In a quiet fishing village in 1676, a son was born to a shoemaker in Lower Largo, Scotland. John Selkirk longed for his son to take over the family business but little Alexander Selkirk dreamed of a more adventurous life. In the late 1600’s, there was no greater adventure than life on the high seas. Being a Rascal from the start, little Alexander found himself going against the status quo and expected behaviors. At the age of 19 he was summoned for questioning for bad behavior in the local church. He did not make the trial because the calling of the high seas grew bigger than the small town life.
Alexander quickly found himself immersed in the culture and life of a buccaneer in the South seas, raiding Spanish ships in the name of the King. In 1703 he joined Privateers William Dampier and Thomas Stradling. He served as sailing master on the galleon Cinque Ports under Captain Stradling. Dampier turned out to be a indecisive leader, frustrating the hard charging Stradling. It wasnt long before the two captains parted ways. Stradling was a tyrannical captain of the men on his vessel. After several raids, Alexander voiced concerns over the sea worthiness of the ship. His concerns went unanswered, maybe reminding him of his youth. In 1705 Stradling made land on a uninhabited island Más a Tierra, today known as Robinson Crusoe Island, off the coast of Chile. Alexander learned of previously marooned sailors that had fared quite well for several years on the island. He tried to convince his sailing mates to join him but they would not. After much thought he decided he was better off left alone on the island than to suffer under the hand of Stradling in a failing ship. Glad to be rid of the squeaky wheel Selkirk, Stradling left him to his fate. As the captain and his men set sail, Alexander ran down the beach stomping through the surf yelling, “Wait! I’ve changed my mind!” to which Stradling replied, “I haven’t!”. Alexander stood there until he couldn’t see the sails any longer. Hoping to see the ship and be in familiar circumstances, he camped for weeks on the beach. The days were spent looking for the return of his comrades and gather wood and shellfish. The sounds of the night were tremendous and frightening. The deep bellows turned out to be sea lions and the jungles made strange noises making Alexander think he was not alone. A deep depression set in for the next 18 months. Now he knew he was to either die or make the best of his situation. After coming to terms with his choice he began to realize that he was in paradise. He moved further into the island making 2 camps near a fresh water stream. He found goats, fresh vegetables, and wood. He soon became accustomed to life on the island, hunting in the morning and reading his Bible in his leisure time. He befriended some feral cats to keep the rats away and even trained them to dance. He soon became agile enough to run down a goat and catch it. On one of his hunts, he lunged after a fleeing goat which had climbed up a steep area of the island. As he caught it he fell through some bushes that concealed a cliff. A day later he woke up after being knocked unconscious from the fall. He landed on the goat, saving him from further injury. He crawled back to his camp about a mile away and laid there for about 10 days till he regained his strength. Later, he caught some goats and built a pen for them in case he became injured again. On two occasions he evaded capture from the Spanish ships by hiding deep in the island. In 1709 Alexander spotted a much anticipated sight. He saw the friendly sails of an English ship Duke captained by Woodes Rogers. Overcome with excitement, he lit a signal fire and was rescued. He stayed alone on his island for a total of 4 years and 4 months. He was never so physically and spiritually fit as his time on the Island. After interviewing Alexander Selkirk, Journalist Richard Steele wrote,
“He is happiest who confines his Wants to natural Necessities; and he that goes further in his Desires, increases his Wants in Proportion to his Acquisitions”
He soon learned that the former Captain Dampier was on board the Duke. Dampier told him of the fate of his nemesis Stradling. One month after marooning Alexander on the island, the Cinque Ports did indeed go down like Alexander predicted. All hands were lost except Stradling and 6 of his men. They were quickly picked up by the Spanish and sent to Lima to endure a harsh imprisonment. In 1717 Alexander made it back to that small fishing village in Scotland but only stayed for a few months. He was a hero and a legend but all he longed for was his island. He would frequently withdraw to seclusion in a apparent attempt to find himself again. That same year he left for London, married, but was quickly back at sea. He died at sea from a fever while on the Weymouth in 1721. He was buried at sea of the coast of west Africa.
In this striking story we find a man drawn to adventure but one that would not compromise his integrity. He knew the lives of those around him were at stake if he didn’t speak up about the condition of the Cinque Ports. He chose to go against his authority and the consensus in order to blaze his own path. Although met with difficulty and hardship, he lived a life most dream of. He left a lasting legacy as it has been said that Daniel Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe after Alexander Selkirk.
In our lives let us resolve to fight against our “Stradling” and the status quo. Resolve to listen to the voice within us. Resolve to live life with integrity. Resolve to pursue our “Paradise” and leave a lasting legacy. To step away from the busyness, the self induced sensation of poverty and our vicarious life adventures through entertainment. Let purpose be our guide, integrity our path and God our strength. As for me?
Bring me that horizon!
Adrian De Leon