A Prisoner Singing Himself into Liberty
This was the case with Deacon Epa Norris during the war between Great Britain and the United States, in 1812. He lived in the Northern Neck, Va. Being captured and taken to a British vessel, they in vain sought to obtain from him the position and numbers of the American Army.
Dr. Belcher says:The commandant of the ship gave a dinner to the officers of the fleet, and did Mr. Norris the honor to select him from the American prisoners of war to be a guest. The deacon, in his homespun attire, took his seat at the table with the aristocracy of the British navy. The company sat long at the feast: they drank toasts, told stories, laughed and sang songs. At length Mr. Norris was called on for a song. He desired to excuse himself, but in vain: he must sing. He possessed a fine, strong, musical voice. In an appropriate and beautiful air, he commenced singing:—
Sweet is the work, my God, my King,
To praise Thy name, give thanks, and sing.
Thoughts of home and of lost religious privileges, and of his captivity, imparted an unusual pathos and power to his singing. One stanza of the excellent psalm must have seemed peculiarly pertinent to the occasion:—
Fools never raise their thoughts so high:
Like brutes they live, like brutes they die;
Like grass they flourish, till thy breath
Blast them in everlasting death.
When the singing ceased, a solemn silence ensued. At length the commandant broke it by saying:Mr. Norris, you are a good man, and shall return immediately to your family.The commodore kept his word; for in a few days Mr. Norris was sent ashore in a barge, with a handsome present of salt—then more valuable in the country than gold.
Long, p. 155