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OLD IRONSIDES ON A LEE SHORE.
BY AN EYE WITNESS.
It was at the close of a stormy day in the year 1835, when the gallant frigate Constitution, under the command of Captain Elliotthaving on board the late Edward Livingston, late Minister at the Court of France, and his family, and manned by nearly five hundred souls-drew near to "the chops" of the English Channel. For four days she had been beating down from Plymouth, and on the fifth, at evening, she made her last tack from the French coast.
The watch was set at eight P. M.-The Captain came on deck soon after, and having ascertained the bearing of Scilly, gave orders to keep the ship full and bye,' remarking at the same time to the officer of the deck, that he might make the light on the lee beam, but, he stated, he thought it more than probable that he would pass it without seeing it. He then turned in,' as did most of the idlers, and the starboard watch.
At a quarter past nine, P. M., the ship headed west by compass, when the call of "Light O!" was heard from the fore-topsailyard.
"Where away?" asked the officer of the deck
"Three points on the lee bow," replied the look-out-man; which the unprofessional reader will readily understand to mean very nearly straight ahead. At this moment, the Captain appeared and took the trumpet.
"Call all hands," was his immediate order.
"All hands!" whistled the boatswain, with the long shrill summons familiar to the ears of all who have ever been on board of a man-of
"All hands," screamed the boatswain's mates; and ere the last echo died away all but the sick were upon deck.
The ship was staggering through a heavy swell from the Bay of Biscay; the gale, which had been blowing several days, had The increased to a severity that was not to be made light of. breakers, where Sir Cloudesley Shovel and his fleet were destroyed, in the days of Queen Anne, sang their song of death be fore, and the Dead-Man's Ledge replied in hoarser notes behind us. To ahead seemed to be death, and to attempt to go about go was sure destruction.
The first thing that caught the eye of the Captain was the furled mainsail, which he had ordered to be carried throughout the even
ing the hauling up of which, contrary to the last order that he had given on leaving the deck, had caused the ship to fall off to leeward two points, and had thus led her into a position on “a lee shore," upon which a strong gale was blowing her, in which the chance of safety appeared to the stoutest nerves almost hopeless. That sole chance consisted in standing on, to carry us through the breakers of Scilly, or by a close graze along their outer ledge. Was this destined to be the end of the gallant old ship, consecrated by so many a prayer and blessing from the heart of a nation!
"Why is the mainsail up, when I ordered it set?" cried the Captain in a tremendous voice.
"Finding that she pitched her bows under, I took it in, under your general order, sir, that the officer of the deck should carry sail according to his discretion," replied the Lieutenant in command.
"Heave the log," was the prompt command, to the master's mate. The log was thrown.
"How fast does she go?"
"Five knots and a half, sir."
"Board the main tack, sir."
"She will not bear it," said the officer of the deck.
"Board the main tack," thundered the Captain. "Keep her full and bye, Quartermaster."
"Aye! aye, sir!" The tack was boarded.
"Haul aft the main sheet," shouted the Captain, and aft it went like the spreading of a sea bird's wing, giving the huge sail to the gale.
"Give her the lee helm when she goes into the sea," cried the Captain.
"Aye! aye! sir! she has it," growled out the old sea-dog at the binnacle.
"Right your helm, keep her full and bye."
Aye aye! sir! full and bye she is," was the prompt answer from the helm.
"How fast does she go?"
"Eight knots and a half, sir."
"How bears the light?"
"Nearly a beam sir.”
"Keep her away half a point."
"How fast does she go?"
"Nine knots, sir."
"Steady, so!" returned the Captain.
"Steady," answered the helmsman, and all was the silence of the grave upon that crowded deck-except the howling of the stormfor a space of time that seemed to my imagination almost an age.
It was a trying hour with us-unless we could carry sail so as to go at the rate of nine knots an hour, we must of necessity dash
upon Scilly, and who ever touched those rocks and lived during a storm? The sea ran very high, the rain fell in sheets, the sky was one black curtain, illumined only by the faint light which was to mark our deliverance, or stand a monument of our destruction. The wind had got above whistling, it came in puffs, that flattened the waves, and made our old frigate settle to her bearings, while every thing on board seemed cracking into pieces. At this moment the carpenter reported that the left bolt of the weather fore-shroud had drawn.
"Get on the luffs, and set them on all the weather shrouds. Keep her at small helm, quartermaster, and ease her in the sea," were the orders of the Captain.
The luffs were soon put upon the weather shrouds, which of course relieved the chains and channels, but many an anxious eye was turned towards the remaining bolts, for upon them depended the masts, and upon the masts depended the safety of the ship-for with one foot of canvass less she could not live fifteen minutes.
Onward plunged the overladen frigate, and at every surge she seemed bent upon making the deep, the sailor's grave, and her liveoak sides, his coffin of glory. She had been fitted out at Boston when the thermometer was below zero. Her shrouds of course therefore slackened at every strain, and her unwieldy masts (for she had those designed for the frigate Cumberland, a much larger ship,) seemed ready to jump out of her. And now, while all was apprehension, another bolt drew!-and then another!-until at last, our whole stay was placed upon a single bolt less than a man's wrist in circumference. Still the good iron clung to the solid wood, and bore us alongside the breakers, though in a most fearful proximity to them. This thrilling incident has never, I believe, been noticed in public, but it is the literal fact-which I make not the slightest attempt to embellish. As we gallopped on-for I can compare our vessel's leaping to nothing else-the rocks seemed very near us. Dark as was the night, the white foam scowled around their black heads, while the spray fell over us, and the thunder of the dashing surge sounded like the awful knell that the ocean was singing for the victims it was eager to engulph.
At length the light bore upon our quarter, and the broad Atlantic rolled its white caps before us. During this time all were silent, each officer and man was at his post, and the bearing and countenance of the Captainseemed to give encouragement to every person on board. With but a bare possibility of saving the ship and those on board, he placed his reliance upon his nautical skill and courage, and by carrying the mainsail when in any other situation it would have been considered a suicidal act, he weathered the lee shore, and saved the Constitution.
The mainsail was now hauled up, by light hearts and strong
hands, the jib and spanker taken in, and from the light of Scilly the gallant vessel, under close reefed topsails and main trysails, took her departure and danced merrily over the deep towards the United States.
"Pipe down," said the Captain to the First Lieutenant, "and splice the main brace." "Pipe down," echoed the First Lieutenant to the boatswain. "Pipe down," whistled the boatswain to the crew, and "pipe down" it was.
Soon the "Jack of the Dust" held his levee on the main gundeck, and the weather-beaten tars, as they gathered about the grog tub, and luxuriated upon a full allowance of Old Rye, forgot all their perils and fatigue.
"How near the rocks did we go," said I to one of the master's mates the next morning. He made no reply, but taking down his chart, showed me a pencil line between the outside shoal and the Light-House Island, which must have been a small strait for a fisherman to run his smack through in good weather by day-light.
For what is the noble and dear old frigate reserved!
I went upon deck; the sea was calm, a gentle breeze was swelling our canvass from mainsail to royal, the Isles of Scilly had sank in the eastern waters, and the clouds of the dying storm were rolling off in broken masses to the northward and westward, like the flying columns of a beaten army.
I have been in many a gale of wind, and have past through scenes of great danger: but never, before or since, have I experienced an hour so terrific, as that when the Constitution was laboring, with the lives of five hundred men hanging on a single small iron bolt, to weather Scilly, on the night of the 11th of May, 1835.
NOTE.-During the gale, Mrs. Livingston inquired of the Captain, if we were not in great danger, to which he replied as soon as we had passed Scilly, "You are as safe as you would be in the aisle of a church." It is singular that the frigate Boston, Captain McNeal, about the close of the Revolution, escaped a similar danger while employed in carrying out to France Chancellor Livingston, a relative of Edward's, and also Minister to the Court of St. Cloud. He likewise had his wife on board, and while the vessel was weathering a lee shore, Mrs. Livingston asked the Captaina rough but gallant old fire-eater-if they were not in great danger; to which he replied "You had better, Madam, get down upon your knees, and pray to your God to forgive you your numerous sins, for if we don't carry by this point, we shall all be in h-ll in five minutes."
THE GENERAL BANKING LAW OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK.
The "Act to authorize the business of banking," enacted by the Legislature of the State of New York on the 18th of April, 1838, is so important in its influence upon the commercial transactions of the ration, through the great capital of commerce, and has attracted so much attention, likely to result in extensive imitation in different sections of the Union, that we can hardly fail in rendering some service to our readers by laying before them the provisions of the act, together with such suggestions as the act itself, and the experience of a single year, may give rise to.
The measure itself was a concession of the Whig party to the progress of Democratic sentiments. The flagitious corruption of the close banking system; the intrigue and bribery employed to obtain exclusive charters; the extortions and oppressions practised by the corporations; the losses sustained by the community from their frauds; and their final universal violation of their solemn contracts, both with the Government and the community, in the spring of 1837, at last aroused the attention and indignation of the people, and demonstrated the full truth of those arguments and principles for which the Democratic party had been many years contending. The hollow and corrupt system of close banking was at length exposed. The curse of monopolies appeared, in effects, too palpable to be denied. The Federalists, or Bank party, found themselves clinging to the fragments of a wreck which they could never again hope to refit and render useful. They found that some concession must be made to public opinion. The arguments and illustrations which had for years been urged with such force and eloquence by A few bold champions of equal rights-among whom William Legget deserves honorable mention-and which had been derided and scoffed at as the hideous ravings of "infidels, radicals, and agra