This Week in History


"Not one of these men can be the first to do it"

For the week of Monday June 27, 2005

At 1:00 AM, on June 27, 1898, Captain Joshua Slocum anchored his boat, the Spray, at Newport, Rhode Island. He had just returned from a three year, two month, and 74,000 km voyage to complete the first single-handed circumnavigation of the globe.

Captain Joshua Slocum
© Joshua Slocum Society International
Born on February 20, 1844, into a family line of seafaring men, Slocum grew up in Wilmot Township, Nova Scotia, on the Bay of Fundy. After his mother’s death in 1860 he ran away from home to become a seaman. During his travels commanding large sailing ships, Captain Slocum met and married Virginia Walker at Sydney, Australia, in 1871. She raised their family aboard the ship, and some believe that her death in 1884 devastated Slocum and led him to take the lonesome journey 11 years later.

Employment for sailing ship officers became scarce as steamships grew in popularity, so the Captain chose to repair the approximately 100-year-old oystering sloop Spray for his trip around the globe, taking only a compass, old charts, a sextant, and other rudimentary items. The Captain and the Spray had many intriguing encounters after he left Boston on April 24, 1895. 

Main stops along Captain Slocum's route.
© Parks Canada / Victoria Baranow / 2005

During one of the early weeks of his trip he ate under-ripe plums and suffered from food poisoning which resulted in hallucinating a vision of Columbus’ helmsman at sea. On the island of Rodriguez he sailed in on the islanders’ forecasted day for the arrival of the Antichrist, causing quite a bit of anxiety. He met explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley at Port Natal, South Africa, and at Pretoria he met President Paul Kruger who, despite Slocum’s circumnavigation, held firm to his belief that the earth was flat!

The Captain returned in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, with little celebration of his accomplishment. Yet, he met both President William McKinley and President Theodore Roosevelt in Washington, D.C. In 1900 he published his adventure, Sailing Alone Around the World, and became one of the great classics of nautical literature. When others contended that many men could have made his trip, he would reply: “Right my friend, but with one slight difference. Not one of these men can be the first to do it.”

Captain Slocum was never heard from again after departing for one of his yearly winter trips to the Caribbean. He was declared legally dead on November 14, 1909. Captain Joshua Slocum was designated a national historic person in 1957 for his sailing feat around the world.

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