The Life, Adventures and Piracies of the Famous Captain Singleton
Daniel Defoe
Novels
13:12 h
Level 7
The Life, Adventures and Piracies of the Famous Captain Singleton is a novel by Daniel Defoe, originally published in 1720. Captain Singleton is believed to have been partly inspired by the exploits of the English pirate Henry Every, who operated in the late 17th century. The narrative describes the life of the Englishman, Singleton, stolen from a well-to-do family as a child and raised by Gypsies, eventually making his way to sea. The former half of the book concerns Singleton's crossing of Africa, the latter half concerning his life as a pirate in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. Defoe's description of piracy focuses for the most part on matters of economics and logistics, and Singleton's pirate behaves more like a merchant adventurer, perhaps Defoe's comment on the mercantilism of his day.

The Life, Adventures and Piracies of the Famous Captain Singleton

by
Daniel Defoe


Chapter I

As it is usual for great persons, whose lives have been remarkable, and whose actions deserve recording to posterity, to insist much upon their originals, give full accounts of their families, and the histories of their ancestors, so, that I may be methodical, I shall do the same, though I can look but a very little way into my pedigree, as you will see presently.

If I may believe the woman whom I was taught to call mother, I was a little boy, of about two years old, very well dressed, had a nursery-maid to attend me, who took me out on a fine summer’s evening into the fields towards Islington, as she pretended, to give the child some air; a little girl being with her, of twelve or fourteen years old, that lived in the neighbourhood. The maid, whether by appointment or otherwise, meets with a fellow, her sweetheart, as I suppose; he carries her into a public-house, to give her a pot and a cake; and while they were toying in the house the girl plays about, with me in her hand, in the garden and at the door, sometimes in sight, sometimes out of sight, thinking no harm.

At this juncture comes by one of those sort of people who, it seems, made it their business to spirit away little children. This was a hellish trade in those days, and chiefly practised where they found little children very well dressed, or for bigger children, to sell them to the plantations.

The woman, pretending to take me up in her arms and kiss me, and play with me, draws the girl a good way from the house, till at last she makes a fine story to the girl, and bids her go back to the maid, and tell her where she was with the child; that a gentlewoman had taken a fancy to the child, and was kissing of it, but she should not be frighted, or to that purpose; for they were but just there; and so, while the girl went, she carries me quite away.

From this time, it seems, I was disposed of to a beggar woman that wanted a pretty little child to set out her case; and after that, to a gipsy, under whose government I continued till I was about six years old. And this woman, though I was continually dragged about with her from one part of the country to another, yet never let me want for anything; and I called her mother; though she told me at last she was not my mother, but that she bought me for twelve shillings of another woman, who told her how she came by me, and told her that my name was Bob Singleton, not Robert, but plain Bob; for it seems they never knew by what name I was christened.

It is in vain to reflect here, what a terrible fright the careless hussy was in that lost me; what treatment she received from my justly enraged father and mother, and the horror these must be in at the thoughts of their child being thus carried away; for as I never knew anything of the matter, but just what I have related, nor who my father and mother were, so it would make but a needless digression to talk of it here.

My good gipsy mother, for some of her worthy actions no doubt, happened in process of time to be hanged; and as this fell out something too soon for me to be perfected in the strolling trade, the parish where I was left, which for my life I can’t remember, took some care of me, to be sure; for the first thing I can remember of myself afterwards, was, that I went to a parish school, and the minister of the parish used to talk to me to be a good boy; and that, though I was but a poor boy, if I minded my book, and served God, I might make a good man.

I believe I was frequently removed from one town to another, perhaps as the parishes disputed my supposed mother’s last settlement. Whether I was so shifted by passes, or otherwise, I know not; but the town where I last was kept, whatever its name was, must be not far off from the seaside; for a master of a ship who took a fancy to me, was the first that brought me to a place not far from Southampton, which I afterwards knew to be Bussleton; and there I attended the carpenters, and such people as were employed in building a ship for him; and when it was done, though I was not above twelve years old, he carried me to sea with him on a voyage to Newfoundland.

I lived well enough, and pleased my master so well that he called me his own boy; and I would have called him father, but he would not allow it, for he had children of his own. I went three or four voyages with him, and grew a great sturdy boy, when, coming home again from the banks of Newfoundland, we were taken by an Algerine rover, or man-of-war; which, if my account stands right, was about the year 1695, for you may be sure I kept no journal.

I was not much concerned at the disaster, though I saw my master, after having been wounded by a splinter in the head during the engagement, very barbarously used by the Turks; I say, I was not much concerned, till, upon some unlucky thing I said, which, as I remember, was about abusing my master, they took me and beat me most unmercifully with a flat stick on the soles of my feet, so that I could neither go or stand for several days together.

But my good fortune was my friend upon this occasion; for, as they were sailing away with our ship in tow as a prize, steering for the Straits, and in sight of the bay of Cadiz, the Turkish rover was attacked by two great Portuguese men-of-war, and taken and carried into Lisbon.

As I was not much concerned at my captivity, not indeed understanding the consequences of it, if it had continued, so I was not suitably sensible of my deliverance; nor, indeed, was it so much a deliverance to me as it would otherwise have been, for my master, who was the only friend I had in the world, died at Lisbon of his wounds; and I being then almost reduced to my primitive state, viz., of starving, had this addition to it, that it was in a foreign country too, where I knew nobody and could not speak a word of their language. However, I fared better here than I had reason to expect; for when all the rest of our men had their liberty to go where they would, I, that knew not whither to go, stayed in the ship for several days, till at length one of the lieutenants seeing me, inquired what that young English dog did there, and why they did not turn him on shore.

I heard him, and partly understood what he meant, though not what he said, and began then to be in a terrible fright; for I knew not where to get a bit of bread; when the pilot of the ship, an old seaman, seeing me look very dull, came to me, and speaking broken English to me, told me I must be gone. “Whither must I go?” said I. “Where you will,” said he, “home to your own country, if you will.” “How must I go thither?” said I. “Why, have you no friend?” said he. “No,” said I, “not in the world, but that dog,” pointing to the ship’s dog (who, having stolen a piece of meat just before, had brought it close by me, and I had taken it from him, and ate it), “for he has been a good friend, and brought me my dinner.”

“Well, well,” says he, “you must have your dinner. Will you go with me?” “Yes,” says I, “with all my heart.” In short, the old pilot took me home with him, and used me tolerably well, though I fared hard enough; and I lived with him about two years, during which time he was soliciting his business, and at length got to be master or pilot under Don Garcia de Pimentesia de Carravallas, captain of a Portuguese galleon or carrack, which was bound to Goa, in the East Indies; and immediately having gotten his commission, put me on board to look after his cabin, in which he had stored himself with abundance of liquors, succades, sugar, spices, and other things, for his accommodation in the voyage, and laid in afterwards a considerable quantity of European goods, fine lace and linen; and also baize, woollen cloth, stuffs, &c., under the pretence of his clothes.

I was too young in the trade to keep any journal of this voyage, though my master, who was, for a Portuguese, a pretty good artist, prompted me to it; but my not understanding the language was one hindrance; at least it served me for an excuse. However, after some time, I began to look into his charts and books; and, as I could write a tolerable hand, understood some Latin, and began to have a little smattering of the Portuguese tongue, so I began to get a superficial knowledge of navigation, but not such as was likely to be sufficient to carry me through a life of adventure, as mine was to be. In short, I learned several material things in this voyage among the Portuguese; I learned particularly to be an arrant thief and a bad sailor; and I think I may say they are the best masters for teaching both these of any nation in the world.