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The Real Robinson Crusoe

Updated on June 15, 2017


In 1719 Daniel Defoe wrote a story about a fictional castaway he named
'Robinson Crusoe'.

This story became a best seller.

People all over the world, even those who haven't actually read the story, know
who Robinson Crusoe was.

But most people don't know that Defoe's story was loosely based on the true
story of Alexander Selkirk, which was published in 1713.

Alexander Selkirk's story is far more interesting than the fiction of Defoe.

The life he lived was far more exciting and diverse than simply being a person
who survived a few years as a castaway.

Early Life

Alexander Selkirk was born in 1676,
the seventh son of a cobbler.

At the age of nineteen, he found
himself in trouble with the law.

He and his brother had an argument
when Alexander was tricked into
drinking sea water and became ill.

Before he could be arrested, (for
he retaliated against his brother),
Alexander ran away to sea, becoming a Pirate.

In those days, the English harried
the Spanish fleet with their somewhat
licensed ships as 'Privateers'
who were out for plunder.

Selkirk became an excellent navigator, and participated in a number of forays on the
Spanish fleet. Subsequently, he logged aboard a ship called the 'Cinque Ports'
as sailing master.

Choosing to be Put Off

The Captain of the ship was
very much a 'Bligh' type, and
his forays against the Spanish
were disasters.

Alexander, sure the ship was
going to sink, asked to be put
off at the first island.

The Captain obliged.

Alexander Selkirk, with a Bible, a musket, some bedding, and his tobacco, was placed on an uninhabited island (then called Mas a Terra, now Robinson Crusoe Island) in 1704.

He assumed he would soon be rescued.

Time passes

As time began to pass, Alexander realised rescue was not going to be soon.. He began to set up housekeeping, building a better house, and having no one but rats and goats and cats for company.

After a few years, he saw two ships drew into the island’s bay and rushed to shore, only to learn they were Spanish vessels. The landing party fired on him, and he ran for his life. As he knew the island he was able to evade capture, and finally, the Spanish departed..

On the 1st of February 1709, two British privateers dropped anchor offshore. Alexander lit his signal fire.


The British landing party stood dumbfounded seeing this ‘wildman’ dressed in goat skins. However, the pilot happened to be William Dampier, who had led Selkirk’s first expedition

Alexander Selkirk had been alone for four years and four months on that island, yet he seemed quite normal.

William Dampier told him he was right
in leaving the ‘Cinque Ports’.It had
soon sunk off the coast of Peru and
all but the captain and seven men
survived, but were captured by the Spanish and tossed into a Peruvian jail.

Pirate and Home

After being cleaned up, Alexander re-embarked on his career as a pirate.
Within a year he was master of the ship that rescued him.
In 1712 he returned to Scotland £800 richer, and surprised his family as
they worshipped at the Kirk in Largo.

They were astonished he was alive, let alone wealthy.

His story was fantastic and he was encouraged to publish it, which he did.

Life in civilisation, however, was not for him.

Although he tried to fit in, he just couldn't, so in 1720, he joined the Royal Navy,
but soon died of fever off the coast of Africa.

He had lived a remarkable life, even more fantastic than Robinson Crusoe.


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    • qeyler profile image

      qeyler 7 years ago

      The Pirates were real...I live not far from Port Royal, and one of my friends is a direct descendent of Moses Cohen Henriques, who was a Pirate.

    • Faybe Bay profile image

      Faye Constantino 7 years ago from Florida

      I used to live on Selkirk St. My neighbor told me the street was named for a Pirate, but at the time, they didn't know he'd been a pirate. The character of Rhett Butler is also a pirate though, so perhaps the whole pirate thing is not what we think of in the movies and so on. That would be an excellent exploration in a hub, real pirates, where they came from etc. Thank you for this, the story only gets better each time it's told!

    • qeyler profile image

      qeyler 7 years ago

      You're welcome Larry. I live on an island and though it is not deserted, (alas, considering my neighbours) there is a lot one learns how to survive. What I found so interesting is that he had been a Pirate.

    • maven101 profile image

      maven101 7 years ago from Northern Arizona

      Thank you for this interesting and concise account of the man who was the real Robinson Crusoe...

      I loved this book by Defoe when I was 10 or 11...I even joined the Boy Scouts so I could hone my skills for survival in the wild...I would love the challenge of survival on an isolated island, only now I would want my golf clubs, balls, and ipod with me...Thanks for the interesting read...Larry