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A First Letter
You may be sure I received with resentment enough the account that a most ridiculous book, entitled My Life and Adventures, had been published in England, being fully assured nothing of truth could be contained in such a work. And though it may be true that my extravagant story may be the proper foundation of a romance, yet as no man has a title to publish it better than I have to expose and contradict it, I send you this by one of my particular friends, who having an opportunity of returning into England has promised to convey it faithfully to you, by which, at least, two things shall be made good to the world. First, that they shall be satisfied in the scandalous and unjust manner in which others have already treated me; and it shall give, in the meantime, a larger account of what may at present be fit to be made public of my unhappy though successful adventures.
I shall not trouble my friends with anything of my original and first introduction into the world. I leave it to you to add for yourself what you think proper to be known on that subject. Only this I enjoin you to take notice of, that the account printed of me, with all the particulars of my marriage, my being defrauded, and leaving my family and native country on that account, is a mere fable and a made story, to embellish, as the writer of it perhaps supposed, the rest of his story, or perhaps to fill up the book that it might swell to a magnitude which his barren invention could not supply.
In the present account, I have taken no notice of my birth, infancy, youth, or any of that part which, as it was the most useless part of my years to myself so it is the most useless to anyone that shall read this work to know, being altogether barren of anything remarkable in itself, or instructing to others. It is sufficient to me to let the world know, as above, that the former accounts made public are utterly false, and to begin my account of myself at a period which may be more useful and entertaining.
It may be true that I may represent some particulars of my life in this tract with reserve or enlargement such as may be sufficient to conceal anything in my present circumstance that ought to be concealed and reserved with respect to my own safety, and therefore, if on pretence of justice the busy world should look for me in one part of the world when I am in another, search for my new kingdom in Madagascar, and should not find it, or search for my settlement on one side of the island when it lies on another, they must not take this ill; for self-preservation being the supreme law of nature, all things of this kind must submit to that.
In order then to come immediately to my story, I shall without any circumlocutions give you leave to tell the world that, being bred to sea from a youth, none of those romantic introductions published had any share in my adventures, or were any way the cause of my taking the courses I have since been embarked in. But as in several parts of my wandering life I had seen something of the immense wealth which the buccaneers and other adventurers met with in their scouring about the world for purchase, I had for a long time meditated in my thoughts to get possessed of a good ship for that purpose if I could, and to try my fortune. I had been some years in the Bay of Campeche, and though with patience I endured the fatigue of that laborious life, yet it was as visible to others as to myself that I was not formed by nature for a logwood cutter any more than I was for a foremast man, and therefore night and day I applied myself to study how I should dismiss myself from that drudgery, and get to be, first or last, master of a good ship—which was the utmost of my ambition at that time—resolving, in the meantime, that whenever any such thing should happen, I would try my fortune in the cruising trade, but would be sure not to prey upon my own countrymen.
It was many years after this before I could bring my purposes to pass, and I served first in some of the adventures of Captain Sharp, Captain Sawkins, and others, in their bold adventures in the South Seas (where I got a very good booty), was at the taking of Puno—where we were obliged to leave infinite wealth behind us, for want of being able to bring it away—and, after several adventures in those seas, was among that party who fought their way sword in hand through all the detachments of the Spaniards in the journey overland, across the Isthmus of Darien, to the north seas. And when others of our men got away—some one way, some another—I, with twelve more of our men, by help of a piragua, got into the Bay of Campeche, where we fell very honestly to cutting of logwood, not for want but to employ ourselves till we could make off.
Here three of our men died, and we that were left shared their money among us; and having stayed here two years, without seeing any way of escape that I dared to trust to, I at last with two of our men who spoke Spanish perfectly well made a desperate attempt to travel over land to L—, having buried all our money (which was worth 8,000 pieces of eight a man, though most of it in gold) in a pit in the earth which we dug twelve foot deep, and where it would have lain still, for no man knew where to look for it. But we had an opportunity to come at it again some years after.
We travelled along the seashore five days together, the weather exceeding hot, and did not doubt but we should so disguise ourselves as to be taken for Spaniards. But our better fortune provided otherwise for us, for the sixth day of our march we found a canoe lying on the shore with no one in her. We found, however, several things in her, which told us plainly that she belonged to some Englishmen who were on shore. So we resolved to sit down by her and wait. By and by we heard the Englishmen, who were seven in number, and were coming back to their boat having been up the country to an ingenio, where they had gotten great quantities of provisions, and were bringing it down to their boat which they had left on the shore (with the help of five Indians off whom they had bought it), not thinking there were any people thereabouts. When they saw us, not knowing who we were, they were just going to fire at us, when I perceiving it, held up a white flag as high as I could reach it, which was in short only a piece of an old linen waistcoat which I had on and pulled off for the occasion. Upon this, however, they forbore firing at us, and when they came nearer to us, they could easily see that we were their own countrymen. They enquired of us what we came there for. We told them we had travelled from Campeche where, being tired with the hardships of our fortune, and not getting any vessel to carry us where we durst go, we were even desperate, and cared not what became of us, so that—had not they come to us thus happily—we should have put ourselves into the hands of the Spaniards rather than have perished where we were.
They took us into their boat, and afterwards carried us on board their ship. When we came there we found they were a worse sort of wanderers than ourselves. For though we had been a kind of pirates, known and declared enemies to the Spaniards, yet it was to them only and to no other—for we never offered to rob any of our other European nations, either Dutch or French, much less English—but now we were listed in the service of the Devil indeed, and like him were at war with all mankind.
However, we not only were obliged to sort with them while with them, but in a little time the novelty of the crime wore off, and we grew hardened to it, like the rest. And in this service I spent four years more of my time.
Our captain in this pirate ship was named Nichols, but we called him Captain Redhand. It seems it was a Scots sailor gave him that name when he was not the head of the crew, because he was so bloody a wretch that he scarce ever was at the taking any prize but he had a hand in some butchery or other.
They were hard put to it for fresh provisions, or they would not have sent thus up into the country a single canoe. And when I came on board they were so straitened that, by my advice, they resolved to go to the isle of Cuba to kill wild beef, of which the south side of the island is so full. Accordingly, we sailed thither directly.
The vessel carried sixteen guns, but was fitted to carry twenty-two, and there was on board 160 stout fellows, as bold and as case-hardened for the work as ever I met with upon any occasion whatever. We victualled in this place for eight months, by our calculation. But our cook, who had the management of the salting and pickling the beef, ordered his matters so that, had he been let alone, he would have starved us all, and poisoned us too. For, as we are obliged to hunt the black cattle in the island sometimes a great while before we can shoot them, it should be observed that the flesh of those that are heated before they are killed is not fit to be pickled or salted up for keeping.
But this man happening to pickle up the beef without regard to this particular distinction, most of the beef so pickled stunk before we left the place, so that we were obliged to throw it all away. The men then said it was impossible to salt any beef in those hot countries so as to preserve it, and would have had us give it over, and have gone to the coast of New England or New York for provisions. But I soon convinced them of the mistake, and by only using the caution, viz. not to salt up any beef of those cattle that had been hunted, we cured 140 barrels of very good beef, and such as lasted us a very great while.
I began to be of some repute among them upon this occasion, and Redhand took me into the cabin with him to consult upon all emergencies, and gave me the name of captain, though I had then no command. By this means I gave him an account of all my adventures in the South Seas, and what a prodigious booty we got there with Captain Goignet, the Frenchman, and with Captain Sharp and others, encouraging him to make an attempt that way, and proposing to him to go away to Brazil, and so round the Straits of Magellan or Cape Horn.
However in this he was more prudent than I, and told me that not only the strength but the force of his ship was too small; not but that he had men enough, as he said very well, but he wanted more guns and a better ship. For indeed the ship we were in was but a weak crazy boat for so long a voyage. So he said he approved my project very well, but that he thought we should try to take some more substantial vessel for the business. And, says he, if we could but take a good stout ship fit to carry thirty guns, and a sloop or brigantine, he would go with all his heart.
This I could not but approve of, so we formed the scheme of the design, and he called all his men together and proposed it to them, and they all approved it with a general consent, and I had the honour of being the contriver of the voyage. From this time we resolved somehow or other to get a better ship under us, and it was not long before an opportunity presented to our mind.
Being now upon the coast of the island of Cuba, we stood away west, coasting the island, and so went away for Florida, where we cruised among the islands, and in the wake of the gulf. But nothing presented a great while. At length we spied a sail, which proved an English homeward-bound ship from Jamaica. We immediately chased her and came up with her. She was a stout ship, and the captain defended her very well, and had she not been a cumbered deep ship being full loaded so that they could scarce come at their guns, we should have had our hands full of her. But when they found what we were, and that being full of men, we were resolved to be on board them, and that we had hoisted the black flag—a signal that we would give them no quarter—they began to sink in their spirits, and soon after cried, "Quarter!", offering to yield. Redhand would have given them no quarter, but according to his usual practice would have thrown the men all into the sea. But I prevailed with him to give them quarter and good usage too, and so they yielded, and a very rich prize it was, only that we knew not what to do with the cargo.
When we came to consider more seriously the circumstances we were in by taking this ship, and what we should do with her, we found that she was not only deep laden but was a very heavy sailer, and that, in short, she was not such a ship as we wanted. So upon long debate, we resolved to take out of her all the rum, the indigo, and the money we could come at, with about twenty casks of sugar and twelve of her guns, with all the ammunition, small arms, bullets, etc. and let her go, which was accordingly done, to the great joy of the captain that commanded her. However, we took in her about 6,000 pounds sterling in pieces of eight.
But the next prize we met suited us better on all accounts, being a ship from Kinsale in Ireland laden with beef and butter and beer for Barbados. Never was ship more welcome to men in our circumstances. This was the very thing we wanted. We saw the ship early in the morning, at about five leagues' distance, and we were three days in chase of her. She stood from us, as if she would have run away from the Cape Verde Islands, and two or three times we thought she sailed so well she would have got away from us, but we had always the good luck to get sight of her in the morning. She was about 260 tons, an English frigate-built ship, and had twelve guns on board, but could carry twenty. The commander was a Quaker, but yet had he been equal to us in force it appeared by his countenance he would not have been afraid of his flesh, or have baulked using the carnal weapon of offence, viz. the cannon-ball.
We soon made ourselves master of this ship when once we came up with him, and he was everything that we wanted. So we began to shift our guns into her, and shifted about sixty tons of her butter and beef into our own frigate. This made the Irish vessel be a clear ship, lighter in the water, and have more room on board for fight if occasion offered.
When we had the old quaking skipper on board, we asked him whether he would go along with us. He gave us no answer at first, but when we asked him again he returned that he did not know whether it might be safe for him to answer the question. We told him he should either go or stay as he pleased. "Why then," says he, "I had rather ye will give me leave to decline it."
We gave him leave, and accordingly set him on shore afterwards at Nevis, with ten of his men. The rest went along with us as volunteers, except the carpenter and his mate, and the surgeon—those we took by force. We were now supplied as well as heart could wish, had a large ship in our possession with provisions enough for a little fleet rather than for a single ship. So with this purchase we went away for the Leeward Islands, and fain we would have met with some of the New York or New England ships, which generally come laden with peas, flour, pork, etc. But it was a long while before anything of that kind presented. We had promised the Irish captain to set him on shore with his company at Nevis, but we were not willing till we had done our business in those seas, because of giving the alarm among those islands. So we went away for St. Domingo, and making that island our rendezvous, we cruised to the eastward in hopes of some purchase. It was not long before we spied a sail, which proved to be a Bermuda sloop, but bound from Virginia or Maryland with flour, tobacco and some malt, the last a thing which in particular we knew not what to do with. However, the flour and tobacco were very welcome, and the sloop no less welcome than the rest, for she was a very large vessel and carried near sixty tons, and when not so deep laden, proved an excellent sailer. Soon after this we met with another sloop, but she was bound from Barbados to New England, with rum, sugar, and molasses. Nothing disturbed us in taking this vessel, but that being willing enough to let her go (for as to the sugar and molasses, we had neither use for them, or room for them), but to have let her go had been to give the alarm to all the coast of North America, and then what we wanted would never come in our way. Our Captain, justly called Redhand or Bloodyhand, was presently for dispatching them that they might tell no tales. And indeed the necessity of the method had very near prevailed. Nor did I much interpose here, I know not why. But some of the other men put him in as good a way, and that was to bring the sloop to an anchor under the lee of St. Domingo, and take away all her sails that she should not stir till we gave her leave.
We met with no less than five prizes more here in about twenty days' cruise, but none of them for our turn; one of them, indeed, was a vessel bound to St. Christopher with Madeira wine. We borrowed about twenty pipes of the wine, and let her go. Another was a New England built ship of about 150 tons, bound also home with sugar and molasses, which was good for nothing to us; however, we got near £1,000 on board her in pieces of eight, and taking away her sails as before, brought her to an anchor under the lee of the sloop. At last we met with what we wanted, and this was another ship of about a hundred tons from New England, bound to Barbados. She had on board 150 barrels of flour, about 350 barrels of peas, and ten tons of pork barrelled up and pickled, besides some live hogs and some horses, and six tons of beer.
Excerpted from The King of Pirates by DANIEL DEFOE. Copyright © 2008 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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