While waiting for my books to find their way back from Seattle, I’ve been working on Maritime List 254. Most of it is just good, solid, old stuff on maritime history and art – “chowder,”
as we refer to it. But there are a few fascinating items in the lot. These have been taking up most of my time and attention, so I thought I’d share them with you here.
Manuscript. “Journal Book for the Schoonr Govnr Carver. 1793” Nathaniel Spooner. 1793 – 1817. Small 4to. Unpaginated. About 200 pages of manuscript entries.
This is a compilation of numerous voyages of the hard-working schooner as well as a sort of nautical commonplace book. It begins with four pages of Spooner’s sailing directions, “Description of Baker’s Island Light House. Entering of Salem Harbor”
and goes on to record, in daily sea journal fashion, sixteen voyages – between 1794 and 1803, departing from Boston or Plymouth with cargoes of fish – to Dominica, Martinique, Martinique, Bilbao, Gibraltar, Bilbao, Bilbao, Vigo, Gibraltar, Lisbon, Alicante, Bilbao, Havana, Bilbao, Lisbon, and San Sebastian. Each of these voyages was marked by historically interesting and noteworthy details. Many of the trips involved financial failure or narrow escapes.
Off Dominica in 1794 they encountered Jervis’ blockade of French ports. Sailing homeward they encountered a hurricane and rescued survivors from a wrecked schooner. In Martinique in 1794 they were searched by the French who were looking for vessels carrying sugar. In 1795 they were detained in Bilbao, along with “Capt. Darby of Salem Vickery of Marblehead & Silliman of New York & Allen Hallett of Boston” by “Spanish Cruizers.” On their return passage, they learned of a ship “burnt to the waters edge…loaded with tobacco supposd from Virginia.” Off Gibraltar in 1796 they were harassed by a “Porteeges Friggat” and after ensuing difficulties and delays, discovered that their fish had gone rotten. Returning home from Bilbao on their next voyage, they discovered that their cargo of lemons had been eaten by rats. Also in 1796, off Alicante, Spooner noted meeting “Joel Barlow Esq, Envoy to Algiers Embargoed for that place, myself & 4 men on Board to assist in getting the brigg under way.” They sold their damaged cargo and bore for Gibraltar, where they met “a Porteeges Friggat off the Rock who was Cruizing for Algerines.”
The most interesting portion of this lengthy journal describes the imprisonment of Spooner and another American captain by the Spanish who suspected them of being English spies.
They departed from Boston for Gibraltar in 1799, in company with another vessel – Capt Plummer of the “Greyhound” and, with good reason, were hyper-vigilant. On March 3, off the Spanish coast, “Capt. Plummer in scaling his guns had one of his mens hand shot off.” On March 9, off Cadiz, they were approached by their old nemesis Admiral Jervis. Then “At 12 midnt fell in with Capt Shell from New York ship mounting 12 guns… we then bore away from Gibraltar. Received several shot.” They sailed to Alicante, but were unable to sell their cargo. He sent letters and raisins home “By Capt Smith brigg Phoenix belonging Mr. Gray Salem who will send a pack of almonds & box of raisins to my family.” They then sailed to Palermo “with the Greyhound Capt. Plummer… the Greyhound has 11 guns & 23 men & the Gov Carver 6 guns & 14 men.” Still unable to sell their cargo they departed for “Majorca or Barcelona” On April 29, 1799, off Majorca, having come under fire, they were taken prisoner by “a Spanish boat… who carried us or towed us to the mole and kept us in the boat till 10 at night.” They were kept prisoners in Palma for several weeks, then “we was then ordered on shoar Capt. Plummer & myself with our papers and come before the General who after a few minutes ordered Capt Plummer and myself to be confined in the tower where we remained as prisoners till May the 20th being locked in a room 10 feet square.” It turns out that they were suspected of being “English as they say, although our papers were good.” Diplomatic efforts by consuls in Barcelona and Madrid ensued. By July their cargo of fish had rotted and was thrown into the sea. Finally, on October 15, 1799 they were released and began sailing for home. However, by this time, Spooner’s health had broken, and he was forced to put into Alicante. He suffered some kind of ailment in his throat and “at times I am in great pain… But the physicians of Spain are perhaps the most ignorant of any in the world.” Finally, by January 1800 he had recovered. He took on a cargo of brandy, which he sold in Gibraltar, but only after coming under fire again, and sheltering in the Mediterranean for several weeks before heading home. They arrived on May 25 “afterr a long & tedious Voiage fired a salute 7 guns. Blessed be God for his goodness to us.”
In 1802 the Governor Carver sailed to Bilboa. On this voyage Spooner wrote,
He who would happy live today
Must laugh the present ills away
Nor think of woes to come
For come they will, er soon or late
since mixed at best is man’s estate
By heavens eternal doom
Following the last journal entry (made four years and seven voyages after his imprisonment) there is a page upon which is written “Plymouth, Nov. 1817. This was the year of the death at sea of Spooner’s thirty-two year old son, also named Nathaniel.
This is followed by seventeen pages of miscellaneous entries, including gravestone epitaphs from various locations honoring departed sailors, an autobiographical recollection of his imprisonment “by the zealous… Spanyards who said we were spyes,” a 36 line poem, a list of provisions for the homeward voyage from Cadiz in 1797,
lists of merchant vessels, and more poetry including “Composd on a Terrable Tempist Lat 36 Long 70.
A remarkable and well-written account of the career of a merchant captain and his trusty schooner, struggling to make a living while avoiding (with only partial success) the chaos of the Anglo-Spanish and Quasi wars.
The book is bound in very worn wrappers upon which is an engraving titled “I M No. 2 CoxHeath Camp.” Coxheath was a military training ground near Kent England and this image – what’s left of it – portrays tens, soldiers, and a British flag. That it should be in the possession of an American captain involved in the European trade is not too surprising. $4500
Hawkins, Sir Richard. The Observations of Sir Richard Hawkins Knight, in his Voyage into the South Sea. Anno Domini 1593. London: John Jaggard., 1622. (4), 169, (1 errata), (5) pp.
Richard Hawkins was an Elizabethan adventurer who saw action against the Spanish Armada in 1588. In 1593 he sailed to South America to raid Spanish colonies on the Pacific coast. Years later he produced this account of his privateering venture, which was published in 1622. His “Observations”, aside from being a pirate classic, is the best account of Elizabethan life at sea. It was the first work published by the Hakluyt Society (1848), and has been reprinted several times since. most notably by the Argonaut Press in 1933. This is the copy of famed Americana collector Thomas Streeter, with his distinctive bookplate,
and a note on the front blank by his son Henry, indicating that he had purchased it at the auction of his father’s library in 1968. This sale of the Streeter collection took place between 1966 and 1969. The catalog of the sale, produced by Parke Bernet Galleries, was issued in seven volumes, which remain an important reference for rare Americanna. This book was number 2400 in the sale. It is in exactly the same condition as it was in 1968. Three letters on the title page (the “THE” in the title) are in facsimile, and the last three leaves are supplied from another copy. Not noted in the Streeter catalog is the fact that this copy has a manuscript ownership inscription dated 1814 and earlier annotations, including a manuscript index – “A Table of Sir Richard Hawkins Voyages,”
and marginal notes, both in an earlier hand,
perhaps that of “Alexander(?) Hunter” who also wrote his name on a front blank. Bound in full vellum with gold spine lettering. See Hill 784. Sabin 30957 (who calls it “a volume of much rarity.”). Driscoll Piracy Collection 102. Streeter 2400. Borba de Moraes I, p. 395. A wonderful association copy of a rare book. The last copy to appear at auction (2014) was the Brooke Hitching copy, which sold for about $32,000 with the premium. Prior to that, in 2010, the Penrose copy brought about $16,000. This copy $25,000