THE CONFESSION OF JOSEPH BAKER, (CANADIAN BY BIRTH.)
Considering the awfulness of my situation, the dreadful tribunal before which I must appear, there to give an account to a jealous and much-offended (but just and merciful God) of all my vile and wicked crimes, committed at this early time of life, I deem it a duty I owe to captain Wheland, and to the community, in general, to give a clear and circumstantial account of the horrid act, and of all the circumstances leading thereto, so that such of my fellow-men as follow the seas, might take warning at my fate, and learn to fear God; to shun such wicked prac|tices, and thereby avoid those disagreeable feelings which I have and am now suffering, and the igno|minious and untimely end to which I must short|ly be brought.
I was born in the year 1779, at Les-trois-riviers, in Canada, in a street called Forge-street. I was eighteen years old when I left my father, and went to Lake Champlain, from there I went to Virginia, on Lake Champlain, being sixty miles from the line of Canada: In June, 1799, I work|ed my passage in a boat from thence to Albany and New-York, where I went to work in company with another Canadian, at making staves, and continued in that employment 8 days, at two dol|lars per day; to the other man, with whom I worked, I lent money to pay for his lodging, and gave the remainder of my money and clothes in Page 3 his charge, with all which he run off: I then went in the country to one colonel Robists, twen|ty-one miles from New-York, and got from him a recommendation to obtain work at the ship-car|penter's business. On my return to New-York, there I became acquainted with one Pierre Lewis Lacroix, (who is now under the unhappy sentence with myself, for the same crime.) One evening I went to a tavern in company with Lacroix; and, in conversation, he asked me where I lodged? I told him where my lodgings were, and the next day he (in company with Brous, now under the same sentence also) called upon me: they told me I was a fool to stay in such a country as this was, when, if I would go the West-Indies and work at my trade, I could get five dollars per day. They told me of an English vessel at New-York, mount|ing eighteen guns, which was bound to Jamaica, with a cargo of flour and lumber. I went and entered on board of this vessel as ship-carpenter. There were seven Italians and Frenchmen on board this vessel, who proposed to me to enter into a secret conspiracy for suprizing the captain and crew on her voyage to the West-Indies, and make ourselves masters of the ship and cargo: But I would not agree to their proposal, and, therefore, quitted the ship; in consequence of which, Pierre Lewis Lacroix and Joseph Brous, quitted her also. I came to Philadelphia on the twentieth of August, 1799, and took up lodgings at a board|ing house in Water-street, in company with Pierre Lewis Lacroix: The before-mentioned Brous, having found out where we lodged, came and took lodgings in the same house. As I did not like the company of Brous, I told Pierre Lewis Lacroix, to let us go, and look out for a vessel that was going to the West-Indies, and quit Brous. We found one captain Wheland who was bound to St. Thomas. I enquired of him if he wanted any hands: he told me he wanted two, Page 4 and shipped Lacroix and myself at twenty-five dol|lars per month, Lacroix and myself then went to another part of the city to lodge, till the vessel should be ready to sail; but, unfortunately, we meet with Brous in the street, and he asked me to lend him three dollars, for the purpose of pay|ing his board. I accordingly lent it to him, and told him I never wanted to see him any more. The next Monday morning Lacroix and myself went on board the vessel to stay; and, to our great surprize, we saw Brous on board at work. I then asked him if he was shipped with the vessel? he told me he was to work his passage. We told him that this was not the way to go to the Havannah, as he said he meant to do. He told me he would find some vessel at St. Kitts that would be going to the Havannah. After which, the captain took him to the merchant to sign articles to work his passage. The merchant asked him what country|man he was: he told him he was an Italian. The merchant told him it was not true, for he was a Frenchman, and he had no passage for him. After|wards the captain told him to go on board to work, and he would pay him for what he did: the captain that afternoon told him he would give him his passage, although the merchant had re|fused it. He accordingly went on board the vessel, and we sailed from Philadelphia, bound to St. Thomas, on the 27th August, 1799. The 4th Sep|tember following, being at sea, Brous asked me if I would assist him in taking the vessel. I told him I would not. After which, he put the same question to Lacroix. He also told him he would have noth|ing to do with it; but he continually harrassed us for three days to consent to his wicked proposal: Lacrose then told him, that if he would take the vessel, he (Lacroix) would take her into port. He then asked me to take some poison out of the me|dicine-chest, and put some in the soup, for the pur|pose of destroying the captain, and the three other Page 5 men. I told him that I had not so hard an heart as to kill any man. I then asked him if he had a heart hard enough to kill a man? yes, says he, and if I had fifty of them tied hand and foot, I could kill them all, and my father at the head of them too. I told him that my heart was not so hard as all that come to Brous then told me that he was an officer in the service of the French Republic; and said, that if I did not consent to assist in taking the vessel, that the first French cruiser they came up with, he would report me thereto, and have me shot. I told him I was not a Frenchman, but was a Canadian. He told me that he would re|port me to be a Frenchman, and not a Canadian, and that general de Forneaux would take his word before he would mine. I told him that I would see that, and he said it was very well. I was in hopes every day that some American or English vessel would come in sight, as I intended to have reported to captain Wheland what Brous had said; but, unfortunately for us, we met with none. About two days after Brous and I had had the foregoing conversation, Brous again asked me (at about 10 o'clock at night) if I was ready to help him to take the vessel? I told him I would have no|thing to do with it. He then replied, "I will begin, and you must take care of yourself," and called me a coward. Next night, about ten o'clock, he cal|led me to light a candle. I, accordingly, was about doing so, when the mate asked me where I was go|ing: I told him I was about lighting a candle for the binnacle, and when I brought up the candle, I found the mate lying dead on the companion. Brous had an axe in his hand, and Lacroix had a handspike in his, standing side by side. They told me to go down and take the captain's sword, and if he was a-sleep, to run it through his body, and if I did not do it, they would kill me: I went down, but I could not find it in my heart to kill the cap|tain, but struck him on the hand with a hatchet: Page 6 he then jumped up, and made a catch at me, and I then struck him on the head. Immediately I ran up on deck: Brous then attempted to kill me, be|cause I had not killed the captain: I told him I had not the heart to kill him.
Lacroix stood on the companion, with a hand|spike in his hand, to kill the first man that came up. The supercargo came up, with a pistol in each hand, and Lacroix knocked him down with the handspike: Lacroix then told me to lower the peak of the chain-sail; but, just as I was going to do it, I observed the supercargo coming after me, with a pistol in each hand, to kill me. I then look|ed behind me, and saw a stick, which I picked up and struck him with, and knocked him down. All this time the captain was below, and called out to La|croix. I asked what he wanted; he told me to save his life. Brous told the captain to come up; the captain said, "you will kill me if I do." I told him to stay down, and surrender himself a prisoner of war. The captain then said he would. Lacroix then went down to bring up some liquor, and called me down to help to bring up the supercargo on deck. Brous and myself went down and brought him up. We then laid him down till Lacroix brought some liquor to wash his wounds, but Brous said he would give him liquor enough; and immediately threw him overboard, though he was yet living. Brous told us to come along with him and kill the sailor in the forcastle: I told him I would not. Brous bid me go down to the sailor. I accordingly did so. the sailor asked me if I wanted to kill him? I told him, that I did not, but that Brous did. He asked me where Brous was: I told him he was on deck, laying in wait to kill him: he then jumped on deck to catch Brous, but, before he could get to him, Brous struck him with a handspike, and kil|led him. He then threw him overboard. We had now killed all but the captain, who considered him|self as a prisoner of war. About four days after, Page 7 Lacroix found a bottle of opium in the medicine|chest; he told me to take care of it. I took it, and hid it: Brous came to me afterwards, and asked me where the bottle was? he said he wanted to give some to the captain to drink, so as it might kill him: I told him I had lost it; but, a little time after, he found another bottle of the same kind, which he said he would keep himself, and give it to the cap|tain to drink, as soon as we saw a vessel heave in sight; so that he might say that all hands had died on board, except us three I told the captain of his danger, that Brous was determined to kill him the very first vessel we saw. The captain said he could not help it; but he would do the best he could to save himself.
The next day the captain told me he was sick, and desired me to go and get some ham for him: La|croix and myself went down to get some for him, and when we went down, the captain took the axe and knocked Brous down. He then immediately •ocked down the forecastle, so that we could not get up. Lacroix told me to assist him below, in cut|ting the mast down, so that it might fall, and tear up the deck, that we might get out: I told him that I did not want to do so, and, in consequence of my refusal, he abused me very much, and said I was a coward. We were fourteen days in the hold before we got to St. Bartholomews, and, during that time, we lived upon flour and water, and some liquor. After we arrived at St. Bartholomews, the captain put us on board an American armed vessel, the lieu|tenant of which abused us in a violent manner, and put ropes round our necks: we remained in this situation three days, and then we were taken to St. Kitts, where we were put in prison and kept in irons, on five ounces of bread and water per day for nine|teen days. We were then put on board the United States sloop of war Ganges, and were in irons eigh|teen days, sleeping on deck all the while. Brous and Lacroix told me to declare myself a French|man, Page 8 at the peril of my life. They also told me, if I would consent to this declaration, each of them would give me the 700 dollars; to which I consented. We arrived at Philadelphia on the 12th of Novem|ber, 1799, and were landed from on board the Ganges, conducted to prison under guard, and im|mediately lodged in the cells. 'Tis but justice I owe to the inspectors, and to every keeper about the prison, to say, that we have always been treated with every degree of humanity, and, in every res|pect, as well as the nature of our situations could admit of, received full allowance, nor were we ever put in irons until after we received the fatal (tho' just) condemnation of death, (and that by order of the court.)
And now, having finished my narration, and the time approaching fast when I must suffer the just reward due to the horrid crime in which I have been too great a participator, there remains no|thing move for me to add, but to declare that I die in the full belief of the Roman Catholic religion 〈◊〉 that I have truly and sincerely repented of my ma|nifold sins and transgressions, and, as I place a firm reliance on the mercies of Almighty God, I hum|bly beseech him to manifest his blessed declaration upon me, and be to me "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, delaying indignation, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin; that it may please him to number me amongst those thousands for whom he has declared he will keep mercy; and that, through the blood and me|rits of my blessed redeemer, my sins may be purged away, and my soul admitted into the mansions of eternal bliss. AMEN.
Solitary cells of the Prison of the City and County of Philadelphia,May 5th, 1800.