« PrejšnjaNaprej »
ruin. Listen to the boatswain's prayer - it, like most such prayers, fell back upon the head of its
"List, all ye powers that rule the skies and seas!
May fiends torment them on a leeward coast,
And help forsake them when they want it most."
Freneau, in his poem entitled "The Prison Ship," from which we have been quoting, beautifully compares the flight of the "Aurora," and the pursuit of the Iris," to the flight of Hector pursued by Achilles round the walls of Troy :
"The Frigate, now, had every sail unfurl'd,
And rush'd tremendous o'er the watery world;
Chas'd the proud Trojan to the gates of Troy -
The Point of Paradise gained, all efforts to take the ill-fated vessel ashore were vain; a sudden calm caused the sails to droop. Meanwhile the foe had advanced within range of shot, and pointed her guns.
"Rang'd her black cannon, pointed on our lee,
Night fell; even the shoals in this sad extremity would have been a welcome risk, but
"Fate stood between, and barr'd us from the land."
Already becalmed and helpless, the ebbing current bore the doomed "Aurora" into the power of her enemy, who
"Flash'd her red lightnings o'er the trembling flood."
At every flash untold mischief ensued, and
"Mad for revenge, our breasts with fury glow
While shouting defiance to the foe, Laboyteaux, the captain of the marines, fell staining the deck with his heart's blood. Another blast tore the shrouds, stays. and braces away; while through the air flew the fragments of sails, blocks, and oars, and the "Aurora" shook from stem to stern. The elements seemed to vie with each other in working the doom of the ill-fated vessel; earth receded from her grasp; and the wind, rising, filled the sails of the "Iris" and blew it close and closer upon her prey; the fire tore open her sides, into whose wounds the water gurgled to complete the work of destruction; and slowly the doomed vessel began to sink, and there was naught left but to submit or die.
"'T was then the Master trembled for his crew,
They fall! his thunders forc'd our strength to bend,
And the proud foe, such leagues of ocean pass'd,
According to Freneau's log-book it would seem that on this voyage he was merely a passenger, and bore no active part in the ship's management. As this account has been given to the public by Mr. Weymer Jay Mills' great-grandnephew of Agnes Freneau's husband, we give the account of the capture as found in Freneau's poem, "The Prison Ship." In the log-book Freneau states that when first pursued by the "Iris" his advice to the officers had been to stand for Egg Harbor or any part of the Jersey shore, and to run the ship upon the flats rather than allow it to be taken. Why his advice was not followed, or why he was only a passenger on his own ship, it does not appear.
Let the reader imagine for himself the sentiments with which the freedom-loving Freneau passed from the deck of the "Aurora" to that of the victor, and those with which he watched the waters closing over the wreckage of his ship, - for that which was left of her was but the ghost of her former self, — until the darkness covered all things with its pall.
Owners of fair ships have expressed their love for them as greater far than for anything on land; and the "Aurora" was his very own, the creation of his love, which he had dreamed of day by day as she grew into her fair proportions; whose birth he had sung, and to whom finally he had confided his life and fortunes. Too late he regretted, for his own part, that he had not chosen death when it could honorably have been courted.
In passing through the lower bay in his transfer to New York, Freneau gazed across the waters and de
1 Revolutionary Americana, published by Wessels & Co.
scried in the distance the crest of the old hill from whose heights, as a child, he had so oftentimes watched the white-sailed vessels flitting to and fro, and longed so ardently to be in one of them; and was it thus his desires had been fulfilled? In one he was indeed; but the shackles of the captive were weighing on his hands and feet, and these he had not longed for.
Arrived at the port of New York, then in the hands of the British, he was condemned to breathe the foul, infected air of the sickly hulks which were moored within sight of the very residence in which, in former years, his ancestor had resided, and in which his father had been born. Imagine all this and then blame him if you can for that spirit of acrimony that many perhaps have wondered at, thinking it far exceeded its cause.
An exile from the land of his fathers through the merciless tyranny of one monarch, and in fetters by that of another, is it to be wondered at that in after years he fought so strenuously against all tendency to a monarchical form of government, or the least thing that savored of it?
The "Scorpion," the hulk in which he was confined, was one of the old transport vessels in which the British troops had been brought to the city. It was moored at first off the Battery, along with the "Jersey," a sixty-four-gun ship formerly employed as a store ship, the "Hunter," and others, and afterwards taken to Wallabout Bay, on the Long Island shore. These vessels were all unseaworthy and had been dismantled.
"No masts or sails these crowded ships adorn,
From morn to eve along the decks we lay
No friendly awning cast a welcome shade,
As Freneau has described the treatment of the captives on the prison ships in the poem mentioned above, we will quote a few portions of it relative to his sufferings while on board the "Scorpion," and the "Hunter," the hospital ship, to which he was afterwards taken. It is an admitted fact that the sailors captured by the British during the war suffered even more than the soldiers who fell into their hands, if such a thing were possible. They were crowded together so closely, and their accommodations were so wretched, that diseases broke out and swept them off in such numbers as to arouse compassion in hearts the least sensible to woe.1
It has been asserted that, as near as could be estimated, in the last six years of the war more than eleven thousand captives died on board the "Jersey' alone. Besides the three ships already mentioned, there were the "Provost," the "Strombolo," and the "Good Hope." The prisoners on the latter set fire to it, hoping to gain their freedom in that way, preferring to meet a speedy death in the dark waters rather than a lingering one in its hold; but the chief incendiaries were removed to the "Provost," and the others to the "Jersey." The latter, being freed from her living freight at the close of the war, was shunned as a nest of pestilence. The worms destroyed her already half
Thus wrote John Morin Scott, an illustrious statesman and soldier of those days:
'Let the dark Scorpion's hull narrate
The dismal tale of English hate;
Her horrid tales let Jersey tell,
And mock the shades where demons dwell,
Unheeded fell on hearts of stone.'