrels of
flour, with other provisions, fire-arms, dogs for hunting and nets for
tortoises; and also an Indian woman to dress their provisions. Their
principal residence was a small key, about a quarter of a mile round,
lying near to Barbarat, and named by them the Castle of Comfort,
chiefly because it was low and clear of woods and bushes, so that the
free circulation of wind could drive away the pestiferous musquitoes
and other insects. From hence they sent to the surrounding islands for
wood, water and materials to build two houses, such as they were, for
I now had the prospect of a much more agreeable life than what I had
spent during the sixteen months past; for, besides having company, the
strangers treated me with a great deal of civility in their way; they
clothed me, and gave me a large wrapping gown as a defence against the
nightly dews, until their houses were erected; and there was plenty of
provisions. Yet after all, they were bad society; and as to their
common conversation, there was but little difference between them and
pirates. However, it did not appear that they were now engaged in any
such evil design as rendered it unlawful to join them, or be found in
In process of time, and with the assistance afforded by my companions,
I gathered so much strength as sometimes to be able to hunt along with
them. The islands abounded with wild hogs, deer and tortoise; and
different ones were visited in quest of game. This was brought home,
where, instead of being immediately consumed, it was hung up to dry in
smoke, so as to be a ready supply at all times.
I now considered myself beyond the reach of danger from an enemy, for,
independent of supposing that nothing could bring any one here, I was
surrounded by a number of men with arms constantly in their hands.
Yet, at the very time that I thought myself most secure, I was very
nearly again falling into the hands of pirates.
Six or seven months after the strangers joined me, three of them,
along with myself, took a four oared canoe, for the purpose of hunting
and killing tortoise on Bonacco. During our absence the rest repaired
their canoes, and prepared to go over to the Bay of Honduras, to
examine how matters stood there, and bring off their remaining
effects, in case it were dangerous to return. But before they had
departed, we were on our voyage homewards, having a full load of pork
and tortoise, as our object was successfully accomplished. While
entering the mouth of the harbor, in a moonlight evening, we saw a
great flash, and heard a report much louder than that of a musket,
proceed from a large periagua, which we observed near the Castle of
Comfort. This put us in extreme consternation, and we knew not what to
consider; but in a minute we heard a volley from eighteen or twenty
small arms, discharged towards the shore, and also some returned from
it.--Satisfied that an enemy, either Spaniards or pirates, was
attacking our people, and being intercepted from them by periaguas
lying between us and the shore, we thought the safest plan was trying
to escape. Therefore, taking down our little mast and sail, that they
might not betray us, we rowed out of the harbor as fast as possible,
towards an island about a mile and a half distant, to retreat
undiscovered. But the enemy either having seen us before lowering our
sail, or heard the noise of the oars, followed with all speed, in an
eight or ten oared periagua. Observing her approach, and fast gaining
on us, we rowed with all our might to make the nearest shore. However,
she was at length enabled to discharge a swivel, the shot from which
passed over our canoe. Nevertheless, we contrived to reach the shore
before being completely within the range of small arms, which our
pursuers discharged on us while landing.
They were now near enough to cry aloud that they were pirates, and not
Spaniards, and that we need not dread them, as we should get good
quarter; thence supposing that we should be the easier induced to
surrender. Yet nothing could have been said to discourage me more from
putting myself in their power; I had the utmost dread of a pirate, and
my original aversion was now enhanced, by the apprehension of being
sacrificed for my former desertion. Thus, concluding to keep as clear
of them as I could, and the Honduras Bay men having no great
inclination to do otherwise, we made the best of our way to the woods.
Our pursuers carried off the canoe, with all its contents, resolving,
if we would not go to them, to deprive us, as far as possible, of all
means of subsistence where we were. But it gave me, who had known both
want and solitude, little concern, now that I had company, and there
were arms among us to procure provision, and also fire wherewith to
Our assailants were some men belonging to Spriggs, my former
commander, who had thrown off his allegiance to Low, and set up for
himself at the head of a gang of pirates, with a good ship of
twenty-four guns, and a sloop of twelve, both presently lying in
Roatan harbor. He had put in for fresh water, and to refit, at the
place where I first escaped; and, having discovered my companions at
the small island of their retreat, sent a periagua full of men to take
them. Accordingly they carried all ashore, as also a child and an
Indian woman; the last of whom they shamefully abused. They killed a
man after landing, and throwing him into one of the canoes containing
tar, set it on fire, and burnt his body in it.--Then they carried the
people on board of their vessels, where they were barbarously treated.
One of them turned pirate however, and told the others that John Hope
had hid many things in the woods; therefore, they beat him
unmercifully to make him disclose his treasure, which they carried
off with them.
After the pirates had kept these people five days on board of their
vessels, they gave them a flat of five or six tons to carry them to
the Bay of Honduras, but no kind of provision for the voyage; and
further, before dismissal, compelled them to swear that they would not
come near me and my party, who had escaped to another island.
While the vessels rode in the harbor, we kept a good look out, but
were exposed to some difficulties, from not daring to kindle a fire to
dress our victuals, lest our residence should be betrayed. Thus we
lived for five days on raw provisions.--As soon as they sailed,
however, Hope, little regarding the oath extorted from him, came and
informed us of what had passed; and I could not, for my own part, be
sufficiently grateful to Providence for escaping the hands of the
pirates, who would have put me to a cruel death.
Hope and all his people, except John Symonds, now resolved to make
their way to the Bay. Symonds, who had a negro, wished to remain some
time for the purpose of trading with the Jamaica-men on the main. But
thinking my best chance of getting to New England was from the Bay of
Honduras, I requested Hope to take me with him. The old man, though he
would gladly have done so, advanced many objections, such as the
insufficiency of the flat to carry so many men seventy leagues; that
they had no provision for the passage, which might be tedious, and the
flat was, besides ill calculated to stand the sea; as also, that it
was uncertain how matters might turn out at the Bay; thus he thought
it better for me to remain; yet rather than I should be in solitude,
he would take me in.
Symonds, on the other hand, urged me to stay and bear him company, and
gave several reasons why I should more likely obtain a passage from
the Jamaica-men to New England, than by the Bay of Honduras. As this
seemed a fairer prospect of reaching my home, which I was extremely
anxious to do, I assented; and, having thanked Hope and his companions
for their civilities, I took leave of them, and they departed.
Symonds was provided with a canoe, fire-arms and two dogs, in addition
to his negro, by which means he felt confident of being able to
provide all that was necessary for our subsistence. We spent two or
three months after the usual manner, ranging from island to island,
but the prevalence of the winter rains precluded us from obtaining
more game than we required.
When the season for the Jamaica traders approached, Symonds proposed
repairing to some other island to obtain a quantity of tortoise-shell
which he could exchange for clothes and shoes; and, being successful
in this respect, we next proceeded to Bonacco, which lies nearer the
main, that we might thence take a favorable opportunity to run over.
Having been a short time at Bonacco, a furious tempest arose, and
continued for three days, when we saw several vessels standing in for
the harbor. The largest of them anchored at a great distance, but a
brigantine came over the shoals opposite to the watering place, and
sent her boat ashore with casks. Recognizing three people who were in
the boat, their dress and appearance, for Englishmen, I concluded they
were friends, and shewed myself openly on the beach before them. They
ceased rowing immediately on observing me, and, after answering their
inquiries of who I was, I put the same questions, saying they might
come ashore with safety. They did so, and a happy meeting it was for
I now found that the vessels were a fleet under convoy of the Diamond
man-of-war, bound for Jamaica; but many ships had parted company in
the storm. The Diamond had sent in the brigantine to get water here,
as the sickness of her crew had occasioned a great consumption of that
Symonds, who had kept at a distance, lest the three men might hesitate
to come ashore, at length approached to participate in my joy, though
at the same time, testifying considerable reluctance at the prospect
of my leaving him. The brigantine was commanded by Captain Dove, with
whom I was acquainted, and she belonged to Salem, within three miles
of my father's house. Captain Dove not only treated me with great
civility, and engaged to give me a passage home, but took me into pay,
having lost a seaman, whose place he wanted me to supply. Next day,
the Diamond having sent her long-boat with casks for water, they were
filled; and after taking leave of Symonds, who shed tears at parting,
I was carried on board of the brigantine.
We sailed along with the Diamond, which was bound for Jamaica, on the
latter end of March 1725, and kept company until the first of April.
By the providence of Heaven we passed safely through the Gulf of
Florida, and reached Salem Harbor on the first of May, two years, ten
months and fifteen days after I was first taken by pirates; and two
years, and two months, after making my escape from them on Roatan
island. That same evening I went to my father's house, where I was
received as one risen from the dead.
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