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Jack in the Forecastle or, Incidents in the Early Life of Hawser Martingale   By: (1794-1878)

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By John Sherburne Sleeper

(1794 1878)


I was born towards the close of the last century, in a village pleasantly situated on the banks of the Merrimack, in Massachusetts. For the satisfaction of the curious, and the edification of the genealogist, I will state that my ancestors came to this country from England in the middle of the seventeenth century. Why they left their native land to seek an asylum on this distant shore whether prompted by a spirit of adventure, or with a view to avoid persecution for religion's sake is now unknown. Even if they "left their country for their country's good," they were undoubtedly as respectable, honest, and noble, as the major part of those needy ruffians who accompanied William the Conqueror from Normandy in his successful attempt to seize the British crown, and whose descendants now boast of their noble ancestry, and proudly claim a seat in the British House of Peers.

From my earliest years I manifested a strong attachment to reading; and as matters relating to ships and sailors captivated my boyish fancy, and exerted a magic influence on my mind, the "Adventures of Robinson Crusoe," "Peter Wilkins," "Philip Quarle," and vagabonds of a similar character, were my favorite books. An indulgence in this taste, and perhaps an innate disposition to lead a wandering, adventurous life, kindled in my bosom a strong desire, which soon became a fixed resolution, TO GO TO SEA. Indeed, this wish to go abroad, to encounter dangers on the mighty deep, to visit foreign countries and climes, to face shipwrecks and disasters, became a passion. It was my favorite theme of talk by day, and the subject of my dreams by night. As I increased in years my longing for a sailor's life also increased; and whenever my schoolfellows and myself were conversing about the occupations we should select as the means of gaining a livelihood hereafter, I invariably said, "I will be a sailor."

Had my parents lived, it is possible that this deep seated inclination might have been thwarted; that my destiny might have taken another shape. But my father died while I was quite young, and my mother survived him but a few years. She lived long enough, however, to convince me that there is nothing more pure, disinterested, and enduring than a mother's love, and that those who are deprived of this blessing meet at the outset of their pilgrimage a misfortune which can never be remedied. Thus, before I had numbered fifteen years, I found myself thrown a waif on the waters of life, free to follow the bent of my inclination to become a sailor.

Fortune favored my wishes. Soon after the death of my parents, a relation of my mother was fitting out a vessel in Portsmouth, N.H., for a voyage to Demarara; and those who felt an interest in my welfare, conceiving this a good opportunity for me to commence my salt water career, acceded to my wishes, and prevailed on my relative, against his inclination, to take me with him as a cabin boy.

With emotions of delight I turned my back on the home of my childhood, and gayly started off to seek my fortune in the world, with no other foundation to build upon than a slender frame, an imperfect education, a vivid imagination, ever picturing charming castles in the air, and a goodly share of quiet energy and perseverance, modified by an excess of diffidence, which to this day I have never been able to overcome.

I had already found in a taste for reading a valuable and never failing source of information and amusement. This attachment to books has attended me through life, and been a comfort and solace in difficulties, perplexities, and perils. My parents, also, early ingrafted on my mind strict moral principles; taught me to distinguish between right and wrong; to cherish a love of truth, and even a chivalric sense of honor and honesty. To this, perhaps, more than to any other circumstance, may be attributed whatever success and respectability has attended my career through life... Continue reading book >>

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