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Before the Wind: The Memoir of an American Sea Captain, 1808-1833 Hardcover – June 1, 1999

4.7 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

What's not to like in a narrative that features pirates, rude seamen and exotic ports? Tyng (1801-1879), who rose from cabin boy to captain and prosperous merchant, wrote this account of his early sailing days in later life. In 1996, this memoir was found by his great-great-granddaughter, Susan Fels, who edited the 419-page handwritten manuscript. An unruly boy sent to live in various homes by his rather forbidding father, Tyng first shipped on a merchant vessel at the age of 13. He hated it. But he loved his second voyage and soon became one of the youngest captains in the American merchant fleet. As Tyng tells of voyages around the world carrying cargoes of bullion, tea, linseed oil, molasses and other items to Holland, China, Cuba and other destinations, he writes with understatement, modesty and a deadpan humor that might or might not be intentional. Consider this description of an aborted mutiny: "The cook who was standing near the cambose with an iron ladle in his hand... struck Williams a stunning blow with the ladle which put him down." Of Havana's dangerous streets, he writes: "There were placed along the back of the Palace, a row of wooden benches, for the deposit of bodies of those who had been assassinated in the night and picked up in the morning, that their friends might find them." Tyng's voyages frequently struck a tangent to history: he met Lord Byron in Italy, was intercepted by a British man of war guarding the imprisoned Napoleon at St. Helena and saw the first Atlantic steamship. His collection of salty anecdotes will make a pleasing diversion for fans of Patrick O'Brian.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

When Tyng (1801-79), not quite 14 years old, embarked from Boston as a "sailor boy" on the merchant ship Cordelia for a year-and-a-half voyage around the world to China and back, it was an event that shaped an incipient "black sheep" into an enterprising and determined young man who became a successful captain and ship owner in the tea and sugar trade. His memoirsAonly recently discovered and edited by great-great-granddaughter Fels, an editor in Washington, DCAcompare favorably with Richard Henry Dana's Two Years Before the Mast (1840). Tyng describes his unhappy childhood, recalls the varied ups and downs of his maritime trading experiences, and gives sharply detailed accounts of storms, shipwrecks, mutinies, and other near-death adventures at sea. His distinctive voice, at once dramatic, informative, and intensely personal, re-creates the world of the early 19th century in a true-life account that C.S. Forester or Patrick O'Brian would find difficult to match. Recommended for all public libraries.ARobert C. Jones, formerly with Central Missouri State Univ., Warrensburg
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 1 and up
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (June 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670886327
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670886326
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,458,543 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In the early days of American history, the merchant trade was the predominant occupation on the Eastern Seaboard. Charles Tyng's memoir, "Before the Wind," captures that life in a way histories written today never can. Tyng lived a colorful, adventurous life, and had the ability to record it in a fresh and vivid style. Tyng's early life reads like a combination of Charles Dickens and Horatio Alger. The son of an affluent but no-nonsense father, Tyng was farmed out to various relatives and school headmasters until his father sent him to sea, hoping to cure his son's self-confessed rebellious streak, and to teach him a trade. Although this sounds rather severe, it was far from uncommon, especially in large families such as Tyng's to apprentice or force children to seek their way at a very early age.
Once at sea, Tyng experienced a variety of hardships at the hands of sadistic shipmates who seemed to have no regard for a boy's safety or well-being. However, his early experiences at sea energized Tyng's dormant ambition to rise above the position of sailor and become a ship's officer. The memoir contains recollections of Tyng's studies, trips, and early efforts at trading on a small scale. Eventually Tyng rose through the ranks to become a ship's officer, captain, and eventually the owner of two ships. His memoir is filled with recollections of entrepreneurial deals, mutinies, and pirates. It is also filled with the day-to-day details of life aboard a merchant vessel. In a more general sense, it is also filled with the routine, but now forgotten, details of life in the early 19th century.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I came across a reference to this book when checking the book reviews of another amazon.com reviewer. It is an autobiography of Captain Charles Tyng, covering the early part of his life and, in particular, his career in as a merchant mariner from the time he was 13 to the time he was 31. It was taken from a hand written manuscript which he wrote 45 years after the last event detailed, and not published until 120 years after his death after being found by one of his descendents. He started as a ship's boy, shortly after the end of the War of 1812 on a voyage to Canton, China; rapidly rose to a ship's captain by his own initiative, family connections, and matters of chance; and established his early fortune by the private trading allowed to ships' captains, trading in things as exotic as live monkeys, parrots, bird nests, and other commodities. He had an eye for potential profit. The book details the harsh life of merchant sailors, with miserly ship owners often giving them insufficient food and low pay (if they did not try to steal even that), and bad treatment from some sadistic ships' officers. Captain Tyng managed to become a ship owner at an early age, and was a successful merchant brokering cargo by the time he was 31 (the ending point of the tale). The last chapter covers a conflict in Charleston, SC, between the State and the Federal Government about 30 years before the Civil War when South Carolina passed the Nullification Act, refusing to pay duties on imported goods, and President Jackson sent a frigate to Charleston to enforce the customs and General Scott to restore order in the city. The book is the manuscript pretty much as written and has a few flaws as a novel, e.g.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
While Charles Tyng's brothers became wealthy as doctors, lawyers and land-based businessmen, Charles (due to his poor study habits) was forced to pursue the much more dangerous and uncertain vocation of sailor and sea-merchant. This is definitely no dry account of business deals. This story is about Charles' struggles against cruel and incompetent superiors, ferocious storms at sea, mutinous and violent crews, pirate attacks, shark attacks and, for good measure a bout with cholera. If even half of Tyng's account is true, he was very, very lucky to live to old age. Tyng was obviously a man who was very curious by nature and so he was able to describe in detail many aspects of the people, places and operations that he witnessed (such as whale hunting, sugar processing, and opium smuggling). Most of it is very interesting because it paints a piture of a world very different from our modern world. Tyng himself is likable, for the most part, although he definitely was a bit of a rogue; he pulls a few pratical jokes on people that adds some humor to the story. I only give it four stars because there were a couple short dry patches in the book. Overall, though, very enjoyable.
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By A Customer on August 9, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an interesting memoir of the early life of sailor, captain, and businessman. Unlike other memoirs of the sea, this covers life on the sea from bottom to top: from Tyne's start as a child-sailor, to his rise to captain, finally to ship owner and commodities speculator. It includes some very good passages, which vididly portray the many dangers of a life at sea in the early 19th century. Most of it is interestings and enlightening, but this book is not the literary equal of Two Years Before The Mast.
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