Soon enough the Captain arrives. He is a presence on the deck, a man who commands the respect of those around him. Neal Weatherspoon has been a master on these waters for nearly a quarter of a century. He can recount the times he had to worry about the English stopping a vessel to impound the crew into British service, or British slavery as he refers to it. Speaking of slavery he has seen the slavers coming from Africa, and will have no part of that trade, as profitable as it may be. His decision is not made based on some grand moral principle, but on the simple domestic reasoning of a man who would be home more often than the long voyages would allow. He has also sailed through a ‘cane and knows well their fury. As he puts it “his wife would have none of that nonsense from him.” So here he sails, along the coast, in this year of our Lord, 1854.
He takes the long glass from its holder and scans the horizon for anything unusual, notes the ships position from the log, and casts a long eye towards the uppermost part of the main mast to see the wind direction for himself. As he is staring aloft the second mate, and pursuer on this ship, Mr. James Cheek, asks if our passengers may come to the deck to take the morning air? After a bit of consideration, Captain Weatherspoon grants permission and Mr. Cheek takes his leave to go below and see to the passengers.
Seemingly from nowhere the cook’s helper appears with a fresh mug of tea for the Captain, who takes it -- lost in his thoughts, and with a weather eye on the sky to our east. As the wind continues, the sea now begins to respond. It has been but a brief two hours since first light, but our seas have gone from calm to two-foot swells. “Bring ‘er two points to the wind if you please, Mr. Drum” the Captain calls to the helmsman. “Aye sir, two points to the Northeast, into the wind Captain,” comes the reply. “Slack the foresheets Mr. Beam it appears we may be in for a bit of a blow.” Mr. Beam is our Chief Boatswain’s mate and leads the sailors who will work the rigging. “Aye-Aye” is the reply, and then a flurry of commands to the able seaman who will put muscle to the task. “Mr. Jackson” the Captain says as he turns to me, “I’d like you to check the hold and make secure the cargo.” I know, even though the Boatswain had checked it just an hour earlier, it was not my place to question the Captain, but to follow his orders and have faith he knew what needed to be done, and to do it as efficiently as possible. “Aye sir” I said as I turned to head below to the cargo hold. “And take yourself a meal before you return for I am afraid we will not have much time later and I want the crew ready.” Again, “Aye sir.” “And Mr. Jackson, when you are done; have the passengers gather in the lounge if you please.” A final acknowledgement and I am on my way.
As the ship rolls with the waves, I make my way to the hold, filled with the raw cotton, fresh from the fields of Georgia, and bound to the cotton gins of Maryland. There is near ten ton of the flaxen crop filling the hold, wrapped tight with oilcloth to protect from the damp. There are another five tons of tobacco riding on top, to make its way to the northern ports and then perhaps on to England. Starting at the far end I check the lashings, and the quality of the hemp for signs of wear and tear. The cargo is well secured in the hold and I’ve every confidence that the buntline hitches and bowline knots would do their job with whatever the gods of the sea could throw at us.
In the mess, the cook was securing for the storm, and putting away the last bit of the breakfast served to crew and passengers alike. I had time for a bit of hardtack, and a piece of mutton, washed down with mug of hot tea.
Now, off to find the passengers and gain their cooperation to assemble, as requested by Captain Weatherspoon. This was a light voyage for us; we had but four landlubbers aboard. There were two cotton merchants, whose wares filled our hold, and two young ladies bound for the city of Philadelphia. I find them in for forward saloon, and beg they stay until I can fetch the Captain. Of I go, double quick, to let him know they are waiting.
As I regain the deck I look to the east and I am thunderstruck! There, as if from nowhere is a fog bank, but unlike one I have ever seen. It is blood red, and seems to grow with each breath of the east wind! I reach the helm and find the Captain who stares transfixed at this aberration on the far horizon. I tell him the passengers are assembled and await his instruction. “Mr. Jackson, you’ve the deck. Keep her heading Nor’east by North and keep as much canvas as you think she’ll bear. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
The saloon comes to a dead quiet as the Captain enters and he bids they sit while he stands at the head of the room. “Ladies, gentlemen, it appears we have a bit of a storm approaching. It looks to be on us in the hour, maybe two if we are lucky. We are moving to the open sea, away from the shallow waters where we will have room to run with the wind, or cross her if we must. I don’t think we will be in it too long, but I can’t make a promise ‘bout that. This is a good ship, it has seen these kind of quick storms before so I know we will be sound, but I need you, for your safety to secure yourselves to your berths and not be tossed as so much flotsam about the deck here. Have ye any questions?”
“Captain, will this delay our arrival in Baltimore? I have a carriage to catch!” said the elder of the two women. “Mrs. Ravenwood, I shouldn’t think this will put us off our time, but with a storm such as this I can’t…. No we should be on our time just fine” he replies.
“Captain Weatherspoon, I must insist we make for the nearest safe harbor, it won’t do at all if the Tabaco and Cotton were to be ruined by great waves” said one of the merchants. “Mr. Green, the safety of this vessel and the cargo it carries is my responsibility. I’ll thank you to remember that. I’ll not tell you how to buy and sell, and you’ll not guide me in the sailing of this ship. Now I recommend you find your cabins and make sure you have a bucket, before we get too much more of the storm.” “I’ll be taking my leave of you now, but I will ask the cook to keep an eye on you during the blow.”