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An American Soldier of Fortune

by M. Lockwood

One hundred and twenty years ago there lived a plain, honest farmer in the beautiful town of Woodstock, in the province of Connecticut, by the name of Eaton. He belonged to the fine, intelligent New England stock, and did his duty like a man in the state of life to which God had been pleased to call him, working on his farm in summer, and teaching school in winter; for he needed all he could earn to put bread in the mouths of his thirteen children, who were taught early to help themselves, after the fashion of their stalwart Anglo-Saxon forefathers. One of Farmer Eaton's boys, named William, was born February 23, 1764, and was a high-spirited, clever, reckless little chap, keeping his mother continually in a state of anxiety on his account; indeed, if she had not been so used to boys with their pranks and unlimited thirst for adventures, I think Bill would have been the death of her, for she never knew what he would be about next. For all his love of sport and out-door amusement, the boy was so fond of reading that he nearly always managed to conceal a book in his pocket when he went out to work in the fields or woods, and often, when left alone, or when his companions stopped for rest or meals, Bill would steal time to read. When his elders caught him at it he would often get soundly scolded for not being better employed, but the very next chance he would be at it again.

One Sunday, when he was ten years old, he was returning from church, and passing a tree laden with tempting red cherries, climbed up in his usual reckless fashion to help himself; but either the branch broke or he lost his footing, for he fell to the ground with such violence that he dislocated his shoulder, besides being so stunned that he lay senseless for several days after he was picked up and carried home. The neighbors came in to offer their services when they heard of the accident, for though they no doubt shook their heads and remarked, "I told you so," "I knew how it would be," they were, all the same, very kind to the poor little chap who lay there, white and death-like, for so many long hours.

A neighbor, who was a tanner by trade, was sitting by his bed when at last he opened his eyes. I suppose the tanner was glad enough to see the boy come to life again; but all he said was, "Do you love cherries, Bill?"

"Do you love hides?" spoke up Bill, as quick as a flash.

You see, he came to the full possession of his senses at once after his long sleep, and wasn't going to let himself be taken at a disadvantage by any tanner in the land.

When Eaton was twelve our country declared itself free and independent, and all true patriots rose up to defend, by sword or whatever other means was in their power, the sacred cause of liberty.

Our young friend Bill fairly burned with desire to go off and do something great. His soul was on fire with patriotic ardor. How could he stay quietly in Woodstock, and lead a humdrum life, when the soldiers of the tyrant were threatening all the Americans held most dear? But his friends at home did not encourage his practical patriotism. He was told that he must stay at home, and work on the farm, and get ready for college; the country would get on very well without him; and so he did stay for four years, and the war seemed no nearer an end than ever. At last one night he could stand it no longer; so he ran away, and joined the nearest camp, where he enlisted. But the pride of the sixteen-year-old boy received a blow: they made him servant to one of the officers, and in this menial position he was obliged to stay. He found that he was far from being his own master now. He behaved so well, though, that he was placed in the ranks after a while, and in 1783 was made a sergeant, and discharged.

He went home, and taught, to support himself, while he prepared for college; for he had no father now to help him along. He entered Dartmouth College, and graduated honorably, though he had lost five years for study out of his young life. Not long after his graduation, while he was teaching again, he was given a captain's commission in the army for his service during the Revolution. A soldier's life suited his bold character far better than the quiet occupation of country teacher. Then he married, and went first west, then south, on military service, and saw plenty of wild life, and made enemies as well as friends, for the best of us can not expect to please everybody, and Captain Eaton had too strong a character not to make some people, who did not think as he did, very angry.

When he was about thirty-five years old, trouble rose between the United States government and some of the countries of Africa, and the President sent Eaton out to Tunis as consul. Tunis is one of the Moorish kingdoms of Africa that border on the Mediterranean Sea, and were called "Barbary States." The other Barbary States were Morocco, Algiers, and Tripoli. For a long time these countries had been nests of pirates, who made their living by preying on the commerce of Christian nations, and making slaves of their seamen, so that the black flags of their ships were the terror of the Mediterranean. These robbers had the daring to demand tribute of European nations, which many of them paid annually for the sake of not being molested, and lately they had tried to extort money from the United States on the same plea. Eaton managed so cleverly and successfully with the Bey, or ruler, of Tunis, that he made a very satisfactory arrangement with him, and then returned home: but the other agents did not manage so well, and at last war was declared, for the United States had no idea of being cowed and threatened by these pirates and murderers—far otherwise! The memory of her recent successful struggle with the greatest nation of the earth was too fresh to make it possible that an American ship should voluntarily lower its flag before a Moorish marauder. But what we would not do voluntarily we had to do by compulsion. The frigate Philadelphia, sailing in African waters, under Captain Bainbridge, was captured by the Bey of Tripoli, and towed into the harbor of that town. Her crew was carried off into slavery by the pirates, some languishing in hopeless imprisonment, others toiling their lives away under the burning sun of Africa.

Captain Decatur soon after sailed into the harbor in a vessel that he had captured from the Tripolitans, and retook and burned the Philadelphia; but, alas! hero as he was, he could not rescue his unfortunate countrymen. A few months later, in 1805, Eaton was sent back to the Barbary States as Naval Agent, and first stopped in Egypt. Here he made up his mind that he would bend all his energies toward rescuing the captives at Tripoli. He found that the rightful ruler of Tripoli, named Hamet Caramelli, had been driven away from his dominions by his brother Yusef, and was in Alexandria. Eaton offered to assist him to recover his throne, and collected a little army of five hundred men, most of them Mussulmans, a few Greek Christians, and nine Americans. With these followers he and Hamet marched across the desert toward Derne, in the kingdom of Tripoli. Eaton had not lost his boyish love of adventure yet, you see. This was just one of the bold, daring undertakings that he may have dreamed of in those early days when he stole away from his work to read with eager delight stories of wild venture and perilous escape in the peaceful shades of the forest around Woodstock. Doubtless these desert marches now entered upon far exceeded all his young imagination had pictured them.

It was a perilous journey, for the Arab sheiks and their followers, who made up most of his army, sometimes behaved in a very mutinous manner, and it took all Eaton's force of will and strict discipline to keep them in any sort of order, for Hamet showed very little decision of character, and proved that he was not very well fitted to be a ruler of men.

They were liable to be attacked by brigands from the mountains, too, so that ceaseless vigilance was needed. Some friendly Arab bands joined them on the road; so, when they reached Derne, Eaton found himself at the head of quite an army. Here he was met by two American ships, and with their help he bombarded the town, and took it by assault, driving the wild Arabs who were defending it back to the mountains. Now Eaton was in a situation to dictate his own terms to the usurper Yusef Bey, since he had brought Hamet Caramelli triumphantly into his own city of Derne, and had driven all enemies before him. He had laid his plans to march on Tripoli, drive off the usurper, and deliver his poor captive countrymen at the edge of the sword, when suddenly his successful career was brought to an end in rather a mortifying way. Yusef, frightened out of his defiance, consented to come to terms with Colonel Lear, American Consul-General at Algiers. If Colonel Lear had not been too hasty in concluding a treaty which forced the United States to pay sixty thousand dollars ransom money, when not a cent should have been given, and left the cruel Yusef safe on his throne, General Eaton might have marched on Tripoli with his victorious army, restored Hamet, and let the captives go in triumph.

Most people agreed that but for Eaton's promptness and bravery the troubles might have lasted much longer; and when he returned to America, soon after, he was received with great distinction by his countrymen, who made him quite an ovation. The Massachusetts Legislature voted him ten thousand acres of land in the district of Maine. The remainder of his life was passed in his pleasant home at Brimfield, Massachusetts, where he died June 1, 1811, at the age of forty-seven.

Aaron Burr tried to draw Eaton into his famous conspiracy, but Eaton was a firm patriot, and refused with horror to play the traitor. Wishing to make his true sentiments known, once for all, he gave this toast at a public banquet, in Burr's presence: "The United States—palsy to the brain that shall plot to dismember, and leprosy to the hand that will not draw to defend our Union!"