The Wreck of The Carlisle
Collin’s Journal – The Market at Port Mara, 1709
It was something of a miracle that Henri survyved the summer of ’08, the repeated brutalities took a toll on his body but the fyght gayme had earned Paul Arnaut a grayt deal of money, more than he could have hoped to glean from the earnings of his plantaytion. Henri’s many victories earned him his master’s respect and, to a certain extent, his obligaytion. I suppose it was the latter that influenced Masseur Arnaut to return Henri to the slayve market, when the mutiny Henri had planned went wrong, rather than have him whipped to death, or mauled by the vicious hunting dogs he kept at Chateau Verettes.
Henri would rather have dyed than be thrust back into The Trayde, the humiliation of the market, oiled, shackled and stood naked before the leering crowds; sold to the highest bidder. Little did Masseur Arnaut understand that his mercy was to be a death sentence for his lost fortunes, his victorious fighter, his valued navigaytor, his pryze slayve. But all that was changed by the miracle of Henri’s survyval of the wreck of the Carlisle, the ship in which he was chayned for transport to the colonies of the Mayne.
Survyve he did, but more than that, the storm and the wreck washed Henri ashore in a playce where he could start a new lyfe, a lyfe of freedom, with other, lyke mynded souls. Seeing the struggle ahead, Henri planted his feet firmly in the poor soil of that playce and fought to make a lyfe for himself and his followers. A lyfe that would soon become one of renown.
Williamsburg, June, 1719
Excerpt: Triangle: A Memoir of Black Caesar
The Carlisle sailed through the Florida Straights, making good headway, pushed by stiff, southerly winds, on her voyage to North Carolina, where she would discharge her hold full of Negroes in exchange for cotton, tobacco and hardwoods. She was approaching the twenty fifth parallel in rough seas when the sky darkened ahead, the wind shifted to the east and the first of the squalls tore across her bow. At nightfall, the captain altered the ship’s course to east by northeast, because the ship was being battered ever westward, by continuing, strong, easterly gales. When it was almost dawn the watch aloft spotted white water less than a quarter league west of her position.
“REEF!” He cried out into the gale, but his warning was sucked away in the howling wind. By the time he was able to scramble down the ratlines to the main deck it was too late, the Carlisle went hard aground. The jagged reef punched through her hull, tearing out a large section of the port side, below the water line. The ship went over in the shallow water of the reef, sinking in minutes, as the churning waves pounded her to pieces.
Below decks, the misery was beyond words. The heavy seas had left everyone sick and terrified all through the day. The dark hold was filled with the proof of it, sloshing back and forth through the bilges as the Carlisle churned northward. When the end came it was sudden, an earsplitting crunch as the ship came to a violent stop. The timbers on the port side splintered apart and the sea gushed through the opening in a torrent. Henri instinctively held his breath and fought against his restraints, blind in the turbulent darkness. A moment later the sea withdrew so that he was able to take a breath. He pulled with all his might on the chains that bound his shackles and, to his surprise, something broke loose. He felt the chains go slack enough that he was able to pull himself out of the pallet he lay on. When he was standing upright in the tilted hold, another surge of sea water covered him. Again, holding his breath, he remembered seeing one of the crewmen hang a set of keys on the masthead at the gangway just forward of where he now stood.
The ship lay on her side and all around him were arms and legs flailing about. He could hear the sound of people screaming underwater as they gave up their lives to the sea, but he continued to hold his own breath, struggling to the mast which now lay nearly horizontal, grabbing hold and feeling around the mast, in the darkness. At his last moment of breath his fingers touched the ring that held the keys to his survival. Fortunately the sea once again withdrew leaving him coughing and sputtering for breath along with dozens of others who remained alive, though unseen, in the engulfing darkness of the Carlisle’s hold.