12347848_194968644178559_2252333867614081328_nThe New World was full of possibility and all the European powers who were anybody were founding colonies as fast as they could. After Columbus’ journey, Pope Alexander, formerly Rodrigo Borgia, divided the New World between Spain and France. He left all other European countries out of the loop. This probably would have annoyed the English, but they didn’t listen to the Pope anyway so they kept on doing what they were doing. However, France was mightily miffed. So they had spent a lot of gold to back Borgia’s rival for the papacy? Was that any reason to leave them out of the colonial gold rush? According to Borgia, apparently so.

However, this did not stop the French. In 1524, Jean Ango was commissioned to find a way through the new continent to Asia. Argo hired Giovanni da Verrazzano to captain the ship and his expedition found the mouth of the Hudson River, which they thought was a lake but points for trying. He also discovered an uncharted peninsula, which reminded him of Northern Greece. He called this new land Arcadia. This was the northern part of Chesapeake Bay. Unfortunately, the maps they made were not great. When later French explorers came to settle the beautiful land of Arcadia, they missed and ended up further north on the peninsula of Nova Scotia. The name also went through a couple of changes and ended up as Arcadie. Later in 1535, Jacques Cartier returned and explored further founding Mont Royale, which would later become Montreal, at a fortified Iroquois village called Hochlega. He asked the Iroquois what they called this land, and they replied “Canada”, so that’s what Cartier labeled the country as on his maps. However, as with most things, there was a miscommunication. “Canada” was the Iroquois word for “village”.

Looking for refuge from the ongoing wars of religion, French Huguenots began settling the wilderness of Acadie. In 1604, Pierre Dugua brought hundreds of farmers and craftsman and they made the first settlement in Acadie and called it Port Royal. The winter was rough, but some of the settlers survived and word went back to France that life here was possible. However, no new supplies or settlers came. The French government wanted to save the souls of the Native American’s for the Catholic Church. The settlers were Huguenots, Protestants who were fleeing the wars of religion. The idea of converting the Native Americans to Catholicism went down like a lead balloon. The government insisted priests be sent on all ships of supplies. The Protestant shipowners would not let the priests on board. So the ships of supplies sat in the harbors in a Mexican standoff. This lack of supplies killed the settlement of Port Royal by 1610. Many settlers there left, the ones who remained survived with the help of friendly Native American tribes. In 1627, Port Royal was taken over by the British who arrived with 70 Scottish settlers.

However, Acadie was not dead yet. In reparation for another flair up in the perpetual war between Britain and France, Acadie was turned back over to the French in 1632. Samuel de Champlain took 200 settlers, this time all good Catholics, up the St. Lawrence river and settled in what is now Quebec. The settlers grew and by the end of the 1600s, there were at least 20,000 Acadiens in and around the new settlement of Montreal. All throughout this time, the French made incursions into British held territory. Not enough to make any real gains, but enough to annoy the British into action. By 1713, another deal was on the table and the French traded away their claims to coastal Canada, including Acadie and Newfoundland, for additional European territory. Thus ending the annoying raids into British Canada and effectively hanging the Acadiens out to dry.

British settlers, who had been coming in a steady trickle, now came in a solid stream. By 1754, they outnumbered the French Acadiens and had founded their own town of Halifax. The new governor of Nova Scotia, Charles Lawrence, insisted the Acadiens take an oath of allegiance to the Britain and do active military service, probably against their home country of France. The Acadiens refused, and Lawrence made it his business to make the Acadiens’ lives hell in response. Draconian punishments were enforced for anything construed as a sign of disloyalty. He made plans to force them all to convert to the Church of England and confiscated tools and canoes they needed to survive. By July 28, 1755, Lawrence decided to go whole hog and signed an order of deportation.

Five empty cargo ships landed at the Acadien village of Grand Pre, and Lawrence issued a summons that all males must attend a meeting in the church that night on ‘pain of losing goods and chattels’. 400 men and boys over the age of ten showed up to the meeting. There Lawrence told them they were being evicted and their goods and cattle were forfeit to the Crown. They were only allowed to take what they could carry with them. However, even this was a lie as they were forced to leave what they had on the shore, where it was found by British settlers five years later. Families were separated in the crush of being herded towards the ships. People tried to escape and two were shot. On October 27, 1755, fourteen cargo ships stuffed to the gills with Acadiens left. To make sure they could not come back, Lawrence burned the French settlement and put a price on the heads of the Native American tribes who had helped the Acadiens. It is estimated 12,600 of the 18,000 Acadiens were deported. They did not receive a warm welcome anywhere and were passed from colony to colony. Some made it back across the Atlantic, but lived in Britain in huts on the harborside. Some were forced into servitude in the British colonies further south. Many died of smallpox and other diseases from the unsanitary conditions they were forced to live in. Some were sent to Haiti and used as slave labor by the French colonists there.

After the conclusion of the Seven Years War in 1763, the Acadien refugees were allowed to finally leave on their own terms. Many of them made the treacherous journey south to the colony of Louisiana, and settled in the Atakapa region. Joseph Broussard led the first 200 settlers to St. Martinville, Louisiana in 1765. The settlers got on well, and wrote to their scattered families to join them. Families who had been split and put on different ships to different destinations reunited in Louisiana. France had ceded Louisiana in 1762 to the Spanish, but the Spanish governor Bernardo de Galvez was kind to them. He allowed them to settle and practice their own religion. The Acadiens settled west of New Orleans in south central Louisiana. By the end of the Revolutionary War, 1,500 more refugees had found their way to New Orleans. Acadien became corrupted to Cajun, and the community flourished.

In the nineteenth century, there was a resurgence of Acadien identity in both Louisiana and the Maritimes of Canada. Represented by Longfellow’s poem Evangeline, a Tale of Acadie. The poem is based loosely on the events of the Great Upheaval as the heroine Evangeline searches for her lost love Gabriel.

So the wandering Acadiens became the well known and well loved Cajuns.


The Mary Celeste

The Mary Celeste
The Mary Celeste

She began life as the Amazon, built from Nova Scotia and registered to a British Company in 1861. During her maiden voyage, Amazon sailed to the nearby Five Islands port in Colchester County to take on a cargo of timer bound for London. Her Captain took ill whilst supervising the loading and after returning him to Spencer’s Island, he died. A new Captain, John Nutting Parker took over the voyage, during which further mishaps occurred, including the vessel hitting fishing equipment, the Amazon made it to London. On the return journey, she hit a Brig and sank it in the English Channel.

After working the trade routes between England, the West Indies and the Mediterranean for six years during which time she had another new Captain, William Thompson, she ran aground in a storm at Cape Breton Island and was abandoned as a wreck. She changed hands several times in the following year before eventually ending up with an American sailor, Richard Haines who bought her and restored her, naming himself Captain and registering her as the Mary Celeste in New York.

Haines was subsequently forced to part with the Mary Celeste, due to financial difficulties, his creditors took her on as a consortium which altered its body a number of times over the following three years. This group of men headed by majority holder James Winchester, with Captain Benjamin Spooner Briggs had her repaired, re-fitted and extended in 1872 before setting her to run her first voyage with her new identity from New York to Genoa, with a cargo of poisonous industrial alcohol used in the fortification of wine.

Briggs was a religious man, born and raised in Massachusetts, one of five sons of a sea-faring man. He and three of his brothers would follow their father onto the waves. At 27 years of age, in 1862 he married his cousin Sarah Cobb, with whom he later had two children, Arthur born in 1865 and Sophia born in 1870. He owned a schooner, the ‘Forest King’, but was giving serious thought to settling down to a land-based life with his family. His brother Oliver nursed the same notion, however neither followed it up, and both invested instead into their own business ventures, Benjamin with the Mary Celeste and Oliver with the ‘Julia A. Hallock’.

Mary Celeste departed from New York Harbour on November 5th, 1872 with a general crew of four Germans, Second Mate was a Danish New Yorker and the First Mate, a nephew by marriage of Winchester’s, as well as the steward who also came recommended by Winchester. The crew were also either previously known by Briggs or hand-picked by him for the voyage. Following a delay of two days anchored on Staten Island due to inclement weather, the voyage proper began on November 7th. Also on board were Brigg’s wife Sarah and their young daughter, Sophia. Their son Arthur had remained behind with his grandmother due to his education.

Benjamin Briggs

The vessel ‘Dei Gratia’, another brigantine followed the Mary Celeste from nearby New Jersey after a period of eight days, heading on a similar route to Genoa, via Gibraltar carrying a cargo of petroleum, captained by David Morehouse, with Mate Oliver Deveau, both highly experienced seamen from Nova Scotia, it is thought Morehouse and Briggs were acquainted with each other. It was later claimed that the two were close friends and dined together the night before Briggs sailed, although this claim has not been backed up with firm evidence and remains anecdotal by way of Morehouse’s widow, fifty years after his own death.

Nothing further is reported until around 1pm December 4th 1872 (Land time), when roughly half-way between the Azores and Portugal, Captain Morehouse on the Dei Gratia came up onto deck and was notified that a vessel was sighted approximately six miles distant sailing somewhat erratically. The Helmsman had been plotting her progress intermittently for some time. Morehouse studied the ship and noted that her sails appeared to be set inappropriately for the wind, causing her hap-hazard course. The Dei Gratia steered course towards the unknown ship as it veered in her direction, and after drawing close signals were raised to hail the ship to no avail, no signs of life were seen on deck and so a yawl was launched with Deveau and John Wright aboard, who rowed across and ascertained it was the Mary Celeste who drew up alongside and attempted to hail the crew. No response was given so they boarded the ship, and after inspection above and below deck realised the ship was empty.

There were no signs of a struggle to indicate piracy or mutiny, the ship was in order save for torn rigging and sails, others remaining unfurled, and the steering set to starboard course. Below deck the belongings of the crew remained stowed although some were gathered about untidily on the floor, and it has been stated that the Captain appeared to have been sitting down to breakfast when he vanished, leaving his eggs untouched. The stove had been moved from its restraints, and the aft hatch cover remained in place, whereas the fore-hatch cover was placed on the deck, beside the opening and the sounding rod, used to measure the depth of any water taken on, was abandoned next to it. In the hold remained the cargo, ruling out theft. The ship’s yawl was missing as were the captain’s navigation equipment and some of the official paperwork, charts and so on. The last entry in the log was for ten days previously and showed no signs of any untoward event. There were enough fresh provisions for a further six months. The glass cover on the ship’s compass was broken, and the interior was wet, with some personal effects scattered around.

It was decided by Captain Morehouse to bring the Mary Celeste in as salvage, to port in Gibraltar, and a third crew member was added to Deveau and Wright who would steer her in behind Dei Gratia. It was arranged that should they become separated as a result of weather or similar set back, that Gibraltar would be the rendezvous point. Although slow going hampered by fog, both vessels, first the Dei Gratia, and then the following day the Mary Celeste reach Gibraltar safely, where an inquest and a salvage court were set in motion.

The Dei Gratia was subsequently afforded a replacement Captain and continued on her voyage to Genoa, whilst Morehouse elected to remain in Gibraltar for the proceedings, and no doubt the salvage payment which was anticipated to be considerable due to both the value of the ship, and the cargo she carried, over 1700 barrels of alcohol. During the court session however, the finger of blame was pointed at several consecutive faces, including Morehouse himself, when it was theorised that the disappearance of the ship’s captain, family and crew were all part of some elaborate insurance plot. He eventually received just £1400 for his troubles, and his good name sullied for the rest of his career.

As to the fate of Briggs and his family and the crew of the Mary Celeste, nothing further was heard. Popular theories have included aliens, ghosts, pirates, mutiny, insurance fraud, an accident involving every person on board and some well-placed hungry sharks, and giant squids. So let’s look at those logically. I’m not even going to elaborate on the visitors from outer space, or the afterlife, as I believe we can rule those out. Pirates would quite possibly have taken the ship or at the very least the majority of the cargo, as well as the many expensive belongings left behind. If the crew had mutinied, they would have remained on board after forcing the others into the small boat; anybody who has read the Bounty will know that a mutiny generally involves offloading the Captain and his supporters whilst the victors get the spoils (or vice-versa!)

A giant squid could easily have picked off the passengers, we could suppose, but it’s quite reasonable to feel it wouldn’t have come back for the boat, the navigation equipment and the charts. If it were an elaborate insurance scheme with Morehouse in on the plan, it would seem unlikely that Briggs would choose to leave his son behind. Cut marks on the deck seem to tie in with a later claim that there was an unlisted crew member aboard, one Abel Fosdyk, whose story involved a temporary platform constructed firstly as a safe play area for baby Sophia, and then later as an observation post for a swimming competition where the audience gathered to watch, when it suddenly collapsed throwing everybody on board into the ocean where they were devoured by waiting sharks who presumably weren’t hungry when the competition was taking place, but got suddenly peckish when the main course arrived. It was later stated that these “cut marks” bore no relevance to the disappearance of the crew, and were more likely a result of the prior refit or caused naturally by conditions at sea.

Sarah Briggs and Arthur

The final theory is a combination of several ideas, each one singularly possible, or a result of some or all combined, which include a sudden water-spout lifting the ship, causing a wave to cast over taking some or all of the crew and passengers with it, (possibly survivors striking out in the smaller vessel to attempt rescue), or as the result of a sub-marine earthquake which are claimed to be quite common in the Azores although not necessarily reported if not felt on land. Scientists of this theory present that not only was there no way of recording such events in 1872, but that the Island population had no newspapers in which to note it. It is hypothesised that such an episode if occurring just 15km off-shore, the force would be enough to take a ship down, or lift it and spin it without causing much interior upheaval, such as the small number of personal belongings found wet on the floor, and the movement of the stove, and breaking of the compass cover.

There could quite possibly have been an added concern that such an event may well have caused some of the alcohol to leak rapidly (nine barrels were later discovered to be empty) and fumes to escape, (two hatches were open) mixing with the water in the hold, which was unable to be pumped as the bilge pump was inoperable. If a miscalculation were made as to the depth of the water, and with the possibility that the fumes could spark from the stray ashes from the stove, this could lead the captain to believe the ship was under threat of explosion or sinking, and so abandoning ship was a precaution.

It is felt that should this be the truth of the events, it may be reasonable to suggest that they had every intention of re-boarding the vessel when the situation was alleviated, however found themselves cast adrift unexpectedly. This theory in part suggests the missing navigation equipment, but lack of provisions, they were only around 6km to 15km from land, it is possible then that the captain presumed to set course for land, but decided against it because of the value of the ship and cargo and instead decided to try and catch her up. The other possibility is that the yawl was lashed to the boat, via the halyard (a large length of rope was missing from the rigging), but an aftershock caused her to overturn or be pulled down like a large anchor, causing her line to be ripped free and drowning everybody on board. Slightly wishy washy, with some holes but any combination of these factors makes the more likely theory than a giant squid preying on a ship.
Sometime after the recovery of the Mary Celeste, she made her way to Genoa, from where she returned in 1873 to New York. Due to the mystery and embellished tales of murder and intrigue which caused the disappearance of the crew, nobody wanted to take her on, and she was left for a time to rot before being sold to a new consortium in 1874. She spent the next five years virtually anonymously sailing a trade route around the West Indies and the Indian Ocean, making a steady loss on her cargoes, before her captain Edgar Tuthill died during one voyage, after his crew put in at St Helena in a vain effort to gain him medical assistance.

Sophia Briggs

She was sold the following year to a group of businessmen from Boston, was re-registered a number of times and had two further captains in rapid succession. The second Gilman Parker in 1884 hatched a plan to insure a worthless cargo for $30,000 and sail her to Haiti where she was deliberately grounded on a notorious reef, and capsized. Her salvageable cargo was sold for $500 and the buyers subsequently discovered its worthlessness and lodged complaint. An investigation turned up the over-insurance, for which a claim had been entered, and Parker and his co-conspirators were held up on charges for insurance fraud, and for barratry (wilfully casting away a ship), which carried a possible death sentence. To prevent the implications of one charge on the more severe one, the fraud trial was dismissed on condition the monies were repaid. The subsequent barratry trial was deferred and Parker was let free. With his professional career in ruins, and his name tarnished, he died in poverty just three months later. His co-conspirators didn’t fare any better, although being made to repay the fraudulent insurance pay-out, one went mad and another committed suicide.

Oliver Briggs, brother of Benjamin, was lost when his own ship, the Julia A Hallock foundered in a storm off Spain in the Bay of Biscay. Having been carrying a cargo of coal, the dust from which was extremely volatile, Oliver faced a similar decision to that which his brother may well have faced just a few weeks before. On January 8th 1873, he and his first mate, a man named Perry, were the only survivors as the Julia A Hallock sank. Clinging to a piece of wreckage, they remained afloat until four days later when the wreckage was discovered by another ship. Perry was alone on the piece of wood. Oliver had given up and sank beneath the waves just two hours before rescue. Perry later tried to visit Sophia Briggs, mother of Oliver and Benjamin, who had yet remained hopeful that her other son and his family would be found alive. He wanted to tell her how brave her son had been, trying to save his crew. She was however too consumed with grief, and asked him not to come.

As to the fate of the missing party from the Mary Celeste, well four months after Oliver’s death, and six months after the mysterious disappearance of the crew of the Mary Celeste, in May 1873 two lashed together rafts were spotted off-shore of Spain. When they were recovered, one carried a body of someone either wrapped in an American flag or not wrapped and the flag was flying. The flag from the Mary Celeste was not found on board. The other raft contained five (or four, depending on source) more heavily decomposing bodies. These remains were never formerly identified but have been given to believe could have been some of the missing Mary Celeste party. Attention to details such as sex and age of the persons appears not to be noted due to extent of decomposition. Their subsequent whereabouts regarding burial and so forth is not mentioned in normal channels. A memorial to the ship stands in Nova Scotia where her hull was originally laid.


Freydis Eiriksdottir – Legend of a Viking Woman

Statue of Freydis Eiriksdottir in Reykjavik, Iceland
Statue of Freydis Eiriksdottir in Reykjavik, Iceland

Everything that is known about the life of Freydis is based in legend(s), however, we do know that she really did exist and she was the daughter of Erik the Red. As can be noted, Eiriksdottir is translated into Erik’s daughter in much the same way that Leif Eiriksson is translated to Erik’s son. The infamous viking, Erik the Red, was relocated from Norway to Iceland as a result of his father’s banishment for crimes of murder along with the rest of his family. Erik later followed in his own father’s footsteps when he found himself banished from Iceland for crimes of murder as well. The viking had stumbled across new land, which he called “The Green Land” or Greenland which he discovered and founded. When Erik’s banishment ended 3 years after the discovery, he returned to Iceland and gathered 500 men who would return with him.

It was during his time in Iceland that Erik met his wife, Thjodhild, who would become the mother to Leif Eriksson. Thjodhild is the only known wife of Erik and while we know that Leif was his son, it is unclear in the legends whether Freydis was a legitimate daughter or the product of an affair. There is never any clear indication given as to whether she was a full sister or a half-sister to Leif either, but none-the-less, it is shown that the two got along as siblings would have. This is all important considering the exploring nature of the family as Freydis would also follow in the family business of exploration and discovery. It is also important to note that a lot of the above knowledge is based on legend and all of the below is as well. Freydis, while hailing from such a famous family, is only mentioned in two Icelandic sagas whose versions vary quite drastically from one another.

Legend one about Freydis comes from her father’s saga and portrays her as a tough woman who was braver than her fellow men. During the journey to Vinland (Newfoundland, North America) with her brother Leif and other vikings, Freydis was pregnant but it did not stop her from participating in the men’s business.

Leif and his men had made a truce with the locals of Vinland but the peace was short-lived. A bull that belonged to Leif’s crew had run and screamed out of the woods near the locals encampment, and fearing that it was a war cry, the locals prepared for battle and set out in hunt for the foreigners. As soon as the vikings saw the locals charging at them with unknown weapons, such as a catapult, they fled in fear much to the chagrin of Freydis who tried to urge the men to stay and fight, as well as demanding a weapon for herself.

Her pleas fell on deaf ears and she was left all alone as her people ran faster than she was able to being as pregnant as she was, so Freydis did the next logical thing, she stopped at the site of a dead viking, took up his sword and waited for the locals to reach her. When the horde of local men saw Freydis, they stopped and she proceeded to expose her breasts, scream in a language unknown to the locals and put the sword she obtained against her breasts. The locals were so afraid of this gesture that Freydis single-handedly won the battle as she watched the locals flee.

A brave and fearless woman who had saved her people from an ensuing war that would have ended in bloodshed aplenty. Legend two is not so endearing to Freydis’s plight.

Legend two, The Greenlander’s Saga, states that Freydis went back to Vinland a second time but this time without her brother’s company. She had commissioned two brothers, Helgi and Finnbogi, to join her in the exploration of Vinland where she wanted the plunder the riches of the land. The two brothers took their ship with a crew of men, while Freydis took her own ship and her own crew. It was agreed upon that each ship would carry the same number of men but Freydis brought on 5 extra men that she kept hidden below deck. As to why Freydis smuggled the extra men and what she did with them is a mystery that the legend does not include. It is only the act that The Greenlander’s Saga mentions not once mentioning her motive or the implications of such an act.

Before their departure, Freydis went to Leif and asked his permission for her to take up residency in his home that he built on the last trip to Vinland and he agreed. Unfortunately, the two brothers arrived in North America first and unpacked their belongings in Leif’s home. Bad move. Freydis arrived and told the brothers and their men that they needed to leave and build their own homes. It would not be a very good story if it ended here; Freydis felt the brothers had overstepped their bounds and held a grudge and planned revenge.

It should be stated that even though Freydis was fuming inside, the two brothers and their men were still welcome at their camp. The two groups would spend much time together playing games and passing the time but as the winter grew on, the men began quarreling and the two groups finally separated.

One night as Freydis lie in bed with her husband, she decided to get up and go visit the brothers. A barefooted Freydis arrived at the brothers’ door where she met with Finnbogi alone as everyone else was still sleeping. The two talked and agreed that the groups would trade ships because Freydis was anxious to leave for home and the brothers had a larger ship than she did. Her intentions were not to trade ships, it was a far more sinister plan indeed.

Arriving back to her own camp, Freydis crawled into bed with her husband who awoke when her cold, wet feet touched him. When asked why her feet were cold and damp she told him that when she went to arrange the trade of ships, the brothers both became enraged and beat her. She may have then told her husband that he was a coward who would never defend her so he would get out of bed. Freydis’ husband woke all his men and told them of the encounter that just occurred and the band of men gathered and went to the brothers’ camp; slaughter was on their minds. Arriving at the camp, all of Freydis’ men killed the brothers and their entire crew but none would touch the women.

Freydis called them all cowards and told them if they would not complete the deed that she would just do it herself. She picked up an axe and killed the 5 women of the brothers’ camp without an ounce of remorse and forced a truce among her men that they would never speak of the happenings of the night. Of course, when Freydis and her men returned to their homes in the spring, the story leaked as to her evil ways even though she threatened to kill anyone who spoke the truth. The news finally reached her brother’s ears but he would do nothing against his own sister. Even though Freydis was not banished from her home, her family was no longer welcome among the community and led a life a seclusion from that point on.

It is interesting to see two very different stories of one woman who may have been brave and fearless or a cold-hearted villain that would stop at nothing to see the glory of her ambitions.