Narrative Of The United States Expedition To The River Jordan And The Dead Sea/1

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CHAPTER I.


INTRODUCTORY.




ON the 8th of MAY, 1847, the town and castle of Vera Cruz having some time before surrendered, and there being nothing left for the Navy to perform, I preferred an application to the Hon. John Y. Mason, the head of the department, for permission to circumnavigate and thoroughly explore the Lake Asphaltites or Dead Sea.

My application having been for some time under consideration, I received notice, on the 31st of July, of a favourable decision, with an order to commence the necessary preparations.

On the 2d of OCTOBER, I received an order to take commmand of the U. S. store-ship “Supply,” formerly called the “Crusader.” In the meantime, while the ship was being prepared for her legitimate duty of supplying the squadron with stores, I had, by special authority, two metallic boats, a copper and a galvanized iron one, constructed, and shipped ten seamen for their crews. I was very particular in selecting young, muscular, native-born Americans, of sober habits, from each of whom I exacted a pledge to abstain from all intoxicating drinks. To this stipulation, under Providence, is principally to be ascribed their final recovery from the extreme prostration consequent on the severe privations and great exposure to which they were unavoidably subjected.

Two officers, Lieutenant John B. Dale and Passed Midshipman Richmond Aulick, both excellent draughtsmen, were detailed to assist me in the projected enterprise.

In November I received orders to proceed to Smyrna, as soon as the ship should in all respects be ready for sea; and, through Mr. Dabney Smith Carr, U. S. Resident Minister at Constantinople, apply to the Turkish government for permission to pass through a part of its dominions in Syria, for the purpose of exploring the Dead Sea, and tracing the River Jordan to its source.

I was then directed, if the firman were granted, to relinquish the ship to the first lieutenant, and land with the little party under my command on the coast of Syria. The ship was thence to proceed to deliver stores to the squadron, and Commodore Read was instructed to send her back in time for our re-embarcation.

In the event of the firman being refused, I was directed to rejoin the squadron without proceeding to the coast of Syria.

The ship was long delayed for the stores necessary to complete her cargo. The time was, however, fully occupied in collecting materials and procuring information. One of the men engaged was a mechanic, whose skill would be necessary in taking apart and putting together the boats, which were made in sections. I also had him instructed in blasting rocks, should such a process become necessary to ensure the transportation of the boats across the mountain ridges of Galilee and Judea.

Air-tight gum-elastic water bags were also procured, to be inflated when empty, for the purpose of serving as life-preservers to the crews in the event of the destruction of the boats.

Our arms consisted of a blunderbuss, fourteen carbines with long bayonets, and fourteen pistols, four revolving and ten with bowie-knife blades attached. Each officer carried his sword, and all, officers and men, were provided with ammunition belts. As taking the boats apart would be a novel experiment, which might prove unsuccessful, I had two low carriages without bodies made, for the purpose of endeavouring to transport the boats from the Mediterranean to the Sea of Galilee. The carriages, when fitted, were taken apart and compactly stowed in the hold, together with two sets of harness for draught horses. The boats, when complete, were hoisted in, and laid keel up on a frame prepared for them; and with arms, ammunition, instruments, tents, flags, sails, oars, preserved meats, and a few cooking utensils, our preparations were complete.