Account of a Passage to China by Sea, 1807

Following is my transcription of an old document found among my family’s papers. The document certainly looks as if it is an original account from about 1808 of a sea voyage to China from America in 1807. The document consists of 8 pages of clear handwriting, written to the edges of the pages. Because of the lack of margins, a few words are missing where the bottom of a page is worn away. The pages were attached on the left side by two small bits of black thread. The images below show the actual pages. You can click on a page to see it at full size.

Because this document was included with other old Strawbridge family papers, including several letters of Joseph Strawbridge, I think this document may have been written by his older brother John, who, like Joseph, sailed to the Far East. Joseph died in 1803, but John lived from 1780 to 1858 and became a successful merchant. If anyone who reads this can tell who wrote it, I would be very glad to get that information.

I have omitted several charts showing the ship’s progress, listing destinations and mileages. Apart from those omissions, I have made only a few minor edits, and have left some obvious misspellings and inconsistent spellings. I tried to check the place names in reference books, but could not find some of them. I have transcribed the spellings the way they appear, which should not be wrong by more than one or two letters in any given case.

There’s a good deal of mundane detail about winds and weather, but some fairly dramatic events also, reported in matter-of-fact prose, and some interesting reporting of American history towards the end. Without further comment, following is the text of the document:

Remarks on a passage to China – 1807

Left Philada on Sunday March 28th and N. Castle on Monday, with a fine wind from NW. Had a very fine run down to the Brandywine, wind came round to the Eastward, came to on the inner part of the overfalls.
“Extract from ships log Book”
At midnight the wind shifted to ENE, and came on to blow very hard. Let go the 2d anchor, and got the 3d ready, ship labouring hard. Tuesday, March 30th. Distressing Gales at ENE. Very heavy sea running, ship pitching hard. At 9 A.M. parted the small bower cable, paid out the other and held our ground, the wind hawling to the Eastward very heavy squalls of wind and hail. At 12 the wind hawled to the S.W. blowing harder. Let go the 3 Anchors, and cut away the top Gallant yards, the men refusing to go aloft to send them down. At 4 P.M. the gale encreasing, and the ship driving from her anchors, were obliged to cut the cables, and try to get to sea to save the ship, the cargo and our lives. Running across the overfalls, the ship struck 3 or 4 times. Previous to our cutting saw the Woodrop Sims running on shore, and several other sail. A ship drove to leeward with all her masts gone, except her foremast mane spars adrift.

After we were clear, stood for New York, lost most of our stock, three of the men gave out. April 1st hard gales and squalls of wind running along shore in from 15 to 18 fathom water, wind at west, under short sail. At 4 P.M. set the fore sail and Main top sail. At midnight tacked in 8 fathom water. April 2d begins with moderate breezes, and clear weather, out all reefs. At 3 P.M. tacked to the north. At 5 saw the land on Long Island. At 8 calm. At 9 got a breeze from ENE. At 12 mer. saw the high lands of Nover Link. Thick weather and rain, wind beginning to blow hard, etc. 3 P.M. ran in by the Light House, with the Jack hoisted and firing guns, no pilot to be got, a brig in Co. The gale encreasing and hawling to the S.E. Could not get to sea, and having no anchors to bring her up, and no pilot boat in sight, found it absolutely necessary to run the ship on shore, the brig in company running on shore at the same time. Furled the sails and cleared the decks, and took every possible measure to save the ship and cargo. 3d begins with heavy gales at N.W., wind hawling round to W. At 6 A.M. got down the fore top G. mast, & struck yards & top masts & f. water along side, signal of distress hoisted, no boats passing_____ three apprentices _____ of P____ from Jamaica _____.

Dist. Yr. Log. 15930 miles average pr day 124 ½, days: 128

From leaving America, we had pleasant weather, until we made Tristian da Cunha, and had but one gale 5 days out, in which time we saw two sail, one a schooner which we spoke, from Martinique, and a ship, which we were in sight of two days, standing on our course. From or near Tristian da Cunha, the weather was cold and rough until we began to run down our lattitude from St. Pauls. In this time we were continually surrounded with numbers of birds, of different kinds, caught severall Large Albatross, and many cape pigeons. In rounding the Cape we had several very heavy gales from the west, lasting for several days.

In the Straits of Sunda we experienced a very heavy squall, which came up very suddenly, when we were near 4th point, being obliged to scud the ship were in much danger of running on some of those islands, it being so dark you could [not?] see the length of the ship. Fortunately, the Lightning was bright; and we could at times see the Land. Next day came to at Anjire Point. Found there ship Mercury of P. which had left America 6 days [?] since we had. Went on shore and were very politely received by the Dutch Com., who permitted us to walk thro’ the village which is considerably larger than it appears from the ship. We here procured stock for the remainder of our voyage, which is very cheap indeed. Fowls were 18 for a dollar, ducks 12, and very fine Turtle a dollar each weighing from 45 to 80 lbs. By getting the stock of the Dutch boat, which always boards you, it is cheaper than from the Malays. Letters left at Anjire will be forwarded to America via Batavia.

In sight of Java fell in with an English ship Bound to Borneo, and agreed to keep company thro’ Gasper. We entered Straits about 2 P.M. with a fine breeze, and at 9 we were past Gasper Island, had a current with us. From Pulo Domar till we had passed the Macclesfield Shoal we had much light weather [?]. On making the Lema islands we got a pilot who takes you to Macao. Found him of considerable use from his knowledge of the currents. They are very exorbitant in their demands at first.

Captain Beare, of the ship Martha, lately arrived from Calcutta, has favored the editors of the N. York Gazette with the following memorandum, which, no doubt, will prove a useful caution to navigators from the E. Indies. On the 17th June 1808 [?] saw the island of St. Paul’s. By a good-time keeper and a lunar observation in the morning he found its true situation in lat. 37”55 N., long. 29”30 W. from London, which is 1.45 further west than laid down in the latest publication. Its extent is not more than 1 ½ miles. Capt. B found a strong current setting to the westward for three days before and after, making it, at the rate of 24 to 30 miles per day. As this island is immediately in the track of our homeward bound Indiamen, he thinks it extremely dangerous to pass its latitude in the night, without being well assured of their longitude.

In passing this island in the La Carolina we found [it] to lie about 100 miles to the Eastward of our reckoning, tho we had several very good observations for several days before. Capt. A thought at the time it was laid down wrong.

Capt. A and Captain Gilchrist of the Caravan of Boston having agreed to keep co., sailed the 21, Nov. from Wampoa. On leaving the coast of China we had a very fresh breeze, and being bound down the inner passage made it quite a free wind. The evening before we made Sapata, we had a very heavy squall from the S. of W. and another severe one the next day. After passing Sapata, the wind which had hitherto been fresh, left us and we had light winds to the Straits of Banca.

We had just got a good entrance in the Straits, when we experienced a very heavy squall which scarcely permitted us to lay along. It lasted about 1 hour, and blew very fresh. Having a fine Moon light night we continued under sail till we arrived at 1st point when we anchored, and the next morning by 11 we were fairly clear. Had a very fresh breeze but scant to North Island. We lay at North Isl. 36 hours, and procured some wood and water from Sumatra. From N. 1st till we were clear of the straits the wind was ahead, blowing fresh up the straits, and sometimes squally. We came up with at No. Isl. the ships Fair Leader, Cooper, Trident, Blakeman, Frances Henrietta Skinner. We were joined at No. Isl. by the Mercury Arnold and passed the Straits in Company of those vessels. We had fine weather, and a good breeze for some days after, and saw the Mercury when three days out.

Off the Island of Madagascar we had very disagreeable weather, the wind shifting very suddenly. The Wind from this to the Cape of Good Hope was mostly to the Westward, had one gale from West off Augullas. Spoke the Mercury in Long. 76, Lat. 34, and saw a brig supposed the Caravan. Had fine weather from the Cape to Line.

We crossed the Equator the 19 February, and had little or no calm weather, and not much light w. Between Latt. 3 & 4 we took the N.E. trade winds which lasted without intermition for 8 or 10 days blowing a fresh Top Gal’t breeze generally. The ship for 7 days avaraged rather more than 8 miles pr. Hour. In Lat. 22 Long. 62. Fell in with a french privateer 3 days from Gaudaloupe, from whom we received the unpleasant news, that there had been an embargo laid throughout the United States, in consequence of Bonaparte’s having demanded of America to declare for or against England. We also learned from him that peace had been made between Russia and France, that the court of Portugal had removed to Brazil, and other news, the purpose of which was that the U. States could not be long at Peace, at the same time advising us to keep well to the West to avoid British ships. We fell in with a brig 2 days after standing NW. March the 4 saw a ship standing WNW, supposed for Charleston. Since speaking the French vessel the weather has gradually grown colder.