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in a way to render his immediate neighbourhood somewhat
ticklish. The fish usually goes down when harpooned,
and the line must be permitted to " run-out," or he would
drag the boat after him. But a whale must breathe as
well as a man, and the faster he runs the sooner he must
come up for a fresh stock of air. Now, the proper use of
the harpoon and the line is merely to fasten to the fish ;
though it does sometimes happen that the creature is killed


by the former. As soon as the whale re-appears on the
surface, and becomes stationary, or even moderates his
speed a little, the men begin to haul in line, gradually
closing with their intended victim. It often happens that
the whale starts afresh, when line must be permitted to run
out anew ; this process of " hauling in" and " letting run"
being often renewed several times at the taking of a single
fish. When the boat can be hauled near enough, the
officer at its head darts his lance into the whale, aiming at
a vital part. If the creature " spouts blood," it is well ;
but if not hit in the vitals, away it goes, and the whole bu
siness of " letting run," " towing," and " hauling in" has
to be gone ouer again.

On the present occasion, Walker's harpooner, or boat-
steerer, as he is called, had made a good " heave," and
was well fast to his fish. The animal made a great circuit,
running completely round the Mermaid, at a distance
which enabled those on board her to see all that was pass
ing. When nearest to the brig, and the water was curling
off the bow of the boat in combs two feet higher than her
gunwale, under the impulse given by the frantic career of
the whale, Bridget pressed closer to her husband's side,
and, for the first time in her life, mentally thanked Heaven
that he was the governor, since that was an office which
did not require him to go forth and kill whales. At that
very moment, Mark was burning with the desire to have
a hand in the sport, though he certainly had some doubts
whether such an occupation would suitably accord with the
dignity of his office.

Walker got alongside of his whale, within half a mile
of the two brigs, and to-leeward of both. In consequence
of this favourable circumstance, the Henlopen soon had its
prize hooked on, and her people at work stripping off the
blubber. This is done by hooking the lower block of a
powerful purchase in a portion of the substance, and then
cutting a strip of convenient size, and heaving on the fall
at the windlass. The strip is cut by implements called
spades, and the blubber is torn from the carcass by the
strain, after the sides of the " blanket-piece," as the strip
is termed, are separated from the other portions of the ani
mal by the cutting process. The " blanket-pieces" are


often raised as high as the lower mast-heads, or as far a*
the purchase will admit of its being carried, when a trans-
verse cut is made, and the whole of the fragment is lowered
on deck. This " blanket-piece" is then cut into pieces
and put into the try-works, a large boiler erected on deck,
in order to be " tryed-out," when the oil is cooled, and
" started" below into casks. In this instance, the oil was
taken on board the Abraham as fast as it was " tryed-out"
n board the Henlopen, the weather admitting of the

But that single whale was far from being the only fruits
of Betts' discovery. The honest old Delaware seaman took
two more whales himself, Socrates making^ fast, and he
killing the creatures. The boats of the Henlopen also took
two more, and that of the Abraham, one. Betts in the
Martha, and the governor in the Mermaid towed four of
these whales into the southern channel, and into what now
got the name of the Whaling Bight. This was the spot
where Betts had tryed out the first fish taken, and it proved
to be every way suitable for its business. The Bight
formed a perfectly safe harbour, and there was not only a
sandy shoal on which the whales could be floated and kept
from sinking, a misfortune that sometimes occurs, but it
had a natural quay quite near, where the Rancocus, her
self, could lie. There was fresh water in abundance, and
an island of sufficient size to hold the largest whaling esta
blishment that ever existed. This island was incontinently
named Blubber Island. The greatest disadvantage was the
total absence of soil, and consequently of all sorts of herb
age ; but its surface was as smooth as that of an artificial
quay, admitting of the rolling of casks with perfect ease.
The governor no sooner ascertained the facilities of the
place, which was far enough from the ordinary passage to
and from the Peak to remove the nuisances, than he de
termined to make it his whaling haven.

The Abraham was sent across to Rancocus Island for a
load of lumber, and extensive sheds were erected, in time
to receive the Henlopen, when she came in with a thousand
barrels of oil on board, and towing in three whales that she
had actually taken in the passage between Cape South and
the Peak. By that time, the Rancocus had been moved,


being stiff enough to be brought from the Reef to Blubber
Island, under some of her lower sails. This moving of
vessels among the islands of the group was a very easy
matter, so long as they were not to be carried to windward ;
and, a further acquaintance with the channels, had let the
mariners into the secret of turning up, against the trades
and within the islands, by keeping in such reaches as
enabled them to go as near the wind as was necessary,
while they were not compelled to go nearer than a craft
could lie.

Such was the commencement of a trade that was des
tined to be of the last importance to our colonists. The
oil that was brought in, from this first cruise, a cruise that
lasted less than two months, and including that taken by
all the boats, amounted to two thousand barrels, quite fill
ing the lower hold of the Rancocus, and furnishing her
with more than half of a full cargo. At the prices which
then ruled in the markets of Europe and America, three
thousand five hundred barrels of spermaceti, with a due
proportion of head matter, was known to be worth near
an hundred thousand dollars; and might be set down as
large a return for labour, as men could obtain under the
most advantageous circumstances.


" The forest reels beneath the stroke

Of sturdy woodman's axe ;
The earth receives the white man's yoke,

And pays her willing tax

Of fruits, and flowers, and golden harvest fields,
And all that nature to blithe labour yields."


NOTWITHSTANDING the great success which attended the
beginning of the whaling, it was six months before the
Rancocus was loaded, and ready to sail for Hamburgh
with her cargo. This time the ship went east, at once,


instead of sailing to the westward, as she had previously
done taking with her a crew composed partly of colonists
and partly of Kannakas. Six boys, however, went in the
ship, the children of reputable settlers ; all of whom the
governor intended should be officers, hereafter, on board
of colony vessels. To prevent difficulties on the score of
national character, on leaving America the last time,
Saunders had cleared for the islands of the Pacific and a
market ; meaning to cover his vessel, let her go where she
might, by the latter reservation. This question of nation
ality offered a good deal of embarrassment in the long run,
and the council foresaw future embarrassments as con
nected with the subject ; but, every one of the colonists
being of American birth, and America being then neutral,
and all the American-built vessels having American papers,
it was thought most prudent to let things take their natural
course, under the existing arrangement, until something
occurred to render a more decided policy advisable.

As soon as the Rancocus got off, the Henlopen went
out again, to cruise about two hundred leagues to wind
ward ; while the inshore fishery was carried on by Betts,
in the Martha, with great spirit and most extraordinary
success. So alive did the people get to be to the profit
and sport of this sort of business, that boats were con
structed, and crews formed all over the colony, there being
often 'as many as a dozen different parties out, taking
whales near the coasts. The furor existed on the Peak,
as well as in the low lands, and Bridget and Anne could
not but marvel that men would quit the delicious coolness,
the beautiful groves, and all the fruits and bountiful pro
ducts of that most delightful plain, to go out on the ocean,
in narrow quarters, and under a hot sun, to risk their lives
in chase of the whale ! This did the colonists, neverthe
less, until the governor himself began to feel the necessity
of striking a whale, if he would maintain his proper place
in the public opinion.

As respects the governor, and the other high functiona
ries of the colony, some indulgence was entertained ; it
being the popular notion that men who lived so much
within doors, and whose hands got to be BO soft, were not
exactly the sort of persons who would fee most useful at


the oar. Heaton, and the merchants, Pennock, and the
two younger Woolstons, with the clergyman, were easily
excused in the popular mind ; but the governor was known
to be a prime seaman, and a silent expectation appeared to
prevail, that some day he would be seen in the bow of a
boat, lancing a whale. Before the first season was over,
this expectation was fully realized ; Governor Woolston
heading no less than four of what were called the colony
boats, or boats that belonged to the state, and fished as
much for honour as profit, taking a fine whale on each
occasion. These exploits of the governor's capped the
climax, in the way of giving a tone to the public mind, on
the subject of taking whales. No man could any longer
doubt of its being honourable, as well as useful, and even
the boys petitioned to be allowed to go out. The Kanna-
kas, more or less of whom were employed in each vessel,
rose greatly in the public estimation, and no young man
could expect to escape animadversion, unless he had been
present at least once at the taking of a whale. Those who
had struck or lanced a fish were now held in a propor
tionate degree of repute. It was, in fact, in this group
that the custom originally obtained, which prohibited a
young man from standing at the head of the dance who
had not struck his fish ; and not at Nantucket, as has been
erroneously supposed.

In* a community where such a spirit was awakened, it is
not surprising that great success attended the fisheries.
The Henlopen did well, bringing in eight hundred barrels;
but she found six hundred more in waiting for her, that
had been taken by the in-shore fishermen ; some using the
Abraham, some the Martha, some the Anne, and others
again nothing but the boats, in which they pursued their
game. In the latter cases, however, when a fish was
taken, one of the larger vessels was usually employed to
take the creature into the Bight. In this way was the oil
obtained, which went to make up a cargo for the Hen
lopen. The governor had his doubts about sending this
brig on so distant a voyage, the vessel being so slow ; but
there was no choice, since she must go, or the cargo must
remain a long time where it was. The brig was accord
ingly filled up, taking in seventeen hundred barrels ; and


she sailed for Hamburgh, under the command of a young
man named Thomas. Walker remained behind, prefer
ring to superintend the whaling affairs at home.

So high did the fever run, by this time, that it was de
termined to build a couple of vessels, each to measure about
a hundred and eighty tons, with the sole object of using
them to take the whale. Six months after laying their
keels, these little brigs were launched ; and lucky it was
that the governor had ordered copper for a ship to be
brought out, since it now came handy for using on these
two craft. But, the whaling business had not been suffered
to lag while the Jonas and the Dragon were on the stocks ;
the Anne, and the Martha, and the single boats, being out
near half the time. Five hundred barrels were taken in
this way; and Betts, in particular, had made so much
money, or, what was the same thing, had got so much oil,
that he came one morning to his friend the governor, when
the following interesting dialogue took place between them,
in the audience-chamber of the Colony House. It may as
well be said here, that the accommodations for the chief
magistrate had been materially enlarged, and that he now
dwelt in a suite of apartments that would have been deemed
respectable even in Philadelphia. Bridget had a taste for
furniture, and the wood of Rancocus Island admitted of
many articles being made that were really beautiful, and
which might have adorned a palace. Fine mats had been
brought from China, such as are, and long have been, in
common use in America; neat and quaint chairs and set
tees had also been in the governor's invoices, to say nothing
of large quantities of fine and massive earthenware. In a
word, the governor was getting to be rich, and like all
wealthy men, he had a disposition to possess, in a propor
tionate degree, the comforts and elegancies of civilized life.
But to come to our dialogue

" Walk in, Captain Betts walk in, sir, and do me the
favour to take a chair," said the governor, motioning to
his old friend to be seated. " You are always welcome,
here ; for I do not forget old times, I can assure you, my

"Thankee, governor; thankee, with all my heart. I
do find everything changed, now-a-days, if the truth must


be said, but yourself. To me, you be always, Mr. Mark,
and Mr. Woolston, and we seem to sail along in company,
much as we did the time you first went out a foremast-lad,
and 1 teached you the difference between a flat-knot and a

" No, no, Bob, everything is not so much changed as
you pretend I am not changed, in the first place."

" I confess it you be the same, governor, blow high,
or blow low."

" Then Martha is not changed, or nothing worth men
tioning. A little more matronly, perhaps, and not quite
as much of a girl as when you first made her acquaintance ;
but Martha, nevertheless. And, as for her heart, I Ml an
swer for it, that is just the colour it was at sixteen."

" Why, yes, governor ; 'tis much as you say. Marthy
is now the mother of four children, and that confarms a
woman's appearance, depend on 't. But, Marthy is Mar
thy; and, for that matter, Miss Bridget is Miss Bridget,
as much as one pea is like another. Madam Woolston
does full credit to the climate, governor, and looks more
like eighteen than ever."

" My wife enjoys excellent health, Betts ; and grateful
am I to God that it is so. But I think all our women have
a fresh and sea-air sort of look, a cheerful freshness about
them, that I ascribe to the salt and the sea-breezes. Then
we have mountain air, in addition, on the Peak."

"Ay, ay, sir I dare say you 've got it right, as you do
most matters. Well, governor, I don't know which counts
up the fastest in the colony, children or whales?"

" Both flourish," answered Mark, smiling, " as our re
ports show. Mr. Secretary tells me that there were, on the
first of the last month, three hundred and eighteen children
in the colony under the age of ten years ; of whom no less
than one hundred and ninety-seven are born here pure
Craterinos, including your children and mine, Betts."

" It 's a fine beginning, governor a most capital start ;
and, though the young 'uns can't do much at taking a
whale, or securing the ile, just now, they '11 come on in
their turns, and be useful when we 're in dock as hulks,

"Talking of oil, you must be getting rich, Captain


Betts. I hear you got in another hundred-barrel gentleman
last week !"

"Times is altered with me, governor; and times is
altered with you, too, sir, since you and I rafted loam and
sea-weed, to raise a few cucumbers, and squashes, and
melons. Then, we should have been as happy as princes
to have had a good roof over our heads."

" I trust we are both thankful, where thanks are due, for
all this, Betts?"

" Why, yes, sir, I endivour so to be ; though men is des
perate apt to believe they desarve all they get but the ill
luck. I and Marthy try to think of what is all in all to us r
and I believe Marthy does make out pretty well, in that
partic'lar, accordin' to Friends' ways ; though I am often
jammed in religion, and all for want of taking to it early
as I sometimes think, sir."

" There is no doubt, Betts, that men grow in Christian
character, as well as in evil ; and the most natural growth,
in all things, is that of the young. A great deal is to be
undone and unlearned, if we put off the important hour to
a late period in life."

" Well, as to unl'arnin', I suppose a fellow that had as
little edication as myself will have an easy time of it," an
swered Betts, with perfect simplicity and good faith; "for
most of my schoolin' was drowned in salt water by the time
I was twelve."

" I am glad of one thing," put in the governor, half in
a congratulating way, and half inquiringly; "and that is,
that the Rev. Mr. Hornblower takes so well with the peo
ple. Everybody appears to be satisfied with his ministra
tions ; and I do not see that any one is the worse for them,
although he is an Episcopalian."

Betts twisted about on his chair, and seemed at first un
willing to answer; but his natural frankness, and his long
habits of intimacy and confidence with Mark Woolston,
both as man and boy, forbade his attempting anything
seriously in the way of concealment.

" Well, governor, they do say that ' many men, many
minds,'" he replied, after a brief pause; "and I suppose
it's as true about religion, as in a judgment of ships, or ia
a cb'ice of a wife. If all men took to the same woman, or


all seamen shipped for the same craft, a troublesome house
hold, and a crowded and onhealthy vessel, would be the
upshot on't."

" We have a choice given us by Providence, both as to
ships and as to wives, Captain Betts; but no choice is
allowed any of us in what relates to religion. In that, we
are to mind the sailor's maxim, ' to obey orders if we break
owners.' "

" Little fear of ' breaking owners,' I fancy, governor.
But, the difficulty is to know what orders is. Now, Friends
doesn't hold, at all, to dressing and undressing in church
time; and I think, myself, books is out of place in praying
to God."

"And is there much said among the people, Captain
Betts, about the parson's gown and surplice, and about his
reading his prayers, instead of writing them out, and get
ting them by heart ?"

There was a little malice in the governor's question, for
ne was too much behind the curtain to be the dupe of any
pretending claims to sudden inspirations, and well knew
that every sect had its liturgy, though only half-a-dozen
have the honesty to print them. The answer of his friend
was, as usual, frank, and to the point.

" I cannot say but there is, Mr. Mark. As for the
clothes, women will talk about them, as you well know,
sir ; it being their natur' to be dressing themselves out, so
much. Then as to praying from the book, quite half of
our people think it is not any better than no praying at all.
A little worse, perhaps, if truth was spoken."

" I am sorry to hear this, Betts. From the manner in
which they attend the services, I was in hopes that preju
dices were abating, and that everybody was satisfied."

" I dcn't think, governor, that there is any great danger
of a mutiny ; though, many men, many minds, as I said
before. But, my business here is forgotten all this time;
and I know it is n't with your honour now as it used to be
with us both, when we had nothing to think of but the
means of getting away from this place, into some other
that we fancied might be better. I wish you joy, sir, in
having got the two new brigs into the watei."


"Thank you, Captain Belts. Does your present visi
relate to either of those brigs V

"Why, to come to the p'int, it does, sir. I've taken
a fancy to the Dragon, and should like to buy her."

" Buy her ! Have you any notion what such a vessel
will cost, Betts 1"

" Not a great way from eight thousand dollars, I should
think, governor, now that the copper is on. Some things
is charged high, in this part of the world, about a wessel,
and other some is n't. Take away the copper, and I should
think a good deal less would buy either."

" And have you eight thousand dollars at command, my
friend, with which to purchase the brig?"

" If ile is money, yes ; if ile is n't money, no. I 've got
three hundred barrels on hand, one hundred of which is

" I rejoice to hear this, Captain Betts, and the brig you
shall have. I thought to have sold both to the merchants,
for I did not suppose any one else, here, could purchase
them ; but I would greatly prefer to see one of them in the
hands of an old friend. You shall have the Dragon, Betts,
since you like her."

" Done and done between gentlemen, is enough, sir ;
not that I set myself up for a gentleman, governor, but I 've
lived too long and too much in your respected society not
to have 1'arn'd some of the ways. The brig's mine, if ile
will pay for her. And now, sir, having completed the
trade, I should like to know if your judgment and mine be
the same. I say the Dragon will beat the Jonas half a
knot, the best day the Jonas ever seed."

" I do not know but you are right, Bob. In looking at
the two craft, last evening, I gave the preference to the
Dragon, though I kept my opinion to myself, lest I might
mortify those who built the Jonas."

" Well, sir, I 'm better pleased to hear this, than to be
able to pay for the brig ! It is something to a plain body
like myself, to find his judgment upheld by them that know
all about a matter." .

In this friendly and perfectly confidential way did Mark
Woolston still act with his old and long-tried friend, Ro
bert Betts. The Dragon was cheap at the money men-


tioned, and the governor took all of the old seaman's ' ile*
at the very top of the market. This purchase at once ele
vated Betts in the colony, to a rank but a little below that
of the ' gentlemen,' if his modesty disposed him to decline
being classed absolutely with them. What was more, it
put him in the way of almost coining money. The brig
he purchased turned out to be as fast as he expected, and
what was more, the character of a lucky vessel, which she
got the very first cruise, never left her, and gave her com
mander and owner, at all times, a choice of hands.

The governor sold the Jonas to the merchants, and took
the Martha off Belts' hands, causing this latter craft to
run regularly, and at stated hours, from point to point
among the islands, in the character of a packet. Twice a
week she passed from the Reef to the Cove at the Peak,
and once a fortnight she went to Rancocus Island. la
addition to her other duties, this sloop now carried the

A post-office law was passed by the council, and was
approved of by the governor. In that day, and in a com
munity so simple and practical, new-fangled theories con
cerning human rights were not allowed to interfere with
regulations that were obviously necessary to the comfort
and convenience of the public.

Fortunately, there was yet no newspaper, a species of
luxury, which, like the gallows, comes in only as society
advances to the corrupt condition ; or which, if it happen
to precede it a little, is very certain soon to conduct it
there. If every institution became no more than what it
was designed to be, by those who originally framed it, the
state of man on earth would be very different from what it
is. The unchecked means of publicity, out of all question,
are indispensable to the circulation of truths; and it is
equally certain that the unrestrained means of publicity
are equally favourable to the circulation of lies. If we
cannot get along safely without the possession of one of
these advantages, neither can we get along very safely
while existing under the daily, hourly, increasing influence
of the other call it what you will. If truth is all-important,
in one sense, falsehood is all-important too, in a contrary


Had there been a newspaper at the Crater, under the
control of some philosopher, who had neither native talent,

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperWorks (Volume 29) → online text (page 34 of 42)