Thaumatographia Pneumatica

Cotton Mather

The Tenth Example

William Davies, with nine sailors, whereof one was a negro and one a boy and one a passenger, sailed out of Boston [on] December 28, 1695 in the ship called Margaret, of about eighty tons, bound for Barbadoes, laden with fish, beef, and a small parcel of lumber.

Within a few days, one of the sailors, named Winlock Curtis, being at the helm about 8 a-clock at night, called unto the captain, telling him that he could steer no longer. Whereof, when the captain asked him the reason, he besought the said captain to think him "neither drunk nor mad," and then added that he had but a little time to tarry here, constanly affirming therewithal that a spirit, appearing by the Biddekel, accused him of killing a woman (which the sailor said that he had left alive) and reported unto him that the rest of the ship's company had signed "the book," which he was, from that argument, now urged also to sign. The sailor declared his resolution that he would never hearken to the devil and requested that he might be furnished with a Bible, in the reading whereof he was at first greatly interrupted, but at length he was able to distinctly read it.

On the day following he was violently and suddenly seized in an unaccountable manner and furiously thrown down upon the deck, where he lay wallowing in a great agony and foamed at the mouth and grew black in the face and was near strangled with a great lump rising in his neck nigh his throat, like that which bewitched or possessed people use to be attended withal.

In a few days he came a little to himself, but still behaved himself as one much under the power of some devil, talking of the visions which he saw in the air and of a spirit coming for him with a boat. The ship's company, to prevent him going overboard to the invisible spirit -- which he attempted once to do -- confined him to his cabin and there ty'd him and bound him so that they tho't they ha him fast enough, but he soon came forth without noise, to their great astonishment. He then fell into a sleep, wherein he continued for twenty-four hours, after which he came to himself and remained very sensible, giving a particular narrative of the odd circumstances which he had been in, and calling for pen and ink to write them down. But he put off doing it until the ship, then under a fresh gale, should be a little quieter, and so it came to be altogether neglected.

Upon January 17, in the north lat. 19, sailing S.W. with a fresh gale east and E. and by S., about 9 at night, a small white cloud arose without rain or any extraordinary increase of wind, which, falling upon the ship, immediately pressed her down to starboard at once, and, the hatches flying out, she was immediately so full of water that it was impossible to recover her. If she had not been laden with lumber she must have sunk to the bottom; whereas now, being full of water, which drowned the boy sleeping in the cabin, she soon righted and floated along, overflowed with sea, after [which], for eleven weeks together, in which time there happened the ensuing passages:

First, within a few days, one Mr. Dibs, the passenger (who had formerly been very undaunted and courageous), began to talk oddly of several persons in Barbadoes, adding that one stood at the main mast, who came for him with a wherry. And soon after this he was gone insensibly, none knowing when or how.

About a fortnight after this one John Jones was in the same insensible manner carried away, and so was the above mentioned Winlock Curtis. Within about a fortnight more one of their number died thro' the unconquerable difficulties of the voyage. And about a fortnight further the negro, sitting as not right in his mind, and another sailor were, in the night, insensibly carried away. About a week after one Sterry Lion, the carpenter, not being in any disorder of mind at all, often spoke of his end beng at hand and that it would be by a wave of the sea fetching him away. Him they saw carried away by a wave about 9 a-clock in the morning.

All this while their food was only flesh -- which they ate raw because they could now have no fire -- and fresh fish, which in great quantities came into the vessel unto them. At several times, and especially before the taking away of any one of their number, they heard various and wondrous noises, like the voice of birds, as turkeys and other fowl. While they were in this condition they saw three vessels and udged tat all the three saw them. Nevertheless, none came a-near to relieve them.

Their lodging was on two boards placed athwart the rail, near the taff'ril, covered with a sail, and the first land they discovered was Desiado, but a northerly current hindered their landing there. The next land was grand terra, but the wind in the north hindered their landing there, also. At last, with a little sail, being reduced to three in number, they ran their ship ashore at Guadalupa [on] the sixth of April, about 2 a-clock on Monday morning, where the French kindly entertained them, not as prisoners but as travellers.

Thence they came to Barbadoes, and there they made oath to the truth of this narrative.