Magazine Article

Changing the Crew

Not Your Typical Voyage

Joseph Bates
Changing the Crew

Joseph Bates, cofounder of the Adventist Church, was a sea captain. He discovered God and began reading his Bible at least 20 years prior, and when he did, he made changes in his life as well as life aboard his ship. This excerpt is adapted from his autobiography, Life of Joseph Bates, published in 1927.—Editors.

The Empress was soon loaded again with an assorted cargo under my command, and cleared for South America. We sailed from New Bedford [Massachusetts] on the morning of August 9, 1827. I found it much more trying to part with my family and friends this time than ever before.

A strong breeze wafted us out into the boisterous ocean for a long voyage. As the night set in, all hands were called aft on the quarterdeck. All but one were strangers to me, as they had come from Boston the day before. I read our names and agreement to perform this voyage, and requested their attention while I stated the rules and regulations which I wished to be observed during our voyage.

I spoke of the importance of cultivating kind feelings toward each other while we were alone on the ocean. I stated that I had frequently seen bitter feelings and continued hatred arise on shipboard by not calling the men by their proper names. Said I, “Here is the name of William Jones; now let it be remembered while we are performing this voyage that we all call his name William. Here is John Robinson; call him John. Here is James Stubbs; call him James. We shall not allow any Bills, or Jacks, or Jims to be called here.” In like manner I read all their names, with those of the first and second mates, and requested them always to address one another in a respectful manner, and to call themselves by their proper names; and if the officers addressed them otherwise, I wished it reported to me.

Not Your Typical Voyage

Another rule was that I should allow no swearing during the voyage. Said William Dunn, “I have always had that privilege, sir.”

“Well,” said I, “you cannot have it here,” and quoted the third commandment, and was endeavoring to show how wicked it was to swear, when he said, “I can’t help it, sir!”

I replied, “Then I will help you to help it.”

He said, “When I am called up in the night to reef topsails in bad weather, and things don’t go right, I swear before I think of it.”

Said I to him, “If you do so here, I will tell you what I will do with you; I will call you down and send you below, and let your shipmates do your duty for you.”

Dunn saw that such a course would disgrace him, and he said, “I will try, sir.”

Another rule was that we should allow no washing nor mending clothes on Sundays. I said to the crew, “I have a good assortment of books and papers which you may have access to every Sunday. I shall also endeavor to instruct you, that we may keep that day holy unto the Lord. You shall have every Saturday afternoon to wash and mend your clothes, both at sea and in harbor, and I shall expect you to appear every Sunday morning with clean clothes. When we arrive in port, you may have the same Saturday afternoon in your turn to go on shore and see the place, and get what you wish. We shall observe the Sabbath on board in port, and not grant any liberty on shore Sunday.”*

At this, Dunn remarked again, “That’s the sailor’s privilege, and I have always had the liberty of going on shore Sundays, and—”

“I know that very well,” said I, interrupting him, “but I cannot give you that liberty,” and endeavored to show the crew how wrong it was to violate God’s holy day, and how much better they would enjoy themselves in reading and improving their minds than in joining in all the wickedness that sailors were in the habit of indulging in at a foreign port on that day.

A Dry Ship

“Another thing is that we have no liquor, or intoxicating drinks, on board. I here strictly forbid any of you to bring anything of the kind on board when you have liberty to go on shore in foreign ports. And I would that I could persuade you never to drink it when on shore. When you are called to do duty during your watch below, we shall expect you to come up readily and cheerfully, and you shall retire again as soon as the work is performed, and also have your forenoon watch below. If you adhere to these rules, and behave yourselves like men, you shall be kindly treated, and our voyage will prove a pleasant one.”

I then knelt down and commended ourselves to the great God, whose tender mercies are over all the works of His hands, to protect and guide us on our way over the ocean to our destined port.

The next morning, all but the man at the helm were invited into the cabin to join with us in our morning prayer. We told them that this would be our practice morning and evening, and we should be pleased to have them all with us, that we might pray with and for them. Also, to further encourage the crew to read and inform their minds, we proposed to issue a paper twice a week during the voyage. Before sailing, I had prepared a stock of books, with the latest newspapers, also the last volume of an interesting religious weekly paper, published in Boston, called Zion’s Herald. 

The novel idea of a semi-weekly paper at sea interested the crew very much. Their interest in the paper continued throughout the entire voyage. I used to frequently walk forward, unobserved, and listen to some one of them reading aloud from their morning paper.

On Sundays, when the weather was suitable, we had religious worship on the quarterdeck, otherwise in the cabin, when we generally read a sermon, and a passage from the Bible. When in port we could not have their whole attention on Sunday as when at sea. It sometimes seemed hard for them to be deprived of the privilege of going ashore with other ship companies, but we enjoyed peace and quietness, while they were rioting in folly and drunkenness.

After a few weeks it was truly gratifying to see them selecting their books from our little library on Sunday morning, and reading them, and also their Bibles, to inform their minds—it was so different from their former course on shipboard. They also appeared cheerful and willing to obey when called upon, and so continued. After a passage of 47 days, we arrived in safety at Paraiba, on the east coast of South America.

*This was nearly 20 years prior to when Captain Bates learned of and began the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath.

Joseph Bates

Joseph Bates (1792-1872) was a cofounder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.