Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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RILEY, James, mariner, born in Middletown, Connecticut, 27 October, 1777; died at sea, , 15 March, 1840. He became a sailor at the age of fifteen, was soon made master of a vessel, and commanded in 1808 the " Two Marys," which was seized and confiscated by the French. In April, 1815, he sailed from Hartford in the brig "Commerce." On the course from Gibraltar to the Cape Verde islands he was shipwrecked on the coast of Africa in August, 1815. He was kept as a slave by the Arabs for eighteen months, and suffered such hardships and cruelties that his weight was reduced from 240 to 60 pounds. He was finally ransomed, with his companions, by W. Willshire, the British consul at Mogadore, whom the United States government reimbursed during the presidency of James Monroe. Riley settled in 1821 in Van Weft county, Ohio, where he founded the town of Willshire, and in 1823 was elected to the legislature. During that important session he assisted in maturing the measures for improving the state by navigable canals, establishing an ad valorem system of taxation, providing a sinking fund for the debt, and advancing the common-school system of the state. In 1831 he resumed a seafaring life, and traded between Mogadore and American ports till his death. During his last visit to Morocco he received from the emperor a license to trade with people of the seaports that was more favorable than any that had before been granted to a Christian merchant. After his escape from captivity an "Authentic Narrative of the Loss of the American Brig 'Commerce' on the Western Coast of Africa, with a Description of Tombuctoo" was prepared from his journals and log-books by Anthony Bleecker (New York. 1816), and was reprinted in England, obtaining a wide circulation in both countries, though it was supposed to be a fiction until others of the crew arrived to corroborate the story. Another survivor of the shipwreck, Archibald Robbins, published a narrative (Hartford, 1842). Riley's son, WILLIAM WILLSHIRE, published a "Sequel" to his narrative, embracing the story of his life, voyages, and travels after the shipwreck (Columbus, 1851).
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