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    Chapter 4

    Impressing American Seamen — Documents of Citizenship — War — Voluntary Surrender as Prisoners of War — Preparation for a Battle — Unjust Treatment — Close Confinement — Relieved — British Fleet Outgeneraled — Prisoners Sent to England — London Newspaper — Successful Movement — Without Bread.

    THE Swiftshore was soon under way for her station off Toulon. A few days after we sailed, a friend of my father’s arrived from the United States, bringing documents to prove my citizenship, and a demand for my release from the British government.LELJB 51.1

    One of the most prominent causes of our last war with England, in 1812, was her oppressive and unjust acts in impressing American seamen on sea or land, wherever they could be found. This was denied by one political party in the United States. The British government also continued to deny the fact, and regard the passports, or protection, of American citizens of but little importance. Such proofs of American citizenship were required by them as were not very readily obtained. Hence their continued acts of aggression until the war. Another additional and grievous act was, that all letters to friends were required to be examined by the first lieutenant before leaving the ship. By accident I found one of mine torn and thrown aside, hence the impossibility of my parents’ learning even that I was among the living. With as genuine a protection as could be obtained from the collector of the custom-house at New York, I nevertheless was passed off for an Irishman, because an Irish officer declared that my parents lived in Belfast, Ireland.LELJB 51.2

    Previous to the war of 1812, one of my letters reached my father. He wrote to the President of the United States (Mr. Madison), presenting him with the facts in my case, and for proof of his own citizenship referred him to the archives in the War Department for his commissions returned and deposited there after his services closed with the Revolutionary War. The president’s reply and documents were satisfactory. Gen. Brooks, then governor of Massachusetts, who was intimately acquainted with my father as a captain under his immediate command in the Revolutionary War, added to the foregoing another strong document.LELJB 52.1

    Capt. C. Delano, townsman and friend of my father, preparing for a voyage to Minorca, in the Mediterranean, generously offered his services as bearer of the above-named documents, and so sanguine was he that no other proof would be required, that he really expected to bring me with him on his return voyage.LELJB 52.2

    On his arrival at Port Mahon, he was rejoiced to learn that the Rodney, 74, was in port. As he approached the R. in his boat, he was asked what he wanted. He said he wished to see a young man by the name of Joseph Bates. The lieutenant forbade his coming alongside. Finally, one of the under-officers, a friend of mine, informed him that I had been transferred to the Swiftshore, 74, and that she had sailed to join the British fleet off Toulon. Capt. D. then presented my documents to the United States consul, who transmitted them to Sir Edward Pelew, the commander-in-chief of the squadron. On the arrival of the mail, I received a letter from Capt. D., informing me of his arrival and visit to the R., his disappointment, and what he had done, and of the anxiety of my parents. I think this was the first intelligence from home for over three years.LELJB 52.3

    I was told that the captain had sent for me to see him on the quarter-deck. I saw that he was surrounded by signal men and officers, replying by signal flags to the admiral’s ship, which was some distance from us. Said the captain, “Is your name Joseph Bates?” “Yes, sir.” “Are you an American?” “Yes, sir.” “To what part of America do you belong?” “New Bedford, in Massachusetts, sir.” Said he, “The admiral is inquiring to know if you are on board this ship. He will probably send for you,” or something of the like import. “You may go below.” The news spread throughout the ship that Bates was an American, and his government had demanded his release, and the commander-in-chief was signalizing our ship about it, etc. What a lucky fellow he was, etc.LELJB 53.1

    Weeks and months rolled away, however, bringing nothing but anxious suspense and uncertainty in my case, till at length I received another letter from Capt. D., informing me that my case was still hanging in uncertainty. It was probable that war had commenced, and as he was obliged to leave, he advised me, if I could not obtain an honorable discharge, to become a prisoner of war.LELJB 53.2

    It was now the fall of 1812. On our arrival at Port Mahon to winter, the British consul sent me what money I then needed, saying that it was Capt. D. ’s request that he should furnish me with money and clothing while I needed. Owing to sickness in the fleet, it was ordered that each ship’s company should have 24 hours’ liberty on shore. I improved this opportunity to call at the offices of the British and American consuls. The former furnished me with some more money. The latter said that the admiral had done nothing in my case, and now it was too late, for it was ascertained that war was declared between the United States and Great Britain.LELJB 53.3

    There were about two hundred Americans on board the ships in our squadron, and twenty-two on board the Swiftshore. We had ventured several times to say what we ought to do, but the result appeared to some very doubtful. At last some six of us united and walked to the quarter-deck with our hats in hand, and thus addressed the first lieutenant:—LELJB 54.1

    “We understand, sir, that war has commenced between Great Britain and the United States, and we do not wish to be found fighting against our own country; therefore it is our wish to become prisoners of war.” “Go below,” said he. At dinner hour all the Americans were ordered between the pumps, and not permitted to associate with the crew. Our scanty allowance was ordered to be reduced one-third, and no strong drink. This we felt we could endure, and were not a little comforted that we had made one effectual change, and the next would most likely free us from the British navy.LELJB 54.2

    From our ship the work spread, until about all the Americans in the fleet became prisoners of war. During eight dreary months we were thus retained, and frequently called upon the quarter-deck, where we were harangued, and urged to enter the British navy. I had already suffered on for thirty months an unwilling subject; I was therefore fully decided not to listen to any proposal they could make.LELJB 54.3

    A few months after our becoming prisoners of war, our lookout ships appeared off the harbor, and signalized that the French fleet (which we were attempting to blockade) were all out and making the best of their way down the Mediterranean. With this startling information orders were immediately issued for the squadron to be ready to proceed in pursuit of them at an early hour in the morning. The most of the night was spent preparing for this expected onset. The prisoners were invited to assist. I alone refused to aid or assist in any way whatever, it being unjustifiable except when forced to do so.LELJB 55.1

    In the morning the whole fleet was sailing out of the harbor in line of battle. Gunners were ordered to double-shot the guns, and clear away for action. The first lieutenant was passing by where I stood reading the Life of Nelson (one of the library books). “Take up that hammock, sir, and carry it on deck,” said he. I looked off from the book and said, “It’s not mine, sir.” “Take it up.” “Its not mine, sir.” He cursed me for a scoundrel, snatched the book from me, and dashed it out of the gun-port, and struck me down with his fist. As soon as I got up, said he, “Take that hammock [some one’s bed and blankets lashed up] on deck.” “I shall not do it, sir! I am a prisoner of war, and hope you will treat me as such.” “Yes, you ___ Yankee scoundrel, I will. Here,” said he to two under-officers, “take that hammock and lash it on to that fellow’s back, and make him walk the poop deck twenty-four hours.” And because I put my hands on them to keep them from doing so, and requested them to let me alone, he became outrageous, and cried out, “Master-at-arms! take this fellow into the gun-room and put him double legs in irons!” “That you can do, sir,” said I, “but I shall not work.” “When we come into action I’ll have you lashed up in the main rigging for a target for the Frenchmen to fire at!” “That you can do, sir, but I hope you will remember that I am a prisoner of war.” Another volley of oaths and imprecations followed, with an inquiry why the master-at-arms did not hurry up with the irons. The poor old man was so dismayed and gallied that he could not find them.LELJB 55.2

    The lieutenant then changed his mind, and ordered him to come up and make me a close prisoner in the gun-room, and not allow me to come near any one, nor even to speak with one of my countrymen. With this he hurried up on the upper gun-deck, where orders were given to throw all the hammocks and bags into the ship’s hold, break down all cabin and berth partitions, break up and throw overboard all the cow and sheep pens, and clear the deck fore and aft for action. Every ship was now in its station for battle, rushing across the Mediterranean for the Turkish shore, watching to see and grapple with their deadly foe.LELJB 56.1

    When all the preparation was made for battle, one of my countrymen, in the absence of the master-at-arms, ventured to speak with me through the musket gratings of the gun-room, to warn me of the perilous position I should be placed in when the French fleet hove in sight, unless I submitted, and acknowledged myself ready to take my former station (second captain of one of the big guns on the fore-castle), and fight the Frenchmen, as he and the rest of my countrymen were about to do. I endeavored to show him how unjustifiable and inconsistent such a course would be for us as prisoners of war, and assured him that my mind was fully and clearly settled to adhere to our position as American prisoners of war, notwithstanding the perilous position I was to be placed in.LELJB 56.2

    In the course of a few hours, after the lieutenant had finished his arrangements for battle, he came down to my prison-room. “Well, sir,” said he, “will you take up a hammock when you are ordered again?” I replied that I would take one up for any gentleman in the ship. “You would, ha?” “Yes, sir.” Without inquiring who I considered gentlemen, he ordered me released. My countrymen were somewhat surprised to see me so soon a prisoner at large.LELJB 57.1

    The first lieutenant is next in command to the captain, and presides over all the duties of the ship during the day, and keeps no watch, whereas all other officers do. As we had not yet seen the French fleet, the first lieutenant was aware that my case would have to be reported to the captain; in which case if I, as an acknowledged prisoner of war, belonging to the United States, were allowed to answer for myself, his unlawful, abusive, and ungentlemanly conduct would come to the captain’s knowledge. Hence his willingness to release me.LELJB 57.2

    The British fleet continued their course across the Mediterranean for the Turkish coast, until they were satisfied that the French fleet was not to the west of them. They then steered north and east (to meet them), until we arrived off the harbor of Toulon, where we saw them all snugly moored, and dismantled in their old winter quarters; their officers and crews undoubtedly highly gratified that the ruse they had practiced had so well effected their design, viz., to start the British squadron out of their snug winter quarters to hunt for them over the Mediterranean Sea. They had remantled, and sailed out of their harbor, and chased our few lookout ships a distance down the Mediterranean, and then, unperceived by them, returned and dismantled again.LELJB 57.3

    After retaining us as prisoners of war about eight months, we, with others who continued to refuse all solicitation to rejoin the British service, were sent to Gibraltar, and from thence to England, and finally locked up on board an old sheer-hulk, called the Crown Princen, formerly a Danish 74-gun ship, a few miles below Chatham dockyard, and seventy miles from London. Here were many others of like description, many of them containing prisoners. Here about seven hundred prisoners were crowded between two decks, and locked up every night, on a scanty allowance of food, and in crowded quarters. Cut off from all intercourse except floating news, a plan was devised to obtain a newspaper, which often relieved us in our anxious, desponding moments, although we had to feel the pressing claims of hunger for it. The plan was this: One day in each week we were allowed salt fish; this we sold to the contractor for cash, which we paid to one of our enemies to smuggle us in one of the weekly journals from London. This being common stock, good readers were chosen to stand in an elevated position and read aloud. It was often interesting and amusing to see the perfect rush to hear every word of American news, several voices crying out, “Read that over again, we could not hear it distinctly;” and the same from another and another quarter. Good news from home often cheered us more than our scanty allowance of food. If more means had been required for the paper, I believe another portion of our daily allowance would have been freely offered rather than give it up.LELJB 58.1

    Our daily allowance of bread consisted of coarse brown loaves from the bakery, served out every morning. At the commencement of the severe cold weather, a quantity of ship biscuit was deposited on board for our use in case the weather or ice should prevent the soft bread from coming daily. In the spring, our first lieutenant or commander ordered the biscuit to be served out to the prisoners, and directed that one-quarter of the daily allowance should be deducted, because nine ounces of biscuit were equal to twelve ounces of soft bread. We utterly refused to receive the biscuit, or hard bread, unless he would allow us as many ounces as he had of the soft. At the close of the day he wished to know again if we would receive the bread on his terms. “No! no!” “Then I will keep you below until you comply.” Hatchways unlocked in the morning again. “Will you come up for your bread?” “No!” At noon again, “Will you have your meat that is cooked for you?” “No!” “Will you come up for your water?” “No; we will have nothing from you until you serve us out our full allowance of bread.” To make us comply, the port-holes had been closed, thus depriving us of light and fresh air. Our president had also been called up and conferred with (we had a president and committee of twelve chosen, as we found it necessary to keep some kind of order). He told the commander that the prisoners would not yield.LELJB 59.1

    By this time, hunger and the want of water, and especially fresh air, had thrown us into a state of feverish excitement. Some appeared almost savage, others endeavored to bear it as well as they could. The president was called for again. After awhile the port where he messed was thrown open, and two officers from the hatchway came down on the lower deck and passed to his table, inquiring for the president’s trunk. “What do you want with it?” said his friends. “The commander has sent us for it.” “What for?” “He is going to send him on board the next prison ship.” “Do you drop it! He shall not have it!” By this time the officers became alarmed for their safety, and attempted to make their escape up the ladder to the hatchway. A number of the prisoners, who seemed fired with desperation, stopped them, and declared on the peril of their lives that they should go no farther until the president was permitted to come down. Other port holes were now thrown open, and the commander appeared at one of them, demanding the release of his officers. The reply from within was, “When you release our president we will release your officers.” “If you do not release them,” said the commander, “I will open these ports [all of them grated with heavy bars of iron] and fire in upon you.” “Fire away!” was the cry from within, “we may as well die this way as by famine; but, mark, if you kill one prisoner we will have two for one as long as they last.” His officers now began to beg him most pitifully not to fire, “for if you do,” said they, “they will kill us; they stand here around us with their knives open, declaring if we stir one foot they will take our lives.”LELJB 60.1

    The president, being permitted to come to the port, begged his countrymen to shed no blood on his account, for he did not desire to remain on board the ship any longer, and he entreated that for his sake the officers be released.LELJB 61.1

    Double-plank bulk-heads at each end of our prison rooms, with musket holes in them to fire in upon us if necessary, separated us from the officers, sailors, and soldiers. Again we were asked if we would receive our allowance of bread. “No.” Some threats were thrown out by the prisoners that the commander would hear from us before morning. About ten o’clock at night, when all were quiet but the guard and watch on deck, a torch-light was got up by setting some soap grease on fire in tin pans. By the aid of this light, a heavy oak stanchion was taken down, which served us for a battering-ram. Then, with our large, empty, tin water cans for drums, and tin pails, kettles, pans, pots, and spoons for drum-sticks, and whatever would make a stunning noise, the torch-lights and battering-ram moved onward to the after bulk-head that separated us from the commander and his officers, soldiers and their families. For a few moments the ram was applied with power, and so successfully that consternation seized the sleepers, and they fled, crying for help, declaring that the prisoners were breaking through upon them. Without stopping for them to rally and fire in upon us, a rush was made for the forward bulk-head, where a portion of the ship’s company, with their families, lived. The application of the battering-ram was quite as successful here, so that all our enemies were now as wide awake as their hungry, starving prisoners, devising the best means for their defense. Here our torch-lights went out, leaving us in total darkness in the midst of our so-far-successful operations. We grouped together in huddles, to sleep, if our enemies would allow us, until another day should dawn to enable us to use our little remaining strength in obtaining, if possible, our full allowance of bread and water.LELJB 61.2

    The welcome fresh air and morning light came suddenly upon us by an order from the commander to open our port-holes, unbar the hatchways, and call the prisoners up to get their bread. In a few moments it was clearly understood that our enemies had capitulated by yielding to our terms, and were now ready to make peace by serving us with our full allowance of bread.LELJB 62.1

    While one from each mess of ten was up getting their three days’ allowance of brown loaves, others were up to the tank filling their tin cans with water, so that in a short space of time, a great and wonderful change had taken place in our midst. On most amicable terms of peace with all our keepers, grouped in messes of ten, with three days’ allowance of bread, and cans filled with water, we ate and drank, laughed and shouted immoderately over our great feast and vanquished foe. The wonder was that we did not kill ourselves with over-eating and drinking.LELJB 62.2

    The commissary, on hearing the state of things in our midst, sent orders from the shore to the commander, to serve out our bread forthwith.LELJB 62.3

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