|Ah do you believe in witchery and predictions! I did not as I set sail upon the Massachusetts. It took three different complete crew signing in the shipmaster’s log to be signed before a full complement could be persuaded to tarry in the forecastle. Now every honest sailor knows that certain superstitions are gospel fact, such as the bad luck brought by a cross-eyed Finn, a black cat, or going to sea on Friday. I never went in for these, wives tales. In these times of enlightenment! With the Lloyd’s act passed in the British Parliament ringing in the triumph of man over nature and her foolish superstitions.
The largest merchantman ever built, the Massachusetts. She was built to rival the towering ships of the British East India Company. This Massachusetts created a National sensation. Women of all the seaport towns came by the droves to see us off.
The trouble was caused by a fortune-teller of Lynn, Moll Pitcher by name. Even John Quincy Adams had come to consult her Crystal Ball and passed his palm under her gaze. Redcoats and Colonial Generals consulted her both.
She predicted disaster for the ship. And these eighteenth century shellbacks must not be too severely chided for deserting while they had the chance.
See I was the Second Officer , Amasa Delano. The Massachusetts was the dream of Captain Randall and of the Samuel Shaw who had gone as supercargo in the Empress of China for the East india Company.
We set sail in 1789 from Quincy, Just south of Boston. We had a full compliment of a crew including a master, four mates, a purser, surgeon, carpenter, gunner, four quartermasters, three midshipmen, a cooper, two cooks, a steward, and fifty seamen. Most are dead now.
Some say that Madame Pitcher, Moll as I called her, had been left in the child way by a wayfaring sailor. Left to her own this Miller’s daughter took to birch twig and a powerful tincture of ergot, brewer’s yeast, and Pennyroyal. An Abortifacient. They say that she is still bothered by that spirit, for that horrid deed. I won’t walk on High Rock, the rock that sits high in Lynn. For my heart still aches.
Above her house. They say the Spiritualist family, the Hutchisens has taken to building a tower and a house there. They same family that purchased Dungeon rock, To commune with the spirits of Dead Pirates to find buried treasure in that cave.
So we set sail with full fan fair. Many a young lass waving their handkerchiefs, might I be bold enough to add, that some were waving their garters too.
But within a fortnight of sail, it started. The air became so foul with decay. See some say it was merely the smell of some several hundred barrels of beef being spoiled. But how may I ask this can be done within a fortnight! A fortnight..
Yes, her timbers were already rotting. They had been put into her green instead of properly seasoned. Which caused the hatches to be battened stuck. To cap it, the cargo of masts and spars had also been stowed while wet and covered with mud and ice. But within a fortnight that hull had the smell of decay of human flesh and filth to rival the Raft of The ship Medusa. It was no Sow or Beef that smelled so rank. I can swear to you of that fact.
Yes, some men had complained of cramps after eat that beef. But of the 25 that died that month, they all were found in their beds with their shoulders propped up, knees pulled in and back, and drenched of sweat. Curious of all was the signs of blood that was found between their legs.
Days before these had died, crew members had jostled about how they men looked like they were being fatted up for the kill. With round bellies and all. But after they were found in their beds they looked emaciated with their ribs showing.
The ship was doomed, for as soon as we set port back in Quincy Captain Randall and Samuel Shaw took it upon themselves to sell it to the Danish East India Company at a heavy loss.
And so I Amasa Delano embarked as a lieutenant of the Bombay Marine, to explore tropic harbors and goons until then unmapped and to parley with dusky kings. As I set sail upon this journey that was to take years of my life, I remained in correspondence with my friend Joshua Hull of Lynn, Ma. Within months of departure I was horrified by his first dispatch of letters.
He had started to jot down the obituaries, an odd peculiar habit he had taken to a few years earlier, when he came across my friend the Purser
John Harris, presumed dead. Last recorded as a slave in Algiers at last accounts. Then came subsequent letters mentioned others. Soon in other ports more distress had followed over the next year. Of the 45 none was to remain.
Roger Dyer. Died and thrown overboard off Cape Horn.
William Williams. Lost overboard off Japan.
James Crowley. Murdered by the Chinese near Macao.
John Johnson. Died on board an English Indiaman.
Seth Stowell. Was drowned at Whampoa in 1790.
Jeremiah Chace. Died with the cramps at Whampoa in 1791.
Humphrey Chadburn. Dehydrated and died at Whampoa in 1791.
Samuel Tripe. Drowned off Java Head in 1790.
James Stackpole. Murdered by the Chinese.
Nicholas Nicholson. Died with the Ergot at Macao.
William Murphy. Killed by Chinese pirates.
Larry Conner. Killed at sea.
Crowley, Nicholson, and Murphy had been reported by a fellow mate, who had been on the ship the Panther I met in the port of Johanasburg, said they had taken to not only selling the opium to the Chinamen but the ergot as well. Many of their concubines, for they took it upon themselves to exchange these wares for favors, were found dead, leaving behind several children. For Macao is in the hands of the Portuguese and the chinese black market sails in to purchase english opium and Ergot.
Chace and Johnson of the cramps. Chadburn dehydrated in bed. Williams, Stowell, Tripe, and Conner drown from suffering from stomach cramps. You tell me they were suffering from the beef of the Massachusetts a whole year later! The strange thing was they all were found with a leaf of a birch branch in their mouth. Now birch does not grow in that region of China.
For now I find myself talking to you with my hand to my chest. Yes have you noticed (Fall into seat) . I have been plucked by an arrow on these New Guinea shores by savages. I was graced to make it to your mansion before I die to ask for repentance. For my ship was attacked by a swarm of canoes and the surgeon was killed first. The same surgeon from the Massachusetts. It was a spirited little affair, four-foot arrows pelting like hail across the deck, a cannon hurling grapeshot from the taffrail, and me falling to the deck with an arrow made of birch stuck to my chest. For soon I will find my daughter I never met and walk with her upon that high rock in Lynn. I fear these will be my last words, I am sorry my dear Irish Moll.