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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Dolorous Journey to the New World

By Colonel Henry Norwood (c. 1614–1689)

[By Colonel Norwood, related to Sir William Berkeley, Governor of Virginia. From A Voyage to Virginia.]

THE MONTH of August, Anno 1649, being the time I engag’d to meet my two comrades, Major Francis Morrison, and Major Richard Fox, at London, in order to a full accomplishment of our purpose to seek our fortunes in Virginia, (pursuant to our agreement the year before in Holland) all parties very punctually appear’d at the time and place assign’d, and were all still in the same mind, fully bent to put in practice what we had so solemnly agreed upon, our inclinations that way being nothing abated, but were rather quicken’d, by the new changes that we saw in the state of things, and that very much for the worse. For if our spirits were somewhat depress’d in contemplation of a barbarous restraint upon the person of our king in the Isle of Wight, to what horrors and despairs must our minds be reduc’d at the bloody and bitter stroke of his assassination, at his palace of Whitehall?

This unparallel’d butchery made the rebels cast away the scabbards of their swords with both their hands, in full resolution never to let them meet again, either by submission or capitulation; so that the sad prospect of affairs in this juncture, gave such a damp to all the royal party who had resolved to persevere in the principle which engaged them in the war, that a very considerable number of nobility, clergy, and gentry, so circumstanc’d, did fly from their native country, as from a place infected with the plague, and did betake themselves to travel anywhere to shun so hot a contagion, there being no point on the compass that would not suit with some of our tempers and circumstances, for transportation into foreign lands.

Of the number who chose to steer their course for America, such of them as inclin’d to try their fortunes at Surinam, Barbados, Antigua, and the Leeward Islands, were to be men of the first rate, who wanted not money or credit to balance the expence necessary to the carrying on the sugar works. And this consideration alone was enough to determine our choice for Virginia, had we wanted other arguments to engage us in the voyage. The honour I had of being nearly related to Sir William Berkeley the governor, was no small incitation to encourage me with a little stock to this adventure. Major Morrison had the king’s commission to be captain of the fort; and Mr. Fox was to share in our good or bad success. But my best cargaroon was his Majesty’s gracious letter in my favour, which took effect beyond my expectation, because it recommended me (above whatever I had or could deserve) to the governor’s particular care.

To proceed then, without any further exordium, to the subject of this narrative: It fell out to be about the first day of September, Anno 1649, that we grew acquainted on the Royal Exchange with Capt. John Locker, whose bills upon the posts made us know he was master of a good ship, (untruly so call’d) “The Virginia Merchant,” burden three hundred tons, of force thirty guns, or more. We were not long in treaty with the captain, but agreed with him for our selves and servants at six pounds a head, to be transported into James River; our goods to be paid for at the current price.

About the fifteenth day, we were ordered to meet the ship at Gravesend, where the captain was to clear with his merchants, and we to make our several payments; which when we had performed, we staid not for the ship, but took post for the Downs, where, with some impatience, we expected her coming there. About the sixteenth ditto, we could see the whole fleet under sail, with a south-west wind; which having brought them to that road, kept them there at anchor, until our money was almost spent at Deal.

September 23. the wind veered to the east, and we were summoned by signs and guns to repair on board. We had a fresh large gale three days, which cleared us of the channel, and put us out of soundings. With this propitious beginning we pursued our course for about twenty days, desiring to make the western islands; at which time the cooper began to complain, that our water-cask was almost empty, alledging, that there was not enough in hold, for our great family (about three hundred and thirty souls) to serve a month.

Our early want of water gave the master an alarm, and an occasion to consult with his officers for a remedy to so important an evil as that might be, if not timely helped. We were now, by all accounts, very near the western islands. Fyall was that we were likely first to see, and our captain resolved to touch there to supply this defect, as the most commodious port for our purpose; and this was good news to the passengers, who are always glad at sight of land.

The day-break of October 14th, shewed us the peek of that island, the highest and most conspicuous land of any I have heard the seamen mention for land-marks, except that of the Teneriff. We stood directly for the harbour, which is also a good road, land-lock’d by the peek, which stands easterly about a mile distant from the town.

As soon as we had saluted the castle, and returned thanks for being civilly answered, Captain John Tatam, our countryman, did the same from aboard his goodly ship, the “John.” He was newly returned from Brasil, in the kingdom of Portugal’s service, and now bound for Lisbon, with a rich freight, and some lady of great note, who with her family took passage with him.

The English merchants from the town came soon on board our ship, and gave us a very civil welcome. Of them, one Mr. Andrews invited me, with my two comrades, to refresh ourselves with fruit and meat such as the island produced. Our captain dined with us at his house, and so did Captain Tatam, who in like courteous manner engaged us all to dine on board his ship the next day. We visited the peach-trees for our desert, of which I took at least a double share, and did not fail to visit and revisit them in the dead of night, to satisfy a ravenous appetite nature has too prodigally given me for that species….

A little before the time of dinner Captain Tatam had sent his boats to bring us on board his ship; and it was well for us he did so, our ship’s long-boat having been staved in pieces the night before, by the seamen’s neglect, who had all tasted so liberally of new wine, by the commodiousness of the vintage, that they lay up and down dead drunk in all quarters, in a sad pickle….

At our arrival we were welcomed with a whole tyre of guns, and with a very kind aspect in the captain. He gave us excellent wines to drink before dinner, and at our meat as good of other sorts for concoction. There was a handsome plenty of fish and fowl, several ways cooked, to relish the Portuguese’s and the English palates; and, which made our entertainment more complete, he had prevailed with that great lady, with her pretty son of about twelve years old (tho’ contrary to the custom even of the meaner sort at land) to sit at the table with us. She was taller than the ordinary stature of that nation, finely shap’d, had a very clear skin; her eyes and hair vying for the blackness and beauty of the jet; her modesty served, without any other art, to put a tincture of red upon her face; for when she saw herself environed with a company of strange faces, that had or might have had beards upon them, her blushes raised in her face a delicate complexion of red and white.

The captain was our interpreter to tell her how much we esteemed our selves honoured with her presence, which (for her better justification) she was in a manner forced to grant us, the ship affording her no other place fit for her retreat whilst we were there. Her young son sat by her, on whom all our eyes were fix’d; and our minds united with one opinion, that the air and lineaments of his face, full of sweetness, made him so like our king when he was of that age, that, every one whispering his thoughts to his neighbour, we all broke out at length in an open admiration of so great resemblance.

The healths of the two kings were passing about with thundering peals of cannon; the youth was permitted by his mother to kiss the cup, and drink a small portion to that of our king; and she was in so pleasant an humour at this honour done to her son, that, to close our feast, she ordered the table to be covered anew, and a handsome banquet placed upon it, which we must partake of before we parted. To conclude this rare treat, she repeated the health of our king in a sort of choice rich wine that they make in Brasil, and drank the proportion she would take, without the allay of water, which till then she drank with little or no wine.

The approaching night made us take leave sooner than our inclinations would have led us ashore, the merchants having told us, there was no safe walking the streets in the night, for fear the Pycaroes (a sort of land pyrates) should snatch away our hats and looser garments, as they use to treat strangers.

When we had paid our thanks to the captain, we desired his best language to make our compliments to the lady and her son, which she returned with her wishes for our happy voyage….

It was about the 22. of October that we took leave of our landlord and Fyall. We had store of black pigs for fresh meat, and I carry’d peaches without number. We parted with an easterly wind a top-sail gate, which soon brought us into a trade-wind that favoured us at fifty or sixty leagues in twenty-four hours, till we came to the height of Bermudas. 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 shewed me a more than ordinary agitation of the sea in one particular place above the rest; which was the effect of what they call 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.

The sight of the island was welcome to all: the mariners learned thereby our true distance from Cape Hatteras; and the passengers were relieved with hopes to be soon at shore from a hungry pester’d ship and company.

The gale continued fair till November 8: then we observed the water changed; and having the lead, we had thirty-five fathom of water, which was joyful news; our want of all things necessary for human life, made it so.

Towards break of day, weary of my lodging, I visited Mate Putts on the watch, and would have treated him with brandy, but he refused that offer, unless I could also give him tobacco, which I had not. He said, “it was near break of day, and he would look out to see what change there was in the water.” No sooner were his feet upon the deck, but with stamps and noise he calls up the seamen, crying out, “All hands aloft! Breaches, breaches on both sides! All hands aloft!”

The seamen were soon on deck with this dismal alarm, and saw the cause thereof; but instead of applying their hands for their preservation (through a general despondency) they fell on their knees, commending their souls as at the last gasp. The captain came out at the noise to rectify what was amiss; but seeing how the case stood, his courage failed. Mate Putts (a stout seaman) took heart again, and cried out, “Is there no good fellow that will stand to the helm, and loose a sail?” But of all the ship’s crew there were but two foremast men that would be perswaded to obey commands, namely, Thomas Reasin and John Smith, men of innate courage, who, for their good resolution on that and divers other occasions in the various traverses of this voyage, deserve to have their names kept in lasting remembrance.

One of them got up and loosed the fore top-sail, to put the ship (if possible) in steerage way, and under command; the other stood to the helm, and he shifted it in a nick of time; for the ship was at the point of dashing on the starboard breach: and altho’, in the rest of the voyage, she was wont to be blamed for the ill quality of not feeling the helm, she did, in this important instance, redeem her credit, and fell round off for our rescue from that danger. But the sense of this escape lasted but a moment; for no sooner was she fallen from that breach, but another on the larboard-bow was ready to receive her. The ship’s crew, by this time (reproached by the courage of Reasin and Smith) were all at work; and the helm shifting opportunely, she fell off again as before. The light of the day (which now broke forth) did discover our condition to be altogether as perillous as possible; for we now saw our selves surrounded with breaches; scarce any water like a channel appeared for a way to shun them. In this sad condition the ship struck ground, and raised such a war of water and sand together, which fell on the main-chains, that now all hopes of safety were laid aside; but the ship being still afloat, and the seamen all of them now under command, nothing was omitted for our preservation that was in their power.

Tom Reasin, seeing the ship go ahead in the likeliest water for a channel, and ordering the helm accordingly, heaved the lead; and after a little further advance into that new channel, wholly against his hopes, he had a good deal of water more than the ship drew, which soon mended upon us, the next cast of the lead affording eighteen or twenty foot. We stood to this channel, and the light of the morning enabling the quarter-masters to con the ship, we were by this miraculous mercy of God, soon clear of the breaches at Cape Hatteras, and got out to sea.

No sooner was the ship freed of this danger, and gotten a little into the offing, but the seamen (like so many spirits) surveyed each other, as if they doubted the reality of the thing, and shook hands like strangers, or men risen from the other world, and did scarce believe they were, what they seemed to be, men of flesh and blood. As they recovered force, they made what sail they could to stand to seaward….

I cannot forget the prodigious number of porpoises that did that evening appear about the ship, to the astonishment of the oldest seamen in her. They seemed to cover the surface of the sea as far as our eyes could discern; insomuch that a musket bullet, shot at random, could hardly fail to do execution on some of them. This the seamen would look upon as of bad portent, predicting ill weather; but in our case, who were in present possession of a storm, they appeared too late to gain the credit of foretelling what should come upon us in that kind.

The seas thus enraged, and all in foam, the gale still increasing upon us, the officers on the watch made frequent visits to the round-house, to prepare the captain for some evil encounter which this mighty tempest must bring forth: and their fears proved reasonable; for, about the hours often or eleven, our new disasters did begin with a crash from aloft. All hands were summon’d up with loud cries, that the foretopmast was come by the board, not alone, but in conjunction with the foremast head broken short off, just under the cap.

This was a sore business, and put all to their wits’ end to recover to any competent condition; what could be done was done to prevent further mischiefs; but the whole trim and rigging of a ship depending much upon stays and tackle fixed to that mast, we had reason to expect greater ruins to follow, than what had already befallen us. Mate Putts was then on the watch, and did not want his apprehension of what did soon ensue, which in all likelihood was to end in our utter perdition; for about the hours of twelve or one at night, we heard and felt a mighty sea break on our fore-ship, which made such an inundation on the deck where the mate was walking, that he retired back with all diligence up to his knees in water, with short ejaculations of prayers in his mouth, supposing the ship was foundering, and at the last gasp. This looked like a stroke of death in every seaman’s opinion: the ship stood stock still, with her head under water, seeming to bore her way into the sea. My two comrades and myself lay on our platform, sharing liberally in the general consternation. We took a short leave of each other, men, women, and children. All assaulted with the fresh terror of death, made a most dolorous outcry throughout the ship, whilst Mate Putts perceiving the deck almost freed of water, called out aloud for hands to pump. This we thought a lightning before death, but gave me occasion (as having the best sea legs) to look and learn the subject of this astonishing alarm, which proved to arise from no less cause than the loss of our forecastle, with six guns, and our anchors (all but one that was fastened to a cable) together with our two cooks, whereof one was recovered by a strange providence.

This great gap, made by want of our forecastle, did open a passage into the hold for other seas that should break there before a remedy was found out to carry them off, and this made our danger almost insuperable; but it fell out propitiously, that there were divers land-carpenter passengers, who were very helpful in this distress; and, in a little time, a slight platform of deal was tack’d to the timbers, to carry off any ordinary sea in the present straight we were in; every moment of this growing tempest cutting out new work to employ all hands to labour.

The bowsprit, too top-heavy in itself, having lost all stays and rigging that should keep it steady, sway’d to and fro with such bangs on the bows, that at no less rate than the cutting it close off, could the ship subsist.

All things were in miserable disorder, and it was evident our danger increas’d upon us: the stays of all the masts were gone, the shrouds that remained were loose and useless, and it was easy to foretell, our main-topmast would soon come by the board. Tom Reasin (who was always ready to expose himself) with an ax in his hand, ran up with speed to prevent that evil, hoping thereby to ease the main-mast, and preserve it; but the danger of his person in the enterprize, was so manifest, that he was called down amain; and no sooner was his foot upon the deck, but what was feared came to pass with a witness, both main and topmast all came down together, and, in one shock, fell all to the windward clear into the sea, without hurt to any man’s person.

Our main-mast thus fallen to the broadside, was like to incommode us more in the sea, than in her proper station; for the shrouds and rigging not losing the hold they had of the ship, every surge did so check the mast (whose butt-end lay charg’d to fall perpendicular on the ship’s side) that it became a ram to batter and force the plank, and was doing the last execution upon us, if not prevented in time by edge-tools, which freed the ship from that unexpected assault and battery.

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 expecting the same fate, tho’ in a different manner. The ceilings 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. Our mizzen-mast only remained, by which we hoped to bring the ship about in proper season, which now lay stemming to the east.

In this posture did we pass the tenth and eleventh days of November; the twelfth in the 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 gun to leeward, stood his course, and turn’d his poop upon us.

Before we attempted to bring the ship about, it was necessary to refresh the seamen, who were almost worn out with toil and want of rest, having had no leisure of eating set meals for many days. The passengers overcharged with excessive fears, had no appetite to eat; and (which was worst of all) both seamen and passengers were in a deplorable state as to the remaining victuals, all like to fall under extreme want; for the storm, by taking away the forecastle, having thrown much water into the hold, our stock of bread (the 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 cask 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.

The seas were much appeas’d the seventeenth day, and divers English ships saw, and were seen by us, but would not speak with us; only one, who kept the pump always going, for having tasted too liberally of the storm, he was so kind as to accost us. He lay by till our wherry (the only surviving boat that was left us) made him a visit. The master shewed our men his leaks, and proposed, that ours would spare him hands to pump in lieu of any thing he could spare for our relief. He promised, however, to keep us company, and give us a tow to help to weather the cape, if occasion offered; but that was only a copy of his countenance; for in the night we lost each other, and we never heard more of him, tho’ he was bound to our port.

The weather now invited us to get the ship about with our mizzen; and having done so, the next consideration was, how to make sail. The foremast, all this while (as much as was of it) stood its ground: and as it was without dispute, that a yard must in the first place be fixed to it, so was it a matter of no small difficulty how to advance to the top of that greasy, slippery stump, since he that would attempt it, could take no hold himself, nor receive any help for his rise, by other hands. This was a case that put all the ship’s crew to a nonplus, but Tom Reasin (a constant friend at need, that would not be baffled by any difficulty) shewed by his countenance, he had a mind to try his skill to bring us out of this unhappy crisis. To encourage him the more, all passengers did promise and subscribe to reward his service, in Virginia, by tobacco, when God should enable us so to do. The proportions being set down, many were the more generous, because they never thought to see the place of payment, but expected to anticipate that by the payment of a greater debt to nature, which was like to be exacted every hour by an arrest of the merciless sea, which made small shew of taking bail for our appearance in Virginia.

The manner of Tom Reasin’s ascent to this important work, was thus. Among the scatter’d parcels of the ship’s stores he had the luck to find about half a dozen iron spikes fit for his purpose. His first onset was to drive one of them into the mast, almost to the head, as high as he could reach; which being done, he took a rope of about ten foot long, and having threaded the same in a block or pulley, so as to divide it in the middle, he made both ends meet in a knot upon the spike, on both sides of the mast; so that the block falling on the contrary side, became a stirrup to mount upon for driving another spike in the same manner: and thus from step to step, observing the best advantage of striking with his hammer in the smoothest sea, he got aloft, drove cleats for shrouds, to rest upon, and was soon in a posture of receiving help from his comrades, who got a yard and sails (with other accommodation) such as could be had, and thus we were enabled, in few hours time, to make some sail for our port.


It would be too great a trial of the reader’s 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 forty 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.

To give us a little breathing, about the nineteenth day the wind shifted to the east, but so little to our avail (the gale so gentle, and the seas made against us like a strong current) that, with the sail we were able to make, we could hardly reckon the ship shortened the way, but that she rather lost ground. In less than two watches the gale faced about; and if we saved our own by the change, it was all we could pretend unto.

Our mortal enemy, the north-west gale, began afresh to send us out to sea, and to raise our terrors to a higher pitch. One of our pumps grew so unfix’d, that it could not be repair’d; the other was kept in perpetual motion; no man was excus’d to take his turn that had strength to perform it. Amongst the manifold perils that threatened every hour to be our last, we were in mortal apprehension, that the guns which were all aloft, would shew us a slippery trick, and some of them break loose, the tackle that held them being grown very rotten: and it was another providence they held so long, considering how immoderately the ship rolled, especially when the sails were mending that should keep them steady, which was very near a third part of our time, whilst we plyed to the windward with a contrary gale.

To prevent this danger which must befall when any one gun should get loose, Mate Putts found an expedient by a more than ordinary smooth water; and by placing timber on the hatchway, to supply the place of shrouds, he got them safe in hold; which tended much to our good, not only in removing the present danger, but by making the ship (as seamen say) more wholesome, by haveing so great weight removed from her upper works into her centre, where ballast was much wanted.

But the intolerable want of all provisions, both of meat and drink, jostled the sense of this happiness soon out of our minds. And to aggravate our misery yet the more, it was now our interest to pray, that the contrary gale might stand; for whilst the westerly wind held, we had rain water to drink, whereas at east the wind blew dry.

In this miserable posture of ship and provision, we reckoned our selves driven to the east, in less than a week’s time, at least two hundred leagues, which we despaired ever to recover without a miracle of divine mercy. The storm continued so fresh against us, that it confounded the most knowing of our ship’s company in advising what course to take….

Backwards we could not go, nor forwards in the course we desired: it followed then of consequence, that we must take the middle way; and it was resolved, that, without further persisting in endeavouring to gain our port by a close hale, we should raise our tackle, and sail tardy for the first American land we could fetch, tho’ we ran to the leeward as far as the coast of New-England.

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 on; and as they were insnared and taken, a well grown rat was sold for sixteen shillings as a market rate. Nay, before the voyage did end (as I was credibly inform’d) a woman great with child offered twenty shillings for a rat, which the proprietor refusing, the woman died.

Many sorrowful days and nights we spun out in this manner, till the blessed feast of Christmas came upon us, which we began with a very melancholy solemnity; and yet, to make some distinction of times the scrapings of the meal-tubs were all amassed together to compose a pudding. Malaga sack, sea water, with fruit and spice, all well fryed in oyl, were the ingredients of this regale, which raised some envy in the spectators; but allowing some privilege to the captain’s mess, we met no obstruction, but did peaceably enjoy our Christmas pudding.

My greatest impatience was of thirst, and my dreams were all of cellars, and taps running down my throat, which made my waking much the worse by that tantalizing fancy. Some relief I found very real by the captain’s favour in allowing me a share of some butts of small claret he had concealed in a private cellar for a dead lift. It wanted a mixture of water for qualifying it to quench thirst; however, it was a present remedy, and a great refreshment to me.

I cannot forget another instance of the captain’s kindness to me, of a like obligation. He singled me out one day to go with him into the hold to seek fresh water in the bottoms of the empty casks. With much ado we got a quantity to satisfy our longing, tho’ for the thickness thereof it was not palatable. We were now each of us astride on a butt of Malaga, which gave the captain occasion to taste of their contents. We tasted and tasted it again; and tho’ the total we drank was not considerable, yet it had an effect on our heads that made us suspend (tho’ we could not forget) our wants of water. The operation this little debauch had upon the captain, was very different from what it wrought on me, who felt myself refresh’d as with a cordial; but the poor captain fell to contemplate (as it better became him) our sad condition; and being troubled in mind for having brought so many wretched souls into misery, by a false confidence he gave them of his having a good ship, which he now thought would prove their ruin; and being conscious, that their loss would lie all at his door, it was no easy matter to appease his troubled thoughts. He made me a particular compliment for having engaged me and my friends in the same bottom, and upon that burst into tears. I comforted him the best I could, and told him: “We must all submit to the hand of God, and rely on his goodness, hoping, that the same providence which had hitherto so miraculously preserved us, would still be continued in our favour till we were in safety.” We retired obscurely to our friends, who had been wondering at our absence.

The westerly wind continued to shorten our way to the shore, tho’ very distant from our port; but this did not at all incline us to change our resolution of sailing large for the first land; it did rather animate and support us in our present disasters of hunger and thirst, toil and fatigue. The hopes of touching land was food and raiment to us. In this wearisome expectation we pass’d our time for eight or nine days and nights, and then we saw the water change colour, and had soundings.