First Visit to the Homeland, Shipwrecked, Miraculous Escape
How to gain access to the ears and hearts of the people, and lead them to Christ; how to build up churches of living stones after the New Testament pattern, was the study of the Crawfords by day and by night. Released from the environments of their own native country, they endeavored to work, under their new and peculiar circumstances, without introducing unnecessary foreign customs. In short, they tried to make the New Testament Christianity, rather than its modern type, their model; yet without yielding any essential article of faith or practice as held by Baptist Churches, fully believing these to be in accordance with the divine teachings. They embraced every opportunity to present Christ as the only way of salvation, to their servants, to all who came into their house for whatever purpose, to those who assembled in the chapels, and to all those they could reach in any way. In their daily walks for exercise, they frequently wended their way to some village or cluster of farm houses, where they found openings for presenting the gospel. Such was mainly their methods of labor. Their motto was, "This one thing I do."
After their severe illness in 1855, they made a trip of recuperation to the native port of Ningpo. Among the various missionaries stationed there, several belonged to the American Baptist Missionary Union, with all of whom they formed strong and lasting friendships. At Ningpo they had opportunities for seeing many phases of missionary work, and for taking counsel on difficult points connected with it. It is always helpful to look around upon the methods of others. This was especially so in those early, experimental days, when the great question was how to do it. In the summer of 1857, it was decided that Mr. Yates and family should go home on a furlough. They had been on the field for ten years, and the Board had invited them home for a much-needed rest. Before they sailed Dr. Burton strongly advised that, on account of her weak condition, Mrs. Crawford should accompany them. Mr. Crawford being
in less need of a change of climate, it was decided that he should remain for a year in charge of the church, left pastorless by Mr. Yates' absence, before joining his wife in America.
On September first the party, consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Yates and their daughter Annie, and Mrs. Crawford, set out on the sailing ship Ariel, Captain Cutler in command, bound for New York. Friends had previously said to them, "Are you not afraid to start in the very heart of the typhoon season?" But their passage was engaged, the time of sailing was not under their control, and so committing themselves to God, they set out on what proved to be the Ariel's last voyage. They afterwards learned that at their departure the barometer was indicating the approach of a typhoon. When about one hundred and fifty miles from Shanghai, the weather became so threatening that the captain anchored under shelter of a group of islands called The Saddles. While there, Mrs. Crawford embraced an opportunity of sending a letter to Mr. Crawford, informing him of their detention. After a few days the captain weighed anchor and set sail, hoping to reach the open sea or a more secure refuge before the storm should reach them. But in a few hours it burst upon them with ever increasing fury, so filling the sails and tightening the ropes that it became difficult to manage the ship. With as much sail up as safety would sanction, the vessel almost upon, her beam ends plowed through the raging sea with terrific velocity. "The tension was so great," wrote Mrs. Crawford, "that my whole frame became rigid. I could only wedge myself between the berth and the washstand, holding on with clenched hands, awaiting I knew not what. After some hours of this race for life, we anchored in a channel among the Chu San islands, where for a time we felt secure. The physical relief felt at the lowering of the sails and the casting of the anchors was wonderful."
But this sense of safety was of short duration. As in all cyclones, the wind soon veered to another quarter, and the vessel was again exposed to all its force. By nightfall it was found that the anchors were insufficient to hold the ship, and that she was drifting along the channel towards a high rocky cliff, projecting from one of the adjacent islands. The captain thereupon decided to clear the ship of her masts. The rigging on the weather side was first cut loose, and all the three masts were snapped off by the force of the wind, and fell into the water, though still attached to the ship by the lea rigging. When these ropes were cut loose, the masts, yards and appurtenances floated away out of sight. The
storm raged with unabated fury throughout the night. With the ship's head to the wind the great waves struck her prow with such violence as to come dashing over the cabin in the stern. The roar was fearful. On deck no commands could be heard unless shouted into the ear at the top of the voice. The next day the storm seemed even to grow worse, and it was discovered that, some of the anchors having parted cable, the ship was again drifting towards the rocks. Early in the afternoon it was announced that a dismantled junk, at the mercy of the waves, was bearing down upon them. A collision, which seemed inevitable, would be certain destruction to both vessels. Earnest, silent prayer went up from the passengers, while the sailors played out a hawser at the stern to change, if possible, the position of the ship. She veered a little in answer to the effort, and the junk passed by, missing the ship only a few yards. The appeals of "save, save, save," of the poor helpless junkmen wrung with pity the hearts of those on the dismantled Ariel, who thanked God for their own deliverance. The rain, spray, and low hanging clouds, made it so dark that even at midday they could see but a few rods from the ship, yet they felt sure the unfortunate junk was soon dashed to pieces against the shore toward which she was rapidly drifting, and they were powerless to help its occupants.
The ship drifted at every flood tide, and at night the captain, full of anxiety, ordered the steward to place beside each of the passengers ropes with slipknots, so that when the ship should strike the rocks they might lash themselves to some plank or article of furniture as a last hope. They were told that as the tide was just beginning to ebb they were safe for the next six hours, until another flood tide. The carpenter said he would turn in, as he would as soon go down in his bunk as any other way. The steward replied, "I will sit up, for if we go down I wish to see it."
All were exceedingly weary. Knowing of the six hours' respite, the passengers lay down on the cabin floor, wedging themselves securely between table legs and sofas, with their ear rings (as the sailors called the noosed ropes) beside them, and committing themselves into the hands of God, they slept through the night, all unconscious of what was going on. At daylight the steward came down exclaiming, "The days of miracles are not passed! We have drifted past the rocks and are safe!" In the afternoon the wind began to abate, and the clouds to part, and at last a ray of the setting sun streamed through the cabin window. It seemed like the return of a long-lost friend. Mrs. Yates and Mrs. Crawford exchanged glances and burst into tears.
An arrangement called "scissors" was extemporized for carrying sail and the captain slipped his anchor and headed for the open sea. With nothing to steady her, the vessel rolled heavily, but securing themselves firmly in their berths, the passengers again slept all night.
What a contrast greeted their eyes next morning when they went on deck! The sea where they had lain during the storm was brown and thick with mud from the great Yang Tsze river, now plowed up from the shallow channel. The heavens had been black with wild, scudding clouds, the jagged rocks were menacing, and everything around was forbidding in the extreme. But this morning all these were gone, and they were safe in the open sea. Not a cloud was in sight, and the bluest of seas laughed back at the bluest of skies. Their hearts, with rejoicing nature, went up, in gratitude to God, who had heard their prayers and spared his servants for further work in his vineyard.
Before breakfast a bark was sighted, and the captain bore down toward her as well as he could. The bark, seeing their disabled condition and flag of distress; also trimmed for the Ariel. She proved to be a Siamese man-of-war, short of provisions, bound for Shanghai. She was requested to take the Ariel's passengers on board and to send a tug to tow the hulk into port. As there was still a heavy swell, it was dangerous to approach very near together, and the transfer was made over a considerable distance. It was unsafe for the four passengers and the requisite stores to go all at once on the little boat, so two trips had to be made. As the frail boat moved away with the Yates family, all on the ship watched anxiously. Sometimes the great waves would hide it from view for a painfully long time, raising fears that it was swamped. But she went bravely on until she reached the bark, and the passengers, with much difficulty, were taken on board. On the second trip, besides Mrs. Crawford, the boat carried needed provisions. Little did they then suppose that they should be ten days on this bark, and that she would again run short of supplies. But her Siamese crew were so inefficient that the English captain felt under the necessity of carrying but little sail, as in case of sudden squalls no one could be induced to go aloft to trim sail. They were landlocked in the Chu San archipelago for several days, constantly threatened by a fleet of fishing junks, which, whenever suitable prey offered, were ready to turn pirates. Had they run aground, or from any cause become disabled, they would certainly have fallen into the hands of these sea robbers. As they approached Shanghai, they saw a steam
tug going out to sea. Next day, the tug in returning passed them in the river, towing the dismantled Ariel, whose captain saluted the bark by lowering his flag.
During the typhoon Mr. Crawford had of course suffered much anxiety. He had hardly hoped that the outgoing missionaries had escaped the storm, and as it howled and raged around him in his loneliness, every blast sent a fresh dagger through his heart. He had received his wife's note from The Saddles, and therefore knew something of the whereabouts of the unfortunate vessel and its passengers at the time of the typhoon. A strong wind blowing up the river caused the water to overflow both banks at each flood tide and to submerge the streets of Shanghai and the fields back of the Crawford home.
After the transfer of his passengers, Captain Cutler in the Ariel had made his way slowly towards Shanghai. Having reached the mouth of the Yang Tsze, he anchored with one of his guns (his anchors having all been lost), got with its crew into his long boat and rowed up the river with many difficulties and delays. He supposed the bark had preceded him. On arriving, all covered with mud, at Fogg and Company's store, and being asked "What is the matter?" he replied in surprise, "Where are my passengers? Have they not come? And have they not told you the trouble?" But nothing had been heard of them, for they were at that time landlocked among the islands. He could only tell their friends that he had placed them aboard a Siamese bark, but had forgotten to ask its name.
News came that a Siamese vessel had been wrecked off Ningpo, and all had been drowned or murdered by pirates. This increased for several days the agony of Mr. Crawford and their friends, for it was naturally inferred that the missionaries were on that unfortunate vessel, and had shared the fate of the other victims. The tug with the Ariel in tow reached Shanghai a few hours in advance of Mrs. Crawford and the Yates family, and Mr. Crawford was in the act of reading a note from the editor of the North China Herald, informing him of their safety, when they knocked at his gate. Great anxiety had been felt by all their friends, native and foreign, and during the next few days, many were the visits of congratulation and thanksgiving for their deliverance.
But the necessity for the trip still remained, and they again sailed for New York November 17, 1857, on the ship Nabob. The voyage on the Nabob was a weary and uneventful one of one hundred and twelve days. On arriving in New York early in March, 1858, Mrs. Crawford found letters awaiting her from Shanghai.
They had gone by way of the Red Sea and England, which at that time required two or three months time and forty-five cents postage.
After the departure of the home-going missionaries, Mr. Crawford devoted himself earnestly to his work. A number were baptized, and good progress was made by the infant church. It was, however, deemed advisable for him to make a visit to the United States before his wife's return, rather than wait until his health should be too much impaired by the climate. So leaving the work in the hands of Mr. Cabaniss, on the thirteenth of August, 1858, he sailed on the Lizzie Jarvis for Puget Sound, arriving at Port Townsend in sixty days. After a stay there of seventeen days he took a steamer for San Francisco, and thence by way of Panama and Cuba for New Orleans. He reached Mrs. Crawford near Starkville, Mississippi, late in November.
During their visit in the United States, opportunities were continually embraced to present the needs of their fields to churches and individuals in that favored homeland. They spent some time in Tennessee, as the Baptists in the western part of that state had pledged themselves to their support. Then they went to Richmond for medical treatment, and while there attended the Southern Baptist Convention, in May, 1859.
In December of that year they proceeded, by way of Cuba and Panama, to San Francisco, hoping to find a vessel going direct to Shanghai, and thus avoid the long sea voyage by which they had first gone to China. They also visited Rev. J. L. Shuck, who, in addition to his care of an American church, was then a missionary at Sacramento, laboring for the Chinese. While awaiting an opportunity for sailing, Mr. Crawford accepted a call to supply a little church at Ione City, situated among the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Hearing of no vessel for Shanghai they sailed for Hong Kong in April, 1860, on the ship Oracle. They touched at Honolulu, and made the voyage in forty-nine days. After three days steaming from Hong Kong, they landed at Shanghai, taking their friends by surprise, as news of their sailing from America had not preceded them. Mr. Yates and family had arrived at Shanghai two months earlier, having gone by the old route around the Cape of Good Hope. During their absence Mr. and Mrs. Cabaniss, greatly to their regret, had left for the United States, but the Holmes and Hartwell families had been added to the mission.
The John Brown raid took place just before the Crawfords left
the South, and the political horizon was dark, but they did not dream that this event was to be the precursor of the bloody fratricidal war which ere long burst upon the American people.
Go to Chapter 11
[From L. S. Foster, Fifty Years in China - An Eventful Memoir of Tarleton Perry Crawford, D. D., 1909; reprinted and reformatted in 2005. The document was provided by Jackie Battles, Winchester, VA. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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