Sunday, June 2, 2019

Sailing for America 1649

Article from The Salisbury Times (now called The Delmarva Times), Salisbury, Maryland - October 28, 1964 from the Delmarva Heritage Series, by Dr. William H. Wroten, Jr.

According to pre-arranged plans, Col. Henry Norwood met with friends in Great Britain for a voyage to Virginia. In September, with about 330 on board, paying six pounds per head for themselves and servants, they sailed on "The Virginia Merchant," a vessel of 300 ton, carrying 30 guns or more.
 1657-65 Amsterdam for “Historiae Naturalis...” by John Jonston. Illustrated by Caspar and Matthias Merian

Some 20 years later, Norwood wrote the story of the crossing, the abandoned party, their experiences with the Indians and finally their arrival at Jamestown. The first third of the 50-page essay is a detailed description of their very exciting and fearsome trials from England to hte West Indies, and then on to the present coast of Assateague Island, where they were deserted by the crew, after they had gone ashore in search of food and water.

Of course, not all voyagers from Europe experienced the hardships of the colonel and his friends, but his voyage, although the extreme, gives an insight into the experiences of our ancestors in settling this land.  Today's article will deal primarily with the voyage as far as Assategue Island.

Except for the fact that they almost ran out of fresh water before reaching the West Indies, their journey of about three weeks, Sept. 23 to Oct. 14, 1649 was rather pleasant. They stayed in the West Indies for about two weeks, enjoying great hospitality. On one occasion, Col. Norwood dined with the captain of another ship, who had on board a lady of note and her family. Seemingly, the lady was of Portuguese nobility on her way from Brazil to Lisbon.

If Norwood and his friends enjoyed themselves with royalty, then the crew, while loading water on the ship, found pleasure elsewhere. Norwood reported: "Whls't we were caress'd in this manner on shipboard, the seamen on shore continued in their debauchery, with very little advance of our dispatch; the greeting water was so tedious in itself for lack of our boat, and so full delays by drunken contests of ours with the islanders, and with themselves, that, after some days stay upon the island, when our captain resolved to sail away, he found the ship in worse condition for liquors, than when we came on shore; for if we got a new supply of water, the proportion was hardly enough to balance the expense of beer that was spent in the time we got it."

About Oct. 22, they left the West Indies and with favorable trade winds reached the Bermudas in about 24 hours. It was here that Norwood repurted some geographical facts known to most of us today:  "In that latitude it is the general observation of seamen, that the seas are rough, and the weather stormy. It was my fortune to have a curiosity to look out, when the officer on the watch showed me a more than oridinary agitation of the sea in one particular place above the rest; which was the effect of what they called a spout, a raging in the bowels of the sea, (like a violent birth) striving to break out, and at last springs up like a mine at land, with weight and force enough to have hoised our ship out of her proper element, into the air (had the helm been for it) and to have made her do the supersalt; but God's providence secured us from that danger."

Although they did not stop at the Bermudas, they were happy to sight them for now they knew the true distance to Cape Hatteras, which meant that they would soon be ashore at Jamestown and rid of a "hungry pester'd ship and company." Their joy and fair weather came to an end on Nov. 8, when the weather and winds changed and the ship was endangered by hitting several "beaches" off of Caper Hatteras. Before they were finally clear of this dangerous cape they were blown rather far out to sea.

Now, before they had a chance to recover from the experience, they were caught up in a fresh gale. This new northwest storm, which developed into a violent gale, drove them many leagues out to sea until they were lost for many days. Norwood's description of this storm-the ocean, the ship, the people-is a literary gem.

The storm, and some others which seemingly follow immediately, ripped teh sails, tore loose the stays, and shrouds and the masts, as well as making a great hole in the forecastle (which fortunately some "land-carpenter" on board patched up).

Norwood wrote: "Abandon'd in this manner to the fury of the raging sea, tossed up and down without any rigging to keep the ship steady, our seamen frequently fell overboard, without any one regarding the loss of another, every man expectiong the same fate, tho' in a different manner. The ceiling of this hulk (for it was no better) were for the same cause so uneasy, that, in many tumbles, the deck would touch the sea, and there stand still as if she would never make another... In this posture did we pass the 10th and 11th days of November, the 12th morning we saw an English merchant, who shewed his ensign, but would not speak with us, tho' the storm was abated and the season more fit for communication. We imagined the reason was, because he would not be compelled to be civil to us: he thought our condition desperate, and we had more guns than he could resist, which might enable us to take what he would not sell or give. he shot a to leeward, stood his course, and turn'd his poop upon us... The passengers overcharged with excessive fears, had no appetite to eat; and (which was worst of all) both seasmen and passengers were in a deplorable state as the remaining victuals, all like to fall under extreme want: for the storm, by taking away teh forecastle, having thrown much water into the hold, our stock of bread (staff of life) was greatly damnified; and there remained no way to dress our meat, now that the cook-room was gone; the incessant tumbling of the ship (as has been observ'd) made all such cookery wholly impracticable. The only expedient to make fire betwixt decks, was, by sawing a cash in the middle, and filling it with ballast, which made a hearth to parch pease, and broil salt beef; nor could this be done but with great attendance, which was many times frustrated by being thrown topsy-turvy in spite of all circumspection, to the great defeat of empty stomachs."

Although there were periods when the gale winds abatedm the general weather conditions were extrememly bad for ocean sailing-fog, stormy seas, unfavorable strong winds, etc. " I would be too great a trial of the reader' patience to be entertain'd with every circumstance of our sufferings in the remaining part of this voyage, which continued in great extremity for at least 40 days from the time we left the land, our miseries increasing every hour: I shall therefore omit the greatest number of our ill encounters, which were frequently repeated on us, and remember only what has in my thoughts been most remarkable, and have made the deepest impression in my memory."

One of the deepest impressions was what Norwood referred as "A Famine." "Whilst this determination was agreed and put in practice, the famine grew sharp upon us. Women and children made dismal cries and grievous complaints. The infinite number of rats that all the voyage had been our plague, we now were glad to make our prey to feed don; and as they were insnared and taken, a well grown rat was sold for 16 shillings as a market rate. Nay, before the voyage did end (as I was credibly inform'd) a woman great with child offered 20 shillings for a rat, which the proprietor refusing the died...My greatest impatience was of thirst, and of dreams, were all of cellars, and taps running down my throat, which made my waking much the worse by what tantalizing fancy. Some relief I found very real by the captain's favor in allowing me a share of some butts of small claret he had concealed in a private cellar for a dead lift. It wanted mixture of water for qualifying it to quench thirst; however, it was a present remedy, and a great refreshment to me."

On the night of Jan. 3, 1650 they approached shore, although they were still about 7 miles away. At the time they had no idea of their location, but judging from Norwood's later descriptions and the use of present day maps it must have been the northern portion of Assateague Island.

After much argument the captain permitted Mr. Putts, the mate, to go ashore with "12 sickly passengers, who fancied the shore would cure them." They were to search for both fresh water and a creek which would harbor the ship.  The report that the mate brought back was so favorable that the captain and Norwood decided to go ashore and join those of the first group who had stayed. So that night, the fires of the shore-group serving as their beacons, they rowed to the island.

Col. Henry Norwood described his first moments on land, after he and the ship's captain joined some of the other passengers on Assateague Island, as follows:  "As soon as I had set my foot on land, and had rendered thanks to almighty God for opening this door of deliverance to us, after so many rescues even from the jaws of death at sea, Major Morrison (a friend of Norwood's) was pleased to oblige me beyond all requita;, in conducting me to the running stream of water, where, without any limitation of short allowance, I might drink by fill. I was glad of so great liberty, and made use of it accordingly, by prostrating myself on my belly, and setting my mouth against the stream, that it might run into my thirsty stomach without stop. The rest of the company were at liberty to use their own methods to quench their thirst; but this I thought the greatest pleasure I ever enjoyed on earth."

Shortly thereafter, by the light of the mon, the captain was able to bring down a duck, and thus along with some oysters they had a joyful feast. Here we might mention that Norwood on several occasions wrote that the cook's fee for preparing fowl was the bones, head, legs, and innards.

These joyful hours were to disappear with the rising sun. At daybreak the next morning, they noticed teh ship under way to the south (but the captain and mate, who had already started twoard the ship in their little boat were able to catch it). Norwood expressed the feeling of this abandonment:  "In this amazement the confusion of mind that no words can express, did our miserable distress'd party condole with each other our being so cruelly abandon'd and left to the last despairs of human help, or indeed of ever seeing more the face of man. We entered into a sad consultation what course to take; and having, in the first place, by united prayers, implored the protection of Almighty God, and recommended our miserable estate to the same providence which, in so many instance of mercy, had been propitious to us at sea; the whole party desired me to be as it were the father of this distressed family, to advise and conduct them in all things I thought might most tend to our preservation."

Norwood tried to organize and govern this handful of men and women for survival. His young cousin, Francis Cary, was sent to discover if there were Indians on the island. Cary reported that he could find none. Other members of the party were given fowling-pieces to hunt ducks and geese. Seemingly there was cold weather for a few days, and during the period great flights of fowl frequented the area. The caught fowl were roasted on sticks and ll was eaten but the feathers. "But as the wind veered to the southward, we had greater warmth and fewer fowl, for they would then be gone to colder climates. In their absence we were confined to oyster banks, and a sort of week four inches long, as thick as house leek, and the only green (except pines) that the island afforded. It was very insipid on the palate; but being boiled with a little pepper (of which one had brought on shore) and helped with five or six oysters, it became a regale for every one in turn."

Norwood went on to report: "In quartering our family we did observe the decencey of distinguishing sexes; we made a small hut for the poor weak women to be by themselves; our cabin for men was of the same fashion, but much more spacious, as our numbers were...Great was the toil that lay on my hands (as the strongest to labour) to get fuel together sufficient for our preservation. In the first place I divested myself of my great gown, which I spread at large, and extended against the wind in nature of a screen having first shifted my quarters to the most calm commodious place that could be found to keep us, as much as possible, from the inclemency of that prodigous storm. It was all they could do to gather wood for the necessary fires, being they were rather weak from the lack of food and shelter."

The changeing winds drove the fowl away, the tides made it difficult to harvest oysters and "thus we wish'd every day to be last of our lives (if God had so pleased) so hopeless and desperate was our condition, all expectation of human succour being vanished and gone."

Probably the lowest point of existence was reached when they felt it necessary to feed on their dead companions. "Of the three weak women before-mentioned, one had the envied happiness to die about this time; and it was my advice to the survivors, ho were following her apace, to endeavour their own preservation by converting her dead carcass into food, as they did to good effect. The same counsel was embrac'd by those of our sex: the living fed upon the dead; four of our company having the happiness to end their miserable lives on Sunday night the-day of January. Their chief distemper, 'tis ture, was hunger; but it pleased God to hasten their exit by an immoderate access of cold, caused by a most terrible storm of ahil and snow at northwest, on the Sunday aforesaid, which did not only dispatch those four to their long homes, but did sorely threaten all that remained alive, to perish by the same fate."

As their position looked hopeless, Norwood decided to swim the "creek" (Sinepuxent Bay?), which was not over 100 yards to roast. But when we came to the place of execution , my goose was gone all but the head, the body stollen by wolves, which the Indians told us afyer, do abound greatly in that island.

The loss of this goose, which my empty stomach look'd for with no small hopes of satisfaction, did vex me heartily, I wish'd I could have taken the thief of my goose to have serv'd him in the same kind, and to have taken revenge inthe law of retailiation. but that which troubled me more, was a apprehension that came into my mind, that this loss had been the effect of divine justice on me, for designing this loss had been the effect of divine justice on me, for designing to deal unequally with the rest of my fellow-suffers; which I thought, at first blush, look's like a breach of trust; but then again when I consider'd the equity of the thing, that I did it merely to enable myself to attain their preservation, and which otherwise could not have done, I found I could absolve myself from any guilt of that kind. Whatever I suffer'd in this disappointment, the cook lost not his fees; the head and neck remained for him on the tree.