Sea Stories

The Loss Of The Peggy

On the 28th of September, 1785, the Peggy, commanded by Capt. Knight, sailed from the harbor of Waterford, Ireland, for the port of New York, in America. Here it is necessary to observe, that the Peggy was a large unwieldy Dutch-built ship, about eight

hundred tons burden, and had formerly been in the Norway, and timber trade, for which, indeed, she seemed, from her immense bulk, well calculated. There being no freight in readiness for America, we were under the necessity of taking in ballast: which consisted of coarse gravel and sand, with about fifty casks of stores, fresh stock, and vegetables, sufficient to last during the voyage; having plenty of room, and having been most abundantly supplied by the hospitable neighbourhood, of which we were about to take our leave. We weighed anchor, and with the assistance of a rapid tide and pleasant breeze, soon gained a tolerable offing: we continued under easy sail the remaining part of the day, and towards sunset lost sight of land. Sept. 29th, made the old head of Kingsale; the weather continuing favorable, we shortly came within sight of Cape Clear, from whence we took our departure from the coast of Ireland. Nothing material occurred for several days, during which time we traversed a vast space of the Western Ocean. Oct. 12th, the weather now became hazy and squally;--all hands turned up to reef top-sails, and strike top-gallant-yards.--Towards night the squalls were more frequent, indicating an approaching gale:--We accordingly clued, reefed top-sails, and struck top-gallant-masts; and having made all snug aloft, the ship weathered the night very steadily. On the 13th the crew were employed in setting up the rigging, and occasionally pumping, the ship having made much water during the night. The gale increasing as the day advanced, occasioned the vessel to make heavy rolls, by which an accident happened, which was near doing much injury to the captain's cabin. A puncheon of rum, which was lashed on the larboard side of the cabin, broke loose, a sudden jerk having drawn assunder the cleats to which it was fastened. By its velocity it stove in the state-rooms, and broke several utensils of the cabin furniture. The writer of this, with much difficulty, escaped with whole limbs; but not altogether unhurt, receiving a painful bruise on the right foot: having, however, escaped from the cabin, the people on deck were given to understand that the rum was broken loose. The word rum soon attracted the sailor's attention, and this cask being the ship's only stock, they were not tardy (as may be supposed) in rendering their assistance to double lash, what they anticipated--the delight, of frequently splicing the mainbrace therewith during their voyage. On the 14th the weather became moderate, and the crew were employed in making good the stowage of the stores in the hold, which had given way during the night;--shaking reefs out of the top-sails, getting up top-gallant-masts and yards, and rigging out studding-sails. All hands being now called to dinner, a bustle and confused noise took place on deck. The captain (who was below) sent the writer of this to discover the cause thereof, but before he could explain, a voice was crying out in a most piteous and vociferous tone. The captain and chief mate jumped on deck, and found the crew had got the cook laid on the windlass, and were giving him a most severe cobbing with a flat piece of his own fire wood. As soon as the captain had reached forward, he was much exasperated with them for their precipitate conduct, in punishing without his knowledge and permission, and having prohibited such proceedings in future cases, he inquired the cause of their grievance. The cook, it seems, having been served out fresh water to dress vegetables for all hands, had inadvertently used it for some other purpose, and boiled the greens in a copper of salt water, which rendered them so intolerably tough, that they were not fit for use; consequently the sailors had not their expected garnish, and a general murmur taking place, the above punishment was inflicted. A steady breeze ensuing, all sails filled and the ship made way, with a lofty and majestic air; and at every plunge of her bows, which was truly Dutch-built, rose a foam of no small appearance. During four days the weather continued favorable, which flattered the seamen with a speedy sight of land. On the 19th we encountered a very violent gale, with an unusual heavy sea:--The ship worked greatly, and took in much water through her seams:--the pumps were kept frequently going. At mid-day, while the crew were at dinner, a tremendous sea struck the ship right aft, which tore in the cabin windows, upset the whole of the dinner, and nearly drowned the captain, mate, and myself, who was at that time holding a dish on the table, while the captain was busily employed in carving a fine goose, which, much to our discomfiture, was entirely drenched by the salt-water. Some of the coops were washed from the quarter-deck, and several of the poultry destroyed. In consequence of the vessel shipping so great a quantity of water, the pumps were doubly manned, and soon gained on her. The gale had not in the least abated during the night. The well was plumbed, and there was found to be a sudden and alarming increase of water. The carpenter was immediately ordered to examine the ship below, in order to find the cause of the vessel's making so much water. His report was, she being a very old vessel, her seams had considerably opened by her laboring so much, therefore, could devise no means at present to prevent the evil. He also reported, the mizen-mast to be in great danger. The heel of the mizen-mast being stepped between decks (a very unusual case, but probably it was placed there in order to make more room for stowage in the after-hold) was likely to work from its step, and thereby might do considerable damage to the ship. The captain now held a consultation with the officers, when it was deemed expedient to cut the mast away without delay: this was accordingly put into execution the following morning, as soon as the day made its appearance. The necessary preparations having been made, the carpenter began hewing at the mast, and quickly made a deep wound. Some of the crew were stationed ready to cut away the stays and lanyards, whilst the remaining part was anxiously watching the momentary crash which was to ensue; the word being given to cut away the weather-lanyards, as the ship gave a lee-lurch, the whole of the wreck of the mast plunged, without further injury, into the ocean. The weather still threatening a continuance, our principal employ was at the pumps, which were kept continually going. The sea had now rose to an alarming height, and frequently struck the vessel with great violence. Towards the afternoon part of the starboard bulwark was carried away by the shock of a heavy sea, which made the ship broach-to, and before she could answer her helm again, a sea broke through the fore-chains, and swept away the caboose and all its utensils from the deck; fortunately for the cook he was assisting at the pumps at the time, or he inevitably must have shared the same fate as his galley. Notwithstanding the exertions of the crew, the water gained fast, and made its way into the hold, which washed a great quantity of the ballast through the timber-holes into the hull, by which the suckers of the pumps were much damaged, and thereby frequently choaked. By such delays the leaks increased rapidly. We were under the necessity of repeatedly hoisting the pumps on deck, to apply different means which were devised to keep the sand from entering, but all our efforts proved ineffectual, and the pumps were deemed of no further utility. There was now no time to be lost; accordingly it was agreed that the allowance of fresh water should be lessened to a pint a man; the casks were immediately hoisted from the hold, and lashed between decks. As the water was started from two of them, they were sawed in two, and formed into buckets, there being no other casks on board fit for that purpose; the whips were soon applied, and the hands began bailing at the fore and after hatchways which continued without intermission the whole of the night, each man being suffered to take one hour's rest, in rotation. The morning of the 22d presented to our view a most dreary aspect,--a dismal horizon encircling--not the least appearance of the gale abating--on the contrary, it seemed to come with redoubled vigor--the ballast washing from side to side of the ship at each roll, and scarce a prospect of freeing her. Notwithstanding these calamities, the crew did not relax their efforts. The main-hatchway was opened and fresh buckets went to work; the captain and mate alternately relieving each other at the helm. The writer's station was to supply the crew with grog, which was plentifully served to them every two hours. By the motion of the ship the buckets struck against the combings of the hatchways with great violence, and in casting them in the hold to fill, they frequently struck on the floating pieces of timber which were generally used as chocks in stowing the hold. By such accidents the buckets were repeatedly stove, and we were under the necessity of cutting more of the water casks to supply their place. Starting the fresh water overboard was reluctantly done, particularly as we now felt the loss of the caboose, and were under the necessity of eating the meat raw which occasioned us to be very thirsty. Night coming on, the crew were not allowed to go below to sleep; each man, when it came to his turn, stretched himself on the deck. Oct. 23. Notwithstanding the great quantity of water bailed from the vessel, she gained so considerably that she had visibly settled much deeper in the water. All hands were now called aft, in order to consult on the best measures. It was now unanimously resolved to make for the island of Bermudas, it being the nearest land. Accordingly we bore away for it, but had not sailed many leagues before we found that the great quantity of water in the vessel had impeded her steerage so much that she would scarcely answer her helm; and making a very heavy lurch, the ballast shifted, which gave her a great lift to the starboard, and rendered it very difficult to keep a firm footing on deck. The anchors which were stowed on the larboard bow were ordered to be cut away, and the cables which were on the orlop deck to be hove overboard in order to right her; but all this had a very trifling effect, for the ship was now become quite a log. The crew were still employed in baling; one of whom, in preventing a bucket from being stove against the combings, let go his hold, and fell down the hatchway; with great difficulty he escaped being drowned or dashed against the ship's sides. Having got into a bucket which was instantly lowered, he was providentially hoisted on deck without any injury. During the night the weather became more moderate, and on the following morning, (Oct. 25), the gale had entirely subsided, but left a very heavy swell. Two large whales approached close to the ship. They sported around the vessel the whole of the day, and after dusk disappeared. Having now no further use of the helm, it was lashed down, and the captain and mate took their spell at the buckets. My assistance having been also required, a boy of less strength, whose previous business was to attend the cook, now took my former station of serving the crew with refreshments. This lad had not long filled his new situation of drawing out rum from the cask, before he was tempted to taste it, and which having repeatedly done he soon became intoxicated, and was missed on deck for some time. I was sent to look for him. The spigot I perceived out of the cask, and the liquor running about, but the boy I could not see for some time; however looking down the lazeretto (the trap-door of which was lying open), I found him fast asleep. He had luckily fallen on some sails which were stowed there, or he must have perished. On the 26th and 27th of Oct. the weather continued quite clear, with light baffling winds. A man was constantly kept aloft to look out for a sail. The rest of the crew were employed at the whips. On the 28th the weather began to lower, and appeared inclined for rain. This gave some uneasiness, being apprehensive of a gale. The captain therefore directed the carpenter to overhaul the long-boat, caulk her, and raise a streak which orders were immediately complied with; but when he went to his locker for oakum, he found it plundered of nearly the whole of his stock--all hands were therefore set to picking, by which means he was soon supplied. It was totally clear on the 29th, with a fresh breeze, but the ship heeled so much that her gunwale at times was under water, and the crew could scarcely stand on deck. All hands were now ordered to assemble aft, when the captain in a short address, pointed out the most probable manner by which they could be saved. All agreed in opinion with him, and it was resolved that the long-boat should be hoisted out as speedily as possible, and such necessaries as could be conveniently stowed, to be placed in her. Determined no longer to labor at the buckets, the vessel, which could not remain above water many hours after we had ceased baling, was now abandoned to her fate. I now began to reflect on the small chance we had of being saved--twenty-two people in an open boat--upwards of three hundred miles from the land--in a boisterous climate, and the whole crew worn out with fatigue! The palms of the crew's hands were already so flayed it could not be expected that they could do much execution with the oars--while thus reflecting on our perilous situation, one of our oldest seamen, who at this moment was standing near me, turned his head aside to wipe away a tear--I could not refrain from sympathizing with him--my heart was already full;--the captain perceiving my despondency bade me be of good cheer, and called me a young lubber. The boat having been hoisted out, and such necessaries placed in her as were deemed requisite, one of the hands was sent aloft to lash the colors downwards to the main-top-mast shrouds; which having done, he placed himself on the crosstrees, to look around him, and almost instantly hallooed out,--"A sail."--It would be impossible to describe the ecstatic emotions of the crew: every man was aloft, in order to be satisfied; though, a minute before, not one of the crew was able to stand upright. The sail was on our weather-bow, bearing right down on us with a smart breeze. She soon perceived us, but hauled her wind several times, in order to examine our ship. As she approached nearer she clearly perceived our calamitous situation, and hastened to our relief. She proved to be a Philadelphia schooner, bound to Cape Francois, in St. Domingo. The captain took us all on board in the most humane and friendly manner, and after casting our boat adrift, proceeded on his voyage. When we perceived our ship from the vessel on which we were now happily on board, her appearance was truly deplorable. The captain of the schooner congratulated us on our fortunate escape, and expressed his surprise that the ship should remain so long on her beam ends, in such a heavy sea, without capsizing. We soon began to distance the wreck, by this time very low in the water, and shortly after lost sight of her. The evening began to approach fast, when a man loosing the main-top-sail, descried a sail directly in the same course on our quarter. We made sail for her, and soon came within hail of her. She proved to be a brig from Glasgow, bound to Antigua. It was now determined, between the captains, that half of our people should remain in the schooner, and the captain, mate, eight of the crew, and myself, should get on board the brig. On our arrival at Antigua we met with much kindness and humanity.

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