THE NAGLE JOURNAL: A Diary of the Life of Jacob Nagle, Sailor, from the Year 1775 to 1841 by John C.--Ed. Dann
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THE NAGLE JOURNAL: A Diary of the Life of Jacob Nagle, Sailor, from the Year 1775 to 1841

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An utterly fascinating first-person log of military, maritime, and civilian life during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In 1982, Dann, director of the Univ. of Michigan's Clements Library, made what turned out to be a fine bargain. For an undisclosed but modest sum, he acquired a 161-page diary handwritten by one Jacob Nagle. Having authenticated and annotated the author's matter-of-fact account of his adventures, he is publishing a genuine historic treasure. A Pennsylvanian of German descent (""decent"" in Nagle's idiosyncratically phonetic lexicon), the author soldiered during the early years of America's Revolution, participating in the Battle of the Brandywine at age 16. He then shipped out on privateers until impressed into the British Navy in 1781. Nagle served aboard the flagship of the first fleet to sail to Australia (in 1788) and under Lord Nelson in the Mediterranean during the 1790's. Subsequently, he became a merchant mariner for the East India Co. An accomplished if unambitious seaman, Nagle recorded his shrewd observations of tavern brawls, prostitution, press gangs, and other quotidian realities of shore leave in ports of call throughout the world; he also offers a forecastle-eye view of superior officers. Returning to the US in 1822 and retiring from the sea three years later at 64, Nagle wandered about the new nation taking odd jobs and trying to obtain a pension for his army service. He died at age 80 in Ohio, seven months after making the last entry in his remarkable journal. Dann proves a judicious editor, letting Nagle speak largely for himself while adding enough commentary to provide perspective on the major and minor events to which he was a witness. Overall, the text (which includes a helpful glossary of nautical terms) is a small wonder--an understated, evocative voice from the past that commands contemporary attention for its humanity as well as acuity.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1988
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson