Alexander defeats the Persians, Destruction of PompeiiThe Crusades, The Black Death...Salem Witch TrialsWriting the Declaration of Independence, Battle of Lexington...Escape from slavery, Death of President Garfield..Battle of Gettysburg, Death of Lincoln...Custer's Last Stand, The Death of Billy the Kid...San Francisco Earthquake, Sinking of the Titanic...
Death of an air ace, Gas attack...Attack at Pearl Harbor, D-Day...Freeze Frame of HistoryPhotographic Gateways to HistorySounds from the pastFilm Clips from the PastList of ContentsReturn to Home Page

Washington D.C., 1800

President Jefferson
in the White House

A Duel At Dawn, 1804

The Death of Lord Nelson, 1805

Fulton's First Steamboat Voyage, 1807

"Shanghaied," 1811

"Old Ironsides" Earns its Name, 1812

The British Burn Washington, 1814

Dolley Madison Flees the White House, 1814

The Battle of New Orleans, 1815

The Battle of Waterloo, 1815

Napoleon Exiled to St. Helena, 1815

The Inauguration of
President Andrew
Jackson, 1829

Aboard a Slave Ship, 1829

America's First Steam Locomotive, 1830

A Portrait of America, 1830

Traveling the National Road, 1833

A Slave's Life

Traveling the Erie Canal, 1836

Victoria Becomes Queen, 1837

Escape From Slavery, 1838

A Flogging at Sea, 1839

P.T. Barnum Discovers "Tom Thumb" 1842

Living among the Shakers, 1843

Visit to the "Red Light" District, 1843

The Irish Potato Famine, 1847

Aboard a Whaling Ship, 1850

the Forbidden City
of Mecca, 1853

Life on a Southern Plantation, 1854

Return of a Fugitive Slave, 1854

Charge of the Light Brigade, 1854

Livingstone Discovers Victoria Falls, 1855

Andrew Carnegie Becomes a Capitalist, 1856

Slave Auction, 1859

Good Manners for Young Ladies, 1859

The Trial of Andrew Johnson, 1868

The Ku Klux Klan, 1868

Building the Brooklyn Bridge, 1871

Stanley Finds Livingstone, 1871

The Baseball Glove
Comes to Baseball,

The Death of President
Garfield, 1881

A Portrait of Thomas Edison

College Football, 1884

Opulence in the Gilded Age, 1890

Death of a Child, 1890

Corbett Knocks Out Sullivan, 1892

Hobo, 1894

Leaving Home for the "Promised Land", 1894

America's First Auto Race, 1895

1st to Sail Around the World Alone, 1895

The United States Declares War on Spain, 1898

The Battle of Manila Bay, 1898

The Rough Riders Storm San Juan Hill, 1898

First to Sail

Around the World Alone, 1895-8

The Spray
Captain Joshua Slocum was a man of the sea. Born in Nova Scotia in 1844, Joshua left home for the deep water at age 16. He began as an ordinary seaman and worked his way up to captain. He married in 1871 and his wife accompanied him on his voyages - bearing four children aboard ship. The seven seas were his home as he transported goods to and from the California coast, China, Australia, the Spice Islands, South America and more. His fortunes rose and fell. His wife died (buried in Buenos Aires), he faced a mutiny in which he shot two men, overcame disease, married a second wife, gained and lost commands and finally ended up in Boston, Massachusetts in 1890. During the same period steam power supplanted the sail and Captain Slocum's hard-earned skills were in less demand.

Captain Slocum turned to writing and published a book describing his adventures at sea. Sales were disappointing. In 1892 he decided to build his own boat and sail her around the world alone. The result was the 37-foot sloop Spray and one of the greatest sea adventures ever told. Captain Slocum's odyssey began on April 24, 1895. He was 51 years old. Over three years later he and the Spray returned on June 27, 1898 completing a journey of 46,000 miles. His adventures were first published in Century Magazine and then in book form in 1900.


Captain Slocum reached Gibraltar in early August 1895 planning to continue through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal. However, the warnings of naval officers in Gibraltar regarding the presence of pirates and his subsequent experience changed his course. The following encounter persuaded the captain to sail westward across the Atlantic:

"Monday, August 25, the Spray sailed from Gibraltar. ...A tug belonging to her Majesty towed the sloop into the steady breeze clear of the mount, where her sails caught a violent wind, which carried her once more to the Atlantic, where it rose rapidly to a furious gale. My plan was, in going down this coast, to haul offshore, well clear of the land, which hereabouts is the home of pirates; but I had hardly accomplished this when I perceived a felucca making out of the nearest port, and finally following in the wake of the Spray I was, after all, evidently in the midst of pirates and thieves! I changed my course; the felucca did the same, both vessels sailing very fast, but the distance growing less and less between us. The Spray was doing nobly; she was even more than at her best, but, in spite of all I could do, she would broach now and then. She was carrying too much sail for safety. I must reef [reduce the size of the sail] or be dismasted and lose all, pirate or no pirate. I must reef, even if I had to grapple with him for my life.

I was not long in reefing the mainsail and sweating it up - probably not more than fifteen minutes; but the felucca had in the meantime, so shortened the distance between us that I now saw the tuft of hair on the heads of the crew, - by which, it is said, Mohammed will pull the villains up into heaven, - and they were coming on like the wind. From what I could clearly make out now, I felt them to be the sons of generations of pirates, and I saw by their movements that they were now preparing to strike a blow. The exultation on their faces, however, was changed in an instant to a look of fear and rage. Their craft, with too much sail on, broached to on the crest of a great wave. This one great sea changed the aspect of affairs suddenly as the flash of a gun. Three minutes later the same wave overtook the Spray and shook her in every timber. At the same moment the sheet-strop parted, and away went the main-boom, broken short at the rigging.

Captain Slocum's Odyessy 1895-98
Impulsively I sprang to the jib-halyards and down-haul, and instantly downed the jib. The head-sail being off, and the helm put hard down, the sloop came in the wind with a bound. While shivering there, but a moment though it was, I got the mainsail down and secured inboard, broken boom and all...The mainsail being secured, I hoisted away the jib, and, without looking round, stepped quickly to the cabin and snatched down my loaded rifle and cartridges at hand; for I made mental calculations that the pirate would by this time have recovered his course and be close aboard, and that when I saw him it would be better for me to be looking at him along the barrel of a gun. The piece was at my shoulder when I peered into the mist, but there was no pirate within a mile. The wave and squall that carried away my boom dismasted the felucca outright. I perceived his thieving crew, some dozen or more of them, struggling to recover their rigging from the sea. Allah blacken their faces!"

The Greatest Adventure

Captain Slocum faced his greatest challenge as he sailed from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean through the Strait of Magellan:

"There was no turning
back even had
I wished to do so"
"It was the 3d of March when the Spray sailed from Port Tamar direct for Cape Pillar, with the wind from the northeast, which I fervently hoped might hold till she cleared the land; but there was no such good luck in store. It soon began to rain and thicken in the northwest, boding no good. The Spray neared Cape Pillar rapidly, and, nothing loath, plunged into the Pacific Ocean at once, taking her first bath of it in the gathering storm. There was no turning back even had I wished to do so, for the land was now shut out by the darkness of night. The wind freshened, and I took in a third reef. The sea was confused and treacherous...I saw now only the gleaming crests of the waves. They showed white teeth while the sloop balanced over them...on the morning of March 4 the wind shifted to southwest, then back suddenly to northwest, and blow with terrific force. The Spray, stripped of her sails, then bore off under bare poles. No ship in the world could have stood up against so violent a gale. Knowing that this storm might continue for many days, and that it would be impossible to work back to the westward along the coast outside of Tierra del Fuego, there seemed nothing to do but to keep on and go east about, after all. Anyhow, for my present safety the only course lay in keeping her before the wind. And so she drove southeast, as though about to round the Horn, while the waves rose and fell and bellowed their never-ending story of the sea."

For the next four days Captain Slocum and the Spray ride the angry sea as the gale pushes them back towards the Strait of Magellan:

"It was indeed a mountainous sea. When the sloop was in the fiercest squalls, with only the reefed forestaysail set, even that small sail shook her from keelson to truck when it shivered by the leach. Had I harbored the shadow of a doubt for her safety, it would have been that she might spring a leak in the garboard at the heel of the mast; but she never called me once to the pump. Under pressure of the smallest sail I could set she made for the land like a race-horse, and steering her over the crests of the waves so that she might not trip was nice work. I stood at the helm now and made the most of it.

"The blood trickled
over my face"
Night closed in before the sloop reached the land, leaving her feeling the way in pitchy darkness. I saw breakers ahead before long. At this I wore ship and stood offshore, but was immediately startled by the tremendous roaring of breakers again ahead and on the lee bow. This puzzled me, for there should have been no broken water where I supposed myself to be. I kept off a good bit, then wore round, but finding broken water also there, threw her head again offshore. In this way, among dangers, I spent the rest of the night. Hail and sleet in the fierce squalls cut my flesh till the blood trickled over my face; but what of that? It was daylight, and the sloop was in the midst of the Milky Way of the sea, which is northwest of Cape Horn and it was the white breakers of a huge sea over sunken rocks which had threatened to engulf her through the night. It was Fury Island I had sighted and steered for, and what a panorama was before me now and all around! It was not the time to complain of a broken skin. What could I do but fill away among the breakers and find a channel between them, now that it was day? Since she had escaped the rocks through the night, surely she would find her way by daylight. This was the greatest sea adventure of my life. God knows how my vessel escaped."

   Slochum, Joshua, Sailing Alone Around the World (originally published 1900, republished 1954).

How To Cite This Article:
"First to Sail Around the World Alone, 1895-8," EyeWitness to History, (2002).

On Nov. 14, 1909, Captain Slocum sailed the Spray out of Martha's Vineyard bound for South America. He was never heard from again.
Ancient World | Middle Ages/Renassiance | 17th Century | 18th Century | 19th Century | Civil War | Old West | 20th Century
World War One | World War Two | Photo of the Week | SnapShots | Voices | History in Motion | Index | Home
Copyright © Ibis Communications, Inc.