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HISTORIC ARTICLE
HISTORIC ARTICLE

Feb 1, 1709 CE: Rescue of Real-Life Robinson Crusoe

Feb 1, 1709 CE: Rescue of Real-Life Robinson Crusoe

On February 1, 1709, Alexander Selkirk, the probable inspiration for Robinson Crusoe, was rescued after four years alone on a South Pacific island.

Grades

9 - 12

Subjects

Anthropology, English Language Arts, Geography, Human Geography, Physical Geography

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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.

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Writer
National Geographic Society
Producer
National Geographic Society
other
Last Updated

September 12, 2022

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