Real-Life Robinson Crusoe Castaway Daniel Foss Part 1

About the real-life Robinson Crusoe Daniel Foss, biography and history of the castaway.


The Castaway: Daniel Foss

Year Marooned: 1810

In the early fall of 1809, mariner Daniel Foss set sail for the Friendly Islands (now called the Tonga Islands) by way of the Cape of Good Hope. It was the beginning of a six-year ordeal that would lead him through disaster at sea, near starvation, cannibalism, years of enforced solitude, and, finally, a well-earned though long-delayed rescue.

On Nov. 25, Foss's ship, the Negociator, encountered a storm and hit a growler (a nearly submerged iceberg). Within five minutes the brig had completely sunk. Foss climbed aboard a small open boat along with 20 of his shipmates. Immediately, they set a southerly course, praying that their modest provisions-beef, pork, water, and beer-would sustain them until they could find land or be rescued at sea. But the food and water stocks were meager and the bad weather continued. Within nine days the 21-man crew had been reduced to eight. By Jan. 10, Foss and two others were the only survivors; starvation seemed imminent. The three men were forced to eat their own shoes after soaking them in fresh water; Foss later remembered that the shoes were "devoured with the keenest appetite." Finally the men decided to draw lots to determine who would be sacrificed for the survival of the remaining two. The ship's surgeon lost. He opened an artery in his left arm, and Foss and his fellow survivor nourished themselves on their companion's warm blood as he quietly expired.

For 12 days Foss and his shipmate subsisted on the decaying carcass, and on Mar. 5 they finally sighted land. Here Foss's plight took a new, although equally agonizing turn. Thrown against a line of rocks barring the island, the boat quickly capsized and plunged the two men into rough surf. Foss seized an oar and fought his way to shore. His companion was lost in the breakers.

Resisting an overwhelming urge to panic, Foss proceeded to explore his new island domain. His findings brought little cheer. The island was terribly small, no more than a half-mile long and a quarter-mile wide, and there was no sign of animal, fowl, or accessible sea life, excepting a few shellfish. Foss had been without food for three days; his body was bloated and scratched raw from the wind, sea, and rocks. He knew that he would soon die, and thinking about his home, he was plunged into a deep melancholy. However, the next morning the sturdy man awoke resolved to continue his struggle. By noon he discovered the body of a dead seal in a rocky crevice. Several days later he awoke to what must have sounded like the roar of an open kennel. Rushing to the shore, Foss found, not a pack of dogs, but thousands of living seals. He tore into their ranks, swinging his oar with a vengeance. By the end of the day he had slaughtered more than 100 of them.

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