CHAPTER VII. PHILADELPHIA TO CAPE HENLOPEN.
DESCENT OF DELAWARE RIVER. - MY FIRST CAMP. - BOMBAY HOOK. - MURDERKILL CREEK. - A STORM IN DELAWARE BAY. - CAPSIZING OF THE CANOE. - A SWIM FOR LIFE. - THE PERSIMMON GROVE. - WILLOW GROVE INN. - THE LIGHTS OF CAPES MAY AND HENLOPEN.
Monday, November 9, was a cold, wet day. Mr. Knight and the old, enthusiastic gunsmith-naturalist of the city, Mr. John Krider, assisted me to embark in my now decked, provisioned, and loaded canoe. The stock of condensed food would easily last me a month, while the blankets and other parts of the outfit were good for the hard usage of four or five months. My friends shouted adieu as the little craft shot out from the pier and rapidly descended the river with the strong ebb-tide which for two hours was in her favor. The anchorage of the iron Monitor fleet at League Island was soon passed, and the great city sank into the gloom of its smoke and the clouds of rainy mist which enveloped it.
This pull was an exceedingly dreary one. The storms of winter were at hand, and even along the watercourses between Philadelphia and Norfolk, Virginia, thin ice would soon be forming in the shallow coves and creeks. It would be necessary to exert all my energies to get south of Hatteras, which is located on the North Carolina coast in a region of storms and local disturbances. The canoe, though heavily laden, behaved well. I now enjoyed the advantages resulting from the possession of the new canvas deck-cover, which, being fastened by buttons along each gunwale of the canoe, securely covered the boat, so that the occasional swash sent aboard by wicked tug-boats and large schooners did not annoy me or wet my precious cargo.
By two o'clock P. M. the rain and wind caused me to seek shelter at Mr. J. C. Beach's cottage, at Markus Hook, some twenty miles below Philadelphia, and on the same side of the river. While Mr. Beach was varnishing the little craft, crowds of people came to feel of the canoe, giving it the usual punching with their finger-nails, "to see if it were truly paper." A young Methodist minister with his pretty wife came also to satisfy their curiosity on the paper question, but the dominie offered me not a word of encouragement in my undertaking. He shook his head and whispered to his wife: "A wild, wild enterprise indeed." Markus Hook derived its name from Markee, an Indian chief, who sold it to the civilized white man for four barrels of whiskey.
The next morning, in a dense fog, I followed the shores of the river, crossing the Pennsylvania and Delaware boundary line half a mile below the "Hook;" and entered Delaware, the little state of three counties. Thirty-five miles below, the water becomes salt. Reaching New Castle, which contained half its present number of inhabitants before Philadelphia was founded, I pulled across to the New Jersey side of the river and skirted the marshy shore past the little Pea Patch Island, upon which rises in sullen dreariness Fort Delaware. West of the Island is Delaware City, where the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, fourteen miles in length, has one of its termini, the other being on a river which empties into Chesapeake Bay. Philadelphia and Baltimore steamboat lines utilize this canal in the passage of their boats from one city to the other.
After crossing Salem Cove, and passing its southern point, Elsinborough, five miles and a half below Fort Delaware, the inhospitable marshes became wide and desolate, warning me to secure a timely shelter for the night. Nearly two miles below Point Elsinborough the high reeds were divided by a little creek, into which I ran my canoe, for upon the muddy bank could be seen a deserted, doorless fish-cabin, into which I moved my blankets and provisions, after cutting with my pocket-knife an ample supply of dry reeds for a bed. Drift-wood, which a friendly tide had deposited around the shanty, furnished the material for my fire, which lighted up the dismal hovel most cheerfully. And thus I kept house in a comfortable manner till morning, being well satisfied with the progress I had made that day in traversing the shores of three states. The booming of the guns of wild-fowl shooters out upon the water roused me before dawn, and I had ample time before the sun arose to prepare breakfast from the remnant of canned ox-tail soup left over from last night's supper.
I was now in Delaware Bay, which was assuming noble proportions. From my camp I crossed to the west shore below Reedy Island, and, filling my water-bottles at a farm-house, kept upon that shore all day. The wind arose, stirring up a rough sea as I approached Bombay Hook, where the bay is eight miles wide. I tried to land upon the salt marshes, over the edges of which the long, low seas were breaking, but failed in several attempts. At last roller after roller, following in quick succession, carried the little craft on their crests to the land, and packed her in a thicket of high reeds.