Sea Stories

Loss Of His Majesty's Ship Litchfield

The Litchfield, Captain Barton, left Ireland on the 11th of November, 1758, in company with several other men of war and transports, under the command of Commodore Keppel, intended for the reduction of Goree. The voyage was prosperous till the 28th, when at

eight in the evening I took charge of the watch, and the weather turned out very squally with rain. At nine it was extremely dark, with much lightning, the wind varying from S. W. to W. N. W. At half past nine, had a very hard squall. Captain Barton came upon deck and staid till ten; then left orders to keep sight of the commodore, and to make what sail the weather would permit. At eleven, saw the commodore bearing south, but the squalls coming on so heavy, were obliged to hand the main-top-sail, and at twelve o'clock, were under our courses. November the 29, at one in the morning, I left the deck in charge of the first lieutenant; the light, which we took to be the commodore's right ahead, bearing S. wind W. S. W. blowing very hard; at six in the morning I was awakened by a great shock, and a confused noise of the men on deck. I ran up, thinking some ship had run foul of us, for, by my own reckoning, and that of every other person in the ship, we were at least 35 leagues distant from land; but, before I could reach the quarter-deck, the ship gave a great stroke upon the ground, and the sea broke all over her. Just after this, I could perceive the land, rocky, rugged and uneven, about two cables' length from us. The ship lying with her broadside to windward, the masts soon went overboard, carrying some men with them. It is impossible for any one but a sufferer to feel our distress at this time; the masts, yards, and sails hanging alongside in a confused heap; the ship beating violently upon the rocks; the waves curling up to an incredible height, then dashing down with such force as if they would immediately have split the ship to pieces, which we, indeed, every moment expected. Having a little recovered from our confusion, saw it necessary to get every thing we could over to the larboard side, to prevent the ship from heeling off, and exposing the deck to the sea. Some of the people were very earnest to get the boats out contrary to advice; and, after much intreaty, notwithstanding a most terrible sea, one of the boats was launched, and eight of the best men jumped into her, but she had scarcely got to the ship's stern, when she was whirled to the bottom, and every soul in her perished. The rest of the boats were soon washed to pieces on the deck.--We then made a raft of the davit, capstan-bars and some boards, and waited with resignation, for divine Providence to assist us. The ship soon filled with water, so that we had no time to get any provision up; the quarter-deck and poop were now the only place we could stand on with security, the waves being mostly spent by the time they reached us, owing to the fore part of the ship breaking them. At four in the afternoon, perceiving the sea to be much abated, one of our people attempted to swim, and got safe on shore. There were numbers of Moors upon the rocks ready to take hold of any one, and beckoned much for us to come ashore, which, at first we took for kindness, but they soon undeceived us, for they had not the humanity to assist any that was entirely naked, but would fly to those who had any thing about them, and strip them before they were quite out of the water, wrangling among themselves about the plunder; in the mean time the poor wretches were left to crawl up the rocks if they were able, if not, they perished unregarded. The second lieutenant and myself, with about sixty-five others, got ashore before dark, but were left exposed to the weather on the cold sand. To preserve ourselves from perishing of cold, were obliged to go down to the shore, and to bring up pieces of the wreck to make a fire. While thus employed, if we happened to pick up a shirt or handkerchief, and did not give it to the Moors at the first demand, the next thing was a dagger presented to our breast. They allowed us a piece of an old sail, which they did not think worth carrying off; with this we made two tents, and crowded ourselves into them, sitting between one another's legs to preserve warmth, and make room. In this uneasy situation, continually bewailing our misery, and that of our poor shipmates on the wreck, we passed a most tedious night, without so much as a drop of water to refresh ourselves, excepting what we caught through our sail-cloth covering. November the 30th, at six in the morning, went down with a number of our men upon the rocks, to assist our shipmates in coming ashore, and found the ship had been greatly shattered in the night. It being now low water, many attempted to swim ashore; some got safe, but others perished. The people on board got the raft into the water, and about fifteen men placed themselves upon it. They had no sooner put off from the wreck, than it overturned; most of the men recovered it again, but, scarcely were they on, before it was a second time overturned. Only three or four got hold of it again, and all the rest perished. In the mean time, a good swimmer brought with much difficulty a rope ashore, which I had the good fortune to catch hold of just when he was quite spent, and had thoughts of quitting it. Some people coming to my assistance, we pulled a large rope ashore with that, and made it fast round a rock. We found this gave great spirits to the poor souls upon the wreck, it being hauled taught from the upper part of the stern, made an easy descent to any who had art enough to walk or slide upon a rope, with a smaller rope fixed above to hold by. This was a means of saving a number of lives, though many were washed off by the impetuous surf, and perished. The flood coming on, raised the surf, and prevented any more from coming at that time, so that the ropes could be of no further use. We then retired from the rocks; and hunger prevailing, set about boiling some of the drowned turkeys, &c. which with some flour mixed into a paste, and baked upon the coals, constituted our first meal upon this barbarous coast. We found a well of fresh water about a half a mile off, which very much refreshed us. But we had scarcely finished this coarse repast, when the Moors, who were now grown numerous, drove us all down to the rocks to bring up empty iron bound casks, pieces of the wreck which had the most iron about them, and other articles. About three o'clock in the afternoon we made another meal on the drowned poultry, and finding this was the best provision we were likely to have; some were ordered to save all they could find, others to raise a larger tent, and the rest sent down to the rocks to look for people coming ashore. The surf greatly increasing with the flood, and breaking upon the fore-part of the ship, she was divided into three parts; the fore-part turned keel up, the middle part soon dashed into a thousand pieces; the fore-part of the poop likewise fell at this time, and about thirty men with it, eight of whom got ashore with our help, but so bruised, that we despaired of their recovery. Nothing but the after-part of the poop now remained above water, and a very small part of the other decks, on which our captain, and about 130 more remained, expecting every wave to be their last. Every shock threw some off; few or none of whom came on shore alive. During this distress the Moors laughed uncommonly, and seemed much diverted, when a wave larger than usual, threatened the destruction of the poor wretches on the wreck. Between four and five o'clock the sea was decreased with the ebb; the rope being still secure, the people began to venture upon it; some tumbled off and perished, but others reached the shore in safety. About five, we beckoned as much as possible for the captain to come upon the rope, as this seemed to be as good an opportunity as any we had seen; and many arrived in safety with our assistance. Some told us that the captain was determined to stay till all the men had quitted the wreck however, we still continued to beckon for him, and before it was dark, saw him come upon the rope. He was closely followed by a good able seaman, who did all he could to keep up his spirits and assist him in warping. As he could not swim, and had been so many hours without refreshment, with the surf hurling him violently along, he was unable to resist the force of the waves, had lost his hold of the great rope, and must inevitably have perished had not a wave thrown him within the reach of our ropes, which he had barely sufficient sense to catch hold of. We pulled him up, and after resting a short time on the rocks, he came to himself, and walked up to the tent, desiring us to continue to assist the rest of the people in coming on shore. The villains, (the Moors), would have stripped him, though, he had nothing on but a plain waistcoat and breeches, if we had not plucked up a little spirit and opposed them; upon which they thought proper to desist. The people continued to come ashore, though many perished in the attempt. The Moors, at length, growing tired with waiting for so little plunder, would not suffer us to remain on the rocks, but drove us all away. I then, with the captain's approbation, went, and by signs made humble supplication to the bashaw, who was in the tent, dividing the valuable plunder. He understood us at last, and gave us permission to go down, at the same time sending some Moors with us. We carried fire-brands down to let the poor souls on the wreck see that we were still there in readiness to assist them. About nine at night finding that no more men would venture upon the rope, as the surf was again greatly increased, we retired to the tent, leaving by the account of the last man arrived, between thirty and forty souls still upon the wreck. We now thought of stowing every body in the tent, and began by fixing the captain in the middle. Then made every man lie down on his side, as we could not afford them each a breadth; but, after all, many took easier lodging in empty casks. The next morning the weather was moderate and fair.--We found the wreck all in pieces on the rocks, and the shore covered with lumber. The people upon the wreck all perished about one in morning. In the afternoon we called a muster, and found the number of the survivors to be 220; so that 130 perished on this melancholy occasion. On the 2d of December, the weather still continued moderate. We subsisted entirely on the drowned stock, and a little pork to relish it, and the flour made into cakes; all of which we issued regularly and sparingly, being ignorant whether the Moors would furnish us with any thing, they being still very troublesome, and even wanting to rob us of the canvass which covered our tent. At two in the afternoon a black servant arrived, sent by Mr. Butler, a Dane, factor to the African Company at Saffy at the distance of about thirty miles, to inquire into our condition and to offer us assistance. The man having brought pens, ink and paper, the captain sent back a letter by him.--Finding there was one who offered us help, it greatly refreshed our afflicted hearts. In the afternoon of the following day, we received a letter from Mr. Butler, with some bread and a few other necessaries. On the 4th, the people were employed in picking up pieces of sails, and whatever else the Moors would permit them. We divided the crew into messes, and served the necessaries we received the preceding day. They had bread and the flesh of the drowned stock. In the afternoon we received another letter from Mr. Butler, and one at the same time from Mr. Andrews, an Irish gentleman, a merchant at Saffy. The Moors were not so troublesome now as before, most of them going off with what they had got. On the 5th the drowned stock was entirely consumed, and at low water the people were employed in collecting muscles. At ten in the morning, Mr. Andrews arrived, bringing a French surgeon with medicines and plaisters, of which, some of the men who had been dreadfully bruised, stood in great need.--The following day, we served out one of the blankets of the country to every two men, and pampooses, a kind of slippers, to those who were in most want of them. These supplies were likewise brought us by Mr. Andrews. The people were now obliged to live upon muscles and bread, the Moors, who promised us a supply of cattle, having deceived us, and never returned. The people on the 7th were still employed in collecting muscles and limpets. The Moors began to be a little civil to us, for fear the emperor should punish them for their cruel treatment to us. In the afternoon, a messenger arrived from the emperor at Sallee, with general orders to the people to supply us with provisions. They accordingly brought us some lean bullocks and sheep which Mr. Andrews purchased for us; but at this time we had no pots to make broth in, and the cattle were scarcely fit for any thing else. In the morning of the 10th, we made preparations for marching to Morocco, the emperor having sent orders for that purpose, and camels to carry the lame and necessaries. At nine, set off with about thirty camels, having got all our liquor with us, divided into hogsheads, for the convenience of carriage on the camels. At noon, joined the crews of one of the transports and a bomb-tender, that had been wrecked about three leagues to the northward of us. We were then all mounted upon camels, excepting the captain, who was furnished with a horse. We never stopped till seven in the evening, when they procured two tents only, which would not contain one third of the men, so that most of them lay exposed to the dew, which was very heavy, and extremely cold. We found our whole number to be 388, including officers, men, boys, three women and a child, which one of the women brought ashore in her teeth. On the 11th, continued our journey, attended by a number of Moors on horseback. At six in the evening we came to our resting place for that night, and were furnished with tents sufficient to cover all our men. At five in the morning of the 12th, we set out as before, and, at two in the afternoon, saw the emperor's cavalcade at a distance. At three, a relation of the emperor's, named Muli Adriz, came to us, and told the captain it was the emperor's orders, he should that instant write a letter to our governor at Gibraltar, to send to his Britanic Majesty to inquire whether he would settle a peace with him or not. Captain Barton immediately sat down upon the grass and wrote a letter, which, being given to Muli Adriz, he went and joined the emperor again. At six in the evening came to our resting place for the night, and were well furnished with tents, but very little provisions. We were, the following day, desired to continue on the same spot, till the men were refreshed, and this repose they greatly needed, and we received a better supply of provisions. That morning, Lieutenant Harrison commanding the soldiers belonging to Lord Forbes's regiment died suddenly in the tent. In the evening, while employed with his interment, the inhuman Moors disturbed us by throwing stones and mocking us. The next day we found that they had opened the grave and stripped the body. On the 16th, we continued our journey, came to our resting place at four in the afternoon, pitched the tents, and served out the provision. Here our people were ill-treated by the country Moors. As they were taking water from a brook, the Moors would always spit into the vessel before they would suffer them to take it away. Upon this some of us went down to inquire into the affair, but were immediately saluted with a shower of stones. We ran in upon them, beat some of them pretty soundly, put them to flight, and brought away one who thought to defend himself with a long knife. This fellow was severely punished by the officer who had the charge of conducting us. The two succeeding days continued our journey, and, at three in the afternoon of the 18th, arrived at the City of Morocco, without having seen a single habitation during the whole journey. Here we were insulted by the rabble, and, at five, were carried before the emperor, surrounded by five or six hundred of his guards. He was on horseback before the gate of his palace, that being the place where he distributes justice to his people. He told Captain Barton, by an interpreter, that he was neither at peace nor war with England, and he would detain us till an ambassador arrived from that country to conclude a permanent treaty. The captain then desired that we might not be treated as slaves. He answered hastily, that we should be taken care of. We were then immediately hurried out of his presence, conveyed to two old ruinous houses, shut up amidst dirt and innumerable vermin of every description. Mr. Butler being at Morocco on business, came and supplied us with victuals and drink, and procured liberty for the captain to go home with him to his lodgings. He likewise sent some blankets for the officers, and we made shift to pass the night with tolerable comfort, being very much fatigued. At nine in the morning of the 21st, the emperor sent orders for the captain and every officer to appear before him. We immediately repaired to his palace; we remained waiting in an outer yard two hours; in the mean time he diverted himself with seeing a clumsy Dutch boat rowed about in a pond by four of our petty officers. About noon we were called before him, and placed in a line about thirty yards from him. He was sitting in a chair by the side of the pond, accompanied only by two of his chief alcaides. Having viewed us some time, he ordered the captain to come forward, and after asking him a good many questions concerning our navy, and the destination of the squadron to which we had belonged, we were also called forward by two and three at a time as we stood according to our rank. He then asked most of us some very insignificant questions, and took some to be Portuguese because they had black hair, and others to be Swedes because their hair was light. He judged none of us to be English excepting the captain, the second lieutenant, the ensign of the soldiers, and myself. But assuring him we were all English, he cried Bonno, and gave a nod for our departure, to which we returned a very low bow, and were glad to return to our old ruined houses again. Our total number amounted to thirty. On the 25th, being Christmas-day, prayers were read to the people as usual in the church of England. The captain this day received a present of tea and loaves of sugar from one of the queens, whose grandfather had been an English renegado. In the afternoon of the 26th, we received the disagreeable intelligence, that the emperor would oblige all the English to work, like all the other Christian slaves, excepting the officers who were before him on the 21st. The next day this account was confirmed; for, at seven in the morning, an alcaide came and ordered all our people out to work, excepting the sick. Upon our application eight were allowed to stay at home every day to cook for the rest, and this office was performed by turns throughout the whole number. At four in the afternoon the people returned, some having been employed in carrying wood, some in turning up the ground with hoes, and others in picking weeds in the emperor's garden. Their victuals were prepared for them against their return. On the 28th all the people went to work as soon as they could see, and returned at four in the afternoon. Two of the soldiers received one hundred bastinadoes each, for behaving in a disrespectful manner while the emperor was looking at their work. On the 30th, Captain Barton received a kind message from the emperor, with permission to ride out or take a walk in his garden with his officers. From this time the men continued in the same state of slavery till the arrival, in April, of Captain Milbank, sent as an ambassador to the emperor. He concluded a treaty for the ransom of the crew of the Litchfield, together with the other English subjects in the emperor's power, and the sum stipulated to be paid for their release, was 170,000 dollars. Our people accordingly set out for Sallee, attended by a bashaw and two soldiers on horseback. On the fourth day of their march, they had a skirmish with some of the country Moors. The dispute began in consequence of some of our men in the rear stopping at a village to buy some milk, for which, after they had drank it, the Moors demanded an exorbitant price. This our men refused to give, on which the Moors had recourse to blows, which our people returned; and others coming to their assistance, they maintained a smart battle, till the enemy became too numerous. In the meantime some rode off to call the guard, who instantly came up with their drawn scimetars, and dealt round them pretty briskly. During this interval we were not idle, and had the pleasure to see the blood trickling down a good many of their faces. The guards seized the chief man of the village, and carried him before the bashaw, who was our conductor, and who having heard the cause dismissed him without further punishment, in consideration of his having been well drubbed by us. On the 22d of April, we arrived at Sallee, and pitched our tents in an old castle, whence we soon afterwards embarked on board the Gibraltar, which landed us at Gibraltar on the 27th of June. From that place the captain and crew were put on board the Marlborough store ship, prepared expressly for their reception, and arrived in England in the month of August, 1760.

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