Old ships and ship-building days of Medford.
The pepper trade.1
This trade was started by Salem enterprise almost wholly, and by way of reward Salem became the American, and for a time the world, emporium for pepper. In 1791 the United States exported seven million, five hundred and fifty-nine thousand, two hundred and forty-four pounds-over seven-eighths of the entire northwest Sumatran crop—and a very large portion of this was landed in Salem.2 Among the Medford-built vessels from Salem engaged in this trade were the ships Australia, Carolina, Propontis, and the brig Lucilla. Journals of their voyages to Sumatra are preserved in Salem. Besides the Salem vessels in the pepper trade there were quite a number from Boston, among them the brig Palmer. The brig Palmer, two hundred and seventy-seven tons, was the seventy-third vessel built in Medford and the last of seven built in 1818. She was built by Sprague & James for Joseph Lee of Boston. She sailed for Sumatra in 1830 and proceeded to take on a cargo of pepper at Muckie on the west coast. 3At one o'clock in the morning of February 8, 1830, while at anchor in the roads, together with the ship James Monroe of New York and the ‘Governor Endicott’ of Salem, a boat appeared, which, on being hailed with the question, ‘What boat is that?’ responded, ‘The “Friendship” of Qualah Battoo, Captain Endicott, with all that are left of us.’ On further questioning it appeared that the ‘Friendship’ had been loading pepper at Qualah Battoo some twenty-five miles along the coast. On the morning of February 7 the captain, second officer, and four seamen started ashore in the ship's boat to oversee the dispatch of the native boats loaded with pepper. The first boat started for the ship at about three o'clock. [p. 83] Captain Endicott, being at leisure, walked toward the beach where he noticed that the pepper boat contained a large number of men which it had evidently picked up in a bend in the river, and then shortly afterward he saw the crew of his vessel jumping overboard. He then unconcernedly gathered his men together and on a pretence of visiting the bazaar on the opposite side, without exciting the suspicions of the Malays, got out of the river in his boat by a narrow margin. They then directed their course to Muckie. The night closed down in inky blackness relieved by flashes of lightning and stunning reports of thunder. Gauging their distance from the shore as best they could, as it was impossible to hear the surf in the awful din, they reached Muckie as related. Captain Rhodes of the Palmer and the captains of the ‘James Monroe’ and ‘Governor Endicott’ met in council on the ‘Governor Endicott.’ It was decided to throw as many of the crews of the ‘Governor Endicott’ and Palmer as could be spared onto the ‘James Monroe,’ as she was the largest vessel, and proceed to recover the ‘Friendship’ by boarding—the other vessels to follow at a short distance. It was nearly three o'clock before they were under way, as the sails had been unbent, and proceeded toward Qualah Battoo. Upon arriving at this place a messenger was sent ashore to demand the surrender of the ship under pain of bombardment. The pirates returned the answer that they might take her if they could. All three vessels then opened fire on the ship and town, which was returned by the forts. It was then decided to board the ‘Friendship’ with as many men as could be carried in three boats, as it was feared the Malays would either burn her or run her ashore. The boarding party approached the ship from the bow to keep out of her fire. As they drew near, the p rates for the first time appeared to comprehend their design. They were filled with consternation and began [p. 84] to desert her with all speed. The numerous boats alongside were filled and others jumped overboard and swam for shore. The appearance of the ship bore evidence ‘to the violence and destruction with which she had been visited.’ The decks were covered with blood, the sails had been cut loose and an effort to beach the vessel had been prevented by a riding turn on the chain cable around the windlass, which they had not been able to clear. The ship was then kedged off, and anchored alongside the other vessels. The next morning a canoe approached the vessels, with five or six men in her which at first were taken for natives, but on further investigation, four of them proved to be part of the crew of the ‘Friendship.’ Captain Endicott's account continues:—
Their haggard and squalid appearance bespoke what they had suffered. It would seem impossible that in the space of four days, men could, by any casualty, so entirely lose their identity. It was only by asking their names that I knew any of them. They were without clothing other than loose pieces of cotton cloth thrown over their persons, their hair matted, their bodies crisped and burned in large running blisters; besides having been nearly devoured by mosquitos, the poison of those stings had left evident traces of its virulence; their flesh wasted away, and even the very tones of their voices changed. They had been wandering about in the jungle without food ever since the ship was taken. Their account of the capture of the ship stated that when the pepper boat came alongside, in spite of several suspicious circumstances, they were allowed to come aboard, when at a signal they fell upon the crew of the vessel. Those who could swim jumped into the water and the rest who escaped death took to the rigging. Those in the water, after consulting together, swam about two miles down the coast, where they landed entirely naked. After wandering about in the jungle, as stated, they had been rescued by a friendly native.In something less than a year after this outrage the ‘U. S. S. Potomac’ appeared off the port. The Malay forts were stormed after some desperate fighting and the town laid in ashes. The Palmer was lost at sea December, 1835.