A Letter to the Editor of DownEast Magazine

by Capt. Frank S. Murray

August 1974
to the Editor of DOWNEAST MAGAZINE
Camden, Maine

Dear Sir:

In regard to Arnold L. White's recent effort concerning the yacht Coronet and Mr. Frank W. Sandford as published in your magazine, I have a few remarks to make. As a lifelong member of The Kingdom and as one who knew Mr. Sandford intimately over a period of 28 years, and as as one has spent some 20 years in the most exhaustive research into all angles of his life and work let me observe that White is talking about a very small splinter of a very big tree. One might as well magnify the mole on Abraham Lincoln's face and declare it to be the whole man.

I am truly sorry that White should have been permitted to use your splendid magazine as a sounding board for his personal vendetta against a man and a movement who were uniformly very good to him. He has managed without saying so to convey the impression that he (White) is still a member - some sort of kindly "gray eminence" looking back with tolerant eye on the lamentable stupidities and cruelties of his former teacher.

The whole impression he has created is a false one, as I shall undertake to show. Arnold White is not a member of The Kingdom, but has declared himself many times opposed to it and to all Christianity and to the Holy Scriptures. It is against this setting that his writings must be considered.

To those who know the true story of the Coronet's tragic voyage White's article is conspicuous for its omissions; the first of which is that every last member of those two ships' crews were volunteers, and each of them, down to the last woman and child, were ready to give his or her right arm for the privilege of embarking with this man they loved and honored. Every Christian group has had its renegades, including the Twelve Apostles of our Lord, but the overwhelming majority of this group of sixty-six were held to Mr.Sandford's leadership by bonds of love and respect. They considered him, as do I, the finest, cleanest, most compassionate, and wisest Christian gentleman it had been their privilege to know, and a cruise at sea with him, regardless of sufferings was a prize they grasped at.

I have known personally the great majority of the survivors in after years and except for the very few who reneged, they all considered the sufferings of the journey as par for the course in the life of Christian missionaries. Stewart Wolfe was one of those who died at sea, and though he was an only son of his doting parents - a mere 23 years of age - Philip and Elizabeth Wolfe considered him as among the Christian martyrs. George and Charles Hughey, natives of Chebeague Island in Casco Bay, were two others who succumbed, but their sisters took it for granted that these two noble men had laid down their lives for Christ's sake. Mrs. John Bolster, whose husband was taken against his will to the Marine Hospital in Portland and died there found consolation in her bereavement in the knowledge that John had finished his work at God's time.

In fact, everyone, including White himself, at the time, came to this same conclusion without any persuasion from those over us in the Lord. The people at Shiloh were not blind; they would have made up a very good cross section of the American middle class of their day. The point is that they viewed this whole suffering experience from the context of a much larger picture - namely, the sin-ridden, war-ridden state of the human race. If a few of us had to die in the process of praying for a world wide transformation for the better, what of it?

And what of this larger context? One must understand it if he would appreciate what Mr. Sandford and his friends are doing out at sea during equinoctial storms. He and they did indeed feel responsible to do all in their power to evangelize the world in their lifetime. This idea did not originate with Mr. Sandford; he got it from the Student Volunteer Movement and men like Dwight L. Moody and John R. Mott.

The motto of that movement was "This world for Christ in My Lifetime", and this was common knowledge in Christian Circles at that time. Mr. Sandford was wise enough to see that ordinary methods would never be enough, so he resorted to the extraordinary ones, principally prayer.

The immediate purpose of the African cruise in 1910 was twofold: to establish a mission base in Gambia, and then cruise to northern waters where he had never been and finish up a world-wide campaign of prayer which had engaged his attention for some years and had taken him to every ocean and every coastline in the world except this last field in the north. The Kingdom ship's company were to take care of the first objective and the Coronet's company the second.

Unexpected difficulties turned aside the African venture for the time being (it was resumed in 1914). A faulty chart led The Kingdom into sudden and hopeless stranding on a sand bar, and African fever prevented the missionary company from landing at Bathurst as they had planned for months to do. (The British authorities forbade any of our people even to step ashore.) So there was nothing to do but take both companies on the one vessel and then find out what God's will should be.

This took time and many conferences. One major point that White takes pains to subordinate is that these decisions were always joint ones and decided by vote. From my long experience with Mr. Sandford I know just how it was done. Everyone had a chance to express his point of view, right down to the smallest child. Everyone's feelings were given due consideration. Compared to the dictatorial doings of most ship's masters on the high seas, proceedings on the Coronet were a model of democracy. Critics try to imply that his people were afraid of Mr. Sandford and did not dare to disagree with him. That is sheer tommyrot. If people's motives were selfish or cowardly they did not fear him, for he could spot it in a moment, but those with no motive but obedience to God could, and often did, voice opinions or feelings contrary to his, and were treated with respect.

The various decisions, about returning to America, sending ashore for supplies, and cruising to northern waters were always decided by vote, and each person was polled individually. As for not wishing to go into port for fear of inspection, White's own article declares that they tried to dock at San Salvador and were refused permission, shooting a hole through that theory.

Another comment he made reveals the explanation for such conflicting accounts. He says, in a lapse into frankness, "Disaffected ones often tell biased stories; that might be distorted by the newspapers". "Biased" and "distorted" are key words, and well chosen. All of White's sources, aside from young Adamson's diary, were of the "disaffected" stripe, and impartial researchers have to learn to discount three-fourths if not all that comes from a turncoat. In excusing their own disloyalty, quitters have no recourse but to attack their former leader. In Mr. Sandford they had a leader who would not defend himself, and they knew it, so the field was wide open for self justification at his expense.

As for Adamson, his diary tells of nothing but those perils and annoyances of the sea that are common knowledge to any sailor. Broken spars, torn sails, leaking seams, broken-down pumps are nothing new in the annals of seafaring. From my own knowledge of life on the ocean it seems ridiculous to make a solemn and gloomy event out of the binnacle working loose or the steering gear needing attention. The main pump broke down, he says, but neglects to mention that it was repaired with great ingenuity.

White makes a suspicious inference about the boat with supplies that failed to rendezvous with Coronet, there at the Virginia Capes. He simply does not know what he is talking about. My access to the log books and my personnel conversations with both Capt. McKenzie and Capt. Knight revealed the true story. The yacht had great difficulty keeping station during those days of waiting, finding herself first too far south and then too far north, due to wind and current. The crew of the boat, returning deeply laden with ample supplies for many weeks at sea, missed the larger vessel and without waiting jumped to the conclusion that she had gone on north, when as a matter of fact she waited there for ten days in vain. It was a case of human error, and it would be unkind to assess blame at this late date, but the fact remains that the plans of Mr. Sandford and the whole ship's company were dealt a damaging blow by a hasty decision.

White also neglects to mention that Commodore Perry went ashore under Mr. Sandford's direction and bought a vessel to come out and take off The Kingdom's complement. Mr. Perry got his vessel, manned and provisioned it, but missed the rendezvous also, and the strong probability is that Coronet's long wait for the boat that never came made her miss the later meeting as well.

As to why Mr. Sandford (and the whole company with him, remember) decided not to take the extra passengers ashore themselves, one has to know something about obedience to God's directions. We might ask why Jesus Christ, knowing that a cross awaited Him, "steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem". These godly people felt clear that God had directed them to the North without delay to finish an uncompleted job of prayer. Again they were polled off the Virginia Capes, and to a man they chose to go straight to their objective. This is the unanimous report of the survivors.

Whether it is was a wise decision is beside the point, but it was not a compulsory one. We might question the wisdom of Paul's decision when he said, "I go bound in the Spirit to Jerusalem... knowing that bonds and affliction abide me." The carefully contrived impression created in this article that the poor sheep ("these gentle people") were being herded helplessly to their doom by a fierce and implacable shepherd is false, ridiculous, and obviously either stupid or malicious. I crave your pardon if I seem heated, but the fact is that this kind of studied slander against a noble and unselfish man has been going on so long that I confess to being weary of it. Those who really knew about a dead man who had more godliness in his little finger than most of us will ever have strikes me as unfair and malevolent. I cannot read it and remain silent.

Roland Whittom is described as saying of Mr. Sandford, "He exerted some strange influence I cannot describe", as though there were some baleful power at work. What nonsense! I can "describe" it easily enough. It was love, just simple Christian love. I know, for I have been the object of it over and over when I didn't deserve it. He loved his people and they loved him, and of course they refused to question his judgment unless they had good reason.

If there was some such nefarious influence at work, how does it happen that off Newfoundland when two men came and asked him courteously to please turn around and head for Portland, he courteously agreed to do so promptly. He felt it was a mistake and told them so; he felt it was a decision filled with peril, and told them so; but he would not for a moment engage in strife when the Bible says "The servant of the Lord must not strive." Some people would think that the four terrible hurricanes which thereupon struck the vessel were just unfortunate coincidences. Personally, I do not. But the fact remains that all the deaths took place after that. (The two old men who died before did so of natural causes, glad enough to have their spiritual shepherd present to comfort their last moments.)

But why labor the point any more? Louis Brougham, one of those who later reneged, admitted that had it not been for Mr. Sandford's energy and strength (at the pumps) and good cheer, none of them would have survived. As the stricken ship neared Cape Elizabeth, a Portland businessman came out in his power cruiser and offered to take Mr. Sandford to Canada to escape the harpies of the press, but the man of God declined, saying he would face whatever he needed to.

The trial in the Federal courthouse was preceded by a flamboyant trial by newspaper, inflaming public opinion in a manner reminiscent of the Dreyfus case. Mr. Sandford employed no counsel, in accordance with Christian principles of not resisting evil, but two lawyers volunteered to represent him. His resolute refusal to call witnesses in his defense made his conviction a foregone conclusion; and later in prison when presented with a petition for a presidential pardon to sign, he would not do it. "I have done no wrong", he said, "and the officials know it. President Taft ought to ask my pardon for placing me here".

It seems to me that simple fairness, after a distortion of facts such as White has published, would indicate that this side should be placed before the same audience.

Capt. Frank S. Murray