In May, 1636, a stanch little sloop of some twenty tons was standing along Long Island Sound on a trading expedition. At her helm stood John Gallop, a sturdy colonist, and a skilful seaman, who earned his bread by trading with the Indians that at that time thronged the shores of the Sound, and eagerly seized any opportunity to traffic with the white men from the colonies of Plymouth or New Amsterdam. The colonists sent out beads, knives, bright clothes, and sometimes, unfortunately, rum and other strong drinks. The Indians in exchange offered skins and peltries of all kinds; and, as their simple natures had not been schooled to nice calculations of values, the traffic was one of great profit to the more shrewd whites. But the trade was not without its perils. Though the Indians were simple, and little likely to drive hard bargains, yet they were savages, and little accustomed to nice distinctions between their own property and that of others. Their desires once aroused for some gaudy bit of cloth or shining glass, they were ready enough to steal it, often making their booty secure by the murder of the luckless trader. It so happened, that, just before John Gallop set out with his sloop on the spring trading cruise, the people of the colony were excitedly discussing the probable fate of one Oldham, who some weeks before had set out on a like errand, in a pinnace, with a crew of two white boys and two Indians, and had never returned. So when, on this May morning, Gallop, being forced to hug the shore by stormy weather, saw a small vessel lying at anchor in a cove, he immediately ran down nearer, to investigate. The crew of the sloop numbered two men and two boys, beside the skipper, Gallop. Some heavy duck-guns on board were no mean ordnance; and the New Englander determined to probe the mystery of Oldham's disappearance, though it might require some fighting. As the sloop bore down upon the anchored pinnace, Gallop found no lack of signs to arouse his suspicion. The rigging of the strange craft was loose, and seemed to have been cut. No lookout was visible, and she seemed to have been deserted; but a nearer view showed, lying on the deck of the pinnace, fourteen stalwart Indians, one of whom, catching sight of the approaching sloop, cut the anchor cable, and called to his companions to awake.
When the Twentieth Century opened, the American sailor was almost extinct. The nation which, in its early and struggling days, had given to the world a race of seamen as adventurous as the Norse Vikings had, in the days of its greatness and prosperity turned its eyes away from the sea and yielded to other people the mastery of the deep. One living in the past, reading the newspapers, diaries and record-books of the early days of the Nineteenth Century, can hardly understand how an occupation which played so great a part in American life as seafaring could ever be permitted to decline. The dearest ambition of the American boy of our early national era was to command a clipper ship—but how many years it has been since that ambition entered into the mind of young America! In those days the people of all the young commonwealths from Maryland northward found their interests vitally allied with maritime adventure. Without railroads, and with only the most wretched excuses for post-roads, the States were linked together by the sea; and coastwise traffic early began to employ a considerable number of craft and men. Three thousand miles of ocean separated Americans from the market in which they must sell their produce and buy their luxuries. Immediately upon the settlement of the seaboard the Colonists themselves took up this trade, building and manning their own vessels and speedily making their way into every nook and corner of Europe. We, who have seen, in the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century, the American flag the rarest of all ensigns to be met on the water, must regard with equal admiration and wonder the zeal for maritime adventure that made the infant nation of 1800 the second seafaring people in point of number of vessels, and second to none in energy and enterprise.