Tuesday, September 05, 2006

John Simon - Pirate from Bordeaux?

Years ago in my grandmothers basement, I came across an old note that looked very interesting. It was dated 1803 – and looked it too. The old handwriting style was hard to read, but I could get the idea that it was describing the voyage of my ancestor John Simon from Bordeaux, France to Salem, Massachusetts; probably written in his own hand since it is written in the first person - and in French!

I had grown up hearing a story of John Simon. Sailing in the West Indies; being captured by the British; imprissoned in Nova Scotia - sounded like a pirate! He aledgedly escaped with the help of a man from Beverly, MA, who brought him to Salem. Now it appeared I was going to find out the whole story...

First I had to get the note translated to English. I took French in High School and found a French-English dictionary... Yeah, ok, that didn’t work too well! The biggest problem for me was that the old handwriting from the early 1800’s was hard to read – let alone translate. I had 10 options for every word, so I needed to know the context of each sentence. Finally I found a translator by posting a bid on TRADUguide website: http://www.traduguide.com/en/jobpost1.asp . the winning bidder was Peter Field in the UK who did a great job at a great price! (2 cents a word!). The translated version reads:

Set sail from Bordeaux on January 28 on board the ship Jeune Eliza, Capt. Chabriey, bound for Les Cayes Saint Louis St. Domingue. We put into Porto Rico on February 27 and departed Porto Rico on March 12, reaching Saint Domingo on March 18. That same year, we remained on Saint Domingo until July 12 in order to return […] France. On August 8 1808, we were picked up by the English frigate The Boston, Capt. Douglas, and driven to Halifax, Nova Scotia. We reached Halifax on Sept. 12 and from then on could only glimpse it like prisoners of war, stuck as we were that September 20 on an island just off Halifax. The dark part of the island is Marvel's [Mellvilles?] Island. I came off it on October 28 of that year. I stayed in Halifax until May 7, 1804, departing that same day on the schooner la Fany out of Halifax. We reached Canso near (...)
Cape Breton on May 15, 1804 and departed Canso on June 10 for Quebec and Canada, reaching Quebec capital of Canada, on June 25. Left Quebec on July 5; reached Montreal and Canada on July 22; left Montreal on the 28th for Canso; reached Canso on August 10, 1804; left Canso on August 22 of same year on the American schooner Rebecca out of Beverly, United States of America. Reached Beverly on August 29; left Beverly on September 3 of the same year for Salem. I worked in Salem for a year, afterwards leaving for Boston on August 29, 1805. I remained in Boston until September 25, 1807*; returned to Salem, settled in this town
* NOTE: John Simon was married to Sarah Russell Blood on September 20th 1807 in Boston by Reverend W. Baldwin.

Well, no mention of pirates. Turns out he was a cooper (barrel maker), which I suppose makes sense since he's from the wine capital of France. And no wonder they were captured by a British ship, since they were at war! Britain and France had just resumed their ongoing wars at the beginning of the year after a short year and a half of peace. Not sure if he was originally on a military vessel or not; but at the time (1803-1804)Napoleon's France was desperately trying to restore French rule and slavery on the island of San Dominique (now Haiti).

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