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Salem Vanderfords

Salem, Massachusetts in the 1700s was a very different place from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Salem's existence depended on trade and commerce rather than agriculture. Charles Vanderford (223) came to Salem around 1750. Charles had probably learned the carpenters trade like his brother Benjamin, and Salem with its shipbuilding and commercial enterprises had a need for skilled trade and craftsmen. In 1748, Charles was a soldier in the French and Indian Wars and probably served in Nova Scotia passing through Massachusettes at the time.

The first documented record of Charles in Salem was his marriage to a local girl, Susannah Peters, on September 22, 1754. The next year he again served in the French and Indian Wars and went on the expedition to Crown Point. The expedition was to start at Albany, go 50 miles up the Hudson River, overland 15 miles to Lake George and then down that lake to Lake Champlain and Crown Point, building 3 forts on the way. They built the first fort, Fort Edward, marched across the hills to Lake George and commenced Fort William Henry. The French, hearing of the expedition, set out from Crown Point to block the British advance. The French force experienced 3 engagements in one day: winning the first, breaking off the second and definitely losing the third. The British were victorious but suffered more casualties. The British commander decided to remain at Lake George, finish Fort William Henry and forget about the advance on Crown Point.

Salem became very involved in the Revolutionary War; indeed, the whole seacoast of Massachusetts was a hotbed of revolutionary sentiments. All three of Charles' sons took part in the war effort and their exploits are discussed in the chapter on the Revolutionary War. After the peace, Salem settled back into her place as a great seaport and it was during this time that two of Charles' grandsons went to sea and became ship captains.

Captain Charles Vanderford (2015) was master of the schooner Success and schooner Elizabeth. Schooners were usually less than 100 tons and engaged in the coastal trade. In 1817 he purchased the steamship Massachusetts for $5,200 at an auction in Salem. The Massachusetts had been brought to Salem to provide passenger service to Boston. The steamboat never caught on and became a complete financial loss for her owners. Charles didn't fare much better. On December 6, 1817 the Salem Register reported: "the Massachusetts, C. Vanderford, master, sailed from Salem, December 5, 1817 for North Carolina and Mobile, Alabama." The story is taken up by the New York Evening Post of January 8, 1818:

The steamboat Massachusetts, which left Salem, Massachusetts, for Mobile, during the winter, and which stopped at New York on the way down, went ashore at Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey, and broke up. Her engine and most of her rigging and hull were saved.14

Just before the War of 1812, the policies of Thomas Jefferson made trade very difficult for the Salem merchants. In 1807 all foreign trade in and out of U.S. ports was shut down, due to the impressment by the British of American seamen. The British justification was that they were taking back British seamen, and in a few cases that was true. At that time a hand on a Yankee East Indiaman was the best paid, best fed, and most competent sailor in the world, regarded as the top-dog of his profession; therefore seaman of all nationalities wanted to serve on American vessels. The British were not the only ones to engage in impressment, the French often "impressed" the entire ship and its cargo. In the years prior to the War of 1812, Benjamin Vanderford (2004) was impressed by the British and served in the British Navy before being released.

At the outbreak of the War of 1812, Salem was one of the first ports to send out privateers. A privateer was a privately owned ship with credentials giving it permission to attack and plunder the enemies' ships without meriting the title of pirate in the eyes of its government. Captain Charles (2015) owned 1/25 of the Salem privateer Fame. The Fame was the second privateer to put to sea and was credited with taking the first British prize. She was a pinky stern Chebacco boat of thirty tons with thirty men and armed with two six-pounders. She was little but extremely fast; so fast, in fact, that nothing in the British Navy could catch her. She was a very successful ship, returning 4 prizes in her first month. The sale of just one of her prizes, the Concord, provided a 300% return on the investment.

Benjamin (2004), on the other hand, was not so fortunate. On April 9, 1813 he was given his first command, the Brig Vivid, and instructed to exchange cargos in Santa Domingo sailing under a "Letter of Marque." This vessel's primary purpose was trade and commerce, but she was armed to defend herself and could capture enemy vessels if an opportunity permitted. Unfortunately, the British Naval Frigate H.M.S. Nymphe captured the Vivid, and took her and Captain Benjamin to Halifax, Nova Scotia confiscating her cargo. Benjamin became a prisoner of war in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. On May 31, 1813 he was allowed to return to Boston on the condition that he not bear arms against the British.

Salem is perhaps best known for its East Indiamen and the China trade. It has been said that "No corner of the Seven Seas seems to have been too hostile or remote to be overlooked by the shipmasters of old Salem in their quest for trade."15 Benjamin Vanderford (2004) was one of the most famous shipmasters of old Salem. In 1810-12 he was second mate of the brig Active, the first American vessel to arrive at the Fiji Islands. He also served as first officer of the ship Indus bound for the South Seas in 1815-17.

On November 4, 1817, Benjamin was given command of the Indus. He sailed to the Fijis where he took on a load of sandalwood. He traded the sandalwood in Canton where it became necessary to make repairs to the ship and subsequently filed the appropriate insurance papers for reimbursement. He discharged the Canton cargo in Rotterdam and returned home to Salem. As well as being Captain of the ship, Benjamin also acted as the owners representative in trade transactions. The owners gave general directions, but Benjamin made the trading decisions. His success depended not only on his ability to handle tough seamen, make split-second decisions in a gale, and navigate his ship through poorly-charted waters, but also on how well he judged the quality of numerous goods, kept up with world markets and prices and dealt with shrewd foreign merchants.

Captain Benjamin next sailed as master of the brig Roscoe on September 30, 1821. After sailing around Cape Horn, he first made landfall at the Marquesas in early February of 1822. He bought some hogs and vegetables from the natives, took on fresh water and bought a small lot of sandalwood. On February 14th he put to sea with two natives who left the ship a couple of weeks later in Tahiti.

From April to July of 1822, Captain Benjamin was at the Fiji Islands. During this time he loaded over 140,000 pounds of sandalwood and some beche-de-mer (sea cucumbers), considered a delicacy in the East. It was during his stay in the Fiji's, on Sunday June 9th, 1922, that the following unpleasant incident took place:

At 2 pm the Captain with the intent of going with one boat for Myamboor in walking to the forward part of the ship called those who were usually left on board to man the 2nd cutter and in calling for Peter Hill the answer was that he would be damned ever he would go in the boat on Sunday if he could go weekdays. The Captain immediately ordered him upon deck. In passing up the fore souttle the Captain put his hand on his shoulder which was returned by the said Hill with a blow at which he immediately ordered him in irons resistance was made by him as well as a major part of the crew headed by Wm McPherson who appeared much inclined to a mutiny, but after considerable contention the order was executed by the officers of the ship the crew refusing their assistance.16

As Captain Benjamin sailed through the island groups of the Pacific, he contributed to the world's knowledge of those exotic regions. As a member of the exclusive East India Marine Society he was to procure "a valuable collection of useful information." This collection did not include just sailing information such as observations of latitude, ports, reefs and headlands, but also "whatever is singular in the measures, customs, dress, ornaments, etc. of any people deserving of notice." Its members were directed to collect for the East India Marine Museum such articles of dress, idols and implements. Benjamin was one of the early large donors to the Museum's South Seas collection. Still on display in the Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, is a woman's liku skirt that Benjamin brought back from Fiji on the 1821-22 voyage of the Roscoe.

Throughout the South Sea Islands Benjamin made contact and traded with natives. Whenever he was near land there are entries in the log of "a number of natives onboard" or "a number of natives along side trading." Not all meetings with the natives were friendly. In the New Hebrides on Thursday, August 1st 1822 "At 1 pm the Captain went in shore with the boat. Saw a few natives. They were very shy, after giving them presents they shot arrows at the boat when shoving off."17 Benjamin also noted observed discrepencies from the charts he carried on the ship. On Wednesday, March 20, 1822 he noted the position of an island not shown on any of his charts. "This island appears to be a new discovery being very small and appears dangerous."18 From his positioning, this is probably Rose Island, the eastermost of the Samoa group. Its discovery is credited to Freycinet in 1819 and would have been too recent a discovery to have been on Benjamin's charts when he sailed in 1821. Rose Island is a circular atoll nearly 3 miles in diameter, with a lagoon in the center. The island is uninhabited, wooded and the tree tops are about 90 feet high.

Being at the mercy of the winds and tides brought moments of worry, such as this one on Sunday, August 18th, 1822. The Roscoe was within sight of the islands of New Britain and New Ireland when:

At 7 pm the sea appeared to break in every direction, the wind flying round the compass as fast as the yard could be braced round. Let run the lead, found no bottom with 120 fathom line. Our situation at this time appeared most dismall knowing ourselves within a short distance of the land. The current setting very strong and which way we could not determine. By midnight the wind appeared to be more steady and sea more regular. Double reefed the topsails and hauled up the foresail.19

The Roscoe, unharmed, proceeded on to the Philippines. However, while at anchor in Manilla Bay on October 31st there was a strong gale from the southwest. The men from the Roscoe rescued 7 men, a woman and a child from a small boat which was upset in the harbor. Later that night a sudden change in the wind "brought the Ship Milton [from Boston] afoul of us" causing minor damage to both ships.

Captain Benjamin sold his cargo of sandalwood and beche-de-mer in Manilla and took on a cargo of sugar, mollasses, cigars, wine and wax. On board as passengers were 2 Spanish gentlemen with 2 servants. At Batavia, Benjamin added coffee and camphor to his hold and headed west across the Indian Ocean around the Cape of Good Hope and north up the Atlantic to the Canary Islands where the passengers disembarked. Benjamin sold some coffee and tea, took on some fresh supplies and continued on to Hamburg, Germany. In Hamburg, he discharged the remainder of his cargo. He took on rope, ballast, baggage and passengers and headed home.

Silhouette of Captain Benjamin Vanderford (1788-1842). Courtesy Essex Institute, Salem, Mass.After two years at sea, Benjamin was back in Salem having sailed completely around the world, a voyage of 45,000 marine miles. He had visited the Marquesas, Tahiti, Samoa, Fiji, New Hebrides, New Guinea, the Philippines, Indonesia, the Canary Islands and Germany. This was not his first nor his last such voyage around the world. For well over 30 years Benjamin sailed the seven seas.

As captain of the Clay, he made at least two more voyages to the Fijis. With the demise of the sandalwood trees on the islands, Benjamin turned his focus on beche-de-mer. The Clay is credited as being the first American vessel to cure a cargo of beche-de-mer before carrying it to Canton.

In those days the Fiji Islands were not a place for the faint of heart. There were many dangerous reefs in the uncharted waters of Fiji and wrecks were not uncommon. Being wrecked on the Fijis held more dangers than just the sea; the natives were well known for their war-like attitude and were known to be, on ocassion, cannibals. Among the Salem vessels wrecked at the Fijis; the Oeno had all but one man slain, the Glide had two men killed and the Charles Doggett had several of her crew killed. In 1831 Benjamin was aboard the Niagara when she was wrecked in a storm at the Fijis. Benjamin was not acting as captain at the time but rather establishing trade and curing rights for beche-de-mer with the Fijian chiefs. It was probably through his influence and knowledge that the Niagara did not suffer any loss of life. The story is told of Benjamin, at the Fijis, "that a council of war by the cannibals once adjudged him not fat enough for a roast, and so he was released."20

From 1838 to 1842 Benjamin served with the United States Exploring Expedition. He was pilot and interpreter aboard the U.S.S. Vincennes under Lieutenant Charles Wilkes. This was the first (and last) United States Naval Expedition sent out to explore and chart the unknown. This expedition carried scientists and naturalists whose collections and writings filled 16 volumes.

The charts and surveys of the South Pacific Islands made on this voyage were still in use on navy vessels at the start of World War II. The surveys made along the Washington, Oregon and northern California coasts provided a basis for U. S. claims to these lands. Perhaps the most dramatic discovery was the Continent of Antarctica. Until this voyage no one had sailed far enough into or along the ice surrounding the continent to know for certain that there was a large land mass. Wilkes charted fifteen hundred miles of the Antarctic coast and declared this large land mass to be a continent.

Captain Benjamin died in March of 1842 on the way home aboard the Vincennes and was buried in the Indian Ocean. Charles Wilkes, commander of the expedition, wrote:

On the 23d, Benjamin Vanderford, master's mate, died. During the cruise, I had often experienced his usefulness, and now regretted his loss. He had formerly been in command of various ships sailing from Salem, and had made many voyages to the Feejee Islands. During our stay there he was particularly useful in superintending all trade carried on to supply the ships; he always proved himself a good officer, and was one for whom I felt much regard. As sometimes happens, he had a presentiment of his own death, and had long been impressed with the opinion that he would not survive to return to his country. His death produced a great impression upon Vendovi, for Mr. Vanderford was the only person with whom that chief could converse, and a sort of attachment had sprung up between them, arising from the officer's long residence with Tanoa at Ambau, and his familiarity with the manners and customs of the Feejee Islands. Besides, Vendovi looked forward to his becoming a protector on their arrival in the United States. While conversing with Mr. Vanderford, some time before his death, he expressed his willingness to take charge of Vendovi, and to befriend him on our arrival at home; for, although the Feejeeans had despoiled him of all his property, they had nevertheless saved his life, and for that, or rather for refraining from devouring him, he felt some gratitude, and would have shown it to Vendovi.
Poor Vendovi could not be persuaded to look at his friend's corpse; his spirits evidently flagged; a marked change came over him; and he no doubt felt as though he had lost his only friend. His own disease, henceforward, made rapid strides towards a fatal termination, and he showed that such was the case by his total disregard of every thing that passed around him, as well as by his moping, melancholy look. On the 24th, the remains of Mr. Vanderford were committed to the deep, with the usual service and honours. The same day we experienced a current to the northwest; and the crew, after having been for ten days afflicted with colds and influenza, began rapidly to recover.21


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