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On February 1, 1709, Alexander Selkirk, the probable inspiration for novelist Daniel Defoe’s shipwrecked character Robinson Crusoe, was rescued after four years alone on a South Pacific island. Selkirk had been left by his privateering ship, fearing it needed major repairs in order to be seaworthy. (He was right—the ship, the Cinque Ports, soon sank and its surviving British crewmembers imprisoned by hostile Spanish forces in South America.)
 
Mas a Tierra, the island on which Selkirk lived, is one of the remote Juan Fernandez Islands, now a part of Chile. (Today, Mas a Tierra is called Robinson Crusoe Island.) Previous sailors had visited the island, and accidentally introduced species such as cats and goats. These feral animals helped Selkirk survive—the goats provided meat and skins for clothing, while the cats were easily domesticated to fend off the island’s aggressive rats. Selkirk crafted a knife from the rings of a barrel left on shore, sewed clothing using a rusty nail for a needle, and sang psalms to keep his language and grammar intact. 
 
Selkirk, a Scotsman, was ultimately rescued by a passing British vessel. The ship’s captain was shocked at Selkirk’s physical stamina and mental acuity. In fact, he quickly made Selkirk the captain of one of his ships. Selkirk lived the rest of his life as a privateer and sailor.
acuity
Noun

clarity or sharpness of thought.

domesticate
Verb

to tame or adapt for human use.

durable
Adjective

strong and long-lasting.

feral
Adjective

wild or untamed, but descended from domesticated animals.

hostile
Adjective

confrontational or unfriendly.

imprison
Verb

to confine or put in a jail-like facility.

inspiration
Noun

something that influences the development of an idea.

introduced species
Noun

a species that does not naturally occur in an area. Also called alien, exotic, or non-native species.

Noun

body of land surrounded by water.

privateer
Noun

private ship or person commissioned by a government during war.

probable
Adjective

likely.

psalm
Noun

sacred song or musical poem.

remote
Adjective

distant or far away.

sailor
Noun

person who works aboard a ship.

shellfish
Noun

any aquatic organism that has a shell or exoskeleton.

stamina
Noun

strength and power to endure difficulty.

strand
Verb

to abandon or leave in a vulnerable position.

turnip
Noun

root vegetable related to a radish.

ultimate
Adjective

final or maximum.

More Dates in History

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