Sunday, February 28, 2016

“Onboard the Sch[ooner] Pilgrim at Sea, a Prisoner”

The Perseverance
Courtesy, Skinner, Inc.
These are dangerous times to be an American.  Evidenced by the histrionics of the current presidential campaign, many Americans certainly claim to feel more vulnerable and less safe than in earlier times.  The danger, they assert, stems from abroad—illegal immigrants threatening our jobs and “Islamoterrorists” threatening our lives.  We are, of course, not more threatened now than in previous eras, as Americans who lived through World War II and the Cold War can attest.  But, current mythologies have many Americans believing that this is the case.
Log of schooner Pilgrim, 1803-1805
Courtesy, Drew Archives
During a recent research foray in the beautifully appointed Drew Archives in Duxbury, Massachusetts, I was reminded of how a profound sense of national weakness gripped the country in earlier times.  Set within a mottled brown leather wrapper, the frayed and foxed pages of a logbook for the schooner Pilgrim reveal an episode of national insult.[i]  First mate Samuel Delano recorded the incident on the Pilgrim’s voyage into the Pacific to collect sealskins. The Pilgrim had been sailing as “consort” to the Perseverance, commanded by Samuel’s brothers, Amasa and William Delano when the vessels were separated off the coast of Chile.

“South America, Drawn from the Best Authorities: Regulated by Astron,” by Thomas Kitchin. Observat. [1790?]
            As Delano recorded, the morning of Thursday, May 2, 1805, “began with fresh gales and squalls of Rain.”  At 8:00 a.m., the Pilgrim’s watch caught sight of a ship in their wake, following closely behind:

           She gained fast on us, having all sail yet we lay by for her. At noon she came
            up with us and prov’d to be a Spanish ship of 20 guns. She boarded us and
            sent word for me to come aboard with my Papers which was complied with.

This was a Chilean coast guard vessel.  In a Kafkaesque exercise, the Spanish ordered Delano into the coaster’s great cabin, where they interrogated him for several hours, culminating in a demand that he sign a statement that their translator had produced, despite his plea that he could not read Spanish.  As Delano tells the story, he replied,

            But if it was what I had said and no different, I would sign it. They said it was
            the same. I then signed it. I then asked for a certificate to blank any other Spanish
            vessel I might meet that I had been examined by a king’s ship.

At this point, his captors informed him that he must proceed to Valparaiso. Delano protested that the Pilgrim had left men on St. Phelps, and sought to “use every means to convince them there was a danger 10 men’s perishing on and blank for water,” but he was denied.  Over the next two weeks, the Pilgrim sailed “in company with” the Spanish coaster.  During that time, the commandant, “as they termed him,” repeatedly sent for the schooner’s logbook and charts.  Meanwhile, Spanish sailors boarded the Pilgrim, rifling through the cargo and even the sea chests of the schooner’s crew.  As recorded in the Pilgrim’s log for 10 May 1805:

            In Custody of the Spaniards this day they overhauled everything in all parts
            of the vessel, Ripped up [?], unheaded Casks of Flour and Bread in the hold
            and Bundled things About as mutch as they chose and filled every part of
            the vessels with Spaniards to search as they saw for contraband goods.  But
            more Provable to me for other purposes our people still on board the Coster
            . . . say they have much suffered from since they had been prisoners.

The schooner and her coaster guard reached Valpariso by May 24, where they were reunited with Amasa and William aboard the Perseverence.  Fortunately, Amasa had sailed in these waters previously and has accrued some influence with Chilean authorities. He was able to arrange for the release of the schooner.  However, his efforts to reclaim “articles that the Spanish Sailors had stolen” from the Pilgrim and her crew—clothes, small goods, and cash—were unsuccessful—“all they got was a shrug of the shoulders.”  Samuel Delano recorded a further act of overreach in the ship’s log: The Commodore “sign’d the Back of my Clearance from Boston, [but] forbidding the Pilgrim to Navigate the Pacific Ocean.”

            As I note in True Yankees, Americans considered such incidents, all too common in the new republic’s early years, as insults to the national honor.  The last word goes to Samuel Delano in the Pilgrim’s log:

            I may never Die until I have had Just Recompence for Insults and Injuries
            Receiv’d from Spaniards men.

Special thanks to Carolyn Ravencroft, Research Librarian, Drew Archives, Duxbury, Massachusetts For more, 

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