The Harvard African Expedition, Book 2: November 2, 1926



Loring Whitman




Tues Nov 2nd This morning we awoke early – about 530 had breakfast and packed our belongings which were taken to the boat. Then we followed. As it looked very stormy we wore our rain coats. Soon the last luggage was stowed, we said good bye to all our boys, to our hosts – and stepped aboard. It started to pour – in torrents – so we covered under the many holed covering and waved feeble good byes. We rowed up – past the customs who cleared us with a wave – then slipped downstream in the cold fog of a rainy morning.

            Now to describe our craft. It is an open surf boat – double ended and about 40 ft long. <5 drawings of the boat with captions> in it were condemned 4 white and their 5 boys – and a crew of 15 piratical looking blacks who now manned the oars. Our luggage took up ½ the boat level with the thwarts. A bit snug let us say after slipping out into the ocean the rain ceased – as well as the wind leaving us to roll on a heavy atlantic swell. The crew rowed lazily for about an hour – then stopped. In the meantime we had only moved about 5 miles and that mostly off shore. The sun came out and burned down thru the mirror like surface of the water – down into the deep blue to finally become lost in the cavernous depths. Fork tailed hawks – so common here flew by – they are like gulls, swooping down and picking their food of the surface with their feet.

            About 10 we set out sail to a flickering of win which promised – but no more. A native canoe paddled out and left some money with the helmsman – then turned and left disappearing from sight, then rising high on the crest of the heavy swells. At 1100 the breeze freshened, at 1200 we were bowling along with the water white around the bow, a steady fresh wind. The crew now started to cook lunch on a stove – a big tin can in a sand box -. We had crackers and jam. In the afternoon we slept. All of us felt a big squeamish but enjoyed life. The breeze held – we drove along pas the palm grown shore with its white beach – the water bubbled. Here and there we slipped between rock ledges with the surf breaking over them – a good coast to keep off. The afternoon wore on, evening came. We had some soup (cambells) tea and crackers but did not have much appetite. Darkness came – and River Cess – but it was too late to go in – we sailed on. – Big clouds loomed up – the stars came out. Still the breeze held. The crew disappeared into the bow of the ship – swallowed up – vanished as if gone from the Earth. A lookout in the bow called alls well in his own language fitfully, the helmsman sat like a statute in the stern – he hand not moved all day. I lit my pipe and gazed at the stars as I lay flat on my back along a a thwart. Then in subdued voices the crew began to sing, mysterious noises coming from out the blackness of the bow – native songs. I listened with pleasure. – And then “Adeste Fidelis” sung in Harmony with no sign of the singers. The stars twinkled All afternoon I had been picturing myself as being a member of some Barbary pirates crew – leering blacks with flowing moustaches (some had them) to man the oars etc. Now I could only thing of the ancient mariner – with the angels voices rising and falling from the bodies of the dead crew, “Now mixed, now one by one.”

            We lay down to sleep on the luggage (Hal and I ) while Dr. George and the Chief staid in the the many holed cubicle. The latter sat up. About 1200 it poured – but as we were in our rain coats we only needed to draw up our feet and spread our umbrellas to keep the rain from dripping down ones ear. Still the breeze held- and a ribbon of evanescent white marked our way thru the rolling water. The ledges shone like domes of illuminated pearls, well marked by their own light. 






Loring Whitman, “The Harvard African Expedition, Book 2: November 2, 1926,” A Liberian Journey: History, Memory, and the Making of a Nation, accessed November 20, 2017,