Letter from passenger Sjoerd Bekins concerning the shipwreck:
Beloved Mother and Brothers:

With great happiness I take up my pen to let you know that after a long journey we finally reached our destination. We landed on the first of July.

How favorable we had imagined our journey would be! But soon after we had left our ancestral harbor (Vriesland, Netherlands) we were disappointed because of heavy wind and a fierce snowstorm so that we had to lay at anchor. This lasted until the following morning, about 8 o'clock when we were enabled to move forward and finally, Monday morning about 6 o'clock we arrived in the harbor.

Here we boarded the train for Liverpool. Arrived there we were guided to a coffee house where we might refresh ourselves somewhat with food and drink after which on the following day we would start our ocean journey. But what a disappointment! Just when we were getting ourselves ready we received a message that all of us could not be accommodated in the boat as there was room for only 15 or 20 passengers while there were 90 in our company.

Thus we were compelled to look out for another ship, but soon we had the opportunity to sail in one bound for New Orleans, but learned we had to wait 14 days before it would sail. Our leader accepted this proposition, for it enabled us to make the trip more cheaply. We now took lodgings in a boarding house. This proved so unsatisfactory that we had to supply our own food. Again we were disappointed, for instead of 14 days we had to wait 28 days.

Now we had the opportunity to inspect the city. It was hilly in some places. We saw many splendid buildings some with 3 or 4 stories. But the burning of coal robbed the city of many of its pleasant features. No matter how fine the buildings were, everything had turned black from the smoke of factories; in short, nothing but coal was used as fuel in this city.

To my eye the ships to be seen here in the harbor were practically not to be counted. Every 5 minutes one of the steamboats that plied the river steamed away. The amount of commerce was marvelous; one could scarcely move along the streets because of the number of wagons which moved in and out and to which horses were hitched such as I had never seen in Friesland. This city is rich in inhabitants, according to the latest figures 800,000 souls. These I have regarded as a false people, of which we learned by experience. Finally, after we had practically seen everything, the day set for our departure dawned.

On the 24th of March we set sail; the wind was favorable so that soon we passed out of the canal. We were all in good health, but one day later we contracted the sinking sickness so that one of our fellow passengers died after 6 days. He was a young person, 27 years of age; no pen can describe how his death grieved me because he left a mother for whom he moaned during the last hours of his life. But this was not the last death, two more were seized by the same sickness and speedily died. I also for a while suffered so that for nine or ten days I consumed nothing but cold water. I hardly cared to cast my eyes heavenward; I thought repeatedly of our miserable condition for constantly bodies were carried out for burial [in the sea]. By the 28th of April we had lost 11 persons, 3 of whom were adults, 8 under 20 years. After having spent 14 days in this fashion in my bunk I finally appeared on deck. My appetite was slight, and whatever I wanted to eat I could not retain; but fortunately my former health improved so that my former strength gradually returned.

Thus far the weather was favorable and so our days passed rapidly. We saw some fish, mostly porpoises which at times which at times appeared above and at times disappeared under the water. Also one morning when awoke we saw a large number of tunny, or according to the talk of the sailors they were the 'farmer with his pigs'. These fish swam extraordinarily fast; the young ones we saw were about [8] feet long, the full grown ones were from 15 to 20 feet. We also saw a few flying fish which roused my astonishment. These were as large as a haring and flew a distance of about 5 Dutch rods. Birds likewise appeared; they were for the most part sea swallows, somewhat larger than our Dutch swallows.

Favorable weather continued day by day so that we became happier especially because our fellow travelers again were in good health. In the morning, the 1st of May, we received the happy announcement by our captain that we would reach the islands (Bahamas) on the following day and that after we had reached them we would complete our journey within 4 or 5 days. In this also we were disappointed. On the 2[nd], filled with a burning desire to see land, we were craning our necks to catch a glimpse of it. On the morning of the 3[rd] we saw lights which gave us indescribable pleasure as much as ten days ago we had eaten our last meat and since had subsisted on dry rice and hard biscuit. We also had broken peas boiled in water with nothing whatsoever added; but as we had nearly reached our destination such privations were quite bearable.

In the morning, about 7 o'clock, we passed the islands which presented a pleasant sight. We no longer entertained any thought of danger. But hardly were the sun's rays hidden from us when the sails furled and put disposed of. Only a few were left unfurled and to us the captain seemed uneasy. This soon appeared justified, for scarcely had the cabin clock struck 9 we suddenly heard what sounded like a thunderclap. This was followed by a severe shock and we were stranded on a rock. The wind rose so that frequently the ship began to roll. Our only thought was that in a few moments we would find our grave in the waves. The number of unfortunate people on board was more than 200 among whom there were 12 sailors. We sent a few rockets that a nearby ship might see us, but alas! Every hope for help proved futile. Imagine, my friends, this dreadful situation -- how the children clung to their parents and how the parents clutched their children -- in short, we stood by helplessly and overwhelmed with sorrow.

About midnight we received an order to start pumping and that there yet was hope for us. This gave us great comfort and we began to pump eagerly. About 3 o'clock in the morning we were freed from the rock and our ship moved freely on the waves, but this did not bring deliverance.

About 7 o'clock in the morning the boats were made ready. Even the captain was without hope, but he nevertheless promised us not to abandon the ship until the last passenger had left it. But alas! in this we were deceived. Scarcely had an hour passed before he boarded the sloop without our noting it. Also the steersmen together with the sailors entered the boats, also a number of passengers among whom three of our own people ... A nephew of [ ] and three others who had missed the boat in trying to jump into it, among whom was a woman, I saw drown. I stood speechless and nearly fell down unconscious and prayed God that then and there He might cut off the thread of my life so that I might not witness the catastrophe which was at hand.

The 3 remaining sailors who had not entered the sloop cut the anchors and dropped them in order that we might move a little closer to shore but in vain. They could no longer guide the ship which began to drive before the wind. The wind rose until it became a storm, the thunder roared, the heavens covered with dark clouds and the bright flashes of lightning repeatedly lit up the dark nightly scene. Morning finally broke, but all hope for deliverance seemed vain; our sufferings had not yet come to an end, there still remained much suffering in store for us. The ship began to sink more and more, the crisis seemed to be at hand. But the saying that where the need is greatest, deliverance is near, proved to be true.

In the afternoon about 12 o'clock we spied a ship in the distance. Then the fathers and their children dropped on their knees praying to God that this might prove to be their deliverer, and this prayer was answered. The darkling twilight was transformed into light when we saw our deliverer draw near. In a short time we were rescued from what to us seemed to be our graves. A few of the passengers were able to save some of their clothes, but many saved nothing.

Now we were brought to an island where again our prospects appeared black. As it was 7 o'clock in the evening we went to sleep and so passed the night. Then we went into the woods to find some people. But at first we did not succeed. We found only some young oxen, but this assured us that the island was inhabited.

A second time we set out to explore the island. Then we met a man on the shore who approached us in a friendly manner and told us he was the officer of the island, which comforted us. He directed us to a well where we could slake our thirst, next he promised to provide us with food, which he brought but in such small amounts that it refreshed us but did not satisfy our hunger. The reason for the for the small amount of food was that the inhabitants had to bring all their food from a distance and at this moment had little on hand. Fortunately this lasted only two days. On the second of these days we had nothing to eat. We decided to search for food on the shore, in which we were successful; this consisted of oysters which we cooked and ate with the greatest relish.

Delivery came on the eighth and we removed to the island of Providence. Arrived there, we were brought to the house set aside for shipwrecked people. Half starved we arrived but now food was again given us in ample amounts. Most of the people were colored who were very sympathetic. Wherever we moved along the streets, they offered us bread, and many gave us money. But in this respect I shall not praise our people; our Christians should use their deeds as a mirror in which to compare their own acts. They (the colored people) planned a collection for us. They gave us clothing and shoes for our feet and when we departed for New Orleans each of us received a dollar.

Arrived at New Orleans, we went to see the city. In some places the buildings were decrepit and sloven, but this condition is gradually being remedied so that many streets present a splendid appearance. Among its inhabitants are many Germans but few Hollanders. Being surprised of our misfortune they manifested much sympathy towards us. When about to depart for St. Louis each of us received 5 1/2 dollars and in addition food sufficient to last until our arrival in St. Louis, which was a journey of 9 days. In our eyes this was a splendid gift.

Regarding news not much can be reported as we saw little besides the view of the river and some small cities, with the exception of St. Louis. This also was an important city in which many steamboats docked. There we stayed 4 days. Also we met many Hollanders. Day's wages for a workmen was a dollar per day. Then we journeyed up the river to Davenport, which was a journey of 3 days. This was but a small place where we stayed only one day, but this was not the end of travels. We departed from there to Galena. This was a journey of 2 days. On this journey we also passed the town of Columbus.

Sjoerd Bekins
Beaverdam, Michigan
1853

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