MARK TWAIN'S "TRAMP" OF THE SEA
THE SHIP JONAS SMITH - A STRANGE CRAFT AND HER COLORED CAPTAIN - BEGGING FOR BREAD ON THE HIGH SEAS - FROM BERMUDA TO NO ONE KNOWS WHERE.
HARTFORD, Conn., Sept. 19. - Mr. Clemens (Mark Twain,) in a letter to the Hartford Courant, solves the mystery of the bark Jonas Smith, reported spoken near Cape Fear recently. He was on a voyage from Bermuda, May 25, 1877, on the steam-ship Bermuda. The bark Jonas Smith was spoken with a signal of distress flying. She was 10 days out from Bermuda, having left there for New York with five days' provisions for a crew of about 15 colored men. A boat with three men came to the steamer and got a supply of beef, potatoes, and sea biscuit. The facts about the vessel's history and crew, as told by Mr. Clemens, are as follows: One of the three men who came to us in the boat was the Captain and owner of the vessel. We questioned him freely, and all that he said was confirmed afterward by three of our passengers who knew all about the matter. The poor old tub had been condemned officially in Bermuda and sold at auction, and, queerly enough, not as a whole, but by piece-meal, as one may say. For instance, one man bought the topmasts and all the sails, I think; another bought an anchor; another such odds and ends as sky-lights and such things, and this colored man bought what was left, viz: the empty hulk and the stumps of the fore and main masts. He paid 42 pounds for his bargain. Then he bought three old rags, and made one do duty as a spencer on the mainmast, another as a jib, and a third as a sort of flying jib or jib-stay-sail, whichever you please to call it. These had become rags indeed when we saw them, and practically appropriate to the wandering, food-soliciting ocean tramp which the poor old outcast had been all these months that have since dragged by. One of our passengers said that the new owner of this solemn property was offered a sufficiency of ballast for his purposes for $25, but he was not able to afford it and so went to sea in all his perilous emptiness. His idea was to take the craft to New York an sell her at a profit either as a coaster or to be broken up.
We did not hear of any white man being on board, but of course there may have been one, (I don't mean that Portuguese,) but there were 15 colored men at first, if I remember rightly. I asked Capt. Angrove how he could account for that extraordinary crew, when five men would have been more than enough. He said it was easily explained; it was a great thing for those colored islanders to go abroad and see the world; that without doubt their only pay was their pleasure excursion. So this four months' horror is a pleasure excursion. Imagine that. I said I should think that unless rags would not enable the hulk to overcome ocean currents; that when she struck the Gulf Stream she might be carried South; that the provisions would soon run out again, and so, taking all things into consideration, that the crew might be looked on as doomed, perhaps. But Capt. Angrove said that their main trouble would be their danger o getting out of the track of vessels; if they could manage to keep in that they could borrow food and water, and extend their excursion indefinitely. Mr. Clemens gives an extract from his diary of May 25, with full details of meeting the ship, leaving no doubt that his "Tramp of the Sea" has now been four months out from Bermuda, and is now further from her destination than when she started.
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