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Art. I. An Authentic Narrative of the Loss of the American
brig Commerce, wrecked on the Western Coast of Africa, in the month of August, 1815; with an Account of ihe Sufferings of her surviving Officers and Crew, who were enslated by the wandering Arabs on the Great African Desert, or Zahahrah, 8c. By James Riley, late Master and Supercargo. 4to. New York.
1816. W E do not remember to have met with a personal narrative
more deeply distressing or more painfully interesting, than that of which we hasten to present an outline to our readers; an outline which we are disposed to fill up as much in detail as our limited space will allow, from the consideration that ours is probably the only copy that has reached this country.
If we were not abundantly satisfied with regard to the general veracity of Mr. Riley's narrative,- if we were not in possession of well authenticated documents from many respectable citizens of New York, from the Russian consul of that place, the Honourable De Witt Clinton, and several others, all bearing testimony to the good moral character, the intelligence and aquestionable veracity of Mr. Riley,-if we did not know that Mr. Willshire, who effected his release, is partner in trade with Mr. Renshaw of London, and a most respectable man, who was then acting as the British vice-consul at Mogadore—that Riley and his four qufortunate companions remained in his house till they had recorered from the effects of their unparalleled sufferings—and that Mr. Munroe, the American secretary of state, on his return to America, repaid the ransom money, and urged the publication of the Narrative,- we should have felt inclined to withhold our belief from some parts of it, on the simple ground that human nature, on the one hand, was utterly incapable of inflicting, and on the other, of enduring such hardships and sufferings as these poor shipwrecked mariners had to undergo, -sufferings which, as Mr. Riley truly says, have been as great and various as ever fell to the lot of humanity. Of Mr. Riley's intelligence, to which his American friends bear testimony, we shall have to say a word hereafter.
Mr. Riley was appointed master and supercargo of the brig Commerce, of Hartford, and sailed from the mouth of Convecticut River on the 6th May, 1815, on a voyage to New Orleans.. VOL. XVI. NO. XXXII.
The vessel was nearly new, well fitted, about 220 tons burden, and belonged to Messrs. Riley and Brown, Josiah Savage and Co. and Luther Savage of that city. Her crew consisted of George Williams, chief mate, Aaron R. Savage, second mate, William Porter, John Hogan, James Barrett, Archibald Robbins, Thomas Burns, and James Clark, seamen, Horace Savage, cabin-boy, and Richard Deslisle, (a black man,) cook. Having taken on board a cargo of tobacco and four, they sailed from New Orleans on the 24th June, arrived at Gibraltar on the 9th August, and after taking in some brandies and wines, about two thousand bard dollars, and an old man named Antonio Michel, a native of New Orleans, they proceeded on the 23d for the Cape de Verd islands ; passed Cape Spartel on the 24th—and, on the 28th, after much thick weather, found, by observation, that they were in lat. 27° 30'; that the current had set them 120 miles, and that they had passed the Canaries without seeing them. The dark and foggy weather increased, the sea ran high, night came on, and they suddenly found themselves among breakers, from which they in vain endeavoured to extricate themselves, and the ship struck with such violence'as to start every man from the deck. She soon bilged; but they succeeded in getting out of her hold five or six barrels of water and as many of wine, three barrels of bread, and three or four of salted provisions. All their clothing, chests, trunks, &c. were got up, and the books, charts, and sea instruments stowed in them, in the hope that they might prove useful to them in future.
Having now got a glimpse of the land at no great distance, Riley and Porter ventured into the small boat, to take a rope on shore; they were presently swamped, and covered with the billows, which, says the author, ' following each other in quick succession, scarcely gave us time to catch a breath, before we were again literally swallowed by them, till at length we were thrown, together with our boat, upon a sandy beach. They fastened the rope to pieces of wood which had floated from the wreck, and which they drove into the sand. By means of this rope part of the crew got on shore with the long boat and the provisions and water; but the boat was stove against the beach; and the remainder of the crew were landed one by one with the assistance of the bawser, but not without imminent peril of their lives.
Their first care was to secure their provisions and water, knowing it was a barren and thirsty land;' and with this view they formed a tent at fifty yards from the water's edge, by means of their oars and two steering-sails. Their next object was to repair the boats, in the hope that, when the weather moderated, they might put to sea, and by the help of the compass, find some friendly vessel, or some European settlement down the coast, or reach the Cape de Verd islands. But while thus employed, something like a human being was observed at a little distance, intent on plunder. Mr. Riley approached him with signs of peace and friendship, but those he received in return were repulsive-however, as he appeared to be unarmed, Riley says he continued to approach himn. The description of this being is so picturesque, that we cannot refrain from giving it in the author's words.
• He appeared to be about five feet seven inches high, and of a complexion between that of an American Indian and a negro. He had about him, to cover his nakedness, a piece of coarse woollen cloth that reached from below his breast nearly to his knees; his hair was long and bushy, resembling a pitch mop, sticking out every way six or eight inches from his head; his face resembled that of an ourang-outang more than a human being; his eyes were red and fiery; his mouth, which stretched nearly from ear to ear, was well lined with sound teeth; and a long curling beard, which depended from his upper lip and chin down upon his breast, gave him altogether a most horrid appearance, and I could not but imagine that those well-set teeth were sharpened for the purpose of devouring human flesh; particularly as I conceived I had before seen, in different parts of the world, the human face and form in its most hideous and terrific shape. He appeared 10 be very old, yet fierce and vigorous; he was soon joined by two old women of similar appearance, whom I took to be his wives. These looked a little less frightful, though their two eye-teeth stuck out like hog's tusks; and their tanned skins hung in loose plaits on their faces and breasts; but their hair was long and braided. A girl from eighteen to twenty, who was not ugly, and five or six children of different ages and sexes, from six to sixteen years, were also in company—these were entirely naked.'--p. 20.
This grotesque group were armed with an English hammer, an axe, and long knives suspended from their necks; and they commenced an indiscriminate plunder; broke open trunks, chests, and boxes; and carried off all their clothing and bedding without any molestation, as it was deemed prudent to forbear hostilities with these wretches, weak as they were, since all escape either by sea or land was utterly impossible; their provisions, however, they were determined to defend to the last extremity.
They now set about repairing the long-boat, but found her in a most iniserable condition; however, with a little oakum and sone · pieces of planks, they contrived to patch her up so as to float. The robbers retired towards the evening, but not before they had contrived to steal one of the sails of the tent; on departing they made signs that they would see them again in the morning. With the fire that one of the Arab children had kindled, the shipwrecked mariners roasted a drowned fowl which the surf had thrown up, and T2