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Chapter 40:

  • The Alabama proceeds to Jamaica, and lands her prisoners
  • -- the Captain visits the country -- intercourse with the English naval officers -- Earl Russell's letter -- preparations for sea -- a boat-race by moonlight -- Captain Blake Complains of ‘Dixie’ -- how the matter is settled.

The little by-play, in the Gulf of Mexico, related in the last chapter, being over, I determined to make the best of my way to the island of Jamaica, there land my prisoners, on parole, patch up the two or three shot-holes the enemy had made above the water-line, re-coal, and proceed on my eastern cruise, against the enemy's commerce, as originally contemplated. We had a long passage to Jamaica, as we took a succession of southerly gales, that greatly retarded our speed. My first intention was to make the whole run under steam, but after struggling against these gales for three or four days, I found my fuel diminishing so rapidly, that it became prudent to let the fires go down, and put the ship under sail. This delay was very vexatious, as our little ship was greatly inconvenienced by the number of prisoners we had on board.

Friday, the 16th of January, is noted on my journal as follows:—The gale continued all day, moderating toward night. The sky is overcast with a dull canopy of leaden clouds, the sun barely showing himself to us, for a moment at a time, through an occasional rift, during the entire day. Observing the water to be discolored, at one P. M. we sounded on the Yucatan Bank. The soundings on this bank being an excellent guide, I continued to run along the edge of it until eleven P. M., when we passed off it, into the deep waters of the Yucatan Passage. We now put the ship under steam again, and aiding [552] the steam by reefed trysails, we battled with an adverse sea and current during the rest of the night. We found the current setting into the passage, to be as much as two and a half knots per hour, which was greater than I had ever known it before.

I may take this occasion to remind the reader, that the old theory of Dr. Franklin and others, was, that the Gulf Stream, which flows out of the Gulf of Mexico, between the north coast of Cuba, and the Florida Reefs and Keys, flows into the Gulf, through the channel between the west end of Cuba, and the coast of Yucatan, in which the Alabama now was. But the effectual disproof of this theory is, that we know positively, from the strength of the current, and its volume, or cross section, in the two passages, that more than twice the quantity of water flows out of the Gulf of Mexico, than flows into it through this passage. Upon Dr. Franklin's theory, the Gulf of Mexico in a very short time would become dry ground. Nor can the Mississippi River, which is the only stream worth noticing, in this connection, that flows into the Gulf of Mexico, come to his relief, as we have seen that that river only empties into the Gulf of Mexico, about one three thousandth part as much water, as the Gulf Stream takes out. We must resort, of necessity, to an under-current from the north, passing into the Gulf of Mexico, under the Gulf Stream, rising to the surface when heated, and thus swelling the volume of the outflowing water. I refer my readers, curious in this matter, to the work of Captain Maury, entitled the ‘Physical Geography of the Sea.’ It is full of profound philosophy, on the subjects of which it treats, and is written in so pleasing a style, and is so strewn with flowers, as to make the reader forget that he is travelling the thorny paths of science.

The 18th of January was Sunday, and we were obliged to intermit the usual Sunday muster, on account the of bad weather, which continued without intermission—the wind still blowing a gale, and the passing clouds deluging us with rain. Two days afterward, viz., on the 20th, we made the west end of the island of Jamaica, a little after midnight, and as we crawled under the lee of the coast, we broke, for the first time, the force of the wind with which we had been so long struggling. [553] We had been thus nine days making the passage from Galveston to the west end of Jamaica, and were the greater part of another day, in coasting the island up to Port Royal. We had shown first one, and then another neutral flag to several neutral ships that we had passed, but the enemy's flag was nowhere to be seen. Giving chase to a bark, whilst we were still in the Gulf of Mexico, we were quite amazed, as we came up with her, to find that she was our old consort, the Agrippina! This bluff-bowed old Scotch ship had been all the time since she left us at the Arcas Islands—eight days—battling with adverse winds, and was still only a couple of hundred miles or so advanced on her voyage.

We made the Plum Point lighthouse, at half-past 4 P. M., and were off the mouth of the harbor of Port Royal just as the evening began to deepen into twilight. We hoisted the French flag, and firing a gun, and making the usual signal for a pilot, one came promptly on board of us. Day was fading into night so fast, that we had scarcely light enough left to enable us to grope our way through the tortuous and narrow channel, and it was quite dark when our anchor was let go. Of course, we did not permit the pilot to anchor us as a Frenchman, and when we told him that it was the Alabama he was taking in, he did not appear at all surprised, but remarked very coolly, ‘I knew all the while that you were no Frenchman.’ I felt much relieved, when at length I heard the plunge of the anchor into the water, followed by the rattling of the chain-cable through the hawse-hole. On the high seas, with the enemy all the time in full chase of me, constant vigilance was required to guard against surprise; and my battle with the elements was almost as constant, as that with the enemy. When I reached the friendly shelter, therefore, of a neutral port, belonging to such of the powers of the earth as were strong enough to prevent themselves from being kicked by the enemy, my over-taxed nervous system relaxed in a moment, and I enjoyed the luxury of a little gentlemanly idleness. Kell was of wonderful assistance to me, in this respect. I always left the ship in his hands, with the utmost confidence, and my confidence was never misplaced. He was, as the reader has seen, an excellent disciplinarian, and being, besides, a thorough master of his profession, I had in him all that I could desire. [554]

We were boarded by a lieutenant from the English flag-ship, immediately upon anchoring, and the news spread like wildfire through all Port Royal, that the Alabama had arrived, with the officers and crew of a Federal gunboat which she had sunk in battle, on board as prisoners. Night as it was, we were soon swarmed with visitors, come off to welcome us to the port, and tender their congratulations. The next morning I called on Commodore Dunlap, who commanded a squadron of Admiral Milne's fleet, and was the commanding naval officer present. This was the first English port I had entered, since the Alabama had been commissioned, and no question, whatever, as to the antecedents of my ship was raised. I had, in fact, brought in pretty substantial credentials, that I was a ship of war —130 of the officers and men of one of the enemy's sunken ships. Great Britain had had the good sense not to listen to the frantic appeals, either of Mr. Seward or Minister Adams, both of whom claimed, as the reader has seen, that it was her duty to stultify herself, and ignore the commission of my ship. Nor did Commodore Dunlap say anything to me of my destruction of British property, or of the three ships of war, which that adept in international law, the ‘Commercial Advertiser,’ of New York, had asserted Admiral Milne had sent after me. These questions, indeed, had all been authoritatively settled, I found, by Earl Russell, the British Foreign Secretary, by the following letter to the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, which had applied to him for information. It is copied from the New York World:

‘Sir: I am directed by Earl Russell to reply to your letters of the 6th inst., respecting the destruction by the Confederate steamer Alabama of British property embarked in American vessels and burned by that steamer. Earl Russell desires me to state to you that British property on board a vessel belonging to one of the belligerents must be subject to all the risks and contingencies of war, so far as the capture of the vessel is concerned. The owners of any British property, not being contraband of war, on board a Federal vessel captured and destroyed by a Confederate vessel of war, may claim in a Confederate Prize Court compensation for the destruction of such property.’

The ‘World’ said lachrymosely of the above, that ‘it was but one of a crowd of eloquent indications which constantly multiply upon us to prove that Earl Russell, like Mr. [555] Gladstone, whatever his sympathies may be, really regards the nation of Jefferson Davis' as substantially created, and looks upon recognition as simply a question of time.’

I forwarded, through Commodore Dunlap, an official report of my arrival to the Governor of the island, with a request to be permitted to land my prisoners, and put some slight repairs upon my ship; both of which requests were promptly granted. Governor Eyre was then in authority. He behaved with great spirit and firmness, afterward, in nipping in the bud a widespread negro insurrection, which had for its object, the massacre of the whites and the plunder of their property. A few negroes were killed by the troops, and I have been sorry to learn since, that his Excellency has been much harassed, in consequence, by both English and American fanatics. The English squadron at anchor consisted of the Jason, the Challenger, and Greyhound. The most cordial relations were at once established between the officers of all these ships, and those of the Alabama. Indeed, many of them were our old acquaintances.

An English friend having come on board, to invite me to pass a few days with him, in the mountains, while my ship was being prepared for sea, I accepted his invitation, and turning over all the unfinished business of the ship to Kell, we pulled up to Kingston in my gig. Here I found my friend's carriage in waiting, and entering it, we were soon whirled out of the limits of the dusty city, into the most charming of tropical scenery. Except landing, occasionally, for a few hours at a time, at the desert little islands I had visited in the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico, I had not had a holiday on shore, since leaving the Mersey, on my way to commission the Alabama, five months before. I needed a little rest, and recreation, to restore my wasted energies, and I found both with my excellent friend, Mr. Fyfe.

For the first ten miles, we rode over a beautiful macadamized road, or rather avenue, lined with the gigantic cactus, growing frequently to the height of twenty and thirty feet, and several specimens of the palm; chief among which was the cocoanut-tree, shooting its trunk with the straightness of an arrow to a great height, and waving gracefully in the [556] breeze, its superb, feather-like foliage. The way was lined with many picturesque country houses, each surrounded by its extensive and well-kept grounds, on which were growing crops, chiefly of fruits and vegetables, but interspersed occasionally with a field of Indian corn, or sugar-cane. Hedgerows and shade-trees adorned the front yards, and protected the residences from the sun, giving them an air of seclusion, coolness, and quiet that was very inviting. We occasionally obtained glimpses of beautiful valleys, on the right hand, and on the left, in which fairy cottages were nestled. The scenery was continually changing, as the road wound along, now skirting the base of abrupt hills, now running over a stream, and now plunging into the recesses of a wood, with the trees arching overhead, like the groined work of a cathedral.

At the end of our ten miles of carriage-drive, we found ourselves at the foot of the mountains. Here we alighted at a large hostelry, which was a sort of combination of the inn, caravansary, and country store, and after some refreshment, mounted saddle-horses which we found in waiting. The roads soon became mere bridle-paths. As we ascended the slopes of the mountains, we changed rapidly the character of the vegetation; every hundred feet of elevation being equivalent to a change of a degree or more of latitude, and bringing us in the presence of new forest-trees and new plants, until we dismounted on the lawn of my friend, the immediate surroundings of which were all English; the cedar, and other wellknown trees and shrubs of the temperate latitudes, supplanting the tropical vegetation we had left in the tierra caliente below us. The air, too, was so delightfully changed, from the sultry heats of the coast, that we found a fire lighted of the dry and fragrant branches of the cedar-tree, quite pleasant as the night set in.

The reader may imagine how magical the change was, from the cramped quarters, and other desagremens of a small ship, to the ample halls, and elegant leisure of an English home, perched on the mountain-side, and overlooking a perfect wilderness of tropical vegetation. The sea was in plain sight to the eastward of us, and Kingston and Port Royal lay, as it were, at our feet. With the aid of a fine telescope which my [557] friend had mounted in his piazza, I could distinguish my own ship from the other vessels in the harbor, though they all appeared as diminutive as so many sea-gulls, nestling upon the water. I need not say how soundly I slept that night, far away from war's alarms, fanned by the gentlest of sea-breezes, in the sweetest of sheets, and lullabied by the distant breaker, as it stranded itself at regular intervals upon the beach.

I was awakened the next morning by the merry songs of a hundred birds, that came appropriately blended with the perfume of the flowers that clustered around my windows; and I have seldom looked upon a more beautiful picture, than when I threw back the blinds, and caught a view of the landscape, rejoicing in the morning's sun, with all its wealth of tropical fruits and flowers, and the sea—the glorious sea—glittering like a mirror in the distance. Nothing can be more charming than the interior of an English household, when the ice has been broken and you have fairly gained admission into the interior of the temple. The successful entertainment of a guest is one of those artless arts, of which the English gentleman, above all others, is master; and the art consists in putting the guest so entirely at ease, as to make him feel at home in the first half-hour. With a library, servants, and horses at your command, you are literally left to take care of yourself —meeting the family in the parlors and sitting-rooms, as much, or as little as you please.

From Flamstead, which was the name of the country-seat of my friend, we rode over to Bloxburg, the country-seat of his brother, where some ladies from the neighborhood did me the honor to make me a visit; and from Bloxburg we made several other agreeable visits to neighboring plantations. I was in an entirely new world—those mountains of Jamaica—and was charmed with everything I saw. All was nature; and nature presented herself in her most; lovely aspect, whether we viewed the sky overhead, the sea at our feet, or the broken and picturesque country around us. Time flew rapidly, and what with delightful rides, and lunches, and evening parties, where music, and the bright eyes of fair women beguiled the senses, I should have been in danger of forgetting the war, and the Alabama, if Kell had not sent me a courier, on the third or fourth day, informing me that he was nearly ready for sea. [558]

I descended at once from the empyrean in which I had been wandering, took a hasty leave of my friends, and in company with Mr. Fyfe, rode back to the coast. We took a new route back, and re-entered Kingston through a different suburb— stopping to lunch with one of Mr. Fyfe's friends, an English merchant, at his magnificent country-house. But, alas! much of the magnificence of the Kingston of former years is passing away. I had known it in its palmiest days, having visited it when a midshipman in the old service, before the happy slave had been converted into the wretched freedman. It was then a busy mart of commerce, and the placid waters of its unrivalled harbor were alive with shipping bearing the flags of all nations, come in quest of her great staples, sugar, coffee, cocoa, gensing, &c. Now, a general air of dilapidation and poverty hangs over the scene. A straggling ship or two only are seen in the harbor; the merchants have become shopkeepers, and the sleek, well-fed negro has become an idler and a vagrant, with scarce rags enough to hide his nakedness. My host, in the few days I remained with him, gave me much valuable information concerning the negro, since his emancipation, which I will not detain the reader to repeat. I may say in a few words, however, that the substance of this information was, that there has been no increase, either in numbers, intelligence, or morals among them; and that, too, under circumstances, all of which were favorable to the negro. He was the pet of the government for years after his emancipation, and English fanatics have devoted their lives to his regeneration, but all without success. He is, to-day, with a few exceptions about the towns, the same savage that he is in his native Dahomey. An English parliament had declared that he was the political equal of the white man —that is, of the colonial white man, for England takes the best of care, that the imperial legislature is never tainted by his presence —and I found him a generation afterward, far below his former level of slave.

I found my gig in waiting for me at the wharf in Kingston, and taking leave of my friend, with many thanks for his hospitality, I pulled on board of my ship about sunset. And here, what a scene of confusion met me, and what reports Kell had to make of how my fellows had been ‘cutting up!’ The paymaster had been drunk ever since he landed, neglecting his [559] duty, and behaving in a most disreputable manner. He was ‘hail fellow, well met’ with all the common sailors, and seemed to have an especial fancy for the sailors of the enemy. Kell had suspended his functions; and had sent on shore, and had him brought off under arrest. He had become partially sobered, and I at once ordered him to pack up his clothing, and be off. He was landed, bag and baggage, in half an hour, and in due time, as the reader has already seen, he married a negro wife, went over to England with her, swindled her out of all her property, and turned Yankee, going over to Minister Adams, and becoming one of his right-hand men, when there was any hard swearing wanted in the British courts against the Confederates.

This little matter disposed of, we turned our attention to the crew. They had had a run on shore, and Kell was just gathering them together again. The ship's cutters, as well as the shore-boats, were constantly coming alongside with small squads, all of them drunk, some in one stage of drunkenness, and some in another. Liquor was acting upon them like the laughing gas; some were singing jolly, good-humored songs, whilst others were giving the war-whoop, and insisting on a fight. They were seized, ironed and passed below to the care of the master-at-arms, as fast as they came on board.

A couple of them, not liking the appearance of things on board, jumped into a dug-out alongside, and seizing the paddles from the negroes, shoved off in great haste, and put out for the shore. It was night, and there was a bright moon lighting up the bay. A cutter was manned as speedily as possible, and sent in pursuit of the fugitives. Jack had grog and Moll ahead of him, and irons and a court-martial behind him, and he paddled like a good fellow. He had gotten a good start before the cutter was well under way, but still, the cutter, with her long sweeping oars, was rather too much for the dug-out, especially as there were five oars to two paddles. She gained, and gained, coming nearer and nearer, when presently the officer of the cutter heard one of the sailors in the dug-out say to the other, ‘I'll tell you what it is, Bill, there's too much cargo in this here d—d craft, and I'm going to lighten ship a little,’ and at the same instant, he saw the two [560] men lay in their paddles, seize one of the negroes, and pitch him head foremost overboard! They then seized their paddles again, and away darted the dug-out with renewed speed.

Port Royal Bay is a large sheet of water, and is, besides, as every reader of Marryatt's incomparable tales knows, full of ravenous sharks. It would not do, of course, for the cutter to permit the negro either to drown or to be eaten by the sharks. and so, as she came up with him, sputtering and floundering for his life, she was obliged to ‘back of all,’ and take him in. The sailor who grabbed at him first, missed him, and the boat shot ahead of him, which rendered it necessary for her to turn and pull back a short distance before she could rescue him. This done, he was flung into the bottom of the cutter, and the pursuit renewed. By this time the dug-out had gotten even a better start than she had had at first, and the two fugitive sailors, encouraged by the prospect of escape, were paddling more vigorously than ever. Fast flew the dug-out, but faster flew the cutter. Both parties now had their blood up, and a more beautiful and exciting moonlight race has not often been seen. We had watched it from the Alabama, until in the gloaming of the night, it had passed out of sight. We had seen the first manoeuvre of the halting, and pulling back of the cutter, but did not know what to make of it. The cutter began now to come up again with the chase. She had no musket on board, or in imitation of the Alabama, she might have ‘hove the chase to,’ with a blank cartridge, or a ball. When she had gotten within a few yards of her, a second time, in went the paddles again, and overboard went the other negro! and away went the dug-out! A similar delay on the part of the cutter ensued as before, and a similar advantage was gained by the dug-out.

But all things come to an end, and so did this race. The cutter finally captured the dug-out, and brought back Tom Bowse and Bill Bower to their admiring shipmates on board the Alabama. This was the only violation of neutrality I was guilty of, in Port Royal—chasing, and capturing a neutral craft, in neutral waters. My excuse was, the same that Wilkes made—she had contraband on board. I do not know whether Commodore Dunlap ever heard of it; but if he had complained, [561] I should have set-off the rescuing of two of her Majesty's colored subjects from drowning, against the recapture of my own men. The fact is, the towns-people, themselves, were responsible for all these disorders. They had made heroes of all my fellows, and plied them with an unconscionable number of drinks. Every sea-port town has its sailor quarter, and this in the good old town of Kingston was a constant scene of revelry, by day as well as by night, during the stay of the Alabama's liberty men on shore. There was no end to the ‘breakdowns,’ and ‘double-shuffles,’ which had been given in their honor, by the beaux and belles of Water Street. Besides my own crew, there were always more or less English man-of-war sailors on shore, on liberty from the different ships, and upwards of a hundred had been landed from the Hatteras. It was quite remarkable that in these merry-makings, and debaucheries, the Confederate sailors and the Yankee sailors harmonized capitally together. They might frequently be seen arm and arm in the streets, or hob-nobbing together— the Confederate sailor generally paying the score, as the Yankee sailor's strong box had gone down with his ship, and his paymaster was rather short of cash. They sailed as amicably together, up and down the contradance, and hailed each other to ‘heave to,’ when it was time to ‘freshen the nip,’ as though the Alabama and Hatteras had never been yard-arm and yardarm, throwing broadsides into each other. In short, my men behaved capitally toward their late enemies. There was no unmanly exultation over their victory. The most that could be seen was an air of patronage very delicately put on, as though they would say, ‘Well, you know we whipped you, but then you did the best you could, and there's an end of it.’

Among the amusing things that had occurred during my absence in the Jamaica mountains, was a flare-up, which Captain Blake, my prisoner, had had with the British Commodore.

The steamer Greyhound had a band of music on board, and as one of the young lieutenants was an old acquaintance of several of my officers, whom he had met at Nassau, he ordered the band on the evening after our arrival, and whilst Captain Blake was still on board the Alabama, to play ‘Dixie;’ which, I may remark, by the way, had become a very popular air [562] everywhere, as much on account of the air itself, perhaps, as because of its association with a weak and gallant people struggling for the right of self-government. Captain Blake chose to construe this little compliment to the Alabama, as an insult to Yankeedom, and made a formal protest to the British Commodore, in behalf of himself, and the ‘old flag.’ Commodore Dunlap must have smiled, when he read Blake's epistle. He was certainly a man of humor, for he hit upon the following mode of settling the grave international dispute. He ordered the offending Greyhound, when she should get up her band, on the following evening, first to play ‘Dixie,’ and then ‘Yankee Doodle.’

When the evening, which was to salve the Yankee honor, arrived, great was the expectation of every one in the squadron. The band on board the Jason, flag-ship, led off by playing ‘God save the Queen,’ that glorious national anthem, which electrifies the Englishman, as the Marseilles' hymn does the Frenchman, the world over. The Challenger's band followed and played a fine opera air. The evening was still and fine, and the poops of all the ships were filled with officers. It then came the Greyhound's turn. She first played something unusually solemn, then ‘Dixie,’ with slowness, sweetness, and pathos, and when the chorus

In Dixie's land, I'll take my stand,
I'll live, and die in Dixie!

had died away on the soft evening air, such an infernal din, of drums, and fifes, and cymbals, and wind instruments, each after its fashion, going it strong upon
‘Yankee Doodle Dandy!’

arose, as to defy all description! The effect was electric; the officers had to hold their sides to preserve their dignity, and— Captain Blake was avenged. There could be no protest made against this time-honored rogue's march. It was the favorite tune of the b'hoys, and there the matter had to end. I have never learned whether Mr. Seward ever called Lord Palmerston to an account about it, in any one of his ‘Essays on English Composition.’

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