Alexander was born in Lower Largo, Scotland in 1676. He was the seventh son of the local Lower Largo cobbler. It was not long before Alexander discovered that making shoes in a small Scottish town wasn't for him, and besides, he had gotten in trouble with the Kirk because of a fight with one of his brothers. In 1695, he ran away to the sea to find freedom from the boredom of the Lowlands. It didn't take this precocious young man long to become first mate on the Cinque Ports, a ninety-ton privateer with sixteen large guns and captained by William Dampier. Everything was going okay until Alexander and the captain got into an argument over the seaworthiness of the ship. Dampier had made several unsuccessful attempts of sailing west around Cape Horn. Finally, the ship made it but suffered extensive damage due to the storms and seas.
Alexander wanted the captain to take some timeout from looking for Spanish and Portuguese merchant ships to perform needed repairs. The captain refused. This resulted in a very intense argument between the two of them. Alexander told the captain that he would rather be put ashore at the nearest land than continue to sail aboard a ship that wouldn't pass OSHA regulations. Therefore, in October of 1704, Captain Dampier gave Alexander an ax, musket, some utensils, and a Bible and put him ashore on the closest piece of land. That piece of terra firma was a small uninhabited island called Juan Fernandez, which lies four-hundred and eighteen miles west of Valparaiso, Chile. Juan Fernandez is just a forty-square mile island created by an ancient volcano.
After a couple of years, hopes of imminent rescue had long since faded. Just as Alexander was giving up hope, two ships appeared on the horizon. Finally, rescue was at hand. Well, not quite yet, the ships were Spanish gunboats looking for British privateers. The Spanish had stopped to find fresh water. When they saw Alexander, they fired upon him, but he alluded capture. After failing to hunt him down, the Spanish left him alone again on his deserted island.
Alexander lived on Juan Fernandez for a total a four years and four months in total isolation. Well, he wasn't totally alone. There were rats, goats, and cats that had gotten off Spanish ships years before. The rats tormented him until he befriended the cat population. It wasn't long before his feline friends took up residence with him, and the rat problem quickly abated.
Everyday, Alexander went to the highest point on the island, a climb of over a mile, in hopes of sighting a passing ship. It wasn't until February 1709 before the Duke, another British privateer captained by Woodes Rogers happen to drop anchor nearby the island and rescued him. Alexander's former captain, Dampier, was one of those onboard.
Alexander found out from Dampier that after unloading him over four years prior, the captain sailed away only to sink some short time later off the coast of Peru. Only the captain and a handful of sailors managed to survive.
Alexander, who last name was Selkirk, continued his privateer career and soon became first mate of the ship that had taken him off the Juan Fernandez. Soon, the captain gave him a Spanish ship that they had recently captured. With the ship and great wealth, he returned to Scotland in 1712 due to his exploits as a pirate for the Crown. The following year, he met Richard Steele, a writer, who interviewed Selkirk about his adventures. It was from Steele's work that Daniel Defoe based his novel, The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, which is better known to us as just Robinson Crusoe. However, life on land still wasn't what Alexander Selkirk wanted. He reenlisted in the British Navy as the first mate on the British man-of-war Weymouth. Alexander Selkirk died of yellow fever in 1721 of the coast of Africa just a couple years after Defoe's book was published.
We can take a lesson from this story for us today. Selkirk was a whistle-blower. His blowing the whistle resulted in four years of isolation. However, ultimately it saved his life. So, it will be for whistle-blowers within the FBI or CIA. FBI Agent Coleen Rowley may windup on a desert island, but, at least, she won't go down with the ship in the 9/11 investigation. The same was true for Jeffrey Wigand of Brown and Williamson Tobacco and Sherron Watkins of Enron. Hang in there all you whistle-blowers, and remember Alexander Selkirk's experience.