Nathaniel Savory, Governor of Peel Island, (one of the Bonin group in the North Pacific), and his strange career and character are described in Commodore Perry's account of his eventful expedition to Japan and in Harper's Magazine for March 1856.
The Bonin Islands, or Archibishop Islands, were discovered in 1827, by Captain Beechey, of H.M.S. Blossom. He took formal possession for England. In 1830, however, Peel Island , near the center of the group, was settled in connection with the whaling business, by a motley colony: an Englishman, an Italian, a Dane, two Americans, and fifteen Sandwich Islanders. The inhabitants adopted a constitution in 1853. Peel Island produced sweet potatoes, maize, onions, yams, pumpkins, melons, lemons, tobacco and sugar cane.
Nathaniel Savory, born in 1794, was the oldest son of Benjamin and Judith Burbank Savory of Bradford, (now Groveland) Massachusetts, and a resident of New Rowley (Georgetown). On arriving at his majority, he left the town to seek his fortune, declaring that he never would return until he could come back wealthy. He never returned to Georgetown, and for fifty years was believed to be dead. When discovered alive, as related below, the incidents of his wanderings became known to his relatives and friends in Georgetown.
The following letter written by Captain E.A. Pitman of Marblehead was published in the MARBLEHEAD MESSENGER over 70 years ago. (Note: we don't know exactly when that was.)
"I wish to relate to you a story which to my mind proves beyond a doubt the fact of the old adage, ' That truth is stranger than fiction.' On my second voyage to the isle of the Pacific, I took my departure from Bankok, the capitol of Siam, came the China Sea, went out through the Bashee Passage into the North Pacific Ocean. One day after working up the position of the ship and having the chart before me, I found by altering the course a little I could come up with the breeze I had then to a group of islands called the Bonin Islands. I looked over a book of sailing directions which I had to see if I could learn anything about them, and I will give to you what I read about them taken from the journal of H.M.S. Blossom, Captain Beechey. Port Lloyd is on the west side of Peel Island, near it's northwest point. Captain Beechey says: "The entrance is conspicuously marked by a bold promontory on the southern side, and a tall, quoin-shaped rock on the other. It is nearly surrounded by hills and the plan of it on paper suggests the idea of it being an extinguished crater. Almost every valley has a stream of water and the mountains are clothed with trees. There are several sandy bays in which green turtles are so numerous that they quite hide the color of the shore. The sea yields an abundance of fish, and the rocks and caverns are the resorts of crayfish and other shellfish, and the shores are the refuge of snipe, plover, and wild pigeons. At the upper part of the port there is a small basin formed by coral reefs and an anchorage in ten fathoms of water" After reading this description by Captain Beechey my mind was made up to stop at the Bonins if possible, as I had no objection to that kind of living for a short time---green turtle, snipe, plover, wild pigeons.
"At daylight the next morning,
I made the island, and at 10 AM, stood close into the entrance which Captain
Beechey called Port Lloyd. We were keeping a sharp lookout and suddenly
from behind a headland shot out a small canoe with a cotton sail.
I hove the vessel aback and waited for the canoe to come along side, which
he shortly did, and as it touched the side of the vessel a voice cried
out in English: "Give us a rope." In looking over the side
into the canoe, I perceived a young man dressed in what we used to call
a hickory shirt and blue overalls. He was a very active looking youth
with a very dark skin and a piercing pair of black eyes. As soon
as he got on deck the following conversation took place: "Do you
live on shore?"
"Yes Sir." "Do you know of all the danger there is in the way of a vessel in entering the harbor?" "Yes Sir." "Then stand here with me. I am going to bring the vessel in."
I took his canoe on board, and as I was fully occupied in beating the vessel into the harbor, I asked no more questions until I was in a safe anchorage, when he requested me to go on shore and see his father, who he informed me was the governor of the island, and that, all told there were twenty two inhabitants on shore.
On landing on the beach, as I looked up among the trees, I was a story and a half house, clapboarded and shingled; and as I approached the house, I saw standing in the doorway an old white-headed man with a snow white beard reaching down to his waist. At first sight I made sure that the old man was a Scotchman. As the boy and myself drew toward the man, the old fellow hailed us in this manner: "Horace, who you got there?" and before the boy could answer I replied, "No one that means any harm to you or yours, old gentleman." "Humph, the quickest way you can prove that to me is to go on board your vessel and be off out of this." What a crusty old Scotchman he is I thought to myself. But I answered him: "Well, old gentleman, I came on shore to look at this island, and as I do not think I can do it justice in one day, I propose to remain here until I do, if it takes a month. If this reception you have given me is a sample of your civility, there is no need of you and I becoming any better acquainted."
During this conversation
we were standing within three feet of each other, he standing in the doorway
of the house. The old gentleman eyed me very closely after that last
remark for a number of seconds, then turned, and with the words "Come in"
he led the way into the house. As soon as we were fairly inside the
room I took off my hat and exclaimed, "Godbless all under this roof."
I was making sure from the looks of the old man that he was a Scotchman
or from the north of Ireland, sure. The old man said nothing to my
exclamation, but pointed to a chair and bade me be seated. He then
took a seat and although his face had relaxed none of it's crusty
expressions, my curiosity was aroused to learn all about the old gentleman,
and I launched boldly out with the question: "Old man, How long you
been on this island?" "Forty-three years,"
was his answer. I drew a long breath and repeated "Forty-three
years!" "Yes," he replied again. I
took a long look at him and asked: "What year did you leave your
home?" "1812," was his answer, as quick as a flash, and I mentally
exclaimed, "Here is an old veteran, sure enough." Then I asked:
"Old gentleman, what place do you call home?" I was eying the old
man attentively. expecting him to answer some part of Scotland or
Ireland, when he said: "You would not know where the place was if
I should tell you."
"There are but very few places out of water that I have not heard of, to say the least," I said, as I looked at the old fellow, my thoughts still in Scotland. Then he said: " I belong in the State of Massachusetts, in a little town called Rowley."
If the roof of the house had sudenly fallen on my head, I could not have been more surprised. Down went Scotland and Ireland and up to the top came the little town of Rowley. As soon as I could recover from my surprise, I replied, "Well old gentleman, when I am at home I do not live far from that spot." He gave me a sharp, quick look and asked; " Where do you belong?" I answered, "Marblehead." "Marblehead" he repeated. "I have been there a hundred times," and he sprang towards me and wrung my hand with a hearty good shake and bade me welcome and to make my home at the house as long as I might remain at the island. So Marblehead was the open sesame for me to explore the Bonin Islands.
But I might go on about the old gentleman and his nearly fifty years of island life, but I will jump to the end of this story. After my return home one day I was sitting in the railroad station at Salem to take the train for Boston when I heard someone call me by name. I turned and was just going to exclaim , "For mercy sake, old gentleman, how did you get here?" when the man said, "Captain, I understand that you saw my brother at the Bonin Islands?" I answered at once, "I did, sir, and there is no disputing that you are his brother, for I thought it was the old man himself." He told me that he was but eight years of age when his brother left home. They were then old men long past three score and ten, and the Salem gentlemen was a prominent citizen of that city. We held many conversations about the long-absent brother. Within recent years, both of these brothers have died. Let us hope that their reunion in a better land was crowned with joy. Nathaniel Saavory died April 10, 1874.
Signed "E. A. Pitman"
The above is from the notes and files of Georgetown history compiled by A.E. Meader.
My thanks to Bill and Mary Wilcox for supplying me with
this article. They served with the US Navy at NAVFAC CHICHI JIMA