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Piracy Is Our Only Option

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7 June 1812. Portsmouth

Dearest Elinor,

I am writing to you from the hold of the Minerva where I have been for the last two days as we prepare to put to Sea. I am very sorry for leaving without telling Mother the true matter of my whereabouts but You & I both know she would not have approv’d my choice. Nor the manner of my going. She believes I am to stay with Mrs Jennings in London and take work as a governess. Imagine ! My dear Elinor I am going to be a Sailor ! I cannot express the joy which fill’d my heart as we boarded. I know you will say I am too young but I am 14 soon and anyway the boys here are much younger. Of course I also told them I was a boy. With short hair and boy’s clothing I look very much the part. I have signed on with Johnson’s Privateers out of Portsmouth. We are set to harass the French in the Mediterranean & take all their prize if we can. I pray you & Edward are well & will write again when next we are at dock—

All my love
Margaret

 

Epiphany 1813. Newcastle

My dear Elinor,

I did not think I should be so very long at Sea when first I joined, & hardly gave a Thought to my correspondence for many months. Your letter found me at Portsmouth but I had not time to reply until now. You cannot imagine my delight on discovering that I am to be AN AUNT ! No doubt by now my niece (for she must be a niece) has been born and is squalling for her Aunt Margaret to bring her a captur’d flag as a Swaddling Blanket. Well she need not fear, for if our Journey continues as it has hitherto proceeded she shall be wearing Boney’s crown by next Christmass. I have learnt so much aboard the Minerva and Capt. Johnson has grown quite fond of me – tho it is funny to hear him call me Jack Dashwood, or sometimes Jack Dash, for I have gained the reputation of being quick on my feet. He found it curious that I am able to read & has begun teaching me how to calculate the position of the ship. To-day I am sent to the printer’s for a few Volumes he requires, and he has given me extra pocket money to buy a Book of my very own if I wish. I feel quite grown up and important. The only regret I have is for my stomach, which rebels at this diet. But it is all worth it for the Freedom and Joy of sail.

My love to you & Edward & Mother & Marianne & the dear Colonel—
Margaret

 

26 May 1813. Lisbon

My beloved Elinor,

You will not believe me when I tell you what has happened ! We have been in an Action With the French !! We were in the waters off Casablanca when a few stray ships down from the Siege of Cadiz sighted us, & one broke off to follow. We were chased for a day and a night until we found waters where our lighter ship had the Advantage, & then came about to GIVE BATTLE. In almost a year we had never seen a fight like this! It was the Hélène, notorious all thro’ the Mediterranean for her heavy Guns, which c’d reduce a ship of twice our strength to so much Firewood. We would never have attacked her had we the choice, but Capt. Johnson called for us to stand at our Posts and so we did. & I was the gunner’s mate, for only Jack Dash was quick enough for him. At first we outmaneuvered them and struck them in the stern, but an unlucky wave sent us spinning & they hit us broadside with all their guns & the gunner was killed with four Boys, among them my friend Arthur. I heard the fighting above & knew I must not abandon my post, so I ran as quick as could be and kept all four Guns firing until I demolished the enemy ! Capt. Johnson discovered me after the Battle & ordered Three Cheers for Jack Dash ! and I am to be made an OFFICER. We will return to England soon for repairs & more recruits but I could not wait to tell you. I enclose a Relic of the action— a sliver of the Hélène which blew aboard in the final salvo— and speared my hat ! I do not imagine you have such a hatpin at home but it will become all the fashion soon.

All my love
Midshipman Margaret

 

1 August 1817. London

Dearest Elinor,

I write to tell you that I will be coming home to you within the month, & likely to stay for sev’ral weeks. Currently I am abroad in London while they repair my ship. My ship ! For I have also to tell you: Capt. Johnson has at last decided to retire after these many years of privateering & is handing the ship & licence over to me. He says he looks on me quite as his own Son, though he winks when he says it & I think he knows. Perhaps he has always known. I will miss him terribly but I may visit him whenever I am at dock & tell him stories of his beloved Minerva. She is a valiant ship & I believe the crew are quite fond of me. I have been well sustained these five years by all your letters, Elinor, but I long to embrace you & Marianne & Mother once more. & I look forward with impatience to meeting my nieces ! Elizabeth must be quite old enough to read about Life at Sea so I am bringing her my copy of Nelson’s exploits. & for little Mary a bonnet purchased in London must suffice. They will never want for anything, for quite apart from the kindness of Capt. Johnson I have had good Fortune. Tell Mother I am bringing her a shawl of real Dutch lace, and Marianne a set of pearls. & there is some gold for you & Edward which I pray you will accept, if only on behalf of my little nieces. No Dashwood woman shall ever know penury while I am on the Seas.

All my love
CAPTAIN MARGARET