Real-Life Robinson Crusoe Castaway Daniel Foss Part 2

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


The Castaway: Daniel Foss

Year Marooned: 1810

The problem of food having been solved, Foss set to work on perfecting a water supply system. Up to then, lacking suitable containers, Foss had to drink from a few mucky pits that filled during frequent rainstorms. Now he fashioned a bucket from a large rock by grinding away at its center with a smaller, harder stone. Within five weeks he had a 14-lb. stone bucket that held two quarts of water. Over the next few months he capped the island's natural water-catching holes with flat-rock lids. As a result, Foss had 200 gallons of fresh water at his disposal at all times.

By his second year on the island Foss had done much to overcome the hardships of his captivity. He erected a stone hut, surrounding it with a 10-ft.-high barricade to protect him from the sea spray and high winds. At the highest point on the island he built a 30-ft. pillar and adorned it with his own bright and tattered flannel shirt-a distress signal for passing ships. He gave his isolated existence order and conventional discipline by creating a crude calendar on the only piece of flat wood on the island-his oar. Foss's oar became his all-purpose tool-weapon, flagstaff, cane, and prodder-and Foss guarded it jealously, protecting it from the elements with a sealskin blanket. In later years the oar also served as a hymnal: Foss cut into the wood a short verse which he chanted to himself every Sabbath. Inspired by this feat, he later utilized the broad end of the oar as a kind of journal, setting down the story of his wreck and subsequent life in exile. At best he could engrave 12 letters per day-all this so that upon his death he would not be forever forgotten.

Appropriately enough, it was the oar which finally secured Foss's rescue in the sixth year of his confinement. Sighting a ship within shouting range of his encampment-and its small landing boat trying desperately to pierce the rough, rock-strewn coast-Foss dived headlong into the perilous surf and paddled toward the smaller vessel. After he was safely aboard the larger ship, Foss, and his oar, were regarded with great curiosity and admiration by the astonished sailors. Foss subsequently returned to his home in Elkton, Md. His much-regarded oar was presented to the curator of the Peal Museum in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, the museum no longer exists, and the oar has disappeared.

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