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Author turned life lessons into adventure
Liberty lore
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Dr. Francis Robert Goulding was born in 1810 near the old Midway Church in Liberty County. He graduated from Franklin College (University of Georgia) and then from the Theological Seminary in South Carolina in 1833. He married a lady from Savannah and they had six children. She died in 1853, and he married Matilda Rees from Darien in 1855. They had twin girls in 1858.
Goulding served as Presbyterian pastor at several churches, but as time went on he had a problem with his voice and had to cut back on his preaching. He usually was surrounded by a group of boys and girls in the evening time who wanted him to tell stories.
The stories later turned into books so the children would have a way to always remember the lessons he tried to teach them. These lessons would serve them all of their lives. He opened a school for boys in 1853 and later a school for girls in his home. When he married Rees, they lived in her splendid home in Darien while he pastored the Presbyterian Church. He also had a fantastic library filled with many manuscripts. In 1862, all of Darien was evacuated because of the Civil War. They went to live in Macon. When Darien was burned, their home and his library were turned to ashes.
The first book he wrote was “Little Josephine” in 1844. In 1847, he began “The Young Marooners off the Florida Coast.” He finished it in 1850 but couldn’t find a publisher to accept it. Finally, the man in charge of sorting through the manuscripts at one publisher was bored one night. He casually picked up Goulding’s manuscript with the intention of reading a few words and tossing it in the rejection pile. But he stayed up until he finished the entire manuscript. The next morning, he told the boss that this manuscript had to be published immediately. And it was. The book, covering about 200 pages, was published in 1852 (I have just finished reading it and I thought it would never end, but it was so exciting! I do not know why I had never read it). According to an article in the Atlanta Journal in March 1939, the book was reprinted in England and a copy was presented to Queen Victoria, who gave her royal approval. She had four sons and five daughters who were the right age to read the new adventure book. Prince Edward, afterwards King Edward VII, was 11 at the time and tremendously enjoyed it. The book had gone into 10 editions by 1919 and the name had been changed three times.
Joel Chandler Harris wrote this foreword in one of the editions: “His work possesses all the elements of endearing popularity. It has the strength and vigor of simplicity, and its narrative flows continuously forward. Its incidences are strange and thrilling. Underneath all is a moral purpose, sanely put. This book is a classic in many lands and languages. It rivals ‘Robinson Crusoe.’”
The story is about Dr. Gordon, a wealthy physician who lived on the Georgia coast during the winter and on a large farm in the mountains during the summer. His sister, who lived in Alabama, lost her husband and was left alone to raise three children. Gordon visited her along with his son, Robert, and she saw how well-educated Robert seemed to be. She wanted her son Harold to have the same advantages, so she talked to her brother about letting Harold stay with him for some time. Robert was 14, and Harold was six months older. Robert was a bookish, intellectual character, always trying to learn more. Harold cared less about book matters. He enjoyed manly, daring adventures.
There was a Native American named Torgah in the neighborhood who Harold enjoyed spending time with. Torgah taught him many wood-crafting skills, and Harold absorbed all he could glean from their conversations and from watching him. These skills would serve all of them well in the future.
Dr. Gordon’s wife was fragile, and they thought a warmer climate would help her health. Gordon purchased land in Tampa Bay, Fla. They were going down there to build a house before his wife would be able to go.
The plan was to take the children, the two dogs and the nanny goat with her two kids. By taking the pet goats, they would have milk for their coffee. Mary, 11, would be their housekeeper and cook. Eve n though they had many servants, their father and mother taught the children to learn and do things for themselves.
They packed the large boat with everything they would need in the forested land. Each child was given the responsibility to make a list of things that were needed and make sure they were put aboard. Plenty of books were put aboard to read in their spare time. Old Sam, the carpenter who helped Dr. Gordon, would be their main man to help build the new house.
A few days before they were ready to go, they were at the dining table, eating fried sheepshead for supper. Little Frank, 7, got a small fish bone stuck in his throat. He could not get it out, but his father told him to eat a crust of bread and it would dislodge. He ate it and the bone came loose. (I have done this before and it seemed I had to eat half a cake of cornbread to get it loose!)
About bedtime one evening, a large beetle crawled into Harold’s ear. He tried to get it out, but the bug crawled deeper. This was making Harold crazy. He found a large needle and stuck it into the bug, but the agitated bug went deeper. His legs began clawing on Harold’s delicate eardrum, causing excruciating pain.
His uncle saw him and told him he could cure the problem immediately. He grabbed a bottle of oil and poured his ear full. The bug immediately came out of his ear. Harold had said he was ready for them to get Sam’s hatchet and cut his ear off because it hurt so bad.
These are examples of things that happen in the book. The children give solutions they have learned from their father, the farm workers and from Torgah. There are many things that we would do well to learn and remember in case we face similar terrors.
The story begins Aug. 21, 1830, as they were in the boat and fixing to leave the dock. Just when they were about to shove off from the dock, someone came running to get the doctor. It was an emergency that he had to see about but he would be right back. Mary, Robert, Frank, Harold, Sam, the two dogs and three goats waited in the boat. But not for long: A large devilfish got tangled in the anchor and began pulling them from the dock. They could not stop the boat. The doctor came back just in time to see the little boat flying through the water. There was nothing he could do but fall on his knees and pray.
A devilfish is a large, flat fish with a long, flexible tail. The fish measures 10-15 feet from tip to tip of its wings and sometimes as large as 20 or more feet. It is one of the most powerful, dreadful monsters of the sea. It has flexible arms like the inverted flippers on a turtle with which it grasps and feeds itself. It seems to be as remarkable for its stupidity as it is for its size, strength and ugliness, seldom letting anything go that gets within the grasp of its arms.
In 1852, a devilfish attempted to pass between a vessel and the wharf at Sullivan’s Island near Charleston, S. C. It seized a large cable for mooring or towing a ship and, not having sense enough to stop, was harpooned to death by the sailors. Afterwards, it was skinned, stuffed and presented to the Charleston Museum of the Medial College. It still may be there. The Hon. William Elliott wrote a book, “Carolina Sports,” that graphically sketched some adventurous scenes in which he was the principal actor. (This may be the Loch Ness Monster or Altamaha-Ha that people around Darien claim to have seen over the years!)
It would be several months that the young people would be on the greatest adventure of their lives. They faced every trial and tribulation that could be imagined by the writer. They also used every dab of information they had learned to figure out what to do and how to get it done. It took teamwork to survive. They also learned to believe and trust in God to see them through each adversity. When reading this book, one wonders how in the world they are going to get through this situation or what can possibly happen next.
Mary and Frank were at the homesite they had set up when a big black bear approached, drawn by the smell of the fresh meat in their camp. Frank climbed a small sapling and hollered at Mary. All she could do was throw several pots of hot water at the bear, which ran off howling. She notified the boys, and they went after the bear. Soon, Mary had a nice, soft bearskin to sleep on each night.
Another time, they killed a mama bear and butchered her for “bacon” and fat. They captured the two small cubs and took them to camp for Frank to play with.
Harold taught them many lessons about hunting and fishing and how to cure the meat and cook it by using what was available in the woods. He had learned well from Torgah. One evening, they were fetching and opening oysters. Little Frank exclaimed that his had a rabbit foot inside the shell. But it was a raccoon’s foot the animal had gnawed off when the oyster closed its shell on it.
On Christmas Day in 1830, the boys decided to explore the island. They did not want to work on this important day. They had no gifts for each other but took turns remembering past Christmases they had spent with their loved ones and how they wished they could be with them again. During their exploration, they came upon a wrecked ship partially washed up on the beach. Upon entering it, they discovered it was a pirate ship. They were scared — and the stench was unbearable. But they went inside and looked about. They found 14 skeletons in the rooms. The water creatures had eaten all the meat off the bones.
They found a barrel of sugar and knew that if they could burn some of it, the smell would go away. They set the sugar on fire and it certainly helped. The boys went from one room to the other and discovered loot and food items. They collected what they could take back home with them. One room had plenty of guns and kegs of ammunition. They were in heaven!
Back at the homesite, they distributed their Christmas presents.
I will not tell you anymore about this book, but find a copy and read it for yourself. People begged Goulding to write a sequel, so in 1868, he wrote “Marooners Island.” It is the other side of the story that tells of the mother and father’s search for the missing children taken for a ride by the devilfish and all the events that took place as they were searching. Goulding died in 1881 in an impoverished state. His publishers did not pay him the royalties he was due. He is buried in Roswell.
Goulding was the author of several books filled with exciting adventures and practical advice. If you have one, you have a treasure.

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