Joseph Bates, 1812 Sailor
by Amy Kruger
Joseph Bates' parents grew up in the small village of Wareham, Plymouth county, Massachusetts. Even in this small village his family had gained a certain amount of military distinction. His father was a volunteer in the Revolutionary War and through the seven-year struggle gained the rank of captain. Captain Bates apparently distinguished himself so well that when General Lafayette revisited this country he recognized him saying, "How do you do, my old friend, Captain Bates?" When the general was asked if he remembered the good Captain he replied, "Certainly; he was under my immediate command in the Army." After the war Captain Bates married Joseph's mother and on July 8, 1792 Joseph Bates entered the world in Rochester, Massachusetts.
While a young lad Joseph showed a passion for the sea with an intense desire to one day be a sailor. His mother did her best to dissuade him, but, she finally consented to a short trip with his uncle to Boston. The purpose of this trip was, of course, to cure him of his infatuation. However, equally obvious, it had the opposite effect. In June of 1807 Joseph embarked on his first cross-Atlantic voyage as a cabin boy. Through his years as a cabin boy he encountered many intense moments, such as falling overboard in shark infested waters, and his ship becoming trapped in an island of ice. Shortly after escaping the ice, two rather suspicious vessels attempted to cut them off from shore, they soon proved to be Danish privateers. The ship was captured and taken to Copenhagen. This ship had a previous rendezvous with the British and, since Napoleon Bonaparte was at war with the British and in control of Denmark, the entire crew was required to testify as to the nature of their voyage. Because of the true testimony the sailors gave, they were spared; however, their ship, cargo and wages were confiscated, they were even stripped of their clothes. Joseph did obtain a berth on a Danish ship bound for Prussia, thankfully before a Danish winter set in. The return of this ship went Ireland instead of Denmark and it was here Joseph left the ship to seek passage to America. He made it as far as Liverpool, here he encountered a "press-gang." An officer and twelve men entered his boarding house and asked his citizenship, on his proud exclamation of "American" he was forced to join the British navy. This all happened on April 27, 1810.
While impressed in the British navy Joseph made many attempts to escape. Each time he was caught he always protested that he was an American and not a subject of King George. He was eventually stationed on "Rodney 74". Here his attempts to leave His Majesty's service were looked on as a severe crime by his commanding officer; many and harsh were the punishments Joseph faced. HMS Rodney was destined to join the British squadron in the Gulf of Lyons, in the Mediterranean sea. Along the way they stopped at Cadiz, Spain. The soldiers of Napoleon Bonaparte were bombarding the city and the ships in the harbor, many of which had escaped from the Battle of Trafalger under the command of Lord Nelson in 1805. Here Joseph was chosen to help refit the ship named Apollo, the refitting was forced to be completed at Gibraltar by excess winds. Unfortunately after the refitting Joseph was taken back to the Rodney. After spending the winter with the British squadron off the Isle of Minorca, Joseph was again transferred, this time to HMS Swiftsure. Shortly after Swiftshore left for her station in Toulon, a friend of Joseph's father arrived looking for him. Joseph had no contact with his family for nearly three years; many of the letters he tried to write home were destroyed, yet, before the war one did reach his father. This friend went to the Rodney and was there kept busy until one of Joseph's friends told him of the transfer. Apparently this friend did catch up to Joseph but when the captain learned of his identity the Captain hid Joseph. By this time the War of 1812 had begun and Joseph was stuck. During one of the preparations for battle Joseph and a few other Americans demanded that they should be considered prisoners of war and would therefore not fire on their countrymen. After eight months on board the Swiftshore as prisoners they were transferred to a prison ship about 70 miles from London.
Later in the War, Joseph was transferred to Dartmoor Prison. He was present during the Massacre of American prisoners on April 6, 1815, but he survived to see the end of the war and was safely returned home. Later in life Joseph Bates become captain of his own ship and a devoted Christian. He became one of the key founders of the Seventh-day Adventist church. During his life as a sailor he came to believe very strongly in several basic Adventist beliefs. While he was impressed he became disturbed by the way the sailors (regardless of their religion) were forced to go to Anglican services; later in life he became adamant that the separation of church and state should be upheld. In his every day life as a sailor he noticed the intemperance of the sailors and the resulting side effects. Many of these problems came from poor rations but many more were the result of overindulgence by the men. He became one of the champions of health reform; abstaining from all alcohol, tobacco and caffeine, even becoming a vegetarian.
If you would like to read more about him, his autobiography has been published several times including a facsimile reproduction from Southern Publishing in 1970. This article was taken primarily from that copy.