The following article is a transcription from a photocopied document of unknown origin. My copy was obtained from D. L. Bond, great-grandson of the article’s subject, Lewis Evan Jones Jr. of Cedar County, Nebraska. I believe this item was originally published, in whole or in part, in the Hartington News, prior to 1901, as it is referenced in another story authored by Lewis Evan Jones Jr., that was written in 1901.
– C.H. Jones
“Lewis Evan Jones Jr. – A Christmas Legend
In the year 1840, then about fourteen years old, I left my father’s printing office to see a little of the world. The first voyage took me from Liverpool to the headwaters of the Baltic Sea – Cronstadt, the seaport of St. Petersburg in northern Russia. Subsequent voyages were made to the Mediterranean and Black Seas, call at all the important ports.
The spring of 1844 found me working in a cotton press at Charleston, SC, the first, I believe, in the world to compress cotton, which reduced the bales to almost one-half the size of those coming from the plantations. I had visited all the principal seaports on the Atlantic and Gulf coast previous to this time, and had many adventures. However, the month of June, 1844, being unusually warm, I became acquainted with the captain of an English brig returning home from Galveston, Texas, and called at Charleston in search of freight for England. Here he found a cargo of cotton for Liverpool, and the weather becoming warmer daily, he induced me to go with him for a nice summer voyage, which turned out very pleasant and agreeable. From Liverpool I went to Wales to visit my parents, calculating to return to the US with some American vessel.
Returning to Liverpool I found the English brig Alpha, of London, with which I had left Charleston, loading a cargo of salt for the Russian navy at Revel, on the headwaters of the Gulf of Finland. The old Captain, whom I found on the passage from Charleston very agreeable, prevailed on me to go with him on this voyage expecting to be back in time to go to Charleston or New Orleans for the winter season, where the times were good and the wages high.
In this way I left Liverpool in the early fall, having come from South Carolina, where the thermometer stood at 100 in the shade, scantily clad, sailing for the Baltic Sea thus late in the year, but hoping to make a quick trip before the Baltic closed for navigation. We passed up the Baltic Sea and entered the Gulf of Finland in good season, unloaded our cargo of salt, which, by the way, was a valuable article in that part of the world, the reason that custom house officers searched every pocket on our persons every time we went ashore.
From Revel we sailed down the Baltic Sea, and called at several seaports in search of a back cargo, as ours was a tramp ship. Finally calling at Memel, Prussia, we found a Catholic church, already framed, waiting transportation to Limerick, Ireland. Thus we were in luck, for this was a large church building which gave us all we wanted to carry. Having all the men to load that could conveniently work, we left Memel in good spirits, hoping in good time to reach our destination, and again sail for Charleston or another southern city. Passing out of the Baltic and Cattegat Seas, we had made very fair progress approaching the Highland of Scotland, our men singing the familiar songs, “Annie Laurie” and “Bonnie Lassie”. When all was going on in the happy mood, and we had sighted Cape Wrath lighthouse, the most northern part of Scotland, a terrible gale came on from the south that continued to blow like fury for four long weeks, so much so that we could carry no sails, but close reefed main top sails, to keep us as much as possible to the wind, to save our deck being swept by tremendous waves in which we were engulfed.
Here we were, drifting helpless in the North Sea, in the month of December, going due north, and the days shortening rapidly, until we had but four hours daylight, not a stitch of clothes nor bedding dry, provisions giving out rapidly, until all hands from the Captain to the cook volunteered to go on short allowance of hard tack, which was about all we had left. Our water casks were nearly all empty, but by spreading sails on the deck we managed to save some hailstones which were continually pelting us. It was too cold to snow. If your could have seen me at that time it would have reminded you of Joseph, whom his brethren sold into Egyptian bondage, about every stitch of clothing I had of all shades and colors, were stitched together in one garment, which was about all I could carry. In the same way I had stitched together my four blankets, all wet through, which kept the biting winds from my body. Thus we drifted day after day in the bowels of the North Sea, with no intermission in the fury of the elements.
One morning, if I may call it such, the man on the lookout shouted “Land, land!” The Captain, who had become discouraged of ever seeing land again, said to me, who stood close to his side, “It is Greenland, sure; I did not think we had drifted this far North.” As we neared this rugged promontory we could see plainly that it was not a main land, but some rugged island in the midst of the waste of waters. Consulting our charts, we came to the conclusion that they must be the Faroe Islands belonging to Denmark, and four hundred miles north of Cape Wrath, Scotland. Our hearts leaped with joy, as these islands were known to be settled sparsely by a hardy race of people, said to produce oats, potatoes, etc, besides being daring fishermen. The wind also seemed to slacken in its fury. All our ambition then was to communicate with the people on shore in order to replenish our larder and fill our water barrels. As the wind slackened up we made sail to find some landing place. We could not come within four of five miles of the isles, as currents were whirling, and turned our vessel around several times. At one place the land sloped down to the water’s edge and looked like a small harbor. It was impossible to approach near. We hoisted flag of distress to entice these people to have compassion on our plight. It must have been the late storm that made it impossible for them to get their boats out from shore. Now it looked hard for us poor mortals to come in sight of the promised land, like the patriarch of old, and denied the pleasure of treading its soil.
While in this dilemma the wind changed for the first time in four weeks to the north, blowing about a half gale. Our old Captain gave the order to square the yards and set all the sail we dare carry, and sail back for the land we were blown from (Cape Wrath) four weeks previous. As the old Captain remarked “Boys, make our crackers last three days and I promise you, if this wind continues, to be in some safe harbor by that time.” We all did our duty, as this was a race between life and death. At the expiration of three days, at ten o’clock in the forenoon, we furled sail and tied our vessel up at a small sea port, the most northern harbor in the highlands of Scotland, called Stormness, and indeed it is rightly called, for this is a stormy coast and no mistake.
This was the 24th day of December, 1844, and our Captain, as they generally advised by ship owners when making long voyages, was very anxious to get to Limerick and deliver the church we had on board at as early a date as possible, concluded to get in provisions and water as fast as they could be got on board. Stormness is a small outfitting port for vessels calling, like ours, in distress. All was ready early in the afternoon, and we cast off with the well wishes of the sturdy of the small harbor. The wind had been blowing a gale so lately that the sea was not yet calmed. Our course after we left Stormness, was through and an archipelago of islands, some very small and not inhabited, called the Hebrides. Among this group is and important island called the Isle of Skye. Twenty miles northwest of this are a group of small islands called the Lewis islands. Through the channel between the Isle of Skye and the Lewis islands we had to beat up against head winds, the sea being very rough. About six o’clock in the evening, by moonlight, we got to near the Lewis group of islands, our craft becoming unmanageable and drifting very rapidly before the winds and waves toward dangerous and lofty cliffs where no ship or boat could live. As a man clinging tenaciously to life, the first thing I did was get out my knife, cut the lashings that fastened the long boat down to the deck. Just as I had the ropes all cut I wondered what next I could do, when a tremendous wave swept the deck clean of everything portable, including the boat I had just cut loose, and on which I thought our lives depended. We were now close to the rocky shore and the Captain shouted at the top of his voice through the terrible tempest of wind and wave crashing against the high, rocky cliff, to “take to the rigging”, as by this time every wave washed over the deck of the vessel. I had, after losing the boat, a good hold on the main mast shrouds. At the request of the Captain to take to the rigging, I found two of the crew crouched at my feet praying fervently. I will say here that at this moment, in the very jaws of death itself, I did not think we were lost. In mounting the rigging I shouted out to these two men, “This is no place to pray–save your lives!” Before I had gotten ten feet up the rigging a tremendous wave, in fact the largest I had ever seen, picked up the vessel bodily on its crest and landed it fifty feet above the low water mark. The other waves that came after were not of sufficient strength to move the great mass, lying as on a shelf on the side of a mountain. Another thing was in our favor: the tide was ebbing very fast, so much so the vessel was left above the reach of other waves. We did not wait for the tide to ebb, but everyone managed, some by jumping, and others by ropes, to reach the rugged rocks. There was but one accident, that of the mate who broke his leg by jumping on the rocks. While in the rigging, waiting to see if another wave would dislodge us, I had formulated a plan by which I could reach the rocks easiest. I came down from the rigging, ran out on the bowsprit and slipped down on the martingale, where I had but a few feet to drop. My first duty then was to help the mate, who had broken his leg, out of the reach of the receding waves. Finding that crew and officers were all saved, our next duty was to get ashore and secure provisions, water, and sails to build shelter, for we knew not how long we would have to remain here before we would be discovered and rescued, for this was a barren island, uninhabited, with cold and stormy weather. After the water had receded sufficiently to allow us to go on board safely, we unbent the sail, running riggings, provisions, our clothing and firewood ashore, for we knew not what kind of a home we had. We found 100 feet above our vessel the island gradually sloped off on the land side down to the water’s edge. Here we concluded to build our tent and spend Christmas day. By this time the flood tide was coming in rapidly, and a little before daylight the waves, one after another, began shaking our vessel, which stood there majestically, with her mast still standing. Like the big wave that carried her up to her perch, another came and took her away from her snug roost. When about 500 feet from the shore both her anchors dropped about the same time, and thus she rode with her head into the wind, her anchors holding her fast, while the waves overwhelmed her, and often we could not see her for some moments. Finally the anchors dragged and allowed her coming nearer the shore when all at once a giant sea struck her and dashed her, mast and all against the rocks, a complete mass of kindling wood, ship, church and all, and afterwards strewed for many miles on this and adjacent islands. It was a horrid spectacle to see the noble craft, which myself and the Captain had for a home from the time we left Charleston the previous June (balance of crew were shipped at Liverpool), and there we were in the dead winter, shipwrecked on a barren island in a stormy clime at the time our friends were visiting and feasting in their cozy and comfortable homes. It was fortunate for us the moon was full (and in these latitudes the tides at these times are much higher than any other) or I no doubt would not be here to relate this unfortunate catastrophe.
After the vessel had disappeared we went to work to prepare a home with what wreckage we could pick up, and the sails we had rescued from our doomed ship. Some of the crew had gone to explore the island, others were burning what dry wood there was to attract our neighbors from other islands, and the cook had seen a tremendously large rooster, the only living thing to be seen. Where he came from was a conundrum, but he likely escaped from some previous wreck. However this might have been, the rooster was there, big and fat. As superstitious as sailors are, I had no trouble to make them believe that Providence place him there for our Christmas dinner. This rooster, by some means, had his wing broken, or it is doubtful whether we could have captured him at all, for he jumped from crag to crag, and was as tired as ourselves when captured. The cook was instructed by the captain to make the best use of what was sent to us, no doubt, from above. One of the men, being religiously inclined, was requested by the captain to make a prayer before sitting down to this sumptuous Christmas dish. In this way, in our humble abode, we relished our humble dinner as we never relished a dinner before. Thus we spent Christmas on a barren island, cut off from all the world. In a couple of days, finding wreckage floating about, the sturdy fishermen of an adjacent island, when the wind and waves had exhausted themselves, seeing the beacon light from our retreat, came out and took us with them to their own island, about ten miles distant. Here we found a small colony of ten or twelve families, among whom was a Mr. McDonald, Justice of the Peace and owner of the island. They lived close together and farmed small tracts of land, besides fishing. Arriving there we were treated very humanely by Mr. McDonald. There being no vacant houses he had a very respectable barn cleaned, putting in a fresh load of straw for our comfort during our stay. We resided here about eight days, gathering what part of the wreck we could collect, awaiting the sea to calm, for our only chance to get away was an open fishing boat to the Isle of Skye, a distance of about 25 or 30 miles. When it was useless to stay here longer we expressed to Mr. and Mrs. McDonald our wishes to get away. Our Captain had no money to pay us our wages, but consented to stay there and dispose of what was saved of the ship and church. The kind justice advanced one pound ($5) each and paid the boatmen for taking us to the Isle of Skye. Thus we left these kind and humble people, dwelling in content on a rough and stormy coast. Our next journey was on foot across the Isle of Skye, to Oban, ten miles distant. Oban is a small town, having a little business in small vessels with Glasgow and other places. After waiting here two days a small steamer, which traded between these islands, came along, and as we were shipwrecked seamen, gave us free passage to Glasgow. Here was a large seaport with vessels lading for all parts of the world. Most of the crew shipped for different places, but myself and one other wanted to go to Liverpool, as we had friends there who would help us in the dilapidated condition we were in. A large steamer was making regular trips between the two places carrying passengers and freight. I made application to the captain of this steamer for free passage stating our condition. He did not answer and as he did not refuse I took it for granted. St. George’s Channel on this passage was very rough, the sea continually breaking over the vessel, keeping us continually wet. Here during a cold and stormy night, crouched down in one corner, as hungry as I had ever been, I passed the night. Getting to Liverpool in the forenoon my spirits revived as we entered the dock, soon to be among friends. As soon as the stage to land passengers was put out I was the first to step out on it with a bag of soiled and water-soaked clothing, which I saved from the shipwreck and packed across the Isle of Skye, but our uniformed officer grabbed it from my hand, saying I could have it when I paid my passage. This was the meanest act I had yet seen. What could I do to resent this indignity, especially when the police were there at the fellow’s service? But I soon found friends, and my sister gave me money to redeem my historic wardrobe. After spending a few days in Liverpool and with my parents in Wales, I crossed over to France and remained there during the summer, and the fall of 1845 found me again in South Carolina.
– Lewis Evan Jones Jr.