TITLE: Treachery on the High Seas
GENRE: MG Narrative Nonfiction
On December 10, 1844, the U.S. Navy sloop Yorktown encountered heavy squalls. Thunder roared. Waves crashed against the warship cruising east towards West Africa. For brief moments, lightning flashed through the sky illuminating the Atlantic Ocean.
Captain Charles Heyer Bell gazed across the horizon—no land in sight. During his command a few years before, the sick list included half his crew suffering from a mysterious illness now known as malaria. The disease killed more Navy sailors than storms or pirates.
At 10:30 p.m., Captain Bell spotted a large vessel astern. Too far away to see a flag flying from her mast, he took no chances. “Beat to quarters and cast loose the guns!”
In response, William Kidwell grabbed two wooden sticks and beat the drum. John Smith played the fife loud enough to wake the crew and call them to action.
Startled awake, men jumped from canvas hammocks and pulled on their uniforms of blue cloth trousers and jackets. One hundred sailors and sixteen marines, including several musicians, had crossed the Atlantic Ocean from New York only a few weeks before. Many were inexperienced “Boys” as young as thirteen.
Throughout each deck and cabin of the USS Yorktown, officers and sailors fumbled in the dark for weapons and ammunition.
Captain Bell had warned them about the ruthless captains and sailors who flagrantly broke international laws and treaties.
Pirates, they were.
But these pirates were involved in the transatlantic slave trade from Africa to Brazil, Cuba, and the Americas.