"I now continued my journey as well as the weak state of my body would permit,--the weather being at the time extremely hot and rainy. I frequently lay down and would wish that I might never rise again;--despair had almost wholly possessed me; and sometimes in a kind of delirium I would fancy I heard my mother's voice, and my father calling me, and I would answer them. At other times my wild imagination would paint to my view scenes which I was acquainted with. Then supposing myself near home I would run as fast as my legs could carry me. Frequently I fancied that I heard dogs bark, men cutting wood, and every noise which I have heard in my native country."
In Part 3 of "The Case of John Blatchford," our hero escapes from the British yet again, and treks 800 miles in an attempt to gain his freedom. He faces the elements, wild animals, and starvation. Just before he reaches the safety of a Dutch possession, he is discovered by a native woman who sounds the alarm. To read the final installment of the story, click "Read More."
Taken from Chapter 16, "The Case of John Blatchford," "American Prisoners of the Revolution," by Danske Dandridge (full ebook at Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/7829). Edited by Gary M. Bohannon.
HAVING PROVIDED OURSELVES with fire-works, and knives, about the first of December, 1780, we sat out, with the intent to reach the Dutch settlement of Croy, which is about two or three hundred miles distance upon a direct line, but as we were obliged to travel along the coast (fearing to risk the nearest way), it was a journey of 800 miles.
We took each a stick and hung it around our neck, and every day cut a notch, which was the method we took to keep time.
In this manner we travelled, living upon fruit, turtle eggs, and sometimes turtle, which we cooked every night with the fire we built to secure us from wild beasts, they being in great plenty,--such as buffaloes, tigers, jackanapes, leopards, lions, and baboons and monkeys.
On the 30th day of our traveling we met with nothing we could eat and found no water. At night we found some fruit which appeared to the eyes to be very delicious, different from any we had seen in our travels. It resembled a fruit which grows in the West Indies, called a Jack, about the size of an orange. We being very dry and hungry immediately gathered some of this fruit, but finding it of a sweet, sickish taste, I eat but two. Randall eat freely. In the evening we found we were poisoned: I was sick and puked considerably, Randall was sick and began to swell all round his body. He grew worse all night, but continued to have his senses till the next day, when he died, and left me to mourn my greater wretchedness,--more than 400 miles from any settlement, no companion, the wide ocean on one side, and a prowling wilderness on the other, liable to many kinds of death, more terrible than being shot.
I laid down by Randall's body, wishing, if possible, that he might return and tell me what course to take. My thoughts almost distracted me, so that I was unable to do anything until the next day, during all which time I continued by the side of Randall. I then got up and made a hole in the sand and buried him.
I now continued my journey as well as the weak state of my body would permit,--the weather being at the time extremely hot and rainy. I frequently lay down and would wish that I might never rise again;--despair had almost wholly possessed me; and sometimes in a kind of delirium I would fancy I heard my mother's voice, and my father calling me, and I would answer them. At other times my wild imagination would paint to my view scenes which I was acquainted with. Then supposing myself near home I would run as fast as my legs could carry me. Frequently I fancied that I heard dogs bark, men cutting wood, and every noise which I have heard in my native country.
One day as I was travelling a small dog, as I thought it to be, came fawning round me and followed me, but I soon discovered it to be a young lion. I supposed that its dam must be nigh, and therefore run. It followed me some time and then left me. I proceeded on, but had not got far from it before it began to cry. I looked round and saw a lioness making towards it. She yelled most frightfully, which greatly terrified me; but she laid down something from her mouth for her young one, and then with another yell turned and went off from me.
Some days after I was travelling by the edge of a woods, which from its appearance had felt severely the effects of a tornado or hurricane, the trees being all torn up by the roots, and I heard a crackling noise in the bushes. Looking about I saw a monstrous large tiger making slowly towards me, which frightened me exceedingly. When he had approached within a few rods of me, in my surprise I lifted up my hands and hollowed very loud. The sudden noise frightened him, seemingly as much as I had been, and he immediately turned and run into the woods, and I saw him no more.
After this I continued to travel on without molestation, only from the monkeys who were here so plentiful that oftentimes I saw them in large droves; sometimes I run from them, as if afraid of them, they would then follow, grin, and chatter at me, and when they got near I would turn, and they would run from me back into the woods, and climb the trees to get out of my way.
It was now 15 weeks since I had left the hospital. I had travelled most all of the day without any water and began to be very thirsty, when I heard the sound of running water, as it were down a fall of rocks. I had heard it a considerable time and at last began to suspect it was nothing, but imaginary, as many other noises I had before thought to have heard. I however went on as fast as I could, and at length discovered a brook. On approaching it I was not a little surprised and rejoiced by the sight of a Female Indian, who was fishing at the brook. She had no other dress on than that which mother nature affords impartially to all her children, except a small cloth which she wore round her waist.
I knew not how to address myself to her. I was afraid if I spoke she would run, and therefore I made a small noise; upon which she looked round, and seeing me, run across the brook, seemingly much frightened, leaving her fishing line. I went up to her basket which contained five or six fish which looked much like our trout. I took up the basket and attempted to wade across where she had passed, but was too weak to wade across in that place, and went further up the stream, where I passed over, and then looking for the Indian woman I saw her at some distance behind a large cocoa-nut tree. I walked towards her but dared not keep my eyes steadily upon her lest she would run as she did before. I called to her in English, and she answered in her own tongue, which I could not understand. I then called to her in the Malaysian, which I understood a little of; she answered me in a kind of surprise and asked me in the name of Okrum Footee (the name of their God) from whence I came, and where I was going. I answered her as well as I could in the Melay, that I was from Fort Marlborough, and going to Croy--that I was making my escape from the English, by whom I had been taken in war. She told me that she had been taken by the Malays some years before, for that the two nations were always at war, and that she had been kept as a slave among them three years and was then retaken by her countrymen. While we were talking together she appeared to be very shy, and I durst not come nearer than a rod to her, lest she should run from me. She said that Croy, the place I was bound to, was about three miles distant: That if I would follow her she would conduct me to her countrymen, who were but a small distance off. I begged her to plead with her countrymen to spare my life. She said she would, and assured me that if I behaved well I should not be hurt. She then conducted me to a small village, consisting of huts or wigwams. When we arrived at the village the children that saw me were frightened and run away from me, and the women exhibited a great deal of fear and kept at a distance. But my guide called to them and told them not to be afraid, for that I was not come to hurt them, and then informed them from whence I came, and that I was going to Croy.
I told my guide I was very hungry, and she sent the children for something for me to eat. They came and brought me little round balls of rice, and they, not daring to come nigh, threw them at me. These I picked up and eat. Afterwards a woman brought some rice and goat's milk in a copper basin, and setting it on the ground made signs for me to take it up and eat it, which I did, and then put the basin down again. They then poked away the basin with a stick, battered it with stones, and making a hole in the ground, buried it.
After that they conducted me to a small hut, and told me to tarry there until the morning, when they would conduct me to the harbor. I had but little sleep that night, and was up several time to look out, and saw two or three Indians at a little distance from the hut, who I supposed were placed there to watch me.
Early in the morning numbers came around the hut, and the female who was my guide asked me where my country was? I could not make her understand, only that it was at a great distance. She then asked me if my countrymen eat men? I told her, no, and seeing some goats pointed at them, and told her we eat such as them. She then asked me what made me white, and if it was not the white rain that come upon us when we were small * * * as I wished to please them I told her that I supposed it was, for it was only in certain seasons of the year that it fell, and in hot weather when it did not fall the people grew darker until it returned, and then the people all grew white again. This seemed to please them very much.
My protectress then brought a young man to me who she said was her brother, and who would show me the way to the harbor. She then cut a stick about eight feet long, and he took hold of one end and gave me the other. She told me that she had instructed her brother what to say at the harbor. He then led off, and I followed. During our walk I put out my hand to him several times, and made signs of friendship, but he seemed to be afraid of me, and would look upwards and then fall flat on the ground and kiss it: this he repeated as often as I made any sign or token of friendship to him.
When we had got near the harbor he made a sign for me to sit down upon a rock, which I did. He then left me and went, as I supposed, to talk to the people at the water concerning me; but I had not sat long before I saw a vessel coming round the point into the harbor.
They soon came on shore in the boat. I went down to them and made my case known and when the boat returned on board they took me with them. It was a Dutch snow bound from China to Batavia. After they had wooded and watered they set sail for Batavia:--being out about three weeks we arrived there: I tarried on board her about three weeks longer, and then got on board a Spanish ship which was from Rio de la Plate bound to Spain, but by stress of weather was obliged to put into this port. After the vessel had repaired we sailed for Spain. When we made the Cape of Good Hope we fell in with two British cruisers of twenty guns each, who engaged us and did the vessel considerable damage, but at length we beat them off, and then run for the coast of Brazil, where we arrived safe, and began to work at repairing our ship, but upon examination she was found to be not fit to proceed on her voyage. She was therefore condemned. I then left her and got on board a Portuguese snow bound up to St. Helena, and we arrived safe at that place.
I then went on shore and quitted her and engaged in the garrison there to do duty as a soldier for my provisions till some ship should arrive there bound for England. After serving there a month I entered on board a ship called the Stormont, but orders were soon after received that no Indiaman should sail without convoy; and we lay here six months, during which time the Captain died.
While I was in St. Helena the vessel in which I came out from England arrived here, homeward bound; she being on the return from her second voyage since I came from England. And now I made known my case to Captain Kerr, who readily took me on board the Princess Royal, and used me kindly and those of my old ship-mates on board were glad to see me again. Captain Kerr on first seeing me asked me if I was not afraid to let him know who I was, and endeavored to frighten me; yet his conduct towards me was humane and kind.
It had been very sickly on board the Princess Royal, and the greater part of the hands who came out of England in her had died, and she was now manned chiefly with lascars. Among those who had died was the boatswain, and boatswain's mate, and Captain Kerr made me boatswain of the ship, in which office I continued until we arrived in London, and it protected me from being impressed upon our arrival in England.
We sailed from St. Helena about the first of November, 1781, under convoy of the Experiment of fifty guns, commanded by Captain Henry, and the Shark sloop of war of 18 guns, and we arrived in London about the first of March, 1782, it having been about two years and a half from the time I had left it.
In about a fortnight after our arrival in London I entered on board the King George, a store-ship bound to Antigua, and after four weeks passage arrived there.
The second night after we came to anchor in Antigua I took the ship's boat and escaped in her to Montserrat (in the West Indies) which place had but just before been taken by the French.
Here I did not meet with the treatment which I expected; for on my arrival at Montserrat I was immediately taken up and put in prison, where I continued twenty-four hours, and my boat taken from me. I was then sent to Guadaloupe, and examined by the Governor. I made known my case to him, by acquainting him with the misfortunes I had gone through in my captivity, and in making my escape. He seemed to commiserate me, gave me ten dollars for the boat that I escaped in, and provided a passage for me on board a French brigantine that was bound from Gaudaloupe to Philadelphia.
The vessel sailed in a few days, and now my prospects were favorable, but my misfortunes were not to end here, for after being out twenty-one days we fell in with the Anphitrite and Amphene, two British cruisers, off the Capes of Delaware, by which we were taken, carried in to New York and put on board the Jersey prison ship. After being on board about a week a cartel was fitted out for France, and I was sent on board as a French prisoner. The cartel was ordered for St. Maloes, and after a passage of thirty-two days we arrived safe at that place.
Finding no American vessel at St. Male's, I went to the Commandant, and procured a pass to go by land to Port l'Orient. On my arrival there I found three American privateers belonging to Beverley in the Massachusetts. I was much elated at seeing so many of my countrymen, some of whom I was well acquainted with. I immediately entered on board the Buccaneer, Captain Pheirson. We sailed on a cruise, and after being out eighteen days we returned to L'Orient with six prizes. Three days after our arrival in port we heard the joyful news of peace; on which the privateer was dismantled, the people discharged, and Captain P sailed on a merchant voyage to Norway.
I then entered on board a brig bound to Lisbon (Captain Ellenwood of Beverley) and arrived at Lisbon in eight days. We took in a cargo of salt, and sailed for Beverley, where we arrived the ninth of May, 1783. Being now only fifteen miles from home, I immediately set out for Cape Ann, went to my father's house, and had an agreeable meeting with my friends, after an absence of almost six years.
New London, May 10th, 1788.
Those who are acquainted with the narrator will not scruple to give full credence to the foregoing account, and others may satisfy themselves by conversing with him. The scars he carries are a proof of his narrative, and a gentleman of New London who was several months with him, was acquainted with part of his sufferings, though it was out of his power to relieve him. He is a poor man with a wife and two children. His employment is fishing and coasting. --Editor.
Our readers may be interested to know what became of John Blatchford, who wrote, or dictated, the narrative we have given, in the year 1788. He was, at that time, a married man. He had married a young woman named Ann Grover. He entered the merchant marine, and died at Port au Prince about the year 1794, when nearly thirty-three years of age. Thus early closed the career of a brave man, who had experienced much hardship, and had suffered greatly from man's inhumanity to man, and who is, as far as we know, the only American prisoner sent to the East Indies who ever returned to tell the story of the barbarities inflicted upon him.