American Merchant Ships and Sailors eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 382 pages of information about American Merchant Ships and Sailors.
sea after the fall of night.  Such a one braved, beside the ordinary dangers of the deep, the uncouth and mythical terrors with which world-wide ignorance and superstition had invested it.  The sea was thought to be the domain of fierce and ravenous monsters, and of gods quite as dangerous to men.  Prodigious whirlpools, rapids, and cataracts, quite without any physical reason for existence, were thought to roar and roll just beyond the horizon.  It is only within a few decades that the geographies have abandoned the pleasing fiction of the maelstrom, and a few centuries ago the sudden downpour of the waters at the “end of the world” was a thoroughly accepted tenet of physical geography.  Yet men, adventurous and inquisitive, kept ever pushing forward into the unknown, until now there remain no strange seas and few uncharted and unlighted.  The mariner of these days has literally plain sailing in comparison with his forbears of one hundred and fifty years ago.

Easily first among the sailor’s safeguards is the lighthouse system.  That of the United States is under the direct control of the Light House Board, which in turn is subject to the authority of the Secretary of the Treasury.  It is the practice of every nation to light its own coast; though foreign vessels enjoy equal advantages thereby with the ships of the home country.  But the United States goes farther.  Not only does it furnish the beacons to guide foreign ships to its ports; but, unlike Great Britain and some other nations, it levies no charge upon the beneficiaries.  In order that American vessels might not be hampered by the light dues imposed by foreign nations, the United States years ago bought freedom from several states for a lump sum; but Great Britain still exacts dues, a penny a ton, from every vessel passing a British light and entering a British port.

The history of the lighthouses of the world is a long one, beginning with the story of the famous Pharos, at Alexandria, 400 feet high, whose light, according to Ptolemy, could be seen for 40 miles.  Pharos long since disappeared, overthrown, it is thought, by an earthquake.  France possesses to-day the oldest and the most impressive lighthouse—­the Corduan tower, at the mouth of the Gironde, begun in the fifteenth century.  In the United States, the lighthouse system dates only from 1715, when the first edifice of this character was begun at the entrance to Boston harbor.  It was only an iron basket perched on a beacon, in which were burned “fier bales of pitch and ocum,” as the colonial records express it Sometimes tallow candles illuminated this pioneer light of the establishment of which announcement was made in the Boston News, of September 17, 1716, in this wise:  “Boston.  By Vertue of an Act of Assembly made in the First Year of His Majesty’s Reign, For Building & Maintaining a Light House upon the Great Brewster (called Beacon Island) at the Entrance of the Harbor of Boston, in order to prevent the loss of the Lives & Estates of

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American Merchant Ships and Sailors from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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