"...a worthwhile read." -- Civil War Book Review
"...an overdue reminder of a little-known naval squadron." -- Proceedings
In 1844 the USS Yorktown sailed from New York, as part of the U.S. Navy's newly established African Squadron, to interdict slave ships leaving the African coast. Aboard the sloop of war, Master's Mate John C. Lawrence, an educated New Yorker in his early twenties, kept a private journal describing what happened during the extraordinary two-year voyage and/i>… See more details below
In 1844 the USS Yorktown sailed from New York, as part of the U.S. Navy's newly established African Squadron, to interdict slave ships leaving the African coast. Aboard the sloop of war, Master's Mate John C. Lawrence, an educated New Yorker in his early twenties, kept a private journal describing what happened during the extraordinary two-year voyage and his reactions to the events he witnessed. His frank and vivid observations take the reader into a world known to few. Through Lawrence's eyes we see the men of the Yorktown in action and encounter many other nineteenth-century figures either engaged in or attempting to combat the slave trade. Among the cast of characters are an infamous slave ship captain, an abolitionist slave-owning minister, the Yorktown's admirable skipper, Liberian colonists, and native Africans. In a final entry we bear witness to Lawrence's nearly overwhelming confrontation with the horrors of slavery as he records his experiences aboard the captured slaver Pons on the way to Liberia with more than nine hundred slaves.
In addition to Lawrence's never-before published journal, this book includes material that narrates parts of the slavery story Lawrence could not tell. C. Herbert Gilliland sets the journal in historical context to give readers a full understanding of events as they unfolded in the mid-1840s. Although there have been many books written on the slave trade and many others on life in the antebellum Navy, no other book has succeeded so well at bringing to life the issues of America's role in the Middle Passage while exposing the thoughts of a nineteenth-century naval officer.
"...an overdue reminder of a little-known naval squadron." -- Proceedings
It took twenty-eight fairly uneventful days to cross the Atlantic.
Captain Bell's officers thought well of him, and generally got along
with each other. As in the wardrooms of every U.S. Navy ship at
the time, officers perused the pages of Prescott's History of the
Conquest of Mexico in anticipation of their own involvement in a
The weather after leaving New York had at first been cold with
easterly winds and occasional storms. As the ship sailed further
south the weather became pleasant, and the wind generally favorable;
the Yorktown dropped anchor off Funchal on the island of
Madeira on the afternoon of 10 November. The next day, assisted
by boats from the Portuguese frigate Diana, the Yorktown was
towed to a better anchorage. Gun salutes between the American
warship and the local authorities boomed across the harbor.
Bumboats brought fresh vegetables and meat for the crew. The
next couple of days were taken with loading twenty-seven tons of
water, painting theoutside of the ship, and blacking the rigging.
The Yorktown's crew did not have liberty, but some of the officers,
including Lawrence, were able to take a boat ashore and play
the tourist. It seems likely that Lawrence had been keeping his
journal for some weeks, probably since departing New York.
Unfortunately the journal as we have it today is missing some
leaves at the beginning and end, so for us Lawrence's remarks
begin upon his arrival at Madeira. On the first surviving page of
his journal, which begins in mid-entry, we find him there on
13 November 1844. He has been visiting with the Portuguese garrison
and is interested in their pay and living conditions.
13 November 1844 (continued)
The sergeant gets 10 cents per diem, sans ration, and a
room in the barracks-the drummers receive the same
pay-and if I remember aright a lieutenant get[s] $8.00
per month with the ration improved upon.
The accommodations for the Sergeants' families in
the barrack seemed very comfortable. Many of the females
were washing away at foul clothes like good fellows; perhaps
this is another source of revenue to the sergeants'
funds. We tried the effects of a few pert queries in English
to these soldiers' wives etc.-but not understanding the
tongue in which we spoke, we might as well have sung
Icelandic Madrigals to them as far as the effect went. After
scouring various noted parts of the town (population
Madeira is 120,000-ditto of Funchal 128,000) such as
those where abide vice in the female form (horrid to think
of) etc. etc., we hired a horse apiece. But before going farther
I feel it an incumbent duty I owe to myself to mention
(in case some of my moral friends might get hold of this
journal) that our object in going in the vicinity of Rica del
Forno was really from a species of sad and I might say
pious curiosity to ascertain the amount of sin in petticoats
and underdrawers that actually did exist in this town: but
for no other reason. Can culpability or criminality be
attached to such a visit when actuated by such noble incentives?
I calculate no, decidedly! Not exactly, god be
praised!-at least so goes my opinion. As aforesaid, we
hired horses and went beyond the precincts of the town,
perhaps to the distance of five miles. But the great inconvenience
to this kind of excursion is, you are compelled to
have either a good sized boy or man following all the way
behind you on foot, at the same time clinging to your
horse's tail for assistance, which is a great impediment to
the horse especially while ascending hills, which abound
here. However, it is the custom of the country and you
must bear it; these people consider that they add a large
amount to your felicity, instead of which they are actually
producing a violent state of irritation in one's mind. From
the summit of the hills, the roadstead and vicinity of
Funchal form one of the most picturesque scenes that I
remember of ever having seen. After gazing at this
panorama-like view, we descended to the town, got clear of
our horses, sought rest and repose at the London Hotel,
which Hotel does furnish most delicious wines at very reasonable
prices. I shall not forget their various flavors of the
various qualities that I partook of on this eventful night I
know! But as I should not succeed in conveying an adequate
idea of their delicacy of relish of any of them if I
were to attempt it but shall drop the matter abruptly-likewise
avoid the other events of the night-for they were
decidedly queerish in their nature. Next morning went on
board-an abominable sea on-some expectation of being
Some of the "queerish" events of the night probably involved
Passed Midshipman Neville, of whose drunkenness Captain Bell
took particular note (and of whom more later). Three crewmen
were flogged for drunkenness the next day, but as an officer Neville
could not be flogged.
14 November 1844
Pleasant breezes, without the usual serenity of atmosphere.
After I had got on board, I remembered that I had neglected
to make some purchases from the nunneries,
although I had passed several of these establishments, and
saw the female inmates, looking out like so many unhappy
immured [imprisoned] delinquents. Never mind; will see
Madeira soon again, I hope.
One souvenir of Funchal was a sort of flower display the local
nuns made from feathers. Among the various vessels stopping at
Funchal, Yorktown officers notice an American barque, the Pons of
Philadelphia. The strikingly handsome Pons, captained by her
owner, John Graham, is employed in legitimate trade, chiefly
between Africa and Brazil, and is now on her way to Rio de Janeiro.
Lieutenant Steele remembers seeing her in Norfolk a year earlier.
She had then been under navy charter, bringing back from
Gibraltar the crew and salvaged metal parts of the unfortunate
USS Missouri. One of the American navy's two new steam frigates
(of the total four steamers), the Missouri was destroyed by fire after
a crewman dropped a demijohn of turpentine onto a hot engine
part. A year from now the Yorktown (and Lawrence) will encounter
the Pons again, under very different circumstances.
15 November 1844
Preparations for getting under way.
16 November 1844
All ready, hove into sixty fathoms cable. At about 5:30 P.M.
made sail, hove up our anchor, and stood out to Sea bound
for Teneriffe [Tenerife].
17 November 1844
Weather mild and agreeable, wind from Northward and
Doubtless a very heavy gale or even a hurricane has
within a day or two swept the sea from the coast of Africa
as far West as eight or ten degrees; the sea is literally covered
with grasshoppers that have been blown from the
land-Red they are-as fresh born babies-look queer, no
two ways about it.
18 November 1844
Glorious breezes; but to tell the truth I do not know from
what direction, whether fair for us, or foul, the weather
being so delicious that it renders us so voluptuously listless
as to make us totally regardless as to our course, destination,
or rate of going-just as good as being in a Turkish
bath or under the influence of Opium. But still a little ice
would be none the worse, never mind how jagged in form,
how small in quantity allowing it to be no smaller than a
reasonably sized man's head. T'would be cheap at 25 cents
per pound-think of the Iced wines that we would enjoy!
This is an enjoyment sometimes indulged in at Madeira,
the ice being procured from the Mountaintops.
It is a temptation to think of (but after all perhaps we
are better without it) "lead us not into temptation"! as the
old prayer says.
19 November 1844
After being refreshed with a night's slumber, I arose, put on
my garments, went on deck and encountered a delightful
breeze and pleasant weather. The day was not marked by
any extraordinary transaction. A few lighthearted fish, well
grown, at the age of puberty probably, played a few old
fashioned gambols that have been in vogue amongst the
scaly tribe for countless years back.
20 November 1844
Fine weather still. Nothing occurred until about 4 P.M.
when the far famed Peak of Teneriffe appeared to view in
all the lofty grandeur that has ever been ascribed to it-as
regular and even it seems in formation as if it had been the
stupendous work of man. At the distance of fifteen or
twenty miles from the Westward it appears like a perfect
cone. At 11 close in by the land; we are allowed consequently
a fine view of its general aspect, which resembles a
good deal that of Madeira, though all islands of volcanic
formation are generally pretty much all alike-but the difference
between this island and Madeira is that the latter
affords a far greater degree of verdure.
SANTA CRUZ, TENERIFE, CANARY ISLES
Tenerife often charms visitors. Surgeon Williams notes the tidy
streets, women wearing white mantillas, and many camels used as
beasts of burden. Lawrence, too, finds much to admire.
21 November 1844
After taking in all sail and letting go our anchor we were at
leisure to view the town of Santa Cruz, abreast of which we
are lying. It is a remarkably neat and beautifully built
town; most of the dwellings are white, giving it a very light
and lively appearance. The bumboat men that come off
with fruits and vegetables to the ship show the most inordinate
avidity to acquire money by the sale of their stock in
trade, so much so as actually to heave each other overboard
and fight like clawless cats while in the water. The anchoring
ground here is very fair; we are lying in about twenty-five
fathoms water, mixed bottom unlike Funchal. This
place bears some semblance to a harbor, though not a very
safe one. Now in my breast rise useless and vain, but choking
regrets to think that I cannot draw, "when I view these
scenes so charming"-but might not with as much reason,
a barren wife bewail her unfruitfulness, as for me to sigh
for the want of the above accomplishment when like the
above mentioned wife, I know it isn't in me. A delightful
breeze from the Eastward is refreshing us. Upon the information
of two visitors who came on board of us today, the
one a Captain of a smuggler, and also as I suspect, a slaver,
held in durance but not very vile (being on large gaol [jail]
liberties) by the Spanish government for some violation of
revenue law or other-the other one his bail (and a devilish
acute fellow too I guess)-we find amongst other things
that the insect that we have taken all along for
Grasshoppers prove to be the African Locust. Millions are
ashore-people are destroying them as fast as they can.
Laguna is a delightfully romantic situated town five miles
in the interior amongst the mountains: fourteen windmills
all in a row, and all at a time in operation; two or three
cathedrals; one or two monasteries; besides several public
squares, serve to give this place a very interesting and
pretty appearance. But a more extensive account of this
place must be postponed until we visit the Island again. It
is now all hands up anchor; hour 7 P.M. and fair wind.
After the anchor was tripped, the wind not being strong
enough to pay her off short, around we came within our
length of falling foul of a brig (Spanish) at anchor, which
however was prevented by heaving all three topsails to the
mast and flatting in our jibs, which gave her sternway, at
the same time paying her off to starboard. Consequently we
cleared the brig and then braced round, filled away and
stood out to sea-all sail set upon the ship to studding sails
(topsails), course ESE.
22 November 1844
Wind fair and plenty of it. Thus far no sickness has
occurred on board of us. May it continue so on that accursedly
infectious coast of Africa-"Mais nous verrons, n'importe"-we
are enjoying the "trades" now in their fullest
blasts. Our good ship is amongst other gambols showing
her bright red bottom at the rate often knots per hour-all
sail set from Topgallant Studding sails to courses. At about
2 P.M. we came into green water, a peculiarity of this latitude
(22° N) whose cause has as yet remained undiscovered,
no shoals being noticeable by the lead. But nevertheless
that must be the reason of this alteration from the
general colour. Green sand may be the bottom: This part or
rather eight or ten degrees further south of this the Atlantic
Ocean abounds with rocks and shoals. With this wind we
may soon expect to be in Porto Praya, our next port of destination.
And after that-I hate to utter it-that baleful,
and most deleterious of all regions, that most pestilential
bower from which so few white men return that are induced
to visit it-or if they return, they only reappear as
shadows and phantoms of their former selves. The being
who ventures into these insidious realms, upon his first
arrival, suddenly feels his soul disencumbered of all his former
apprehensions in regard to the latent dangers in shape
of pestilence that beset him, when his eye meets the magnificent
array of vegetation that advances to the very
water's edge and seems to invite him to their depths as a
delightful retreat from his late toils and anxiety upon the
sea, and the burning heat that pervades everywhere without
its precincts. He yields to the temptation, leaps upon
the strand, and seems suddenly to have become inspired
with an elastic delight-when he perceives himself surrounded
with the glorious and profuse variety of verdure in
every shape and on every side. The long and glossy leaved
Plantain, Mango and Orange trees offer their inviting
golden fruits to his appetite. The tall and solemn cocoanut
and Palm trees seem to look down as in welcome of his
Excerpted from Voyage to a Thousand Cares
by C. Herbert Gilliland
Copyright © 2004 by C. Herbert Gilliland.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
C. Herbert Gillaland is professor of English at the U.S. Naval Academy and a retired captain in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He is the coauthor of Admiral Dan Gallery.
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