The Real Robinson Crusoe . . . or was he?
The Scottish seaman, with more than enough adventures than any other person in the British Isles, told his incredible story of his survival to a fellow Scotsman by the name of Daniel Defoe. But wait, we are getting ahead of our story.
Alexander Selkirk grew up in Scotland, the son of a shoemaker and tanner in Lower Largo, Fife, Scotland in the latter part of the sixteen hundreds. His church was Presbyterian, but it obviously did not have much impact on his lifestyle. Described as quarrelsome and unruly, his conduct became so bad that the local session of elders calls for him to appear before them. He answered this call by joining a ship’s crew ready to sail. Back in several years to his home, his conduct had not changed. Because of his brawling, the local kirk once again ordered him to appear. His answer was to flee again, leaving his homeland on September 11, 1703.
His experience on the high sea this time was as a privateer, under command of William Dampier. They carried letters of authority to attack the foreign enemies of the Crown, especially that of Spain, with whom they were now at war. Capturing a sister ship, Selkirk argued with the new captain about how seaworthy the new ship was. Passing some island near Chile, he requested to be left behind on that deserted island. When the ship started to sail away, he realized his foolishness and wanted to board again. But the captain wouldn’t allow him, and instead gave him a few provisions to sustain him. To make matters worse, the ship was proven to be unseaworthy, sinking with only a few crew member able to make land. The Spanish captured the survivors and were kept in harsh conditions in Peru for many months.
Alexander Selkirk became a castaway on the deserted island. With the few provisions left him, he built two huts. Because previous expeditions had introduced goals to the island, he tamed them and used them for meat and milk. Plenty of wild turnips, cabbage leaves, and dried pepper berries provided him vegetables. Drawing on his father’s profession. he good goat skins and made himself clothing.
One of the objects the captain left him was a Bible. He read from it daily, and sang the psalms which were found in it. When rescued on February 2, 1709 after four years and four months on the island by a ship under his old captain William Dampier, he returned to England. After relating his story to many people, including Daniel Defoe, he returned to his old sinful ways of conduct, dying in 1721 of yellow fever.
Daniel Defoe took his story, changed the person and island, and wrote his famous novel about Robinson Crusoe. Defoe, who was a Presbyterian as well, had his castaway rescue a cannibal, whom he named “Friday.” In the full editions of that novel are found his successful efforts to convert Friday. There is no cannibal in Selkirk’s true experiences.
Words to Live By: Reading the Bible faithfully, and singing the psalms joyfully, are all characteristics of a saint. But they were not a substitute for genuine biblical repentance and saving faith. Alexander Selkirk’s conduct before and after his life as a castaway indicates that he was spiritually lost in his sins. It is far better to read the novel by Defoe to your children, Christian parents, because there you have a character who was obviously saved. Indeed, it can be used to share God’s saving grace to your covenant children, leading them to “own” your personal salvation in Christ as Lord and Savior.