The graphic novel Captive of Friendly Cove illustrates the incredible adventure sailor John Jewitt lived while captive of the Mowachaht people, a Native American tribe on the west coast of Vancouver Island, in 1803.
Considered a classic of captive literature, the novel is based on the journals Jewitt kept for the three years he was held prisoner, noting down his experiences of tribal life. After his ship is burned and his shipmates killed, he manages to survive using his skills as a blacksmith. He also devises an incredible plan to save his remaining crew member, and he comes up with a strategy that will, eventually, save them both from slavery. Rebecca Goldfield, the writer of this graphic novel, was amazed by his journals, and the way she keeps Jewitt’s literary voice is nothing short of incredible.
Jewitt was a talented story-teller, knowing how to leave his audience gaping about his experience and wanting to learn more. After he was rescued, he survived in New England by publishing his story and talking about it. The title was really descriptive: A Narrative of the Adventures and Sufferings of John R. Jewitt, only survivor of the crew of the ship Boston, during a captivity of nearly three years among the savages of Nootka Sound: with an account of the manners, mode of living, and religious opinions of the natives. He even took part in the three performances, in Philadelphia in 1817, of The armourer’s escape; or, three years at Nootka, a dramatic spectacle “Illuminated by Gas” and based on his book; he also performed “Nootkan” songs and dances in a circus. His book was republished in New York and London and even translated into German; continuing to appear in various editions throughout the 19th century. However, Jewitt died at 37 years of age, relatively poor and unknown.
This graphic novel can really be used in a classroom. There is some violence since the tribe kills the people on the ship, and, of course, the English retaliate with violence as well. But the account of his adventures is very open and non-judgmental. Jewitt admits that the tribe reacted this way because they were answering to previous experiences of abuse by other English traders. The way he describes the customs and dances, and his relationship with the main chief, are very interesting, as is his account of tribal life on such a cold and difficult place. Sometimes the tribe would starve, but when they move away from the shore towards the main land, (to their winter lodgings) there will be moments of good food and feast, especially when it’s salmon fishing time.
The book, written by Rebecca Goldfield and illustrated by Mike Short, Matt Dembicki and Evan Keeling, is available through Trickster and District Comics.
Disclosure: I was given a copy of this graphic novel for review purposes.
Featured image by Mike Short.