- Historic Sites
The Man Who Discovered America
The story of Manjiro, the shipwrecked waif; of the kindly captain from Fairhaven; and of how Japan, hidden away from the world, learned strange news of other lands
December 1956 | Volume 8, Issue 1
In October, 1847, the Franklin entered the port of Honolulu and lay at anchor for about a month during which the ship took in fuel and fresh water. It was seven long years since John Mung bade farewell to Denzo and the others in Honolulu.
Upon making inquiries he found Toraemon working as apprentice to a carpenter. After a joyful reunion Toraemon told him that Jusuke was dead and that Denzo and Goemon were on their way back to Japan on the whaling ship Colorado. While Manjiro was still at Honolulu, however, the Colorado returned with the two brothers still aboard. Their attempt to return had failed because the whaler had touched at no inhabited island. Sadly the brothers returned to their life of farming and fishing.
The Franklin left Honolulu for another trip and anchored on November 6, 1847, at Guam. About this time, Captain Ira Davis became insane and committed all sorts of violent acts so that the crew decided to take him to Manila to be sent home. Mr. Isachar Akin, first officer, became acting captain. John Mung was chosen second officer unanimously by the crew, who had been admiring his personality and the pluck and skill with which he caught whales.
Leaving Manila in July, the Franklin went to the waters of Batangas, Taiwan, and the Ryukyu Islands, where she engaged in whaling before she turned back to Guam. Getting a supply of fuel and water at this island, the ship again put to sea, and in October she entered Honolulu. Before she left the port for the last whaling voyage and for home, John Mung wrote the following letter. It clearly shows that he had experienced the Christian faith, which no doubt he had learned from Captain Whitfield:
Honolulu, Oct. 30th, 1848
Oh! Captain how can I forget your kindness. When can I pay for your fatherly treatment. Thank God ten thousand times and never will forget.
I was sorry your ship being leaky and oblige you into the port before your season, however, God will see all this. I often offer prayers to God to give you the success should it please to God.…
July 9th had the gam with Captain Woodard I followed him up on the deck inquire for home and find the death of my boy William Henry [Captain Whitfield’s son]. I was very sorry every time think about William Henry. Give my best respects to all your friends and your kind neighbors, and my affection your wife Amelin and Mr. Bonney family. Tell them what quarter of the world that I am in.
I never can forget kindness they have done to me. It is hard thing for me to join the words together therefore come to close.
The Franklin returned to New Bedford in August of 1849.It had been a long voyage, extending over a period of three years and putting a girdle round the globe. The catch of whales during this long voyage numbered about 500, and several thousand barrels of whale oil came into their possession.
John Mung earned $350 as his share of the profit and returned to the house of Captain Whitfield at Fairhaven, his second home. He thought that the Captain might scold him for running away from home during his absence, but the Captain didn’t say a word about it. On the contrary, he congratulated John Mung upon his successful whaling voyage and also upon his having been appointed second officer of the Franklin.
In 1848, while John Mung was on his long ocean voyage, America was stirred by the discovery of gold in California. The Gold Rush began. Upon his return to Fairhaven, the thought of adventure haunted his mind. Why not go to California to dig for gold? California, too, was closer to Japan. He wanted to return home to his widowed mother of whom he had not heard since he last saw her back in 1841. However, he kept his plan to return to Japan a secret. Thought he:
“I know if I should tell Captain and Mrs. Whitfield about my plan, they would probably never consent to it. They would think it too wild and too vague, and they would fear for my safety. I remember the captain once told me that I should certainly be put to death the moment I landed in Japan; no one is allowed to enter Japan from abroad. I remember Mrs. Whitfield once told me, ‘You will make a good whaler like Captain Whitfield.’ Yes, I might, if I try hard enough. Mr. Huzzy told me that I had the talent of a cooper. Perhaps I can be a successful cooper in New Bedford. But I always hear the voice of my old country calling me. I shall always be unhappy and lonely in my heart, if I don’t see my mother once more, although I am happy now, living with Captain and Mrs. Whitfield, and I have many good friends here. I am sorry for my people; they know nothing about the rest of the world. Now is the time to let them know. I must return to help my countrymen open their eyes. I know it’s a terrible thing to leave the house without telling the truth to Captain and Mrs. Whitfield, but they will understand some day. I’ll only tell them that I am going to California to dig for gold. I shall never forget all my life their kindness and the good things they have taught me. Pardon me for my wickedness, but I must go.”