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Chapter 18:

  • The Sumter at Maranham
  • -- more diplomacy necessary -- the hotel Porto and its proprietor -- a week on shore -- ship Coals and sails again.

The day after our arrival in Maranham, was a day of feasting and rejoicing by the townspeople—all business being suspended. It was the 7th of September, the anniversary of the day on which Brazil had severed her political connection with Portugal—in other words, it was her Independence-day. The forts and ships of war fired salutes, and the latter were gayly draped in flags and signals, presenting a very pretty appearance. It is customary, on such occasions, for the ships of war of other nations, in the port, to participate in the ceremonies and merry-making. We abstained from all participation, on board the Sumter, our flag being, as yet, unrecognized, for the purposes of form and ceremony. In the evening, a grand ball was given, at the Government House, by the President of the Province, to which all the world, except the Sumter, was. invited—the etiquette of nations, before referred to, requiring that she should be ruled out. The only feeling excited in us, by this official slight, was one of contempt for the silliness of the proceeding—a contempt heightened by the reflection that we were a race of Anglo-Saxons, proud of our lineage, and proud of our strength, frowned upon by a set of half-breeds. The Government House being situated on the river bank, near our anchorage, the lights of the brilliantly illuminated halls and chambers, shone full upon our decks, and the music of the bands, and even the confused hum of the voices of the merrymakers, and the muffled shuffling of the dancers' feet, came to us, very distinctly, to a late hour. The Sumter lay dark, and motionless, and silent, amid this scene of merriment; the only answer which she sent back to the revellers, being the sonorous [211] and startling cry, every half hour, of her marine sentinels on post, of ‘All's well!’

Having suffered, somewhat, in health, from the fatigue and excitement of the last few weeks, I removed on shore the next day, and took up my quarters at the hotel Porto, kept by one of those nondescripts one sometimes meets with in the larger South American cities, whose nationality it is impossible to guess at, except that he belongs to the Latin race. My landlord had followed the sea, among his thousand and one occupations, spoke half a dozen languages, and was ‘running’— to use a slang Americanism—a theatre and one or two fashionable restaurants, in beautifully laid out pleasure-grounds in the suburbs, in addition to his hotel. He drove a pair of fast horses, was on capital terms with all the pretty women in the town, smashed champagne-bottles, right and left, and smoked the best of Havana cigars. The reader will thus see, that being an invalid, and requiring a little nursing, I had fallen into capital hands. Whether it was that Senhor Porto— for he had given his own name to his hotel—had chased and captured merchant-ships, in former days, himself, or from some other motive, I could never tell, but he took quite a fancy to me at once, and I rode with him daily, during my stay, behind his fast ponies, and visited all the places of amusement, of which he was the padron. The consequence was, that I visibly improved in health, and at the end of the week which I spent with him, returned on board the Sumter, quite set up again; in requital whereof, I have permitted the gallant Captain to sit for his portrait in these pages.

My first duty, after being installed in my new apartments on shore, was, of course, to call on the President of the Department—the town of Maranham being the seat of government of the province of the same name. The President declined to see me then, but appointed noon, the next day, to receive me. Soon after I had returned to my hotel, Senhor Porto entered my room, to inform me that Captain Pinto, of the Brazilian Navy, the commanding naval officer on the station, accompanied by the Chief of Police, had called to see me. ‘What does this mean?’ said I, ‘the Chief of Police, in our cities, is a very questionable sort of gentleman, and is [212] usually supposed to be on the scent of malefactors.’ ‘Oh! he is a very respectable gentleman, I assure you,’ replied Porto, ‘and, as you see, he has called with the Port Admiral, so that he is in good company, at least. Indeed he is reputed to be the confidential friend of the President.’ Thus reassured, and making a virtue of necessity, I desired Porto, very complacently, to admit the visitors. The Port Admiral had done me the honor to visit me, immediately upon my arrival, and I had returned his visit, so that we were not strangers. He introduced the Chief of Police to me, who proved to be, as Porto had represented him, an agreeable gentleman, holding military rank, and, after the two had been seated, they opened their business to me. They had come, they said, on behalf of the President, to present me with a copy of a paper, which had been handed him, by the United States Consul, protesting against my being permitted to coal, or receive any other supplies in the port of Maranham. Oh ho! thought I, here is another of Mr. Seward's small fry turned up. I read the paper, and found it full of ignorance and falsehoods—ignorance of the most common principles of international law, and barefaced misrepresentations with regard to my ship; the whole composed in such execrable English, as to be highly creditable to Mr. Seward's Department. I characterized the paper, as it deserved, and said to the gentlemen, that as I had made an appointment to call on the President, on the morrow, I would take that opportunity of replying to the slanderous document. The conversation then turned on general topics, and my visitors soon after withdrew.

As I rode out, that afternoon, with Porto, he said, ‘Never mind! I know all that is going on, at the palace, and you will get all the coal, and everything else you want.’ The pay of the Federal Consul at Maranham, was, I believe, at the time I visited the town, about twelve hundred dollars, per annum. As was to be expected, a small man filled the small place. He was quite young, and with commendable Yankee thrift, was exercising, in the consular dwelling, the occupation of a dentist; the ‘old flag’ flying over his files, false teeth, and spittoons. He probably wrote the despatch, a copy of which had [213] been handed me, in the intervals between the entrance, and exit of his customers. It was not wonderful, therefore, that this semi-diplomat, charged with the affairs of the Great Republic, and with the decayed teeth of the young ladies of Maranham, at one and the same time, should be a little confused, as to points of international law, and the rules of Lindley Murray. That he should misrepresent me was both natural, and Federal.

At the appointed hour, the next day, I called to see his Excellency, the President, and being ushered, by an orderly in waiting, into a suite of spacious, and elegantly furnished apartments, I found Captain Pinto, and his Excellency, both prepared to receive me. We proceeded, at once, to business. I exhibited to his Excellency the same little piece of brownish paper, with Mr. Jefferson Davis's signature at the bottom of it, that I had shown to Captain Hillyer of the Cadmus— unasked, however, as no doubts had been raised as to the verity of the character of my ship. I then read to his Excellency an extract or two from the letter of instructions, which had been sent me by the Secretary of the Navy, directing me to pay all proper respect to the territory, and property of neutrals. I next read the proclamations of England and France, acknowledging us to be in the possession of belligerent rights, and said to his Excellency, that although I had not seen the proclamation of Brazil, I presumed she had followed the lead of the European powers—to which he assented. I then ‘rested my case,’ as the lawyers say, seeing, by the expression of his Excellency's countenance, that every lick had told, and that I had nothing now to fear. ‘But, what about coal being contraband of war,’ said his Excellency, at this stage of the proceeding. ‘The United States Consul, in the protest addressed to me, a copy of which I sent you, yesterday, by Captain Pinto, and the Chief of Police, states that you had not been permitted to coal, in any of the ports, which you have hitherto visited.’ The reader will recollect, that, at the British Island of Trinidad, the question of my being permitted to coal had been submitted to the ‘law officers of the Crown.’ The newspaper, at that place, had published a copy of the opinion of these officers, and also a copy of the decision of the Governor, [214] thereupon. Having brought a copy of this paper, in my pocket, for the occasion, I now rejoined to his Excellency: ‘The United States Consul has made you a false statement. I have coaled, already, in the colonies of no less than three Powers—Spain, Holland, and England’—and drawing from my pocket the newspaper, and handing it to him, I continued, ‘and your Excellency will find, in this paper, the decision of the English authorities, upon the point in question—that is to say, that coal is not contraband of war, and may be supplied by neutrals to belligerents.’ Captain Pinto, to whom his Excellency handed the paper, read aloud the decision, putting it into very good Portuguese, as he went along, and when he had finished the reading, his Excellency turned again to me, and said: ‘I have no longer any doubts on the question. You can have free access to the markets, and purchase whatsoever you may desire—munitions of war alone excepted.’ I have been thus particular in describing these proceedings to the reader, to show him with what sleuth-hound perseverance I was followed up, by these small consuls, taken from the political kennel in the Northern States, who never hesitated to use the most unblushing falsehoods, if they thought these would serve their purposes better than the truth. The official portion of my interview with the President being ended, I ventured upon some general remarks with regard to the unnatural, and wicked war which was being waged upon us, and soon afterward took my leave.

In an hour after I had left the President's quarters, my paymaster had contracted for a supply of coal, and lighters were being prepared to take it on board. The sailors were now permitted to visit the shore, in detachments, ‘on liberty,’ and the officers wandered about, in twos and threes, wherever inclination prompted. We soon found that wherever we moved, we were objects of much curiosity, the people frequently turning to stare at us; but we were always treated with respect. Nothing was thought, or talked of, during our stay, but the American war. The Provincial Congress was in session, and several of its members boarded at the hotel Porto. I found them intelligent, well-informed men. There were political parties here, as elsewhere, of course; among others, [215] as might be expected, in a slave-holding country, there was an abolition party, and this party sympathized with the North. It was very small, however, for it was quite evident, from the popular demonstrations, that the great mass of the people were with us. This state of the public feeling not only rendered our stay, very pleasant, but facilitated us in getting off our supplies. Invitations to the houses of the citizens were frequent, and we had free access to all the clubs, and other places of public resort.

I must not omit to mention here, a very agreeable fellowcountryman, whom we met in Maranham—Mr. J. Wetson, from Texas. He had been several years in Brazil. His profession was that of a steam-engineer, and mill-wright. This worthy young mechanic, full of love, and enthusiasm for his section, loaned the paymaster two thousand dollars, on a bill against the Secretary of the Navy; and during the whole of our stay, his rooms were the Headquarters of my younger officers, where he dispensed to them true Southern hospitality. We were gratified to find him a great favorite with the townspeople, and we took leave of him with regret.

Maranham lies in latitude 2° S. and we visited it, during the dry season; the sun having carried the equatorial cloudring, which gives it rain, farther north. We had perpetual sunshine, during our stay, but the heat was tempered by the trade-wind, which blew sometimes half a gale, so that we did not feel it oppressive. Toward night the sea-breeze would moderate, and the most heavenly of bright skies, and most balmy of atmospheres would envelop the landscape. At this witching hour, the beauties of Maranham made their appearance, at the street-doors, and at open windows, and the tinkle of the guitar and the gentle hum of conversation would be heard. Later in the night, there would arise from different parts of the town—somewhat removed from the haunts of the upper-tendom—the rumbling, and jingling of the tambourine, and the merry notes of the violin, as the national fandango was danced, with a vigor, and at the same time with a poetry of motion unknown to colder climes. The wine flowed freely on these occasions, and not unfrequently the red knife of the assassin found the heart's blood of a rival in love; for there [216] are other climes besides those of which the poet sang, where

The rage of the vulture, the love of the turtle
Now melt into sorrow, now madden to crime.

The trade of Maranham is mostly monopolized by Portugal, France, and Spain, though there is some little carried on with the United. States—an occasional ship from New York, or Boston, bringing a cargo of flour, cheap but gaudy furniture, clocks, and domestic cottons, and other Yankee staples, and notions. The shop-keepers are mostly French and Germans. An excellent staple of cotton is produced in the province of Maranham.

On the 15th of September, the Sumter was ready for sea, having been refitted, and repainted, besides being coaled, and provisioned; and there being, as usual, according to rumor, a couple of enemy's ships waiting for her outside, we received a pilot on board, and getting up steam, took leave of Maranham, carrying with us many kindly recollections of the hospitality of the people. We swept the sea horizon, with our glasses, as we approached the bar, but the enemy's cruisers were nowhere to be seen, and at three P. M., we were again in blue water; our little craft rising, and falling gently, to the undulations of the sea, as she ploughed her way through it.

The question now was, in what direction should we steer? I was within striking distance of the cruising ground, for which I had set out—Cape St. Roque; but we had been so long delayed, that we should reach it, if we proceeded thither at all, at a most unpropitious season—the sailing, and steaming qualities of the Sumter considered. The trade-winds were sweeping round the Cape, blowing half a gale, on the wings of which the dullest ship would be able to run away from us, if we trusted to sail, alone; and steam, in the present state of my exchequer, was out of the question. I had paid $17.50 per ton for the coal I had taken in, at Maranham, and but for the timely loan of Mr. Wetson, should have exhausted my treasury entirely. The trade-winds would continue to blow, with equal force, until some time in December; they would then moderate, and from that time, onward, until March, we might expect more gentle weather. This, then, was the only [217] season, in which the Sumter could operate off the Cape, to advantage.

On the other hand, the calm belt of the equator lay before me-its southern edge, at this season of the year, being in latitude of about 5° N. All the homeward-bound trade of the enemy passed through this calm belt, or used to pass through it before the war, at a well-known crossing. At that crossing, there would be a calm sea, light, and variable winds, and rain. In such weather, I could lie in wait for my prey, under sail, and, if surprise, and stratagem did not effect my purpose, I could, when a sail appeared, get up steam and chase and capture, without the expenditure of much fuel. In this way, with the coal I had on board, I could prolong my cruise, probably, for a couple of months. I did not hesitate long, therefore, between the two schemes. I turned my ship's head to the northward, and eastward, for the calm belt, and before sunset, we had run the coast of Brazil out of sight.

We recrossed the equator, the next day. In five days more, the sun would have reached the equator, when we should have had the grand spectacle, at noon, of being able to sweep him, with our instruments, entirely around the horizon, with his lower limb just touching it, at all points. We could nearly do this, as it was, and so rapidly did he dip, at noon, that we were obliged to watch him, with constant vigilance, to ascertain the precise moment of twelve o'clock.

September 17th.—The sea is of a deep, indigo blue, and we have a bright, and exceedingly transparent atmosphere, with a fresh breeze from the south-east. At half-past 11 A. M., we let the steam go down, uncoupled the propeller, and put the ship under sail. Observed at noon, in latitude 2° 19′ N.; longitude, 41° 29′

For the next few days, we encountered a remarkable easterly current—the current, in this part of the ocean, being almost constantly to the westward. This current—which we were now stemming, for we were sailing toward the north-west—retarded us, as much as fifty miles, in a single day! So remarkable did the phenomenon appear, that if I had noticed it, for but a single day, I should have been inclined to think that I had made some mistake in my observations, or that there was some [218] error in my instrument, but we noticed it, day after day, for four or five days.

Contemporaneously with this phenomenon, another, and even more wonderful one appeared. This was a succession of tide-rips, so remarkable, that they deserve special description.

The Sumter lay nearly stationary, during the whole of these phenomena—the easterly current setting her back, nearly as much as she gained under sail. She was in the average latitude of 5° N., and average longitude of 42° W. For the first three days, the rips appeared with wonderful regularity—there being an interval of just twelve hours between them. They approached us from the south, and travelled toward the north. At first, only a line of foam would be seen, on the distant horizon, approaching the ship very rapidly. As it came nearer, an almost perpendicular wall of water, extending east and west, as far as the eye could reach, would be seen, the top of the wall boiling and foaming, like a breaker rolling over a rocky bottom. As the ridge approached nearer and nearer, it assumed the form of a series of rough billows, jostling against, and struggling with each other, producing a scene of the utmost confusion, the noise resembling that of a distant cataract. Reaching the ship, these billows would strike her with such force, as to send their spray to the deck, and cause her to roll and pitch, as though she were amid breakers. The phenomenon was, indeed, that of breakers, only the cause was not apparent—there being no shoal water to account for it. The Sumter sometimes rolled so violently in these breakers, when broadside to, that we were obliged to keep her off her course, several points, to bring the sea on her quarter, and thus mitigate the effect. The belt of rips would not be broad, and as it travelled very rapidly—fifteen or twenty miles the hour—the ship would not be long within its influence. In the course of three quarters of an hour, it would disappear, entirely, on the distant northern horizon. So curious was the whole phenomenon, that the sailors, as well as the officers, assembled, as if by common consent, to witness it. ‘There come the tide rips!’ some would exclaim, and, in a moment there would be a demand for the telescopes, and a rush to the ship's side, to witness the curious spectacle. These rips have frequently been [219] noticed by navigators, and discussed by philosophers, but, hitherto, no satisfactory explanation has been given of them. They are like the bores, at the mouths of great rivers; as at the mouth of the Amazon, in the western hemisphere, and of the Ganges, in the eastern; great breathings, or convulsions of the sea, the causes of which elude our research. These bores sometimes come in, in great perpendicular walls, sweeping everything before them, and causing immense destruction of life, and property. I was, at first, inclined to attribute these tide rips to the lunar influence, as they appeared twice in twenty-four hours, like the tides, and each time near the passing of the meridian, by the moon; but, in a few days, they varied their times of appearance, and came on quite irregularly, sometimes with an interval of five or six hours, only. And then the tidal wave, for it is evidently this, and not a current, should be from east to west, if it were due to lunar influence; and we have seen that it travelled from south to north. Nor could I connect it with the easterly current that was prevailing —for it travelled at right angles to the current, and not with, or against it. It was, evidently, due to some pretty uniform law, as it always travelled in the same direction.

We reached the calm belt, on the 24th of September, for, on this day, having lost the south-east trade, we had light and baffling winds from the south-west, and rain-clouds began to muster overhead. On the next day, the weather being in its normal condition of cloud, the welcome cry of ‘sail ho!’ came resounding from the mast-head, with a more prolonged, and musical cadence than usual—the look-out, with the rest of the crew, having become tired of the inactivity of the last few days. All was bustle, immediately, about the decks; and in half an hour, with the sails snugly furled, and the ship under steam, we were in hot pursuit. The stranger was a brigantine, and was standing to the north-west, pursuing the usual crossing of the calm belt, as best he might, in the light winds, that were blowing, sometimes this way, sometimes that. We came up with him quite rapidly, there being scarcely a ripple on the surface of the smooth sea, to impede our progress, and when we had come sufficiently near to enable him to make it out, distinctly, we showed him the enemy's flag. He was evidently [220] prepared with his own flag, for, in less than a minute, the lazy breeze was toying and playing with it, and presently blew it out sufficiently, to enable us to make out the well-known and welcome stars and stripes. We hove him to, by ‘hail,’ and hauling down the false colors, and hoisting our own, we sent a boat on board of him, and captured him. He proved to be the Joseph Parke, of Boston, last from Pernambuco, and six days out, in ballast. The Parke had been unable to procure a return cargo; the merchants of Pernambuco having heard of the arrival of the Sumter, at Maranham, in rather uncomfortable proximity.

We transferred the crew of the captured vessel to the Sumter, replacing it with a prize crew, and got on board from her such articles of provisions, cordage, and sails as we required; but instead of burning her, we transformed her, for the present, into a scout vessel, to assist us in discovering other prizes. I sent Lieutenant Evans on board to command her, and gave him a couple of midshipmen, as watch officers. The following was his commission:—

‘Sir:—You will take charge of the prize-brig Joseph Parke, and cruise in company with this vessel, until further orders. During the day, you will keep from seven to eight miles, to the westward, and to windward, and keep a bright look-out, from your top-gallant yard, for sails—signalling to us, such as you may descry. Toward evening, every day, you will draw in toward this vessel, so as to be within three, or four miles of her, at dark; and, during the night you will keep close company with her, to guard against the possibility of separation. Should you, however, be separated from her, by any accident, you will make the best of your way to latitude 8° N., and longitude 45° W., where you will await her a reasonable time. Should you not join her again, you will make the best of your way to some port in the Confederate States.’

In obedience to these instructions, the Parke drew off to her station, and letting our fires go down on board the Sumter, we put her under sail, again. Long before night, the excitement of the chase and capture had died away, and things had resumed their wonted course. The two ships hovered about the ‘crossing,’ for several days, keeping a bright look-out, but nothing more appeared; and on the 29th of September, the Parke having been called alongside, by signal, her prize crew [221] was taken out, and the ship burned, after having been made a target, for a few hours, for the practice of the crew. It was evidently no longer of any use to bother ourselves about the crossing of the calm-belt, for, instead of falling in with a constant stream of the enemy's ships, returning home, from differferent parts of the world, we had been cruising in it, some ten days, and had sighted but a single sail! We had kept ourselves between the parallels of 2° 30′ N., and 9° 30′ N., and between the meridians of 41° 30′ W., and 47° 30′ W.; and if the reader have any curiosity on the subject, by referring to the map, he will perceive, that the north-western diagonal of the quadrilateral figure, formed by these parallels, and meridians, is the direct course between Cape St. Roque, and New York. But the wary sea-birds had, evidently, all taken the alarm, and winged their way, home, by other routes. I was the more convinced of this, by an intercepted letter which I captured in the letter-bag of the Parke, which was written by the master of the ship, Asteroid, to his owner, and which ran as follows:—

‘The Asteroid arrived off this port [Pernambuco], last evening, seventy-five days from Baker's Island, and came to anchor in the outer roads, this morning. I found yours of August 9th, and noted the contents, which, I must say, have made me rather blue. I think you had better insure, even at the extra premium, as the Asteroid is not a clipper, and will be a bon prize for the Southerners. I shall sail this evening [September 16th, three days before the Joseph Parke] and take a new route, for Hampton Roads.’

The Asteroid escaped us, as no doubt many more had done, by avoiding the ‘beaten track,’ and taking a new road home; thus verifying, in a very pointed manner, the old adage, that ‘the longest way round is the shortest way home.’

We now made sail for the West India Islands, designing, after a short cruise among them, to run into the French island of Martinique, and coal. We still kept along on the beaten track of homeward-bound ships, but with little expectation of making any prizes, and for some days overhauled none but neutral ships. Many of these had cargoes for the United States, but not having the same motive to avoid me, that the enemy's ships had, they were content to travel the usual highway. Although many of them had enemy's property, on board, [222] they were perfectly safe from molestation — the Confederate States' Government having adopted, as the reader has seen, in its Act declaring, that, by the conduct of the enemy, a state of war existed, the liberal principle, that ‘Free ships make free goods.’

Among the neutrals overhauled by us, was an English brig called the Spartan, from Rio Janeiro, for St. Thomas, in the West Indies. We had an exciting chase after this fellow. We pursued him, under United States colors, and as the wind was blowing fresh, and the chase was a ‘stern-chase,’ it proved, as usual, to be a long one, although the Sumter was doing her best, under both steam and sail. John Bull evidently mistook us for the Yankee we pretended to be, and seemed determined to prevent us from overhauling him, if possible. His brig, as we soon discovered, had light heels, and he made the best possible use of them, by giving her every inch of canvas he could spread. Still, we gained on him, and as we came sufficiently near, we gave him a blank cartridge, to make him show his colors, and heave to. He showed his colors— the English red—but refused to heave to. The unprofessional reader may be informed, that when a merchant-ship is under full sail, and especially when she is running before a fresh breeze, as the Spartan was, it puts her to no little inconvenience, to come to the wind. She has to take in her sails, one by one, owing to her being short-handed, and ‘the clewing up,’ and ‘hauling down’ occupy some minutes. The captain of the Spartan was loth to subject himself to this inconvenience, especially at the command of the hated Yankee. Coming up a little nearer, we now fired a shotted gun at him, taking care not to strike him, but throwing the shot so near as to give him the benefit of its rather ominous music, as it whistled past. As soon as the smoke from the gun, which obscured him for a moment, rolled away before the breeze, we could see him starting his ‘sheets,’ and ‘halliards,’ and pretty soon the saucy little Spartan rounded to, with her main top-sail to the mast. The reader may be curious to know, why I had been so persistent in heaving to a neutral. The answer is, that I was not sure she was neutral. The jaunty little brig looked rather more American, than English, in all but the flag that was flying [223] at her peak. She had not only the grace and beauty of hull that characterize our American-built ships, but the long, tapering spars on which American ship-masters especially pride themselves. She did, indeed, prove to be American, in a certain sense, as we found her to hail from Halifax, in Nova Scotia. The master of the Spartan was in an ill-humor when my boarding-officer jumped on board of him. It was difficult to extract a civil answer from him. ‘What is the news?’ said the boarding-officer. ‘Capital news!’ replied the master; ‘you Yankees are getting whipped like h—ll; you beat the Derby boys at the Manassas races.’ ‘But what's the news from Rio?’ now inquired the supposed Yankee boarding-officer. ‘Well, there's good news from that quarter too—all the Yankee ships are laid up, for want of freights.’ ‘You are rather hard upon us, my friend,’ now rejoined the boardingofficer; ‘why should you take such an interest in the Confederate cause?’ ‘Simply, because there is a little man fighting against an overgrown bully, and I like pluck.’

The Spartan being bound to St. Thomas, and we ourselves intending to go, soon, into the West Indies, it was highly important that we should preserve our incognito, to which end, I had charged the boarding-officer, to represent his ship as a Federal cruiser, in search of the Sumter. The boarding-officer having done this, found the master of the Spartan complimentary to the last; for as he was stepping over the brig's side, into his boat, the master said, ‘I hope you will find the Sumter, but I rather think you will hunt for her, as the man did for the tax-collector, hoping all the time he might n't find him.’

The weather now, again, became calm, and we had ‘cat'spaws’ from all the points of the compass. The breeze, with which we had chased the Spartan, was a mere spasmodic effort of Nature, for we were still in the calm-belt, or, as the sailors expressively call it, the ‘doldrums.’ For the next few days, it rained almost incessantly, the heavily charged clouds sometimes settling so low, as scarcely to sweep clear of our mastheads. It did not simply rain; the water fell in torrents, and the lightning flashed, and the thunder rolled, with a magnificence and grandeur that were truly wonderful to witness. In the intervals of these drenching rains, the clouds, like so many [224] half-wrung sponges, would lift themselves, and move about with great rapidity, in every direction—now toward, and now from, each other—convolving, in the most curious disorder, as though they were so many huge, black serpents, writhing and twisting in the powerful grasp of some invisible hand. Anon, a water-spout would appear upon the scene, with its inverted cone, sometimes travelling rapidly, but more frequently at rest. At times, so ominous, and threatening would be the aspect of the heavens, with its armies of black clouds in battle-array, its forked lightning, and crashing thunder, the perfect stillness of the atmosphere, and the rapid flight of scared water-fowl, that a hurricane would seem imminent, until we would cast our eyes upon the barometer, standing unmoved, at near the marking of thirty inches, amid all the signs, and portents around it. In half an hour, sometimes, all this paraphernalia of clouds would break in twain, and retreat, in opposite directions, to the horizon, and the sun would throw down a flood of golden light, and scalding heat upon our decks; on which would be paddling about the half-drowned sailors. The first lieutenant took advantage of these rains, to fill, anew, his water-tanks, ‘tenting’ his awnings, during the heaviest of the showers, and catching more water than he needed; and the sailors had another such jubilee of washing, as they had had, when we were running along the Venezuelan coast.

Sunday, September 29th.—Beautiful, clear morning, with a gentle breeze from the south-east, and a smooth sea. At eleven A. M., mustered the crew, and inspected the ship. Latitude, 6° 55′ N.; longitude, 45° 08′ W. Evening set in, squally, and rainy. Running along to the north-west, under topsails.

October 2d.—This morning, when I took my seat, at the breakfast-table, I was surprised to find a very tempting-looking dish of fried fish set out before me, and upon inquiring of my faithful steward, John, (a Malayan, who had taken the place of Ned,) to what good fortune he was indebted, for the prize, his little black eyes twinkled, as he said, ‘Him jump aboard, last nightly’ Upon further inquiry, I found that it was a small sword-fish, that had honored us with a visit; the active little creature having leaped no less than fifteen feet, to reach the deck of the Sumter. It was lucky that its keen spear did [225] not come in contact with any of the crew during the leap—a loss of life might have been the consequence. The full-grown sword-fish has been known to pierce a ship's bottom, floor-timber and all, with its most formidable weapon.

October 4th.—Weather clear, and beautiful, with trade-clouds, white and fleecy, and a light breeze from the eastward. The bosom of the gently heaving sea is scarcely ruffled. Schools of fish are playing around us, and the sailors have just hauled, on board, a large shark, which they have caught with hook and line. The sailor has a great antipathy to the shark, regarding him as his hereditary enemy. Accordingly, the monster receives no mercy when he falls into Jack's hands. See how Jack is tormenting him now! and how fiercely the monster is snapping, and grinding his teeth together, and beating the deck with his powerful tail, as though he would crush in the planks. He is tenacious of life, and will be a long time in dying, and, during all this time, Jack will be cutting, and slashing him, without mercy, with his long sheathknife. The comparatively calm sea is covered, in every direction, for miles, with a golden or straw-colored dust. Whence comes it? We are four hundred miles from any land! It has, doubtless, been dropped by the trade-winds, as they have been neutralized over our heads, in this calm belt of the equator, and, in a future page, we shall have further occasion to refer to it. We have observed, to-day, in latitude 8°; the longitude being 46° 58′.

October 11th.—Morning clear and calm, after a couple of days of tempestuous weather, during which the barometer settled a little. Toward noon it clouded up again, and there were squally appearances in the south-east. The phenomenon of the tide-rips has reappeared. Malay John was in luck, again, this morning, a covey of flying-fish having fallen on the deck, last night, during the storm. He has served me a plate full of them for breakfast. The largest of them are about the size of a half-grown Potomac herring, and they are somewhat similar in taste—being a delicate, but not highly flavored fish.

October 14th.—At noon, to-day, we plotted precisely upon the diagonal between St. Roque and New York; our latitude being 8° 31′, and longitude 45° 56′. We now made more sail, [226] and on the 17th of October we had reached the latitude of 11° 37′. From this time, until the 22d, we had a constant series of bad weather, the barometer settling to 29.80, and the wind blowing half a gale, most of the time. Sometimes the wind would go all around the compass, and the weather would change half a dozen times, in twenty-four hours. On the last-mentioned day, the weather became again settled, and being now in latitude 14°, we had passed out of the calm belt, and began to receive the first breathings of the north-east trade-wind.

On the 24th, we chased and hove to a French brig, called La Mouche Noire, from Nantes, bound for Martinique. She had been out forty-two days, had no newspapers on board, and had no news to communicate. We boarded her under the United States flag, and when the boarding-officer apologized to the master for the trouble we had given him, in heaving him to, in the exercise of our belligerent right of search, he said, with an admirable naivete, he had heard the United States were at war, but he did not recollect with whom! Admirable Frenchman! wonderful simplicity, to care nothing about newspapers, and to know nothing about wars!

On the 25th, we overhauled that rara avis in mare, a Prussian ship. The 27th was Sunday; we had a gentle breeze from the north-east, with a smooth sea, and were enjoying the fine morning, with our awnings spread, scarcely expecting to be disturbed, when the cry of ‘Sail ho!’ again rang from the mast-head. We had been making preparations for Sunday muster; Jack having already taken down from its hidingplace his Sunday hat, and adjusted its ribbons, and now being in the act of ‘overhauling’ his bag, for the ‘mustering-shirt and trousers.’ All these preparations were at once suspended, the firemen were ordered below, there was a passing to and fro of engineers, and in a few minutes more the welcome black smoke came pouring out of the Sumter's chimney. Bounding away over the sea, we soon began to raise the strange sail from the deck. She was a fore-and-aft schooner of that peculiar model and rig already described as belonging to the New Englander, and nobody else, and we felt certain, at once, that we had flushed the enemy. The little craft was ‘closehauled,’ [227] or, may be, she had the wind a point free, which was her best point of sailing, had the whitest kind of cotton canvas, and carried very taunt gaff-topsails. We found her exceedingly fast, and came up with her very slowly. The chase commenced at nine A. M., and it was three P. M. before we were near enough to heave her to with the accustomed blank cartridge. At the report of our gun—the Confederate States flag being at our peak—the little craft, which had probably been in an agony of apprehension, for some hours past, saw that her fate was sealed, and without further ado, put her helm down, lowered her foresail, hauled down her flying-jib, drew her jibsheet over to windward—and was hove to; the stars and stripes streaming out from her main-topmast head. Upon being boarded, she proved to be the Daniel Trowbridge, of New Haven, Connecticut, last from New York, and bound to Demerara, in British Guiana.

This was a most opportune capture for us, for the little craft was laden with an assorted cargo of provisions, and our own provisions had been nearly exhausted. With true Yankee thrift, she had economized even the available space on her deck, and had a number of sheep, geese, and pigs, on board, for the Demerara market. Another sail being discovered, almost at the moment of this capture, we hastily threw a prize crew on board the Trowbridge, and directing her to follow us, sped off in pursuit of the newly discovered sail. It was dark before we came up with this second chase. She proved to be an English brigantine, from Nova Scotia, for Demerara. We now stood back to rejoin our prize, and banking our fires, and hoisting a light at the peak, the better to enable the prize to keep sight of us, during the night, we lay to, until daylight. The next day, and the day after, were busy days, on board the Sumter, for we devoted both of them, to getting on board provisions, from the prize. The weather proved propitious, the breeze being gentle, and the sea smooth. We hoisted out the Tallapoosa—our launch—and employed her, and the quarterboats—the gig included, for war admits of little ceremony— in transporting barrels, bales, boxes, and every other conceivable kind of package, to the Sumter. The paymaster was in ecstasy, for, upon examination, he found the Trowbridge's cargo [228] to be all that he could desire—the beef, pork, canvased hams ship-bread, fancy crackers, cheese, flour, everything being of the very best quality. We were, indeed, under many obligations to our Connecticut friends. To get at the cargo, we were obliged to throw overboard many articles, that we had no use for, and treated old Ocean to a gayly painted fleet of Connecticut woodenware, buckets, foot-tubs, bath-tubs, wash-tubs, churns. We found the sheep, pigs, and poultry in excellent condition; and sending the butcher on board each evening, we caused those innocents to be slaughtered, in sufficient numbers to supply all hands. Jack was in his glory. He had passed suddenly, from mouldy and worm-eaten bread, and the toughest and leanest of ‘old horse,’ to the enjoyment of all these luxuries. My Malayan steward's eyes fairly danced, as he stowed away in the cabin lockers, sundry cans of preserved meats, lobster, milk, and fruits. John was a real artist, in his line, and knew the value of such things; and as he busied himself, arranging his luxuries, on the different shelves, I could hear him muttering to himself, ‘Dem Connecticut mans, bery good mans—me wish we find him often.’ We laid in, from the Trowbridge, full five months provisions, and getting on board, from her, besides, as much of the live stock, as we could manage to take care of, we delivered her to the flames, on the morning of the 30th of October. On the same day, we chased, and boarded the Danish brig, Una, from Copenhagen, bound to Santa Cruz. Being sixty-six days out, she had no news to communicate. We showed her the United States colors, and when she arrived, at Santa Cruz, she reported that she had fallen in with a Federal cruiser. The brig Spartan, which we boarded, a few pages back, made the same report, at St. Thomas; so that the enemy's cruisers, that were in pursuit of us, had not, as yet, the least idea that we had returned to the West Indies.

For the next few days, we chased and overhauled a number of ships, but they were all neutral. The enemy's West India trade seemed to have disappeared almost entirely. Many of his ships had been laid up, in alarm, in his own ports, and a number of others had found it more to their advantage, to enter the public service, as transports. The Federal Government had already entered upon that career of corrupt, and reckless [229] expenditure which has resulted in the most gigantic national debt of modern times. The entire value of a ship was often paid to her owners, for a charter-party, of a few months only; the quartermasters, commissaries, and other public swindlers frequently dividing the spoils, with the lucky ship-owners. Many indifferent vessels were sold to the Federal Navy Department, at double, and treble their value, and agencies to purchase such ships were conferred, by the Secretary, upon relatives, and other inexperienced favorites. The corruptions of the war, soon made the war popular, with the great mass of the people. As has been remarked, in a former page, many of these nouveau-riche men, whose love of country, and hatred of ‘rebels’ boiled over, in proportion as their pockets became filled, had offered to sell themselves, and all they possessed, to the writer, when he was in the New England States, as a Confederate States agent. Powder-mills, manufactories of arms and accoutrements, foundries for the casting and boring of cannon, machines for rifling cannon—all were put at his disposal, by patriotic Yankees, on the very eve of the war—for a consideration.

November 2d.—Morning, heavy clouds, with rain, breaking away partially, toward noon, and giving us some fitful sunshine. Sail ho! at early dawn. Got up steam, and chased, and at 7 A. M. came up with, and sent a boat on board of the English brigantine, Falcon, from Halifax, for Barbadoes. Banked fires. Latitude 16° 32′; longtitude 56° 55′. Wore ship to the northward, at meridian. Received some newspapers, by the Falcon, from which we learn, that the enemy's cruiser Keystone State, which, when last heard from, was at Barbadoes, had gone to Trinidad, in pursuit of us. At Trinidad, she lost the trail, and, instead of pursuing us to Paramaribo, and Maranham, turned back to the westward. We learn from the same papers, that the enemy's steam-frigate, Powhatan, Lieutenant Porter, with more sagacity, pursued us to Maranham, arriving just one week after our departure. At a subsequent date, Lieutenant—now Admiral—Porter's official report fell into my hands, and, plotting his track, I found that, on one occasion, we had been within forty miles of each other; almost near enough, on a still day, to see each other's smoke. [230]

November 3d.—Weather fine, with a smooth sea, and a light breeze from the north-east. A sail being reported from the mast-head, we got up steam, and chased, and upon coming near enough to make out the chase, found her to be a large steamer. We approached her, very warily, of course, until it was discovered that she was English, when we altered our course, and banked fires. Our live-stock still gives us fresh provisions, and the abundant supply of Irish potatoes, that we received on board, at the same time, is beginning to have a very beneficial effect, upon the health of the crew—some scorbutic symptoms having previously appeared.

Nov. 5th.—Weather fine, with the wind light from the eastward, and a smooth sea. At daylight, a sail was descried in the north-east, to which we immediately gave chase. Corning up with her, about nine A. M., we sent a boat on board of her. She proved to be the English brigantine, Rothsay, from Berbice, on the coast of Guiana, bound for Liverpool. Whilst we had been pursuing the Rothsay, a second sail had been reported. We now pursued this second sail, and, coming up with her, found her to be a French brigantine, called Le Pauvre Orphelin, from St. Pierre (in France) bound for Martinique. We had scarcely turned away from the Orphelin, before a third sail was announced. This latter sail was a large ship, standing, close-hauled, to the N. N. W., and we chased her rather reluctantly, as she led us away from our intended course. She, too, proved to be neutral, being the Plover, from Barbadoes, for London. The Sumter being, by this time out of breath, and no more sails being reported, we let the steam go down, and gave her a little rest. We observed, to-day, in latitude 17° 10′ N.; the longitude being 59° 06′ W. We had shown the United States colors to all these ships to preserve our incognito, as long as possible. We found them all impatient, at being ‘hove to,’ and no doubt many curses escaped, sotto voce, against the d—d Yankee, as our boats shoved off, from their sides. We observed that none of them saluted the venerable ‘old flag,’ which was flying at our peak, whereas, whenever we had shown the Confederate flag to neutrals, down went, at once, the neutral flag, in compliment—showing the estimate, which generous seamen, [231] the world over, put upon this ruthless war, which the strong were waging against the weak.

The 6th of November passed without incident. On the 7th, we overhauled three more neutral ships — the English schooner Weymouth, from Weymouth, in Nova Scotia, for Martinique; an English barque, which we refrained from boarding, as there was no mistaking her bluff English bows, and stump top-gallant masts; and a French brig, called the Fleur de Bois, last from Martinique, and bound for Bordeaux. In the afternoon of the same day, we made the islands, first of Marie Galante, and then of Guadeloupe, and the Saints. At ten P. M., we doubled the north end of the island of Dominica, and, banking our fires, ran off some thirty or forty miles to the south-west, to throw ourselves in the track of the enemy's vessels, homeward bound from the Windward Islands. The next day, after overhauling an English brigantine, from Demerara, for Yarmouth, we got up steam, and ran for the island of Martinique approaching the town of St. Pierre near enough, by eight P. M., to hear the evening gun-fire. A number of small schooners and sail-boats were plying along the coast, and as night threw her mantle over the scene, the twinkling lights of the town appeared, one by one, until there was quite an illumination, relieved by the sombre back-ground of the mountain. The Sumter, as was usual with her, when she had no work in hand, lay off, and on, under sail, all night. The next morning at daylight, we again got up steam, and drawing in with the coast, ran along down it, near enough to enjoy its beautiful scenery, with its waving palms, fields of sugar-cane, and picturesque country houses, until we reached the quiet little town of Fort de France, where we anchored.

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