James Riley.

An authentic narrative of the loss of the American brig commerce : wrecked on the western cost of Africa, in the month of August, 1815. With an account of the sufferings of her surviving officers and crew, who were enslaved by the wandering Arabs on the great African desart, or Zahahrah; and observa online

. (page 12 of 39)
Online LibraryJames RileyAn authentic narrative of the loss of the American brig commerce : wrecked on the western cost of Africa, in the month of August, 1815. With an account of the sufferings of her surviving officers and crew, who were enslaved by the wandering Arabs on the great African desart, or Zahahrah; and observa → online text (page 12 of 39)
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onist, and having separated them by main force, they
removed the Arab to the other side of the well
where some of the company drew water for his
camel, which having drank its fill, they sent the fellow
off, muttering curses as he went away. Our masters,
during all this time, were so exasperated at the con-
duct of this man, that nothing less than the strength
of superior numbers would have prevented them
from putting him to death, and all the company
agreed that they had been grossly insulted, especially
as they were strangers.

When our camels had finished drinking at this
well, the water of which was very brackish, we were
mounted, and proceeded further east for about on©
hour's ride, where we found two more wells, which
appeared to have been lately dug, and the water
they contained was very salt. Here was a large
drove of camels (probably one hundred) to be
watered, and they obliged me to assist in drawing
water until they had all finished ; my master encour-
aging me, by saying, " their owner was a very good
man, and would give us food." It was about sunset
when we had finished drawing water, and we fol-
lowed the valley in which we were for about thre©
miles east, when we came to the tent we had been
in quest of: here was no lee to keep off the cold
wind, nor did we get any thing to eat, notwithstand-
ing our masters had praised the liberality of our
host, and tried by eVery means to obtain some pro-
visions from him. I soon found his goodness wat
like that of many others ; (i. e.) he was no longer.


liberal than while there was a prospect of profit
I presume we travelled forty-five miles this day.

As soon as daylight appeared on the morning o
the 10th, we set forward, all mounted on the camels,
and kept on steadily until night over this most
dreary desart, and came to a halt long after dark,
without any thing to keep off the wind, which was
blowing a strong gale. We travelled this day about
thirteen hours, at four miles an hour; as the camels
went all day on a quick walk, we must have made
at least fifty-two miles E. N. E.

Oct. the 11th, we set off very early on a full
trot, and went on until about noon, seven hours, at
six miles an hour, when the land before us appeared
broken, and we descended gradually into a deep
valley, whose bottom was covered with sand; and
on both sides of us, at a great distance, we saw very
high and steep banks like those of a river, and fol-
lowed the tongue of land that separated them. Our
course was nearly East. At about two P. M. our
masters said they saw camels ahead, but .we could
not perceive them for a long time after, when keep-
ing on a great trot, we came up with a drove about
six P. M. We could however find no owners, nor in
fact any human being : for all had fled and hid them-
selves, probably from fear of being robbed, or that
contributions might be levied on their charity for
some provisions. We searched some time for the
owners of these camels, but *ot finding them, we
continued on, and having come to the abrupt end of
the tongue of land on which we had been travelling,
we descended into the river's bed, which was dry and


soft. Pushing forward, we reached a large cluster of
bushes, which appeared like an island in a lake, when
seen at a distance, and I suppose it was ten o'clock
at night before we arrived at the spot, though we
saw it in the distant horizon long before dark. As
we entered among the bushes, our masters preserved
a profound silence ; and having found a clear spot of
about twenty yards in diameter, encircled by high
bushes, which kept off the wind, we stopped there
for the night; having travelled that day for the
space of about fourteen hours, at the rate of five miles
an hour, making a distance of seventy miles. We
had nothing this night wherewith to allay our hun-
ger ; our fatigues and sufferings may be more easily
conceived than expressed ; yet as we were sheltered
from the night winds, we slept very soundly until
we were roused up to continue our journey.

On the 12th of October, as soon as daylight
appeared, we watered the camels at a well of brack-
ish water near the bushes before mentioned. Our
masters had been careful not to make the least noise
during the night, nor to kindle a fire, fearing they
should be discovered and surprised by some more
powerful party ; but neither foe nor friend appeared ;
and having filled a skin with some of this brackish
water, we descended a second steep bank to the bot-
tom, or lowest part of this river's bed, which was
then dry, sandy, and encrusted with salt; it ap*
peared very white,^and crumbled under the feet of
our camels, making a loud crackling noise. The
reasons of this bed being then without water, ap-
peared to be the recess of the tide : its left bank


rose very high in perpendicular cliffs, while its right
was sloping and covered with sand, evidently blown
by the winds from the sea beach, and which lay in
drifts up to its very summit This bay (for it can
be nothing else) ran into the land from near a S. W
to a West direction, and was not more than eight or
ten miles wide here, which I afterwards found was
near its mouth, but was very broad within, and ex-
tended a great distance into the country ; for since
we entered its former bed we had travelled twelve
hours, at the rate of five miles an hour, making
sixty miles, and it then extended farther than the
eye could reach to the S. W.

The steep banks on both sides, which were four or

five hundred feet high, showed most evident signs of

their having been washed by sea water from their

base to near their summits, (but at a very remote

period,) and that the sea had gradually retired from

them. Our masters being in a state of starvation,

their ill humour increased exceedingly, when about

nine o'clock in the forenoon we saw two men, driving

two camels, come down the sand hills on our right.

Our masters rode off to meet them, and having made

the necessary inquiries, returned to us, who had

continued going forward, accompanied by Abdallah.

Sidi Hamet informed us that there were goats in an

E. S. E. direction not far distant, and that we should

soon have some meat; so we commenced climbing

over the high hills of sand, in drder that we might

fall in with them. In ascending these hills, which

were extremely difficult and long, our old lame

camel gave out, having fallen down several times*


which caused much delay; so finding him nearly
expiring, we abandoned him and proceeded on;
though this circumstance of losing the camel, also
helped to increase the rage of our masters, who
now behaved like madmen. As we were climbing
up, we perceived a hole dug in the sand, and we were
told that the entrails of a camel had been roasted
there, which Seid discovered by applying his nose
to the surrounding earth. Sidi Hamet having gone
on before us with his gun, we had already ascended
several miles of this steep and sandy bank, and on
arriving near the level of the surrounding country,
we heard the report of a musket fired, at no great
distance from where we were, and soon perceived
Sidi Hamet, accompanied by another Arab, driving
a flock of goats before them. This Arab was much
intimidated at the sight and report of a gun, for my
master had fired one of the barrels to frighten
him. When the goats came near us, our masters,
who considered possession as a very important pre-
liminary, ran in among the flock, and seized four of
them, which they gave into our charge, until they
should settle about the price with their owner, who
was alone and unarmed, bu<; at this moment he was
joined by his wife ; she had not been at all fright-
ened, and commenced scolding at our masters most
immoderately and loudly : — she said, she would
not consent to part with the goats, even if her hus-
band did, and insisted on knowing Sidi Hamet's name:
this he told her, and she then began to tantalize
him for being so cowardly as to rob an unarmed
man; said the whole country should ring with his


name and actions, and she did not doubt but she
could find some man who would revenge this inju-
ry — her husband all this time strove to stop her
tongue, but to no purpose; nor did she cease scold-
ing until Seid presented his gun to her breast, and
threatened her, if she spoke another word, to blow
her to pieces. This compelled her to pause a mo-
ment, while our masters (taking advantage of her
silence) informed them that he had left a good
camel a little distance behind, which being only
tired, could not proceed with them, and that he
would give them this camel in exchange for these four
goats. I could plainly discover, however, that these
people did not believe him. Sidi Hamet nevertheless
spoke the truth in part ; a camel was indeed left be-
hind, but not a good one ; yet as there was no
alternative, they were necessitated to submit ; the
woman however insisted on exchanging one goat we
had for another, which our masters assented to, mere-
ly to gratify her caprice.

This business being thus settled, which had taken
up near an hour's time, our goats were tied fast to
each other by their necks, and given into my charge ;
leaving Mr. Savage and Horace to assist in dri-
ving them. Clark and Burns were ordered to drive
the camels, whilst our masters, a little less fretful
than before, went forward to pick out a practicable
passage for them and the goats, while my party
brought up the rear. The goats were difficult to
manage, but we continued to drive them along, and
generally within sight of the camels, though with
great fatigue and exertion. Our hunger and thirst


were excessive — the direct heat of the sun, as well
as that reflected from the deep and yielding sands,
was intense. Mr. Savage found here a very short
green weed, which he pulled and ate, telling me it was
most delicious, and as sweet as honey, but I begged
him not to swallow any of it until I should ask our
masters what was the nature of it, for it might be
poison ; and I refused to touch it myself, though it
looked tempting. In our distressed condition, how-
ever, he thought a green thing that tasted so well
could do him no harm, and continued to eat whatever
he could find of it, which (happily for him) was not
much: but in a short time he was convinced to [email protected]
contrary, for he soon began to vomit violently : — this
alarmed me for his safety, and I examined the weed
he had been so delighted with, and after a close in-
vestigation, I was convinced it was no other than
what is called in America the Indian tobacco. Its
effects were also similar; but how these plants came
to grow on those sands I cannot conceive.

Mr. Savage continued to vomit by spells for two
hours or more, which, as he had very little in his
stomach, strained it so excessively as to bring forth
blood. I could not wait for him, because both our
masters, their camels, and our shipmates, were al-
ready out of sight. When he could proceed no fur-
ther, he would stop and vomit, and then by running
(though in grezi distress) as fast as he w T as able,
come up with us again, I encouraged him all I
could — told him what the herb was, and that its ef-
fects need not be dreaded.

Ever since we had been coming near the summit


of the land, we had discerned the sea; though at *
great distance ahead and on our left, but as it ap-
peared dark and smooth in the distant horizon, I
supposed it to be an extensive ridge of high wood-
land, and hoped we should soon reach it, as our
course bent that way, and that this would prove to
be the termination of the desart. Horace, however,
thought it appeared too dark and smooth for land,
and regarding it again attentively, I discovered it
was in fact the ocean, and I could plainly distinguish
its mountainous waves as they rolled along, for it
was greatly agitated by fierce winds. This was the
first view we had had of the sea since we were made
slaves: it was a highly gratifying sight to us all,
and particularly so, as it was quite unexpected; and
it very much revived the spirits of myself and de-
sponding companions.


They travel along the sea~coast under high banks — -fall
in with and join a company of Arabs — travel in the'
night for fear of robbers — Mr. Savage faints— is
near being massacred, and rescued by the author.

Discerning the tracks of our camels, which we
had lost sight of for a time, as they had crossed
over rocks, where they had descended through a
rent or chasm, partly covered with high drifts of
loose sand towards the sea-shore, we followed them
down immeasely steep sand hills, to a tolerably in-


clined plane, between the first and second banks of
the sea ; which, from appearances, had once washed
the upper bank, but had long since retired : — the
inclined plane had also been a beach for ages,
where the stones, that now covered its surface, had
been tossed and rounded, by striking against one

From this beach the ocean had also retired, and
now washed other perpendicular cliffs of one hun-
dred feet or more in height, at a distance of six or
eight miles to the northward of the former ones,
which appeared to rise in abrupt, and in many places,
©verhanging cliffs of rocks to the height of three
hundred feet. We had made our way through
these cliffs, by means of a hollow, seemingly formed
on purpose for a passage, as it was the only one in
view; and as I did not know which way our masters
went, I had stopped to view the surrounding pros-
pect, and now give what was then my impression.
I was at a loss which way to steer my course, but
our masters, who were concealed behind a small hil-
lock on our left, discovering my embarrassment, now
called to me, where I soon joined them. It was now
nearly dark, and there were three or four families of
Arabs near, sitting under a shelter made of skins
extended by poles : here our camels were turned up
to browse, and we were ordered to collect brush,
w T hich grew on the steep side of the banks, to make
a fire, and to keep off the wind during the night.
Mr. Savage was entirely exhausted, and I requested
him to lie down on the ground, whilst the rest of us
gathered the bushes required ; but when I came in



with my handful, Seid was beating him with a stick
to make him assist. I begged he would permit Mr.
Savage to remain where he was; told him he was
sick, and that I would perform his share of the la-
bour. Sidi Hamet now returned and killed one of
the goats, of which they gave us the entrails; a
seasonable relief indeed, and we were allowed to
drink a little of the soup they were boiled in, and a
small piece of meat was divided between us; and
each received a drink of water : — I had before stolen
a drink for Mr. Savage, whose bloody Vomit con-
tinued. In the course of the night they gave us a
small quantity of the same kind of pudding we had
before tasted, but as Mr. Savage was sick, they re-
fused to give him any, saying, " he had already
eaten too much of something, but they did not know
what." Sidi Hamet, however, saved a little of the
pudding in a bowl for him, and as he seemed unwil-
ling to die with hunger, I gave him part of the pud-
dino- I had, and saved my share of meat for him until
the morning. Our hunger and thirst being some-
what appeased, we slept this night pretty soundly.
We had travelled this day about thirty miles.

October the 11th, early in the morning, we took
leave of these Arabs, but while we were busied in
getting olf, Abdallah seized on Mr. Savage's pudding
in the bowl as a good prize, and swallowed it in an
instant ; so that nothing but my care of Mr. Savage
saved him from fainting and consequent death on
this day. Our masters had purchased two more
goats from those Arabs, which increased our num-
ber to five ; these we were forced to drive, and we


kept along the sea-shore the whole of this day.
On our right the original sea-shore (or bank) rose
nearly three hundred feet perpendicularly, and in
many places, in overhanging cliffs. The inclined plane
on which we travelled was from three to six or
eight miles wide, and very regular; covered with
pebbles and many round stones ; among which grew
here and there a few dwarf bushes of different
kinds from what I had seen before in various parts
of the world. A little to our left the plane broke
off abruptly, and the ocean appeared. The bank
w r as from one hundred and fifty to two hundred feet
high above the level of the sea, and mostly perpen-
dicular, against which the heavy surges dashed with
great fury, sounding like loud peals of distant thun -
der. Our course and that of the shore was about
east, and near dark we fell in with four families of
Arabs who were about pitching their tents near the
sea-shore. Our masters went and introduced them-
selves to the one who appeared to be their chief or
the principal character among them, and whose
name was Hassar, They soon became acquainted,
and it was ascertained that Hassar and his wife, to-
gether with four men that were with him, and their
families, were going the same route that we were,
upon which our masters agreed to join company.

Hassar's wife, whose name was Tamar, and ap-
peared to be an uncommonly intelligent woman, ad-
dressed me in broken Spanish and Arabic mixed : —
she said she had saved the lives of some Spaniards
who had been wrecked on that coast a great many
years ago ; that a vessel came for them, and that

164 captain riley's narrative.

she went to Lanzarote (one of the Canary Islands)
to get some goods which the Spanish captain pro-
mised to deliver her father, who kept three of the
men until the Spaniard should have fulfilled his con-
tract, and brought her back. She represented to
me the manner in which the houses in Lanzarote
were built, and described the forts and batteries
with their cannon, &c. so very clearly and accurate-
ly, that I had no doubt but that she must have seen
them, and I gave her to understand I had been there
also. She said Lanzarote was a bad country, and
told us, we should not die with hunger while we re-
mained in her company.

We travelled on the 14th about twenty miles.
In the night our masters killed a goat and gave us a
part of the meat as well as of the entrails : Hassar's
wife also gave us a small quantity of the pudding
before mentioned, which the Arabs call Lhash, and
here we had a 'good night's sleep. October the
15th, early in the morning, Hassar and his company
struck their tents, and all these families proceeded
on with us until near night, when we came to a very
deep gully, which we could not pass in any other
way than by going down the bank on to the sea
beach ; and as it was low tide, there was a kind of
pathway where camels had gone down before us.
We descended, and there found a tent with an
Arab family in it just below the high bank; so
sending on the camels, Sidi Hamet made us stop here
a few moments. The owner of the tent pretended
to speak Spanish, but in fact knew only a few de-
tached words of that language : he mentioned to


ine that he knew I had promised Sidi Hamet that
my friend in Swearah would pay him the amount I
had bargained for, stating the sum : now, said this
Arab- — " Have you a friend in Swearah ?" I answer-
ed I had : — " do not lie, (said he) for if you do,
you will have your throat cut; but if you have told
him so merely that you might get off of t' e desart,
so as to procure something to eat, he will pardon
that pretext and deception so far as only to sell you
and your comrades to the highest bidder, the first
opportunity, provided, however, that you confess the
deceit now. In a few days (added he) you will
find houses and a river of running water, and should,

O 7

you persist in deceiving him, you will certainly lose
your life." I made him understand that I was in-
capable of lying to Sidi Hamet ; that all I told him
was true; that he was the man who had saved my
life, and he should be well rewarded for his good-
ness by my friend, and by our Almighty Father.
This seemed to satisfy Sidi Hamet, who was present,
and understood me better than the other did, and
he told me I should see Swearah in a few days. We
now went forward, accompanied by the Arab, who
piloted us across a small arm of the sea that entered
the beforementioned gully. We here found a pair
of kerseymere pataloons that had belonged to Mr.
Savage, in the possession of one of this man's lit le
sons ;- — I pointed them out to my masters and beg-
ged them to buy them, which after a long barter
with the boy, Seid effected, by giving him in ex-
change a piece of blue cotton cloth which he h^d
wore as a kind of shirt : they wished me to give the


pantaloons to Clark or Horace, but I gave them
. to Mr. Savage, although they insisted he was fonte,
or a bad fellow.

Having got up the steep bank again, after wa-
ding through the salt water, which was nearly up to
our hips, and one hundred yards broad, we encamp-
ed for the night on high dry land, and at dark our
masters, taking Horace and mvself with them, went
near a few tents close by the sea, where w T e were
presented with a quantity of dried muscles, which
though very salt, we found excellent: these we di-
vided among our shipmates: I conjecture we had
made twenty-five miles this day. Here our masters
killed their remaining goats, boiled and ate their
entrails and most of their meat, as all present were
hungry, and would have some in spite of every op-
position ; so that our share was seized and swallow-
ed by others.

October the 16th, we made ready and started
very early, but went on slowly, keeping near the
sea-shore, and mostly in the broken grounds, caused
by its former washings. Our masters seemed very
fearful all this day, and told me there were many rob-
bers and bad men hereabouts, who would endeavour
to seize and carry us off, and that they could throw
large stones with great force and precision. We
had not travelled more than fifteen miles before sun-
set, and night coming on, our masters, who had
mounted Mr. Savage, Clark, and Burns on the
camels, drove them on at a great rate, while my-
self and Horace were obliged to keep up with them
by running on foot, All this time they had their


o-uns in their bands unsheathed, and when Horace
and myself were obliged occasionally to stop, one
of them always stayed with us, and then hurried us
on as fast as possible. In this manner we proceeded
on until about midnight, when coming to a- deep gul-
ly, Mr. Savage and Clark were dismounted, and
Horace and myself placed on the camels. De-
scending the valley, we found it full of high sand
drifts, and proceeded without making the least noise :
the valley was wide, and the sand lying in it, had no
doubt been driven from the sea beach by the wind.
All the women and children at this time were run-
ning on foot. After reaching with much labour the
other side of the valley, and the summit beyond it,
we found the whole surface of the ground making
an even inclined plane, covered with deep drifts of
loose sand. I had been riding, I think, about two
hours, when Clark, who was a considerable distance
behind, called to me, and said, % Mr. Savage has
fainted away, and they are flogging him with sticks."
I instantly slipped off my camel, and ran to relieve
him as fast as my legs would carry me. Seid was
striking his apparent lifeless body, which lay stretch-
ed on the ground, with a heavy stick : Hassar had
seized him by the beard with one hand, and with the
other held a sharp scimitar, with which he was in
the act of cutting his throat. I laid hold of Hassar,
jerked him away, and clasping the body of Mr.
Savage in my arms, raised him up, and called for
water. Hassar would have run me through with
his scimitar, but Sidi Hamet arrested and prevented
him. I expected to lose my life, but had deterraio-


ed to save Mr. Savage's at all hazards. Our mas-
ters and the whole company of men, women, and
children, were around me: they were possessed
with the belief that he was perverse and obstinate,
and that he would not exert himself to proceed at
a time when they were in haste to go on, lest they

Online LibraryJames RileyAn authentic narrative of the loss of the American brig commerce : wrecked on the western cost of Africa, in the month of August, 1815. With an account of the sufferings of her surviving officers and crew, who were enslaved by the wandering Arabs on the great African desart, or Zahahrah; and observa → online text (page 12 of 39)