Excerpt from Unsigned: “Reefing the Sails”

Unsigned: The Letters that Spared Siam from Colonization

AA Bastian

…Wood creaked, its canvas clapped in the wind as the ship pitched through fins of waves. The ocean swelled; it’s spritz like pellets. Alone at sea clouds blurred the touch of earth and sky. With bent knees and fists at their eyes the deck’s seamen dashed about listening through gale force winds for the boatswain’s orders. The deck rose and fell beneath them.

Hands about ship! Reef topsails in one! said the mate on the watch and the boatswain echoed coning the shout with his palm.

Reef the sails, men roared.

The stout ones bent for the rail of the ship scaling the salty ropes up the shroud for the yardarm, Luddington amongst them. They cross the yardarm feeling for the guard lines to hinge themselves at their waists shimmying over the sail. The ship’s carpenter below assessed the mast, gauging the groan and yawn of its wood. Luddington strained to mind the boatswain’s commands. The wind danced his hair. Legs wriggled as they all clung to the weather worn stalk. The yard thrust downward to the tilt of the ship then pushed back up hard against them. Their hands slid, slimy wet with sweat and sea.

Luddington lunged for the reefing ties on the bloated sail. His grip slackened. Fear creased his face. He hollered to the carpenter pacing below.

I cried out to the carpenter to catch me,…

The carpenter followed the trajectory of Luddington’s body like a puppet above. Seamen turned their gaze. The ship’s lean, the mast’s growing angle, he could drop to the ocean.

Others froze; some quieted.

The wind burst. Luddington lost hold of the yardarm. A yell. Breathing stiffened. Feeling canvas flapping from the windward yardarm he caught hold, airborne with the wind. …and I barely saved myself by the sail flapping on the windward yard arm or main top sail. Remembering like a dream; the deep hole in the river when he didn’t know how to swim, eight years old, nearly drowning, then crawling on the bed of the creek until he reached the opposite bank, panting. Dangling now, he opened his eyes.

…when I was eight years old, when, before I knew how to swim, I stepped in a deep hole in the river and crawled on the bed of the creek until I reached the opposite bank.

A glance upward to the Almighty.

The poorly set, broken arm coupled with a near fall off the yard arm on the Atlantic voyage changed his life’s trajectory permanently. Nineteen-year-old Elam Luddington slogged down the gang plank in New York the summer of 1825 with that lingering pain in his arm. He needed his arm for any of the work he had trained for. He must have already determined at this point, that he wouldn’t get back to the sea for a while. But the sea and all of the skills he learned there would save his life many times….



“thy name shall not be lost” (Joseph Smith, Sr. patriarchal blessing to Elam Luddington.  Courtesy of Karen Bush Heritage documents.  Nauvoo, September, 1842.)

“Wood creaked and its canvas clapped…”  The event is taken from Elam Luddington’s Autobiographical Statement.  “One thing I forgot to mention, while reefing the topsails in a gale of wind, I lost my hold.  I cried out to the carpenter to catch me, and I barely saved myself by the sail flapping on the windward yard arm or main top sail.”  (Luddington, Elam.  “An Autobiographical Statement of Elam Luddington”. (Written some time between 1868-1893) Transcribed.  Luddington Family and all Existing Portions of an Autobiographical Sketch, FHL US/CAN Fiche 6018292, LDS Family History Center, Salt Lake City, UT.)  Bent knees comes from the reality that as the ship is moving through rough seas, it would behoove seamen to keep knees bent to stay upright.

“Hands about ship!…”  The sailing commands are from an old sailing song, “Oh’t is a fine frigate” from 1835 recorded by John Harland. I gained a fuller knowledge of reefing procedures from his work.  (Harland, John.  Illustrated by Mark Meyers.  Seamanship in the Age of Sail.  Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 1985 p153.)  John Harland also points out that the stout were the ones recruited for reefing assignments.  This lines up with our measurements of Elam Luddington which we have from his military pension application, 5’8″.  I also met with his descendent Sam Bush who is also stout and aligns with this account.

“rail of the ship scaling the salty ropes up the shroud” I tried to balance actual sailing terms with words modern readers can understand.  A shroud is the latticed rope structure that leads to the upper part of the ship’s masts and yardarms.  Ropes have several names depending on their function and location on a ship.  In an attempt to replicate the experience as closely as possible, I consulted several sources.  (US Sloop-of-War Constellation (1854-1955).  Maintained and operated by Historic Ships in Baltimore.  Baltimore, MD.)  Even after all the book research, it still took a careful walk with some ready guides navigating around the US Sloop-of-War Constellation to realize some of the finer details that Luddington needn’t include for an audience more familiar with ships.  Bjorn Landstrom’s book directed me to period appropriate drawings of ships of different sizes and modalities.  (Landstom, Bjorn.  The Ship: An Illustrated History, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc, 1961.)  I also ran my version of events with Jonathan Vega, a sailing instructor who corrected some of my assumptions.  I sailed on the schooner Pioneer (1885) in New York harbor under the care of the South Street Seaport Museum to get a sense of a moving sailing ship.  I would also recommend the movie Master and Commander.

“Catch me [!]”  This is a quote taken from Elam Luddington’s Autobiography.  “I cried out to the carpenter to catch me…”.

“The carpenter followed the trajectory of Luddington’s body like a puppet above….he could drop to the ocean.”  We can assume that at least some people watched the men risking their lives reefing the sail.  Seamen often lost their lives in this very dangerous activity.  The carpenter who was in charge of repairs to the ship would have paid attention, especially since we know he was somewhere below Elam when he lost hold.  Jonathan Vega helped me understand that the wind would have tilted or rocked the boat quite dramatically and at the angle and height a typical mariner was stationed reefing a topsail, Elam could easily have fallen into the ocean.

“Others froze; some quieted.”  Officers aboard ships expected that seamen would not talk on the top deck so they could hear orders.  Likely in a gale, it would have been hard to hear anyway.  Even with the potential for a fatal fall, not all of the men would have been able to stop but some must have realized what could have happened to Luddington and froze, perhaps even imagining themselves in his place.  The men depended on the sails to be reefed so they could manage the ship keeping as many safe as possible.

“Remembering like a dream; the deep hole in the river…”
  This also comes from Luddington’s autobiography previously cited.  I used the even as a surreal memory that blurs his mind when he thinks he will lose his life.  He writes about this memory very close to when he writes about reefing the sails.  From his autobiography, “Three times I have come very near losing my life…. [The first is while reefing the sails which is portrayed in this opening scene.  The second is in Lousiana.] The third occasion was when I was eight years old, when, before I knew how to swim, I stepped in a deep hole in the river and crawled on the bed of the creek until I reached the opposite bank.”

“Nineteen year old Elam Luddington slogged down the gang plank in New York with a lingering pain in his arm”  We know he arrived in New York during the summer.  He writes in his autobiography, “We took on a load of coal, salt and 200 passengers, and sailed for New York, where we arrived after a sixty day passage, making the end of my first long sea trip.”  The lingering pain in his arm also comes from his autobiography.  “Here [Liverpool-1825], while discharging cargo between daylight and dark I feel down the hold and broke my left arm.  It was not properly set, and is lame to this day.”

“There would be no return to sea for twenty seven years.”  We have no record of him returning to sea until his mission to Siam.  All other accounts of him are inland.

“saw nothing but seas, waves and storms”  This is a quote from Wilford Woodruff in 1857 recalling a blessing he gave Elam Luddington in 1852.  (Long, J.V. Report on Elder Wilford Woodruff’s Remarks.  Bowery, Sunday Morning, September 27, 1857.  Courtesy of Karen Bush Heritage documents.)

“British redcoats torched Elam Luddington’s house on their ride out of town in 1779…”  This Elam Luddington refers to Elam Luddington’s grandfather.  The reference to the British burning down his house as well as replacing it the following year as well as more details regarding the British raid are from this work: (Hayward, Marjorie F.  The East Side of New Haven Harbor, Morris Cover (Solitary Cover), The Annex (The Indian Reservation), South End & Waterside 1644 to 1868.  New Haven: New Haven Colony Historical Society, 1938.  p33-34, 75-76.)

“eighteen-month-old son and namesake matured with rarely a reprieve from menacing British war ships…” The dates of both grandpa Elam Luddington and father Elam Luddington as well as the Elam Luddington of this book come from a well respected genealogy.  (Jacobus, Donald Lines, compiler.  Families of Ancient New Haven, Vol IV.  New York: Clarance D. Smith, 1927.)  Father Luddington grew up during the wind up to the War of 1812 and was married with children when it occurred.  We know from Elam Luddington’s autobiographical sketch that his father was also a mariner at one time which strongly suggests that as a younger man he might have even taken part in some of the runs on British ships because New Haven and all the northeastern ports were involved.  The blockades of the New Haven harbor may have also instigated his move inland as well as his change in profession.  For this book I have chosen to take a more conservative route and assume that he at least had stories from his friends and extended family who were involved.

“He married Sena.”  This comes from the genealogy cited above as well as Luddington’s autobiographical sketch.  Her full name was Aseneth Munger Luddington.

To Siam, Chapter One.

Mormon Man Creates Controversy

My boyfriend is 47 and lives in the 1850s. Nerdy writers understand those late nights, at least I’m hoping. Explaining my book to people living in the twenty first century, though, takes a bit of finesse. Researching a Mormon man, deceased as he is, shouldn’t stir any controversy. Not until he’s published, at least….

Here is the link to my article published at By Common Consent on 8 September 2014:

Mormon Man Causes Controversy

Japanese Carp: A Memoir

Writer’s Digest 75th Annual Writing Competition, 2006

Honorable Mention

Japanese Carp: A Memoir

In a cave overgrown with jungle brush and vines our Okinawan landlord hid while American soldiers terrorized the island during World War II. After the war relatives found him in an orphanage. As an older man he owned a walled compound that our sedan would slow down and turn into when we came home. One of my brothers always sat sandwhiched between mom and dad in the front. Our baby brother would drool in his car seat while my other brother and I bobbed our heads asleep on either side.

Just outside our landlord’s compound was overcrowding and poverty. Houses could barely be distinguished from each other with only rare swatches of vegetation between them. But on the hills beyond dense jungle encroached. Humidity carried the smells of the sea and the banyan trees dangling their vines, the elephant ears pushing through the bamboo bushes. At the horizon the East China Sea rippled onto the shore. Once we found a glass ball lost from an ancient fishing net there.

An average man at his height could look through the geometric shaped bricks to our landlord’s tailored lawn and trees, grand home, and hill top apartment building. An incline led down to where our landlord and my family lived. Descending to the house we drove under Japanese shade bushes, neatly clipped and tied, trellising the slope. There as the drive leveled we parked our sedan next to our landlord’s black one; a silver steed mounted at its helm. Of his home’s three stories of off-white stucco he shared the top two with us. The third floor was really just a roof-patio with antannae and water tanks. We lived on the second floor almost entirely encircled by another sizeable patio. From this patio my dad taught us the names of the aircraft which routinely rumbled our house overhead. F-15 Eagle fighter planes, C-5 cargo jumbo jets, UH-1 Huey helicopters, KC-135 air refueling tankers (that’s the one he flew); the SR-71 Blackbird strategic reconnaissance plane. Our neighbors didn’t look at the planes; they plugged their ears.

We played with the kids in our neighborhood. Since they could not speak English we developed code. For instance, they communicated how mad their moms got for playing with us by holding up fingers; the more fingers, the madder their moms.

Only visible from our landlord’s house, his private rock garden was just outside the gates. Every morning our landlord entered it; to his left he first bowed gravely to the stone bust of his father. Lifting the dipper resting below the bust he caught water flowing from a bamboo pipe into a rock basin. After pouring some of the water over his hands he toasted his father with the dipper then tipped his head back and drank. The overflow from the basin trickled down onto a path of smooth white and grey stones rambling toward his pond. Lush greenery shaped with ties and pruning scissors dotted the garden; each sprig of grass flowering equally distant and separate from its neighbors. In the water our landlord’s prize-winning carp gently rippled and churned the surface. At its narrow neck an arched stone bridge crossed the pond leading to an eight foot high smooth grey rock. Another rock, a leg in diameter, barely leaned over the water.

The rock was cool to the touch. There with my fists stretching my face skin and my head hanging over the pond I watched the carps’ fins and tails navigating their yellow, peach, and gold shimmering bodies. They circulated and scattered, crossed paths, or turned sharply wriggling under the stone bridge. The sun was warm. Cicadas harangued rhythmically on the trees and the water gurlged softly. I could smell grass and fish food. Twice daily our landlord tapped a small designated pepple calling the carp to him for pellets of food. Order and simplicity reigned these carp. After the feeding was over, the fish community under the textured glass, bellies full, began finding niches in the pool to rest in. My feet once crossed in the air, with time and heat, lost the wind that kept them masted. They dipped then straightened, my brow twitching slightly. The feet dipped and straightened, then finally laid to rest gently.



The proximity of the crowing defibrillated my lifeless body. And not knowing where I was, barely kept balance without falling into the water. I reported the incident straight away to my mother who came to watch me from our patio.

In 1945, as the American invasion grew imminent, Japanese leaders told Okinawans the enemy wouldn’t differentiate between military and civilians. As the American fleet neared Okinawa’s shores, families ran to the jungled hills for haven in caves. My landlord, a small boy, lived in one for months. Much of his family died around him of disease. Somehow he got to an orphanage for displaced children. He met his future wife there.

“What was that? I almost fell in!” I said to my mom. I didn’t appreciate the rooster’s presence. The rooster’s crowing destroyed my peace in the Japanese garden. “The garden was so calm until he bought that…rooster!”

“Shhhh. You’ll get used to it,” my mom said.

My brothers and I loved our favorite park for its unusually large marble slides. The slides extended almost the entire twenty feet wide of about a ten-foot high hill. We especially loved them because our parents played on them with us. We rarely explored the rest of the park, though. It was mostly just walking trails; our parents told us not to walk alone on them because of the “Beware of Rattlesnake” signs sticking out of the underbrush to each side.

At the top of the park’s small hill a memorial plaque stood alone at an observation point. Just above that plaque out of the park boundaries, a sign on a chain-link fence in both English and Japanese read, “Beware of Land Mines!” Farther down, in an overgrown area beside the park, other stone memorials were partially hidden with moss and vines. My dad read to us from his guidebook about the park. During the war families lived there in caves to hide from the Americans. This park commemorated the many people who died in the area. Soldiers had placed land mines around the caves to protect the families. How did my landlord live as a boy in those dark overgrown caves?

By June 1945 over twelve thousand Americans and one hundred and ten thousand Japanese died. Some call the battle of Okinawa the bloodiest in the Pacific Campaign. To the north of the island a memorial plaque marks a spot Americans call Suicide Cliffs. The Japanese call it something more dignified.

Because of the proximity of the neighborhood buildings, endless nooks and crannies beckoned us children all under four feet. On an exploring day down a new street my brothers and I noticed a small rickety house boarded at the windows. In the yard in front a paragraph of Japanese was written on a sign.

“Let’s hijak it.” We bounded ahead.

Stealthily cutting open the side screen door netting we squeezed between the wood planks into the house. The desecrated wood framing, scattered glass, and broken appliances set the stage for our pirate take-over. Something fell in the next room–crash!

My fingers reached nervously to twirl my frizzy curls.

My brothers broke to glance at me, “Oh, be quiet! You’re such a girl,” they said, then went back to scheming. I joined them bravely for the house heist. After our pirate imaginating we left. We recruited ourselves into GIs deciding to take an undercover route home…through the neighbor’s bamboo grove, which is where we got caught. The neighbor, who spotted us both in the house and then trampling through his grove, told our landlord who pulled my dad aside. That night came the spankings. We submitted as captured soldiers for punishment. Apparently the sign we ignored in front of the house forbid trespassers and attached a hefty fine.


I fidgeted that night worrying about getting dad in trouble with the Japanese. My curls drooped in the pooled sweat on my futon even though the fan was going all night. The next day I tugged my dad’s sleeve for him to face me. With one of my legs twisting across the other and my head down I said, “I’ll pay the money if you want, dad.”

He laughed. Of course he was the source of my scanty allowance.

“We’re immune from Japanese law. If we get in trouble it would be through US military law. They won’t do anything.”

“Oh.” Relieved, I took a deep breath then went looking for the boys.

After months of playing with Japanese kids living in a flat next door, their mother finally invited us over. The experience was one of only a few in over five years for us to see inside one of our neighbor’s homes. My landlord owned their flat, too. Their door opened to a tiled floor surrounded with cubby holes. We slipped our shoes off and donned a pair of plastic slippers that neatly lay in a row one step higher. Their mother sat us down at a table in the morning for breakfast. We communicated in shy smiles. She served spaghetti, though not spaghetti we were used to. I wished we had come at lunch time and ate slowly, hardly concealing my distaste.

“Mom, guess what? Japanese people eat spaghetti for breakfast.”

“I don’t think they eat spaghetti for breakfast, honey. They’re trying to make you feel at home with American food.”


The Japanese signed an agreement after World War II to disband its entire military and submit to American protection. Only recently Japan has slowly begun to remilitarize despite a majority who resist the efforts feeling they have seen enough war. The Japanese government still regularly contributes financially to America’s military requests, generously helping in the Iraqi wars.

Three seasons divde the year in Okinawa: Rainy, Summer, and Typhoon seasons. During the typhoon season, before we closed our storm shutters and grabbed our flash lights for an imminent storm, a warm rain flushed our patio filling it to the level of our drains two inches above the floor. Mom got our swim suits on and readied our hot wheels for a half hour of splashing and racing. The torrential rain muffled our giggling and screaming. It was like playing under a gentle water fall. Our hair stuck to our faces. Slowly with the wind gaining strength our footing grew unsteady. We played drunk. Our mother, though, looked to the sky, “It’s time to come in now.”

“Just five more minutes, plea–ea–ease?” we said, and then splash and slide we pretended not to hear her.

But suddenly the wind grew stronger and even we realized we could not withstand it much longer. In a previous typhoon the wind lifted our outside freezer and threw it across the patio. We went inside. We were all subject to typhoons, but in our landlord’s compound we weathered better than some of our neighbors. We didn’t know the extent of the damage, though. We couldn’t communicate with our neighbors very well.

My landlord spoke English only my dad understood. I liked him a lot. When we returned to the United States Dad left the military and I started learning Japanese. I missed seeing the flood of black hair, but most of all; I missed my landlord with his cultured bows and rock garden.





From Siamese Prison to Mormon Memory

“…the King confined bro. [Trail] 71 days in a Siamese prison, 14 feet square, with 50 other prisoners, some were confined for debt others for stealing &c several ware put to the rack to draw out a fu [teekals (tikal money)]…”  –Elam Luddington April 1854

A day after Elam Luddington baptized his first and only convert in Siam, Captain James Trail, the King of Siam thrust the convert into a debtor’s prison without food.  The captain’s crime was misunderstanding a command and firing a salute from his ship in the rhodes of Singapore.  

With only one baptism, is it possible that Luddington’s apparent failure washed him from our collective Mormon memories?…

Here is my article published in the Juvenile Instructor on 28 June 2013:



Double Facebook Profile: Egyptian Women Online

If we down play the role of Facebook in the overthrow of the Egyptian president, we ignore the voices of young conservative women whose main contribution is through Facebook. Before the recent uprisings, Egypt had more than 2 million male Facebook users and almost 2 million female users from a population of 77 million, totaling roughly 3 percent of the population. The 1.5 percent of Egyptian female users reached unprecedented audiences. Worood, for example, is a prolific Facebook user….


Here is my article published at the Eurasia Review on 5 April 2011: