He helped the sailors at their work,
And toiled with jovial din,
He helped them hoist and reef the sails,
He helped them stow the casks and bales,
And heave the anchor in.—H. W. LONGFELLOW:
Tales of a Wayside Inn: The Ballad of Carmilhan
Nathan Comstock, the grandfather of the subject of this sketch, was born in Burrillville, Rhode Island, in 1776, and died in 1859. He was a Quaker, a teacher in Nantucket, and a bank cashier. In 1811 he removed to New York City, where for forty years he was in business, dealing in whaling products at 191 Front Street. He was a man of considerable means, for he was able to stand the loss of $75,000 when Jacob Barker failed, and still continue in business. He was twice married and had eight children by his first wife, Elizabeth Emmet, and five by his second, Anne Merritt. His second son by his first wife was William, born in 1804 at Nantuckett, married to Mary W. Davenport, and died November 20, 1882. William was a reporter and press writer and lived in Brooklyn.(1) He had six children, of whom Augustus was the third. Augustus was born February 14, 1837, at Charlestown, Massachusetts, but came to New York with his parents when he was seven. When fourteen years old, he left school to set type in the Morning Star office. Subsequently he worked on the Atlas, but was discharged for accidentally upsetting his case and making "pi." He then studied law in the office of a relative but, disliking it, he went to sea. Through the influence of his grandfather, Nathan Comstock, he secured a position on a whaler and made several voyages. After some years of the sea, he returned to New York and began to write sea tales, his personal experience standing him in good stead. On the breaking out of the Civil War, he enlisted as a private in Durvee's Zouaves, Fifth Regiment of New York Volunteers. While with his regiment, he continued writing, and several stories of army life appeared in the New York Weekly in 1861. At the second Battle of Bull Run, August 29, 1862, he received a severe wound which for a time incapacitated him, although he served with his regiment during its term. After the war he lived in Brooklyn,(2) and devoted himself entirely to literature, writing serials and sketches for various story papers and dime novel publishers. He also wrote stories and poetry for Harper's Weekly and other periodicals. His brother James Leander Comstock, in 1874, was a printer at 41 Platt Street, the address of Frank Starr & Co.
Augustus Comstock was married December 31, 1867, in Brooklyn. The Comstock genealogy gives the name of his wife as Mary Sypher in one place (p. 254) and as Mary E. Herbertson in another (p. 206). They had one child, Clara, who was born in 1869 and died in 1900. Augustus was still living in 1906 or 1907, at Woodside, Long Island, and had probably lived there at least as early as 2882.(3)
All of Comstock's stories were written under the pen name "Roger Starbuck." There is an unaccountable gap in his publications between 1875 and 1882. Those preceding 1875 were all sea tales; from 1882 to 1884 they were mostly Westerns.
Trumble described Comstock as a tall, sinewy, square-shouldered man, with a tanned leathery face and a "deliberate, reaching gait, like a man striding a deck," who told a dry, humorous story in a slow way to whoever happened to be around.
REFERENCES: Cyrus B. Comstock, A Comstock Genealogy, New York, 1907, 206, 254; Street and Smith's New York Weekly, XXVI, October 5, 1871, 4, with portrait; Alfred Trumble in an article in The Journalist, August 7, 1886.
Under "Roger Starbuck," Comstock wrote:
Dime Novels. Nos. 83, 87, 90, 94, 99, 108, 116, 134, 140, 148, 158, 167, 183, 192, 221, 236, 294, 319, 177, 379, 383, 390, 395, 401, 404, 407, 411, 414, 453, 466, 494, 513, 580, 618
American Library (London). Nos. 66, 70
American Tales. Nos. 40, 44
Stair's American Novels. Nos. 148, 153
Pocket Novels. Nos. 32, 115, 200, 226
Starr's 10¢ Pocket Library. No. 4
Half-Dime Library. Nos. 25, 114, 259, 348, 354, 361, 370
Boy's Library (quarto). Nos. 37, 47, 59, 65, 70, 78, 93, 104, 113
Boy's Library (octavo). Nos. 35, 63, 74, 77, 80, 91, 104, 115, 121, 161, 237, 270, 278, 299, 304, 310, 317
Pocket Library. Nos. 28, 104, 235, 319, 323, 331, 353, 369, 400, 419, 436, 442, 475
SPECIMEN OF AUGUSTUS COMSTOCK'S STYLE
"The Black Schooner; or, Jib Junk. The Old Tar." Half-Dime Library No. 114, 9-10.
"What do you intend doing, now?"
"There is only one thing I can do; to pass through the other opening."
The mate shrugged his shoulders, looking dubiously, meanwhile, at the approaching stranger.
"That vessel," said Elmore, "I feel pretty sure, is my craft. You have nothing to apprehend from her."
"That remains to be proved."
"It remains to be proved that she is your craft," said Bolton, exchanging a glance with his mate and laughing.
Standing along on the starboard tack, under every thing she could carry, the schooner soon was so near the rocks that her captain was obliged to tack.
As he did so, and the vessel came round, the other craft bore about a point off his weather bow, not more than a mile distant.
Bolton and his mate were watching her closely, when a flash lighted her side, followed by a loud report, and a heavy shot came whizzing across the schooner's bow.
Elmore looked at Bolton, surprised that he did not heave to.
The young commander stood upright, a sarcastic smile on his lip, and a mischievous sparkle in his eye.
"I know her, now," said Elmore; "she is my own vessel—the brig-of-war. Come, sir, you'd better heave to."
"Do you command here?" said Bolton, somewhat scornfully, "or do I?"
"I merely advised you," said Elmore: "if you wish to be blown out of the water, I suppose I cannot help it. But I think you are mad, my man, to act as you do, under the very guns of that craft."
"I care little for her guns. In a short time, if my schooner behave herself, I hope to be where her guns cannot reach me."
Elmore was still more surprised.
"You are surely mad, to talk thus. Why you should run from yonder vessel is more than I can imagine."
The captain said something in a low voice to his mate, who went forward.
A moment later several stout fellows came and stood by one of the tarpaulin-covered objects beneath the bow.
"Lively, there!" sung out Bolton.
Scarcely had he spoken, when the tarpaulin was jerked aside, revealing a heavy ten-pounder, which was at once run through the port-hole opposite to which it stood.
"Better 'skin' them all!" cried Bolton, to his mate.
The result was that, the tarpaulins being all removed, three guns on each side of the schooner and one forward were disclosed.
"Fire!" shouted Bolton, sternly, and the gun nearest the boy belched forth its contents.
Elmore, watching the result of the shot, was surprised to see the jib-boom of the other craft, cut in twain, fall trailing into the water.
"A good shot, was it not?" said Bolton to the young lieutenant.
"You have deceived me," said Elmore, and as he spoke, his gaze wandered to the sturdy forms pouring up from the schooner's forecastle. "You are not what you stated—you are—"
"The Flying Wake," answered Bolton, calmly—"the pirate you are in search of."
"I thought so," said Elmore, coolly; "although I did not suspect it until five minutes since, as you have altered your paint."
A second report from the other vessel. A heavy shot came howling along, passing between the fore and mainmast, in dangerous proximity to the heads of the two young men.
"You perceive that, as I said, I am in the way of showing your vessel, if such she be, a clean pair of heels," said Bolton.
"I am not sure of that."
"You shall soon see for yourself."
He now gave the order to tack again, and in a minute the Flying Wake was shooting along out of the bay toward the open sea.
The pursuing vessel now also tacked, running along parallel with the schooner, plying her with an occasional shot, which, however, as is usual when a gun is fired in a head-wind, fell wide of the mark.
Elmore, knowing that his brig was not a fast sailor on a wind, feared now that the Flying Wake would escape, and he probably showed his disappointment in his face, for Bolton, laying a hand on his shoulder, said:
"Cheer up; perhaps yon craft may have me in her clutches yet."
Surprised by the firing they heard, Maiden and Bertha now came on deck.
The missionary and his daughter both uttered an exclamation, on seeing the schooner's guns and the stout gunners stationed near several of them.
Elmore, advancing, soon explained all to the astonished Maiden.
A moment later, Bolton joined the group, lifting his cap and bowing politely to Bertha.
"The cloven foot is revealed," he said smiling, "and I suppose the sight of me now inspires Miss Maiden with holy horror."
To this remark Bertha made no answer; but Elmore noticed that she looked grieved, and that tears had gathered in her eyes.
"Papa! papa!" she cried, "what will become of us now? I thought we were in a safe place when we boarded this vessel."
"And safe you are," said Bolton. "See! We are fast leaving yon craft where she can do us no harm," he added, pointing to the pursuing vessel.
"Young man," said the missionary, "I am surprised that you should have thus deceived us. I do not understand, either, why you should have so exerted yourself to save the lives of Lieutenant Elmore and his man, you being an outlaw and the very person those two were looking for."
"It is best to be frank," he said. "That it was from no feeling of friendship for the two, you may be sure. No, my motive was to procure hostages, as it were—to get these two in my hands that, in case of my coming to close quarters with yonder vessel, which, with one broadside, could sink me, I would keep back their fire by putting the prisoners under the guns of their own craft!"
"What do you propose doing with us?"
"You and your daughter? I shall put you aboard the first merchant vessel I meet, bound to a civilized port. It was well for you I happened off your island. I have thus been enabled to save the lives of two persons, one of whom I would willingly die for!"
His dark, handsome eyes, as he spoke, shot a glance at Bertha, who, however, shunned it; although Elmore could not determine whether she was pleased or otherwise at the remark.
A shot from the pursuer now whizzing over the heads of the party, the pirate captain remarked that he thought the young girl had better go below.
|1||Brooklyn City Directories for 1866, 1867, 1868, 1871, 1874, 1875, 1876, 1877, 1878, 1880, 1881, 1882.|
|2||Brooklyn Directories, 1866, 1867, 1868, 1869, 1871, 1874, 1875, 1876, 1877, 1878, 1880, 1881, 1882.|
|3||Starbuck's Book of Romance was published at Woodside, Long Island, in 1882, and it is unlikely that that would have been chosen as a place of publication unless he were already living there at that time.|