James Fenimore Cooper.

Works (Volume 29) online

. (page 33 of 42)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 29) → online text (page 33 of 42)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

exports. Of the portion which went to the state, certain
parts were equally divided between the colonists, for imme
diate use, while other parts of the cargo were placed in
store, and held as a stock, to be drawn upon as occasion
might arise.

The voyage, like most adventures in sandal-wood, teas,
&c., in that day, had been exceedingly advantageous, and
produced a most beneficent influence on the fortunes and
comforts of the settlement. A well-selected cargo of the
coarse, low-priced articles most needed in such a colony,
could easily have been purchased with far less than the pro
ceeds of the cargo of tea that had been obtained at Can
ton, in exchange for the sandal-wood carried out; and
Saunders, accordingly, had filled the holds of both vessels
with such articles, besides bringing home with him a con
siderable amount in specie, half of which went into the
public coffers, and half into the private purse of governor
Woolston. Money had been in circulation in the colony
for the last twelve months ; though a good deal of caution
was used in suffering it to pass from hand to hand. The
disposition was to hoard; but this fresh arrival of specie
gave a certain degree of confidence, and the silver circu
lated a great deal more freely after it was known that so
considerable an amount had been brought in.

It would scarcely be in our power to enumerate the
articles that were received by these arrivals; they in
cluded everything in common use among civilized men,
from a grind-stone to a cart. Groceries, too, had been
brought in reasonable quantities, including teas, sugars,
&,c. ; though these articles were not so much considered
necessaries in America fifty years ago as they are to-day.
The groceries of the state as well as many other articles,
were put into the hands of the merchants, who either pur
chased them out and out, to dispose of at retail, or who
took them on commission with the same object. From
this time, therefore, regular shops existed, there being


three on the Reef and one on the Peak, where nearly
everything in use could be bought, and that, too, at prices
that were far from being exorbitant. The absence of im
port duties had a great influence on the cost of things, the
state getting its receipts in kind, directly through the
labour of its citizens, instead of looking to a custom
house in quest of its share for the general prosperity.

At that time very little was written about the great fal
lacy of the present day, Free Trade ; which is an illusion
about which men now talk, and dispute, and almost fight,
while no living mortal can tell what it really is. It is wise
for us in America, who never had anything but free trade,
according to modern doctrines, to look a little closely into
the sophisms that are getting to be so much in vogue;
and which, whenever they come from our illustrious ances
tors in Great Britain, have some such effect on the ima
ginations of a portion of our people, as purling rills and
wooded cascades are known to possess over those of cer
tain young ladies of fifteen.

Free trade, in its true signification, or in the only signi
fication which is not a fallacy, can only mean a commerce
that is totally unfettered by duties, restrictions, prohibi
tions, and charges of all sorts. Except among savages,
the world never yet saw such a state of things, and proba
bly never will. Even free trade ports have exactions that,
in a degree, counteract their pretended principle of liberty ;
and no free port exists, that is anything more, in a strict
interpretation of its uses, than a sort of bonded ware
house. So long as your goods remain there, on deposit
and unappropriated, they are not taxed ; but the instant
they are taken to the consumer, the customary impositions
must be paid.

Freer trade that is, a trade which is less encumbered
than some admitted state of things which previously ex
isted is easily enough comprehended ; but, instead of
conveying to the mind any general theory, it merely shows
that a lack of wisdom may have prevailed in the manage
ment of some particular interest ; which lack of wisdom is
now being tardily repaired. Prohibitions, whether direct,
or in the form of impositions that the trade will not bear,
may be remeved without leaving trade free. This or that


article may be thrown open to the general competition,
without import duty or tax of any sort, and yet the great
bulk of the commerce of a country be so fettered as to put
an effectual check upon anything like liberal intercourse.
Suppose, for instance, that Virginia were an independent
country. Its exports would be tobacco, flour, and corn ;
the tobacco crop probably more than equalling in value
those portions of the other crops which are sent out of the
country. England is suffering for food, and she takes off
everything like imposts on the eatables, while she taxes to
bacco to the amount of many hundred per cent. Can that
be called free trade?

There is another point of view in which we could wish
to protest against the shouts and fallacies of the hour.
Trade, perhaps the most, corrupt and corrupting influence
of life or, if second to anything in evil, second only to
politics is proclaimed to be the great means of human
izing, enlightening, liberalizing, and improving the human
race ! Now, against this monstrous mistake in morals, we
would fain raise our feeble voices in sober remonstrance.
That the intercourse which is a consequence of commerce
may, in certain ways, liberalize a man's views, we are
willing to admit ; though, at the same time, we shall insist
that there are better modes of attaining the same ends.
But it strikes us as profane to ascribe to this frail and mer
cenary influence a power which there is every reason to
believe the Almighty has bestowed on the Christian church,
and on that alone ; a church which is opposed to most of
the practices of trade, which rebukes them in nearly every
line of its precepts, and which, carried out in its purity,
can alone give the world that liberty and happiness which
a grasping spirit of cupidity is so ready to impute to the
desire to accumulate gold !

Fortunately, there was little occasion to dispute about
the theories of commerce at the Reef. The little trade
that did exist was truly unfettered ; but no one supposed
that any man was nearer to God on that account, except
as he was farther removed from temptations to do wrong.
Still, the governing principle was sound ; not by canting
about the beneficent and holy influences of commerce, but
by leaving to each man his individuality, or restraining it


only on those points which the public good demanded.
Instead of monopolizing the trade of the colony, which his
superior wealth and official power would have rendered
very easy, governor Woolston acted in the most liberal
spirit to all around him. With the exception of the Anne,
which was built by the colony, the council had decided, in
some measure contrary to his wishes, though in strict ac
cordance with what was right, that all the vessels were the
private property of Mark. After this decision, the governor
formally conveyed the Mermaid and the Abraham to the
state ; the former to be retained principally as a cruiser and
a packet, while the last was in daily use as a means of con
veying articles and passengers, from one island to the other.
The Neshamony was presented, out and out, to Betts, who
turned many a penny with her, by keeping her running
through the different passages, with freight, &c. ; going
from plantation to plantation, as these good people were in
the practice of calling their farms. Indeed, Bob did little
else, until the governor, seeing his propensity to stick by
the water, and ascertaining that the intercourse would
justify such an investment, determined to build him a
sloop, in order that he might use her as a sort of packet
and market-boat, united. A vessel of about forty-five tons
was laid down accordingly, and put into the water at the
end of six months, that was just the sort of craft suited to
Bob's wishes and wants. In the mean time, the honest
fellow had resigned his seat in the council, feeling that he
was out of his place in such a body, among men of more
or less education, and of habits so much superior and
more refined than his own. Mark did not oppose this step
in his friend, but rather encouraged it ; being persuaded
nothing was gained by forcing upon a man duties he was
hardly fitted to discharge. Self-made men, he well knew,
were sometimes very useful ; but he also knew that they
must be first made.

The name of this new sloop was the Martha, being thus
called in compliment to her owner's sober-minded, indus
trious and careful wife. She (the sloop, and not Mrs.
Betts) was nearly all cabin, having lockers forward and
aft, and wag fitted with benches in her wings, steamboat
fashion. Her canvas wa* of light duck, there being very


little heavy weather in that climate ; so that assisted by a
boy and a Kannaka, honest Bob could do anything he
wished with his craft. He often went to the Peak and
Rancocus Island in her, always doing something useful;
and he even made several trips in her, within the first few
months he had her running, as far as Betto's group. On
these last voyages, he carried over Kannakas as passengers,
as well as various small articles, such as fish-hooks, old
iron, hatchets even, and now and then a little tobacco.
These he exchanged for cocoa-nuts, which were yet scarce
in the colony, on account of the number of mouths to
consume them ; baskets, Indian cloth, paddles which the
islanders made very beautifully and with a great deal of
care ; bread-fruit, and other plants that abounded more at
Betto's group than at the Reef, or even on the Peak.

But the greatest voyage Betts made that season was
when he took a freight of melons. This was a fruit which
now abounded in the colony ; so much so as to be fed even
to the hogs, while the natives knew nothing of it beyond
the art of eating it. They were extraordinarily fond of
melons, and Bob actually filled the cabin of the Martha
with articles obtained in exchange for his cargo. Among
other things obtained on this occasion, was a sufficiency
of sandal-wood to purchase for the owner of the sloop as
many groceries as he could consume in his family for twelve
months ; though groceries were high, as may well be sup
posed, in a place like the Reef. Betts always admitted
that the first great turn in his fortune was the money made .
on this voyage, in which he embarked without the least
apprehension of Waally, and his never-ceasing wiles and
intrigues. Indeed, most of his sales were made to that
subtle and active chief, who dealt very fairly by him.

All this time the Rancocus was laid up for want of
something to freight her with. At one time the governor
thought of sending her to pick up a cargo where she could;
but a suggestion by a seaman of the name of Walker set
him on a different track, and put on foot an adventure
which soon attracted the attention of most of the sea-faring
portion of the community.

It had been observed by the crew of the Rancoeus, not
only in her original run through those seas, but in her two


subsequent passages from America, that the spermaceti
whale abounded in all that part of the ocean which lay to
windward of the group. Now Walker had once been
second officer of a Nantucket craft, and was regularly
brought up to the business of taking whales. Among the
colonists^wfre half a dozen others who had done more or
less at the same business; and, at the suggestion of Walker,.
who had gone out in the Rancocus as her first officer,
captain Saunders laid in a provision of such articles as
were necessary to set up the business. These consisted
of cordage, harpoons, spades, lances, and casks. Then
no small part of the lower hold of the Henlopen was stowed
with shook casks; iron for hoops, &.C., being also pro

As the sandal-wood was now obtained in only small
quantities, all idea of sending the ship to Canton again,
that year, was necessarily abandoned. At first this seemed
to be a great loss ; but when the governor came to reflect
coolly on the subject, not only he, but the council gener
ally, came to the conclusion that Providence was dealing
more mercifully with them, by turning the people into this
new channel of commerce, than to leave them to pursue
their original track. Sandal-wood had a purely adventitious
value, though it brought, particularly in that age, a most
enormous profit ; one so large, indeed, as to have a direct
and quick tendency to demoralize those embarked in the
trade. The whaling business, on the other hand, while it
made large returns, demanded industry, courage, perse
verance, and a fair amount of capital. Of vessels, the
colonists had all they wanted ; the forethought of Saunders
and the suggestions of Walker furnished the particular
means; and of provisions there was now a superabundance
in the group.

It was exceedingly fortunate that such an occupation
offered to interest and keep alive the spirit of the colonists.
Man must have something to do ; some main object to live
for ; or he is apt to degenerate in his ambition, and to fall
cff in his progress. No sooner was it announced that
whales were to be taken, however, than even the women
became alive to the results of the enterprise. This feeling
was kept up by the governor's letting it be officially known


that each colonist should have one share, or " lay," as it
was termed, in the expected cargo; which share, or " lay,"
was to be paid for in provisions. Those actually engaged
in the business had as many " lays" as it was thought they
could earn; the colony in its collected capacity had a cer
tain number more, in return for articles received ffpm the
public stores; and the governor, as owner of the vessels
employed, received one-fifth of the whole cargo, or cargoes.
This last was a very small return for the amount of capital
employed ; and it was so understood by those who reaped
the advantages of the owner's liberality.

The Rancocus was not fitted out as a whaler, but was
reserved as a ware-house to receive the oil, to store it until
a cargo was collected, and then was to be used as a means
to convey it to America. For this purpose she was stripped,
had her rigging thoroughly overhauled, was cleaned out
and smoked for rats, and otherwise was prepared for ser
vice. While in this state, she lay alongside of the natural
quay, near and opposite to some extensive sheds which had
been erected, as a protection against the heats of the cli

The Henlopen, a compact clump of a brig, that was
roomy on deck, and had stout masts and good rigging, was
fitted out for the whaler ; though the Anne was sent to
cruise in company. Five whale-boats, with the necessary
crews, were employed ; two remaining with the Anne, and
three in the brig. The Kannakas were found to be inde
fatigable at the oar, and a good number of them were used
on this occasion. About twenty of the largest boys be
longing to the colony were also sent out, in order to accus
tom them to the sea. These boys were between the ages
of eight and sixteen, and were made useful in a variety of

Great was the interest awakened in the colony when the
Henlopen and the Anne sailed on this adventure. Many
of the women, the wives, daughters, sisters, or sweethearts
of the whalers, would gladly have gone along; and so in
tense did the feeling become, that the governor determined
to make a festival of the occasion, and to offer to take out
himself, in the Mermaid, as many of both sexes as might
choose to make a trip of a few days at sea, and be wit-


nesses of the success of their friends in this new under
taking. Betts also took a party in the Martha. The
Abraham, too, was in company ; while the Neshamony was
sent to leeward, to keep a look-out in that quarter, lest the
natives should take it into their heads to visit the group,
while so many of its fighting-men, fully a hundred altoge
ther, were absent. It is true, those who stayed at home
were fully able to beat off Waally and his followers; but
the governor thought it prudent to have a look-out. Such
was the difference produced by habit. When the whole
force of the colony consisted of less than twenty men, it
was thought sufficient to protect itself, could it be brought
to act together ; whereas, now, when ten times twenty were
left at home, unusual caution was deemed necessary, be
cause the colony was weakened by this expedition of so
many of its members. But everything is comparative with

When all was ready, the whaling expedition sailed ; the
governor leading on board the Mermaid, which had no less
than forty females in her Bridget and Anne being among
them. The vessels went out by the southern channel,
passing through the strait at the bridge in order to do so.
This course was taken, as it would be easier to turn to
windward in the open water between the south cape and
the Peak, than to do it in the narrow passages between the
islands of the group. The Mermaid led off handsomely,
sparing the Henlopen her courses and royals. Even the
Abraham could spare the last vessel her foresail, the new
purchase turning out to be anything but a traveller. The
women wondered how so slow a vessel could ever catch a
whale !

The direction steered by the fleet carried it close under
the weather side of the Peak, the summit of which was
crowded by the population, to see so unusual and pleasing
a sight. The Martha led, carrying rather more sail, in
proportion to her size, than the Mermaid. It happened, by
one of those vagaries of fortune which so often thwart the
best calculations, that a spout was seen to windward of the
cliffs, at a moment when the sloop was about a league
nearer to it than any other vessel. Now, every vessel in
the fleet had its whale-boat and whale-boat's crew ; though


the men of all but those who belonged to the Henlopen
were altogether inexperienced. It is true, they had learned
the theory of the art of taking a whale ; but they were
utterly wanting in the practice. Betts was not the man
to have the game in view, however, and not make an effort
to overcome it. His boat was manned in an instant, and
away he went, with Socrates in the bows, to fasten to a
huge creature that was rolling on the water in a species of
sluggish enjoyment of its instincts. It often happens that
very young soldiers, more especially when an esprit de
corps has been awakened in them, achieve things from
which older troops would retire, under the consciousness
of their hazards. So did it prove with the Martha's boat's
crew on this occasion. Betts steered, and he put them
directly on the whale ; Socrates, who looked fairly green
under the influence of alarm and eagerness to attack, both
increased by the total novelty of his situation, making his
dart of the harpoon when the bows of the fragile craft were
literally over the huge body of the animal. All the energy
of the negro was thrown into his blow, for he felt as if it
were life or death with him ; and the whale spouted blood
immediately. It is deemed a great exploit with whalers,
though it is not of very rare occurrence, to inflict a death-
wound with the harpoon ; that implement being intended
to make fast with to the fish, which is subsequently slain
with what is termed a lance. But Socrates actually killed
the first whale he ever struck, with the harpoon ; and from
that moment he became an important personage in the
fisheries of those seas. That blow was a sort of Palo Alto
affair to him, and was the forerunner of many similar suc
cesses. Indeed, it soon got to be said, that " with Bob
Betts to put the boat on, and old Soc to strike, a whale
commonly has a hard time on't." It is true, that a good
many boats were stove, and two Kannakas were drowned,
that very summer, in consequence of these tactics; but
the whales were killed, and Betts and the black escaped
with whole skins.

On this, the first occasion, the whale made the water
foam, half-filled the boat, and would have dragged it under,
but for the vigour of the negro's arm, and the home cha
racter of the blow, which caused the fish to turn up and


breathe his last, before he had time to run any great dis
tance. The governor arrived on the spot, just as Bob
had got a hawser to the whale and was ready to fill away
for the South Cape channel again. The vessels passed
each other cheering, and the governor admonished his
friend not to carry the carcass too near the dwellings, lest it
should render them uninhabitable. But Betts had his an
chorage already in his eye, and away he went, with the
wind on his quarter, towing his prize at the rate of four or
five knots. It may be said, here, that the Martha went
into the passage, and that the whale was floated into shallow
water, where sinking was out of the question, and Bob and
his Kannakas, about twenty in number, went to work to peel
off the blubber in a very efficient, though not in a very
scientific, or artistical manner. They got the creature
stripped of its jacket of fat that very night, and next morn
ing the Martha appeared with a set of kettles, in which the
blubber was tried out. Casks were also brought in the
sloop, and, when the work was done, it was found that that
single whale yielded one hundred and eleven barrels of oil,
of which thirty-three barrels were head-matter ! This was
a capital' commencement for the new trade, and Betts con
veyed the whole of his prize to the Reef, where the oil was
started into the ground-tier of the Rancocus, the casks of
which were newly repaired, and ready stowed to receive it.
A week later, as the governor in the Mermaid, cruising
in company with the Henlopen and Abraham, was looking
out for whales about a hundred miles to windward of the
Peak, having met with no success, he was again joined by
Betts in the Martha. Everything was reported right at the
Reef. The Neshamony had come in for provisions and
gone out again, and the Rancocus would stand up without
watching, with her hundred and eleven barrels of oil in
her lower hold. The governor expressed his sense of
Betts' services, and reminding him of his old faculty of
seeing farther and truer than most on board, he asked him
to go up into the brig's cross-trees and take a look for
whales. The keen-eyed fellow had not been aloft ten
minutes, before the cry of " spouts spouts !" was ringing
through the vessel. The proper signal was made to the
Henlopen and Abraham, when everybody made sail in the


necessary direction. By sunset a great number of whale
were fallen in with, and as Capt. Walker gave it as his
opinion they were feeding in that place, no attempt was
made on them until morning. The next day, however,
with the return of light, six boats were in the water, and
pulling off towards the game.

On this occasion, Walker led on, as became his rank
and experience. In less than an hour he was fast to a very
large whale, a brother of that taken by Belts : and the
females had the exciting spectacle, of a boat towed by an
enormous fish, at a rate of no less than twenty knots in an
hour. It is the practice among whalers for the vessel to
keep working to windward, while the game is taking, in
order to be in the most favourable position to close with
the boats, after the whale is killed. So long, however, as
the creature has life in it, it would be folly to aim at any
other object than getting to windward, for the fish may be
here at one moment, and a league off in a few minutes
more. Sometimes, the alarmed animal goes fairly out of
sight of the vessel, running in a straight line some fifteen
or twenty miles, when the alternatives are to run the
chances of missing the ship altogether, or to cut from the
whale. By doing the last not only is a harpoon lost, but
often several hundred fathoms of line.; and it not unfre-
quently happens that whales are killed with harpoons in
them, left by former assailants, and dragging after them a
hundred, or two, fathoms of line.

It may be well, here, to explain to the uninitiated reader,
that the harpoon is a barbed spear, with a small, but stout
cord, or whale line fastened to it. The boat approaches
the fish bow foremost, but is made sharp at both ends that
it may " back off," if necessary ; the whale being often
dangerous to approach, and ordinarily starting, when struck,

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 29) → online text (page 33 of 42)