Alexander Selkirk used this cave as a shelter for most of the four years he was stranded on Isla Mas a Tierra—now called Robinson Crusoe Island.

Photograph courtesy Library of Congress

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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.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    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.

    island Noun

    body of land surrounded by water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: island
    privateer Noun

    private ship or person commissioned by a government during war.

    probable Adjective


    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.