Sea Stories

In The Harbor Of Fayal

On the lake front at Chicago during the World's Fair, close by the entrance to the long walk that led out to the marvellously constructed imitation battle-ship, the Illinois, rested an old iron muzzle-loader. It was a clumsy-looking piece of ordnance compared to

the shining, complicated bits of machinery that compose the batteries of a modern war-ship. It looked very out of date and harmless, and people who did not know its history passed it by with hardly a second glance. But yet this old gun had taken more white men's lives in battle than all the great modern breech-loaders on the fleets of Europe combined to-day. It was but nine or ten feet long and threw a solid ball twenty-four pounds in weight. A small inscription on a metal plate told the inquisitive that the gun was the "Long Tom," from the privateer General Armstrong, that had been sunk in the harbor of Fayal, in September of the year 1814; that it had subsequently been raised and presented by the Portuguese government to the United States. There were some who knew the story, for it had been told many times, and long years ago the country rang with it. Every one then knew the main facts of the incident, and because of a long controversy in the courts owing to claims that arose from the action for indemnity against the Portuguese government, the matter was kept alive up to a very recent date. But an unfamiliar story in connection with a well-known fact may not be amiss, and this is a tale of the harbor of Fayal that perhaps few have heard before. But to get to the telling of it, it is necessary to recount a good deal of what is recorded history. The General Armstrong was a privateer brig outfitted at New York. She was owned in part by a New York merchant, a Mr. Havens, and in part by her commander, Samuel C. Reid, and a better sailor never stood in sea-boots. She was not a big ship; but her armament had been skilfully chosen. Her crew of picked men had been drilled man-of-war fashion. She mounted eight long nine-pounders, four on a side, and amidships she carried the big twenty-four-pounder before referred to. Her First Lieutenant was a Mr. Alexander O. Williams, a very young man, but a thorough and practical seaman; her Second was named Worth; her Third Lieutenant's name was Johnson; her crew, all Americans, numbered ninety souls all told. Among them was an active, handsome fellow, named William Copeland. He was down on the privateer's books as able seaman; but before the General Armstrong had been two weeks at sea, Copeland was promoted for meritorious conduct in an action with a British armed schooner, that was sent home as a prize, to be quarter gunner. It was Reid and himself that squinted along the black barrel of the old Long Tom, when she fought in the harbor of Fayal. It was the 26th day of September that the General Armstrong cast anchor there. The weather had been very fine, and Captain Reid, very proud of his vessel, had done everything to make her look smart and tidy. Her rigging was all tuned up to concert pitch; her decks were as white as sand and holystone could make them, and the men, contrary to the habit of most privateers, were dressed in suits of white duck and blue. The American Consul, John D. Dabney, felt a thrill of pride as he saw the man-of-war fashion with which the General Armstrong came to anchor. As the long white gig came rolling up to the pier, and the men boated their oars, Mr. Dabney recognized that the officer sitting in the stern sheets was an old friend of his. "Ah, Captain Reid," he exclaimed. "Glad to see you. My compliments to you on the appearance of your vessel. I thought at first that she must be one of the regular navy; in fact, I took her for the Enterprise." "Well, I flatter myself that she is quite as shipshape," returned Captain Reid. "And I have to work my crew pretty hard to keep from showing how well satisfied I am with them. I tell you, Dabney, it isn't every man that has had such a fine lot of fellows under him. As to my success so far, it has been fair enough; but I'd really like to measure distances and exchange a few shots with some of His Majesty's little fellows." "You have come to a good place to look for them," Dabney returned. "It is seldom that a week passes without having one or more of them drop anchor in the roads." Chatting together in this friendly fashion, the two gentlemen went up into the town. It was late in the evening before Reid came to the water-front to signal for his boat. Dabney was still with him. They walked down to the end of the pier, and Reid suddenly pointed:-- "By Jupiter!" he exclaimed, "here we come," and following his finger Dabney saw three big vessels lazily moving along before the slight wind, toward the harbor entrance. Their earlier approach had been hidden by the headlands. The harbor of Fayal is surrounded by hills, on the slopes of which the town is built, and the bay extends in a semicircle with two wide-reaching arms. The water runs deep into the shore. The sun was setting in the calm evening sky, and there was scarce enough movement on the surface of the bay to catch the red reflections. Dabney turned to Captain Reid after the first long look. "English, or else I'm much mistaken," he said quietly. "Not the least doubt of it in my mind," Reid returned, "and if there was more of a wind, by Jove, I'd try to get out of this.... Do you think it is safe to stay?" "It is a neutral port," Dabney returned, "and Portugal and England have been such friends, that I do not think John Bull would take advantage of his position here. In my opinion they will respect the neutrality." "Well, they won't catch me napping," Reid returned, as he stepped into the gig; and after requesting the Consul's presence at dinner on the following evening, he gave the order to shove off, and pulled away for his vessel. Mr. Williams, the First Lieutenant, met him at the gangway. "You have observed our friends yonder?" he asked, pitching his thumb over his shoulder. "I wish we were out of here." "So do I," Reid returned, "but we must make the best of it." It was a beautiful sight to see the great square-rigged ships come to anchor. Forward and aft all hands were on deck watching the English men-of-war perform the manoeuvre. "Well done!" exclaimed William Copeland, the quarter gunner, turning to a group of his messmates. "It takes an Englishman or a Yankee to make a vessel behave as if she were alive. By Davy's locker!" he exclaimed suddenly, "I know that nearest ship; it's the Plantagenet, I'll bet my prize money. Good cause have I to remember her; she picked me up in the North Sea and I served three years in her confounded carcass. Three wicked, sweating years, my lads." "Where did you leave her, Bill?" asked one of the seamen standing near him. "At Cape Town, during the war against the Dutch. I'll spin the yarn to you some day. My brother and I were took at the same time. The last I seed of him was when we lowered ourselves out of the sick bay into the water to swim a good three miles to the whaler--that was three years ago." "Do you reckon he was drownded, Bill?" "Reckon so. Leastways I haven't heard from him, poor lad!" Further talk was interrupted by an order from the quarter-deck calling away the first cutter to carry a stream anchor in towards shore in order to warp the brig close under the walls of the "castle" a little battery of four or five guns that commanded the inner harbor. Captain Reid's suspicions had been awakened by seeing a boat put off from the shore, and noticing that one of the frigates was getting up her anchor preparatory to drawing in nearer. In less than half an hour he was moored stem and stern so close under the walls of the little fort that he could have hurled a marline-spike against the walls from his own quarter-deck. As it grew darker he could see from the flashing of lights that the English vessels were holding communication with one another, and occasionally across the water would come the sound of creaking blocks or the lilt of a pipe. He knew well enough that such goings on were not without some object, and calling all of his officers aft they held a short consultation. It was exactly eight o'clock in the evening. From shore there came a sound of fiddles and singing. Although Captain Reid had promised the men liberty that evening, owing to the position of affairs the order had been rescinded, but nevertheless there was some grumbling in the forecastle; for if a sailor doesn't grumble when he gets a chance, he is not a sailor. "I'll be shot if I can see why the old man won't let us ashore," growled a sturdy young topman. "D'ye hear them fiddles, Jack? Can't you see the senoritas adancin'? My heels itch for the touch of a springy floor and my arm has a crook to it that would just fit a neat young waist. Do you remember--" "Stow your jaw, Dummer," broke in a heavy voice half angrily. "And you too, Merrick, clap a stopper on it," turning to another of the malcontents. "Hush now, listen all hands.... Oars! can't ye hear 'em? And muffled too, by the Piper! Pass the word below; all hands!" With that William Copeland ran aft to the quarter-deck. Captain Reid met him at the mast. "Their boats are coming, sir," Copeland whispered excitedly; "five or six of 'em, I should judge." "Are the broadside guns ready?" "Aye, aye, sir, and double-shotted; two of them with grape and canister." "How's the Long Tom?" "Ready to speak for himself, sir," Copeland replied with a touch of pride, for the big gun was his especial pet. The three lieutenants had now grouped close together. "See that the magazine is opened, Mr. Worth, and Mr. Williams call the men to their stations quietly. They will try to come in on the port hand most probably. Gentlemen, to your stations. No firing until you get the word from the quarter-deck, and stop all talking on the ship." Even the sentry, patrolling his beat on the castle walls, did not hear or notice anything extraordinary on board the privateer, so silently were the orders followed out. The moon was struggling to pierce through the thin, filmy clouds that obscured her light. It was one of those nights when objects appear suddenly out of the invisible and take shape with distinctness close to hand. But every one could hear the sounds now. "Thrum, thrum, thrum," the swing of oars; despite that the rhythm was muffled and subdued. Reid was leaning over the rail with a night glass aimed in the direction of the frigate. A figure hurried to his side. It was Lieutenant Williams. "We can see them from for'ard, sir," he said breathlessly. "Everything is ready, and there's surely some mischief afoot." "Yes, I can see them now; four of them, chock a block with men," Reid returned, closing the glass with a snap. "Now stand by, all hands, for orders." Then raising his voice, he shot the following question out into the semi-darkness: "On board the boats, there! There is no landing here. Keep away from our side." The rowing ceased; but it was only an instant and then it began again. "I warn you to come no nearer!" shouted Reid. "You do so at your peril." Four dark shapes were now visible without the aid of any glass. The plash of the oars could be heard as they caught the water. Reid just noticed the figure of William Copeland bending over the breech of the Long Tom, whose muzzle extended across the bulwarks. "Keep off or I shall fire!" he warned for the third time. There came an answer to this clear enough to be heard by every man standing at the guns. "Give way, lads, together." "Fire!" roared Reid, in a voice that must have been heard distinctly along the shore. The reply was a scarlet burst of flame and a crash that sent the echoes up the hills. It stopped the fiddles in the dance-house; it set the drums and bugles rolling and tooting in the fortress, and the American Consul, sitting over his coffee on the public square, jumped to his feet, and ran, followed by a clamoring crowd, to the pier-head. From the direction of the boats came a confusion of orders following the broadside. Groans and shrieks for help arose from the darkness. Some spurts of flame came quickly and several musket-balls whistled over the Armstrong's deck. Then the loud report of a heavy boat gun, and a groan and cry followed immediately from the brig's forecastle. All was silent now except for the sound of plashing in the water and some groans and muffled cries. Reid was about to hail when he saw three men hurrying aft with a heavy burden in their arms. "It's Mr. Williams, sir; he's shot in the head, and Dummer, of the forward division, sir, is killed," one of them said gruffly. Poor Dummer! He would dance no more with the senoritas--there were to be no more liberty parties for him. Reid's intention of lowering away a boat faded from his mind. There would be more of the same sort of work before long; that he knew well. One of the boats had been sunk, for the wreck came drifting in close to the brig's side. The other three could be heard making off to the ships, their rowing growing fainter every minute. Lieutenants Worth and Johnson came aft to report. "We are in for it, gentlemen," said Reid; "but they won't cut this vessel out without more discussion on the subject. The idea of such treachery in a friendly harbor! They received their just deserts." His anger got the better of him for an instant, and he could say no more. "Poor Williams!" he murmured at last. "Is he badly hurt?" "He is mortally wounded, sir, I am afraid," Mr. Johnson returned. "A good friend and a fine officer gone," put in Lieutenant Worth. "So much for this night's work." "Do not fear; there'll be more of it, and we'll have our hands full," Reid continued. "Mr. Johnson, you will see that the boarding-nettings are spread, and load the midship gun with lagrange and a star shot. Have pikes and cutlasses ready." "Are you going ashore, sir, to see the commander of the fort? He surely should protect us?" asked Mr. Worth. "We need count no longer on him," was Reid's rejoinder. "We will have to do our own protecting. See that every musket and pistol is loaded and laid handy and, stay," he added, "cut away the bulwarks just abaft the gangway and bring two of those starboard guns across the deck. We will need them all, to my way of thinking." The crowds gathered on the shore could hear the sounds of preparation. From the English squadron also came a babble of orders and movement. The lights were doubled in number. Every port shone brightly. The moon had now risen until objects could be seen quite plainly. "They are preparing for an attack in force," Reid said, handing the glass to Mr. Johnson, who had already seen that the boarding-nettings had been spread above the railing. The men forward were busy setting some spare spars to act as booms to keep the boats from gaining the vessel's bows. Time passed swiftly. At twelve o'clock the oars began again. But they were not muffled now! "Click, clock," they came onward with a rush. Voices could be heard urging the rowers to more exertion, as if they were racing crews out for a practice spin. Reid was levelling the glass. "Ten, twelve, thirteen, fourteen--fourteen boats loaded to the guards," he said. "God's love, there must be four hundred men: they mean to take us if they can." He looked down at his own little deck. He had less than ninety now; but they were ninety stout, good fellows who would not flinch. In the rays of the battle lanterns and the pale light of the moon, Captain Reid saw that they were ready to fight their last fight maybe. It was no time to make a speech; but the men could hear every word he said without gathering nearer. "Lads," he said, "reserve your fire until you get the word from me. Don't waste a single shot, and remember this: aim low.... Copeland!" "Aye, aye, sir!" "Cover that leading boat." "Aye, aye, sir!" A big pinnace or barge, holding perhaps eighty men, was heading the flotilla by almost a hundred feet. The grinding of a handspike on the deck broke the silence, as the Long Tom was slewed about to bear upon her. "Handsomely now, men," cajoled Copeland. "Handsomely; that's well." The great boat was rowing in directly on that gun as if towed by a line. She was heading on to death and destruction! Consul Dabney, standing with the anxious crowd on the shore, held his breath. Was Reid going to submit to be taken without striking another blow? Not much. With a long flare of flame that leaped from the Armstrong's side, arose a great shout from the spectators. The bow of the pinnace was stove in, and she pitched forward into the water like an angry bull brought to his knees by a rifle shot. Men absolutely boiled out of her. The moonlit water was dotted with black objects; some threshing with their arms, others silent and motionless. There came a rattling reply of small-arms from the boats, and the long nines answered them. The action was on in earnest. No one can gainsay the courage that was displayed by the attacking force. They were Englishmen; it is not necessary to say more. The firing became incessant. The men on the Armstrong had scarce time to reload their guns. They would snatch up a pistol here and a musket there and fire out at the water that was crisscrossed with the red flashes of the answering shots. More than once a boat had reached the side. On two occasions men had sprung to the bulwarks, and clung to the boarding-nettings until shot away. Every now and then the Long Tom would let go a half-bucketful of grape and scrap iron, hurling death into the boats. Every one of the privateer's crew seemed gifted with four arms. From one point of attack to another they chased about the deck. It seemed as if she numbered three times her complement. Bill Copeland was fighting like a demon. Twice had he run along the top of the bulwarks, exposed to every aim. Suddenly he saw that one of the boats had worked around to the starboard side. Giving the alarm, and followed by a half-score of the after-guard, he ran across to meet this unexpected danger. One of the men who followed him caught up a twenty-four-pound solid shot in his arms as he ran. Another followed his example. Both shot crashed through the bottom of the boat, and a volley was poured down into them. But three or four of the men had already reached the chains. Copeland sprang to the bulwarks with his cutlass in his hand. There was a figure crawling up below him. Leaning forward, he made a quick stroke that would have severed the man's throat had he not leaned back suddenly and avoided it. Again he drew back his sharpened cutlass for the death blow, and then he saw that the fellow was unarmed. Something stayed his hand; he bent still further forward, and just as the Englishman was about to fall back into the water, he grasped him by the wrist. "My God, Jed!" he cried, and exerting all his strength he dragged his prisoner over the rail on to the deck. Those who had time to witness it, saw a curious sight. There was Bill Copeland holding fast to another man, their arms on each other's shoulders. "Jed, don't ye know me?" Bill was crying; "but, Lord love ye lad, you're wounded." A shudder went through him as he realized how close he had been to sending home that fatal thrust. The man with a pigtail down his back leaned forward weakly. "I'm hurted bad, Bill," he said. "But go on and fight; leave me alone; egad, you've whipped 'em." Sure enough, the firing had now slackened. Four or five of the boats had retreated beyond gun shot. They were all that could do so unaided. "Cease firing!" ordered Captain Reid, hastening about the deck. "Cease firing here! They have given up. Where is Mr. Johnson?" he roared, pushing his way into a group of men who were about to reload one of the nine-pounders. He had to cuff his way amongst them to make them desist. "Where is Mr. Johnson?" he repeated. "He's wounded, sir." "And Mr. Worth is wounded too, sir," put in another man. "I helped him below myself." As suddenly as the action had begun it had ended. By the light of a lantern Captain Reid glanced at his watch. It was forty minutes since the first gun had been fired. He looked about his decks. Although they were littered with loose running-gear, handspikes, cutlasses, and muskets, at the sight his heart gave a great bound of joy. There were no mangled figures or pools of slippery blood. It seemed hardly possible. But from the wreckage in the water came groans and cries. He looked over the side. There lay, rocking, two broken boats filled with huddled figures, some moving weakly. "Here!" he shouted to some of the men. "Bear a hand; save all we can." It was a sudden transition, this, from taking life to saving it; but the men turned to with a will. In one of the boats twelve dead bodies were found, and but seventeen of her crew had escaped with their lives, and they were all badly wounded. Of the four hundred men who had commenced that bold attack, only one-half returned to the ships unhurt. Reid hurried down into the cockpit. It seemed past believing. But two of his men, including the brave Williams, had been killed, and but seven wounded! This is history. But a sight he saw attracted the Captain's attention. It was Bill Copeland sitting on the deck, with his arms about a pale figure whose head lay in Copeland's lap. The resemblance between the men was striking. "What have we here?" asked Captain Reid. "My brother, sir," Copeland returned. "Your brother!" "Aye, sir; from the Plantaganet. He was the only one who got on board of us!" The man spoke with an accent of pride, and the wounded one opened his eyes. "Bill, here, he hauled me on board," he said. When the surgeon found time to attend to Copeland's wounds, he pronounced them not to be of a dangerous character, and the man was soon made comfortable. All night long, the Armstrong's people slept beside their guns, but there was no evidence of any further intention to attack on the part of the British. The Carnation, which was the nearest of the vessels to the privateer, had her boats out at daybreak. All day long they kept carrying their dead on shore. From the Rota there were seventy funerals! But the Armstrong was not left unmolested. At eight o'clock the Carnation began firing at close range. For a few minutes, Captain Reid replied with some effect. But resistance was useless, and at nine he ordered all hands into the boats, and made for the shore, every one arriving there in safety. He had bored a large hole in the Armstrong's bottom, but before she sank, two boats from the Carnation rowed out to her, and the English set her on fire.... The inhabitants of the town, all of whose sympathies were with the Americans, did everything in their power to assist the wounded, and many were the indignant protests against the action of Captain Lloyd, the English senior officer. It now came to light that Mr. Dabney had complained to the commander of the Castle as soon as the firing had begun the previous night, and that the Portuguese commander had written a letter to Lloyd, but the latter's reply had been only a menacing insult. So angry were the English at the fearful drubbing they had received, that they insisted upon the government officials delivering the crew of the Armstrong up to them, upon the ground that there were deserters among them. There existed, between Portugal and England, a treaty that demanded the return of prisoners accused of high treason, and Captain Lloyd, by claiming that deserters were guilty of this crime, had a technical right for examination of the American refugees.... But hearing the danger they were in, Captain Reid and his men, after securing some arms, barricaded themselves in a small stone church, back in the country, where they dared the Englishmen to come and take them. It was a difficult position for them to maintain. If Captain Lloyd's statement was correct, then the Portuguese government was bound to hand them over as deserters, or place themselves in a bad position with England. After a long deliberation, Reid consented to have his men submit to an examination. They were all arrested, and brought to town, and not a single deserter was found among them! But what of Copeland, the wounded prisoner? He lay hidden in one of the houses of a friendly Portuguese, and his name was probably reported on the Plantagenet's books as "missing." On the 28th of the month, two British sloops of war, the Thais and Clypso, came into port, and were immediately sent back to England with the British wounded. The two Copeland brothers returned to the United States, with the rest of the Armstrong's crew, and both served in the navy for the rest of the war. The owners of the Armstrong attempted for many years to obtain redress for the loss of their ship. Again and again were they put off and denied. But in this year, 1897, some money was received, and strange to say, was paid to the widow of the owner, Mr. Havens. She died but a short time ago, at the age of ninety-eight, at Stamford, Connecticut.

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