Tuesday, May 22, 2018

A Disappointment - 'Farther Than Any Man: The Rise and Fall of Captain James Cook'

I often recommend books here on British Tars, but today I'm taking a different tack. Here's a book you should avoid: Martin Dugard's Farther Than Any Man: The Rise and Fall of Captain James Cook.

Dugard's premise is solid enough. James Cook is a fascinating figure, and his voyages of exploration around the world are the stuff of legends. Sure, there's already plenty of biographies out there about Cook, but another popular history treatment of the man isn't necessarily going to be harmful.

I didn't even make it through chapter three.

Dugard commits wholeheartedly to myth-making and stereotypes of common sailors. Not once in the brief portion I read does he critically assess the tired tropes he so eagerly parrots, and citations are nonexistent.

Some of these are cosmetic, and of only indirect importance to the main subject. He states 'sailors often kept pigtails in place by applying a thin layer of tar. All this gooey, black pitch coating clothes and hair of the era earned the nickname Jack Tar,' and wore 'baggy breeches coated with tar to keep out the wet and cold.' There is no evidence that sailors of the era ever intentionally tarred anything for the purposes of weatherproofing, and it is a well documented fact that until the 1790's, sailors generally wore their hair short.

At times, there are puzzling assertions that it would take a simple Google search to disprove. Dugard argues that Cook was 'the first man in Royal Navy history to rise from the bottom of those ranks [common seamen] to an officer's commission and command.'[1] It is true that it was exceptionally difficult for sailors to rise to a commissioned rank, but to say that Cook was the first man to ever do so is either disingenuous or inexcusably ignorant.

In other cases, Dugard ignores key facts. At one point, he completed skips the idea that landsmen and ordinary seamen exist, jumping straight to able seamen. This is a very strange omission, and one that can only come from complete ignorance of the subject. It is possible, though unlikely, that Dugard intentionally ignored these classes, as it more readily supports his strange argument that 'real sailors' didn't occupy the lower decks. Not only is Dugard wrong, he is incredibly wrong. It would be impossible to sail a ship with nothing but inexperienced, untrained, and ignorant landsmen.

He seems committed to painting the world of the sailor as a terrible and oppressive place, populated by the dregs of society, but isn't committed to doing the research to prove this. When Dugard argues that sailors received an 'annual salary of just one pound sterling,' he's entirely wrong, or perhaps just making it up. For landsmen in the Royal Navy, one of the lowest paid positions one could hold in the Atlantic World, pay was over ten pounds a year.

When Dugard is right, it's by mistake. 'Sailors were surprisingly apathetic about God. They put more faith in omens and apparitions.' He's sort of right, but not totally, and for the wrong reasons. It is true that many observers at the time noted 'the only time a sailor began praying was when is his ship was in danger of sinking,' but this is probably due to the sailors' belief that they could still affect their fate. Only once they were in danger that was beyond their control, then they turned to God. To claim they were uniform atheists shows a profound misunderstanding of their world.

This kind of ignorance can only come from someone disinterested in their own story, or more interested in writing a novel without the need to develop characters, a plot, and dialogue by masking it as a history. Avoid this book.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Why They Went to Sea

Life as a sailor in the eighteenth century was dangerous and difficult. Death, corporal punishment, low pay, and press gangs were only some of the dangers facing the sailor afloat. It is little surprise that desertion was such an epidemic problem for the Royal Navy. Paul Gilje, writing in his book Liberty on the Waterfront, said 'many seamen would agree: aboard ship the work was arduous and they were often miserable.'[1]

In the words of Marcus Rediker:
The tar was caught between the devil and the deep blue sea: On one side stood his captain, who was backed by the merchant and royal official, and who held near-dictatorial powers that served a capitalist system rapidly covering the globe; on the other side stood the relentlessly dangerous natural world.[2] 
Why go to sea at all?

Historians have firmly come down on one primary motivation: money. As N.A.M. Rodger wrote in The Wooden World, 'The main part of the answer is undoubtedly economic necessity, or opportunity.'[3] Peter Earle echoed this sentiment among non-naval mariners in his Sailors: English Merchant Seamen 1650-1775, 'Gain was clearly important to many. Sailors were not badly paid and there was a good chance of promotion for the competent. Such a chance to move up in the world was not easily available in other occupations open to the poor. Economic motivations were strongest in wartime when competition from the Royal Navy always forced the wages of merchant seamen up to very high levels and drew many young men away from their previous landbound lives.'[4]

As Earle suggested, there were secondary motivations, such as the ability to rise in the social hierarchy of the Atlantic World. 'Gain, adventure, a desire to see the world, were among the more positive reasons for going to sea,' Earle wrote, 'for others, the decision was very much a pis aller. They took refuge in a ship because the land had nothing to offer or was positively dangerous, the sea providing a convenient bolthole for many a runaway apprentice, deserting husband, debtor or fugitive from justice.'[5]

More prominent was the thirst for adventure and a distaste for life ashore. Gilje writes that

Some sailors rejected the limits and regularity of work ashore. Others were restless. Often, beyond the thrill of the sailing vessel's bow cutting through the spray of salt water, men who went to sea sought a certain kind of freedom. On the waterfront a sailor might act out his fantasies and enjoy excesses of liberty; at sea he experienced a different freedom that came from the vast expanses of the ocean and the fact the he had the whole world to explore.[6]
The words of the seamen themselves, gathered through my Sailors Memoirs Project, reinforce the historical consensus. Adventure and economics were the two primary motivating factors for pursuing a life at sea. A third theme also becomes apparent in the words of seamen: love. Interestingly, the sailors generally prioritize adventure over economics. We have reasons to doubt the words of the seamen I have examined here, but nearly all of them undoubtedly hold a kernel of truth. Sailors were motivated by both wages and the rare ability to see the world. Love is, predictably enough, more complicated.

As I will be focusing on the reasons sailors chose to go to sea, I will be omitting force from this post. Press gangs, enslavement, crimps, and all other forms of forced servitude are not addressed here.

It is also important to note that these were the reasons given by the men and women who went to sea, and were written mostly for an audience to consume. Again, their true reasons for going aboard may have been different from what they published.

Further, I have not distinguished between various merchant, privateer, and naval services. As Rodger states, 'Men joined a King's ship or a merchant's as opportunity or preference suggested, and they moved easily from one to another...there was no identifiable class of man-of-warsmen, there were simply seamen working at the moment for one particular employer.'[7]


Great Encouragement for Seamen, E. Russel, 1775,
Library of Congress American Memory 
The most common stated motivation for going to sea was a need for adventure. John Wyatt signed aboard the York man of war out of 'having a great Desire to see the World.'[8] John Nicol conveyed the jubilation he felt at going to sea, even while acknowledging that the pressed hands didn't share his enthusiasm:
To me the order to weigh anchor and sail for the Nore was the sound of joy. My spirits were up at the near prospect of obtaining the pleasures I had sighed for since the first dawn of reason. To others it was the sound of woe, the order that cut off the last faint hope of escape from a fate they had been impressed into much against their inclination and interest. I was surprised to see so few who, like myself, had chosen it for the love of that line of life. Some had been forced into it by their own irregular conduct but the greater number were impressed men.[9]
It is worth noting that press gangs could only legally seize men 'who use the sea' and landsmen were undesirable on a man of war. The men forced into Nicol's ship were old hands who had long before chosen the life of a sailor, and their initial motivations are lost to us.

William Spavens was another who dreamt of a life on the open sea:
Some years after I lived with a farmer at Clee Thorps, where frequently having a view of Ships sailing by on the Humber, I thought Sailors must be happy men to have such opportunities of visiting foreign countries, and beholding the wonderful works of the Creator in the remote regions of the earth; I considered not the perils and hardships they are sometimes exposed to; I thought of nothing but pleasant gales and prosperous voyages, and indulging a curiosity which seemed implanted in my nature.[10]
The call to adventure was even felt strongly by those who were old hands. Olaudah Equiano, as an enslaved boy, had no choice but to go to sea as his occupation, but it still called to him after years afloat: 'I longed to engage in new adventures, and to see fresh wonders.' Given the chance to remain ashore and make his living there, Equiano would not yet settle. He described himself as 'of a roving disposition, and desirious of seeing as many different parts of the world as I could.'[11]

Dull life ashore, when compared to adventure at sea, could convince former seamen to return to their trade. Christopher Hawkins, despite a difficult, short lived, and nearly fatal career as a privateer, found life ashore working a farm unbearable:
One day in the haying season, being at work mowing grass, with two men who were stout and active, and my scythe not being in the best order I could not keep my end up with them. This provoked me to such a degree that I threw my scythe into a brush heap-the two men (Daniel Clark & Stephen Scott) who were fellow labourers with me, on observing me leave the field inquired of me where I was going and whether or not I was angry. I answered that I was not pleased with my scythe, and that I was going to sea-upon this they raised a laugh though I had by this time got some distance from them towards the house.[12]
This sense of adventure sometimes had a political angle to it. Ebenezer Fox claimed that the first time he put to sea was with a group of friends inspired by the American Revolution's rhetoric:
We made a direct application of the doctrines we daily heard, in relation to the oppression of the mother country, to our own circumstances; and thought that we were more oppressed than our fathers were. I thought that I was doing myself great injustice by remaining in bondage, when I ought to go free ; and that the time was come, when I should liberate myself from the thraldom of others, and set up a government of my own; or, in other words, do what was right in the sight of my own eyes.[13]


Detail from The Human Passions, Thomas Sanders, 1773,
Yale University Lewis Walpole Library.
While adventure was the reason most often given by the sailors themselves, a need for money was probably the primary reason men went to sea. The New England sailor Christopher Prince met a Captain Shaw (an army captain, not a sea captain). Shaw asked Prince to take him to sea, stating:
I am a stranger to everybody and every part of the world. I was born in the country, and a part of my days brought up on a farm, and served my time at the Saddler's trade, and could not get my living there at that trade. I have left my father's house to earn my own living some how, and I am willing to see what I can do on the ocean, and that is your occupation. I wish you would accept of me as a companion.[14]
Sailors might return to sea or change their trade while on a voyage by the influence of economics. William Spavens deserted from his vessel in the hope of earning more money on a much riskier trade:
Our intent was to have procured a passage to Calcutta, and there engage in country ships, which are trading vessels navigated by lascars, with only a white Captain, Boatswain, and Gunner, who are allowed a stipulated quantity of private property on board, as private trade or venture, in augmentation of their wages, which presented us with a view of accumulating fortunes and being great.[15]
Economics could be overcome by other factors, as related by Jacob Nagle who was offered the chance to go privateering against his fellow Americans:
The Stag privateer of Liverpool of 26 guns came in, wanted hands, and six or eight went with him. He wanted me verry much to go, but I could not think of fighting against my country, though I learnt afterwards they fared better than we did They took several prizes, sent them into St. Thomases, sold them, and got their prize money and went home to Philadelphia in American ships, while the remainder of us was laying in jail.[16]
Ebenezer Fox lost his affinity for adventure during the American Revolution, but returned to sea despite that so that he might help his family in a time of distress:
Though unwilling to leave her in her affliction, I felt the necessity of exerting myself, that I might contribute something to the maintenance of the family, who were left very destitute. I knew of no way in which there was a prospect of my being so useful to them, as that of engaging for another cruise.[17]


Bachelors Fare, Carington Bowles, 1777,
British Museum.
Sometimes sailors went to sea out of love, or at least professed that they did. When John Nicol joined the First Fleet to Australia he, like many others, fell in love with a convict. They were forced to part, and for years afterward he continued trying to find his way back to her, taking voyages that would get him closer: 'With a joyful heart I set sail for London to look out for an Indiaman that I might get to Bombay and inquire for Sarah, for she was still the idol of all my affections.'[18]

Romance could pull a sailor to far shores, or shove them from their native land. Mary Lacy fled her town and eventually signed aboard a ship to avoid the pain of a jilted love:
My mind became continually disturbed and uneasy about this young man, who was the involuntary cause of all my trouble, which was aggravated by my happening to see him one day talk to a young woman: the thoughts of this made me so very unhappy, that I was from that time more unsettled than ever. As short time after, a thought came into my head to dress myself in men's apparrel, and set off by myself.[19] 
Notably, another woman who disguised herself as a man and put to sea named Hannah Snell also claimed that love (or at least obligation) drove her to it. Her husband, a sailor named James Summs who 'turned out the worst and most unnatural of husbands' abandoned her. After some time Snell 'thought herself privileged to roam in quest of the man who, without reason, had injured her so much, for there are no bounds to be set either to love, jealousy, or hatred in the female mind.'[20]

Women chasing men to sea was a trope repeated in fiction and may have been leveraged by Snell's biographer to legitimize her stepping out of her proper sphere. As Suzanne J. Stark puts it:
By far the most frequently given reason for a women enlisting the navy or marines, and the most patently absurd, was that she was seeking her male lover who had either run off to sea or been forced on board a ship by a press gang. This ubiquitous motif, which I call the lost-love theme, is found wherever women seamen are mentioned.[21]
In Stark's Female Tars: Women Aboard Ship in the Age of Sail, she argues that a variety of factors motivated women to take on the masculine role of Jack Tar, including economic opportunity, identification with men, and the restricted role of women in society that could be shed by assuming a male identity. 'It is unlikely,' Stark writes, 'that [Snell] ever had a husband named Summs.'[22]

In the end, a variety of factors motivated men (and women) to put on slops and climb aboard. Money, the call of adventure, and even love could all play a factor in their choice to join a dangerous trade. Historians over the past three decades have argued this, and the words of the sailors themselves reinforce this. Economics were probably the most important factor, but the need for adventure is undeniably near the center of their 

[1] Gilje, Paul A., Liberty on the Waterfront: American Maritime Culture in the Age of Revolution, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2004, page 66.
[2] Rediker, Marcus, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates, and the Anglo-American Maritime World, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987, page 5.
[3] Rodger, N.A.M., The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy, New York: W.W. Norton, 1996, page 114.
[4] Earle, Peter, Sailors: English Merchant Seamen 1650-1775, London: Methuen, 2007, page 15.
[5] Earle, Sailors, 16.
[6] Gilje, Liberty on the Waterfront, 68.
[7] Rodger, Wooden World, 113.
[8] Wyatt, James, The Life and Surprizing Adventures of James Wyatt, London: W. Reave, 1753, page 8.
[9] Nicol, John, The Life and Adventures of John Nicol, Mariner, edited by Tim Flannery, New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997, page 26.
[10] Spavens, William, Memoirs of a Seafaring Life: The Narrative of William Spavens, edited by N.A.M. Rodger, County Somerset: The Bath Press, 2000, page 23.
[11] Equiano, Olaudah, The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings, edited by Vincent Carretta, New York: Penguin, 2003, pages 85, 171.
[12] Hawkins, Christopher, The Adventures of Christopher Hawkins, edited by Charles I. Bushnell, New York: Privately Printed, 1864, pages 60-61.
[13] Fox, Ebenezer, The Adventures of Ebenezer Fox in the Revolutionary War, Boston: Charles Fox, 1847, page 18.
[14] Prince, Christopher, The Autobiography of a Yankee Mariner: Christopher Prince and the American Revolution, edited by Michael J. Crawford, Washington, D.C.: Brassey's Inc., 2002, page 114.
[15] Spavens, Memoirs, page 75.
[16] Nagle, Jacob, The Nagle Journal: A Diary of the Life of Jacob Nagle, Sailor, from the Year 1775 to 1841, edited by John C. Dann, New York: Weidenfield & Nicolson, 1988, page 50.
[17]  Fox, Adventures, 79.
[18] Nicol, Life and Adventures, 152.
[19]  Slade (Lacy), Mary, The History of the Female Shipwright, London: M. Lewis, 1773. in The Lady Tars: The Autobiographies of Hannah Snell, Mary Lacy and Mary Anne Talbot, Tucson, Arizona: Fireship Press, 2008, pages 62-63.
[20] Snell, Hannah, The Female Soldier; Or, The Surprising Life and Adventures of  Hannah Snell, London: R. Walker, 1750, in The Lady Tars: The Autobiographies of Hannah Snell, Mary Lacy and Mary Anne Talbot, Tucson, Arizona: Fireship Press, 2008, pages 4-5.
[21] Stark, Suzanne J., Female Tars: Women Aboard Ship in the Age of Sail, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1996, page 98.
[22] Stark, Female Tars, page 102.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018


Detail from Admiral Hosier's Ghost, Charles Mosley,
1740, John Carter Brown Library.
Today I'm taking a very quick look at what historians have to say about mortality rates among common sailors.

The actual occurrence of death at sea was not uncommon, but how present it was depended widely on what trade a sailor was engaged in. In examining logbooks of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Peter Earle came to the conclusion that 'well under one per cent of sailors died on any voyage in European water or on voyages to the northern American colonies or to the Arctic to hunt whales.' These percentages go up considerably for sailors working the routes to South America and the West Indies, and especially those sailing on East Indiamen.[1]

Denver Brunsman points to the high death rates in the West Indies as one of the motivations for employing press gangs in those waters. It was widely recognized at the time that, in the words of a Parliamentarian, 'the West Indies has been a sink where our seamen have perished.' Brunsman also states (truthfully) that "the mortality rate on ships in the West Indian naval campaigns could approach 50 percent from disease alone.'[2] Fifty percent mortality from disease in the West Indies is an outlier, but it was a possibility.

Mortality rates aboard men of war were comparable to those in the merchant service, as N.A.M. Rodger demonstrated in his book The Wooden World:
In the 1740s Bristol merchantmen were losing only slightly more than average (5.5 per cent a year against 4.5) on voyages to the West Indies, and it has been calculated that at the same period British men-of-war in those waters were losing about 6 per cent of their authorized complements a year dead from all causes. Allowing for the usual turnover of ship's companies, the mortality as a percentage of the population exposed would have been lower.[3]
By far the most deadly trade for a sailor was the slave trade. As Marcus Rediker related in The Slave Ship: A Human History:
In surveying crew mortality for 350 Bristol and Liverpool slavers between 1784 and 1790, a House of Commons committee found that 21.6 percent of sailors died, a figure that was in keeping with Thomas Clarkson's estimates at the time and is consistent with modern research. Roughly twenty thousands British salve-trade seamen died between 1780 and 1807. For sailors as for African captives, living for several months aboard a slave ship was in itself a struggle for life.[4]

[1] Earle, Peter, Sailors: English Merchant Seamen 1650-1775, London: Methuen, 2007, page 130.
[2] Brunsman, Denver, The Evil Necessity: British Naval Impressment in the Eighteenth-century Atlantic World, University of Virginia, 2013, page 106.
[3] Rodger, N.A.M., The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy, New York: W.W. Norton, 1996, page 99.
[4] Rediker, Marcus, The Slave Ship: A Human History, New York: Viking, 2007, page 244.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Claim’d as a Slave: The Short Career of William Stephens in the Royal Navy

Today's guest post is written by Dr. Charles R. Foy. Dr. Foy is Associate Professor Early American & Atlantic History at Eastern Illinois University. His scholarship focuses on 18th century black maritime culture. A former fellow at the National Maritime Museum and Mystic Seaport, Dr. Foy has published more than a dozen articles on black mariners and is the creator of the Black Mariner Database, a dataset of more than 27,000 18th century black Atlantic mariners. He is completing a book manuscript, Liberty’s Labyrinth: Freedom in the 18th Century Black Atlantic, that details the nature of freedom in the 18th century through an analysis of the lives of black mariners.

Claim’d as a Slave: The Short Career of William Stephens in the Royal Navy

On December 8, 1758, Vice Admiral Francis Holburne, Port Admiral at the Portsmouth Naval Yard, notified the Admiralty he had 'inquired into the case of William Stephens on board his Majesty’s Ship the Jason, who is claim’d as a Slave, the property of a Person in Maryland…'(Figure 1).
Figure 1. Letter of Vice Admiral Francis Holburne, Dec. 8, 1758,
The National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom (“TNA”), ADM 1/927.
As naval regulations prohibited slave naval seamen, one might have assumed, as does N.A.M. Rodger, that the navy was 'a little piece of British territory in which slavery was improper.'[1] Thus, Stephens’ case raises questions as to slaves’ service in the Royal Navy, the scope of slavery in the British empire and the movement of Black seamen in the Atlantic. As I will detail below: Stephens’ Royal Navy service, while hardly commonplace, was not rare; the Royal Navy, while taking steps to keep slaves off its ships, also took measures that supported slavery; and Black seamen, both free and enslaved, moved about the Atlantic with regularity.

As is true with regards to most eighteenth century black mariners, we know very little about William Stephens. With the vast majority of Blacks of this time period being illiterate, there are few contemporaneous accounts of Black seamen’s lives.[2] However, by utilizing the Black Mariner Database ('BDM'), a dataset of information on than 27,000 black mariners and maritime fugitives, we can contextualize Stephens’ career to better understand his and other Black seamen’s maritime careers.[3]
Figure 2 HMS Jason Muster, 1758-59, TNA ADM 35/5889.
Stephens voluntarily entered HMS Jason at Portsmouth, England on October 27, 1758 (Figure 2) as an able bodied seaman. To be classified an able bodied seamen, Stephens would have had to been at sea for at least three years. According to the Jason's captain, Stephens had gained his sea legs working as a slave 'in a Sloop coastways in America for five or six years.' Just how closely Stephens was questioned when he entered the Jason about his maritime background or whether he was a slave is uncertain. What can be said is that a slave in the Americas working on a coastal sailing vessel for five years was not uncommon. Olaudah Equiano’s time working on various ships between North America and the West Indies helped him purchase his freedom.[4] Equiano and a considerable portion of the black population in England during the second half of the eighteenth century had been seamen in the Americas.[5] Merchants in Rhode Island, New York, Virginia, South Carolina, and throughout the West Indies regularly employed enslaved Black seamen on their ships.[6] In doing so, owners calculated that the wages and prize monies the men could earn would more than offset the risk owners might lose their property. Given the prevalence of this practice throughout the Western Atlantic, by both small slave owners and rich slave merchants, such as Henry Laurens and Aaron Lopez, it appears to have been generally profitable to send enslaved Blacks to sea.

How Stephens got to Portsmouth is unclear. Was he assisted, as had been Abraham Santvoord’s slave Tony, by a ship captain? In Tony’s case, the ship captain went so far as to  transfer the runway onto a second ship at sea so the bondsman could get to England.[7] However Stephens got to England, he hardly was the only slave from the Americas who reached England during the Seven Years War. Some, such as John Incobs, escaped their slave masters and appeared to have reached English soil by service on a ship. Others, such as Olaudah Equiano and Emmanuel Carpenter, were brought to England by Royal Navy officers.[8]

Two months after Stephens entered the Jason his owner knew enough about the bondsman’s whereabouts to notify the Admiralty. Was his owner in England or did he learn of Stephens’ whereabouts through social or mercantile connections? We don’t know. But what is clear is the relative information imbalance between Stephens and his slave master. While his owner was able to find him more than 3,000 miles from Maryland, Stephens, despite being an experienced sailor, could not hide himself from his master. In the British empire, one’s former status as a slave left a person vulnerable to re-enslavement. Vice-Admiralty courts regularly presumed that Black seamen were slaves who could be sold as prize goods. This resulted in Patrick Dennis and considerable numbers of other captured free Black mariners being enslaved in the Americas.[9] Admiral James Douglas, Commander of the Royal Navy’s Leeward fleet, purchased such captured enemy Black sailors for service on his private man of war.[10]

Like John Incobs, who having fled his slave master found himself discharged in New York from the Royal Navy for 'being a slave,' Stephens and other former slaves could never feel completely safe from the Royal Navy returning them to their former masters. Even during the American Revolution, when the Royal Navy often proved to be a haven for runaways, those who fled to the Navy from Loyalist slave owners could find themselves 'returned to [their] owners.' Thus, in 1779, when HM Galley Scourge docked at Port Royal, South Carolina, January, August, Ben and six other former slaves were discharged to the custody of their former owners. Similarly, in 1783 Dublin and four other Black seamen were discharged at St. Augustine from HM Galley Arbutnot for 'being a Slave.'[11] (Figure 3) In returning runaways to their former masters, the Royal Navy provided support to the institution of slavery.
Figure 3 HM Galley Arbutnot Muster, 1783-1786, TNA ADM 36/10426.
With an economy largely based on the cultivation and sale of agricultural commodities such as tobacco and wheat, the stereotypical image of slavery in the Chesapeake is of slaves using hoes to tend to such crops. And most slaves were so employed. But, as an insert in the 1775 Jeffreys map of Virginia and Maryland demonstrates, considerable numbers of enslaved peoples worked on the region’s wharves making hogsheads and loading the large barrels onto ships (Figure 4). Blacks, free and enslaved, also worked on a variety of vessels that moved such commodities to regional, continental and Atlantic markets. The BMD contains data on more than 1,000 Black mariners from Virginia and Maryland. Advertisements for the sale of slaves who were 'used to the sea' or had worked as sailors were commonplace.[12] Slaves were employed in the Chesapeake region as baymen, ferrymen, canoemen, seamen on ocean-going ships, and even as captains on small boats.[13] During wartime, when maritime labor was particularly valued, scores of free blacks and enslaved individuals served on both British and American naval vessels. For example, when HM Galley Cornwallis left Virginia for Charleston in 1780 among its forty seamen were Dick, Joe, Andrew, Ceaser, Thomas Cooper, Peter, and Hamden, slaves hired to the Royal Navy by Virginian Loyalist slave masters.[14] Like William Stephens, these Chesapeake seamen ultimately did not have a choice as to whom they worked for. Whereas Stephens found himself returned from England to enslavement in Maryland, the seven Black seamen on the Cornwallis were instead sold as prize goods in Porto Rico.
Figure 4 Jefferys 1775 Map of Virginia and Maryland
The Chesapeake region, with its large bay, numerous rivers and regular influx of ocean-going vessels, offered enslaved individuals numerous opportunities for flight via the sea. The persistence and scale of maritime flight can be seen both in the regularity of fugitive slave advertisements for such runaways and the often futile efforts governmental authorities and slave masters made to stop maritime fugitives. During the eighteenth century there were not less than twelve hundred Chesapeake maritime fugitives.[15] As did Stephens, these runaways sought to use maritime employment as a means to quickly put distance between themselves and their slave masters. The same year William Stephens was returned to slavery in Maryland, Tom escaped from Elk-Ridge Furnace. Described as 'formerly accustomed to go by Water' and having worked for a ship captain on the Chester River, the young slave was thought to have attempted to 'escape that Way,' i.e., by obtaining a ship berth.[16]

When William Stephens fled his Maryland slave master he did not merely join a group of experienced Black seamen seeking to cross the Atlantic. At the same time, many Chesapeake runaways lacking maritime experience fought freedom via the sea. They included a Maryland runaway who in 1763 stole a canoe in an effort to seek freedom and Will Baker, who in 1762 sought to 'get on board some vessel that may want Men.' They and other maritime fugitives understood that canoes, small boats, skiffs and pettiaugers could serve as the first leg in a multi-legged maritime race to exceed their slave master’s grasp.[17] Stealing such vessels also enabled new African slaves, whose their unfamiliarity with English made flight on land difficult, to more easily evade detection. Slave masters considered maritime fugitives 'cunning Rogue[s]' who could not be trusted.[18]

The chaos of war provided the best opportunities for maritime flight. Being more concerned with a potential recruit’s muscle and expertise than his complexion or status as a bondsman, many commanders of merchant and naval ships willingly hired runaways. Often fugitives were employed as officer’s servants – the BMD contains data on more than 100 Black servants on Royal Navy vessels. They include men such as Quashie Ferguson, who escaping his Rhode Island slave master, entered HMS Rose as a Captain’s servant, and the  unnamed negro servant of Captain Robert Jennys of HMS Amity’s Assistance, who two years after Stephens was returned to enslavement, found the Royal Navy not to his liking and fled the Amity’s Assistance.[19]

In the face of maritime flight by slaves whites did not sit idly by. Government officials took steps to limit slaves’ access to shipping and to ensure that slaves 'largely stayed put.' Virginia and Maryland slave codes required slaves to carry passes when traveling off their master’s property. With slave masters receiving compensation for slaves convicted of criminal offences, violence as a tool to regulate slave behavior was central to eighteenth century justice in the Chesapeake. For example, in 1737 Maryland made it a capital offense for any person to aid in the stealing of 'any Ship, Sloop or other Vessel.'[20] These official efforts were supplemented by searches of vessels and slave masters warning others not to 'harbor, conceal or employ' their runaway slaves. In attempting to ensure that ship masters and captains did not hire their runaways, Chesapeake slave masters regularly forewarned them 'from carrying them off at their peril.'[21] Forty-four percent of fugitive slave advertisements for Chesapeake maritime fugitives contained such warnings. Thomas Reynolds and other slave owners requested that 'all Masters and Skippers to search their Vessels' for their bondsmen before they sailed.[22] While the efficiency of such requests cannot be determined they appear to have had little effect. There are very few dispatches in colonial newspapers indicating either that a maritime fugitive was returned to his slave master or that a ship captain was prosecuted for carrying away, harboring or employing such a runaway. More common were dispatches about 'runaway negroes' being seen on ships at sea.[23]

Stephens’ choice to flee to England needs to be understood within the context of the choices slaves had when running away. The primary attraction of maritime flight was it provided a quick means to flee and offered a reasonable possibility of permanent freedom, albeit, as noted above with a continual threat of re-enslavement. The attractiveness of maritime flight was hardly limited to those seeking to escape enslavement in the Chesapeake. The BMD contains more than 5,000 maritime fugitives from throughout the Americas.[24] In fleeing to England Stephens and other maritime fugitives found a respite from the threat of re-enslavement that continually threatened sailors of African ancestry in the Western Atlantic. The boast of white seamen that 'they would make their Fortunes' by selling fugitives who during the Revolution flocked to Chesapeake merchant ships may have been bravado, but it contained a kernel of truth. Black sailors such as Philip Johnston found themselves sold by ship captains and shipmates for 'what reasons [they] could not tell.' Although Philip asserted he had been 'born free' he was unable on his own to escape enslavement.[25] Free black seamen, such as Anthonio Gonsaloes and Francisco Gonsaloes, found themselves subject of white mariners attempts to sell them in the Chesapeake for profit.[26] Philip’s and the Gonsaloes’ stories were not unusual --- white sailors even financed their return home during war by stealing a ship with Black seamen, selling the Black tars and using the proceeds. In contrast, the Royal Navy may have been 'brutally pragmatic' in its employment of Black seamen, and discriminatory in its pay and promotion practices. It did not, however, countenance the kidnapping and selling of Black mariners.[27]

Black mariners such as William Stephens were not only commonplace in British American colonies but were critical to both its naval and commercial successes. Moving across the Atlantic they provided both the muscle and maritime expertise necessary to move the military forces and commodities upon which Britain’s imperial might was based. However, throughout the eighteenth century Black tars found themselves at risk of being kidnapped, captured and sold as prize goods or returned to their former slave masters. In the last quarter of the century British naval officers may have taken steps to assist runaways, particularly after the Somerset decision in 1772 holding that slave owners in England could not coercively force their bondsmen to leave English soil.[28] And the Navy was instrumental in Equiano, David King, Prince Prince and scores of other Black sailors reaching England where they were able to live independent lives. However, Naval personnel continued to return ex-slaves to their former owners and treat Black sailors on enemy ships as prize goods.[29] The result was that for most Black tars, including William Stephens, independent lives as a mariner in the Western Atlantic was fragile.

[1] N.A.M. Rodger, Wooden World: an Anatomy of the Georgian Navy(Annapolis, 1986), 160.
[2] While slaves in colonies north of Delaware had literacy rates approaching 10%, most North American slaves were illiterate. Antonio Bly, “Pretends he can read”: Runaways and Literacy in Colonial America, 1730–1776,” Early American Studies 6, no. 2 (Fall 2008): 269-271.
[3] The BMD contains 53 fields of data: age, ethnicity, place of birth, ships served on, etc. It includes references from ship musters, court records, fugitive slave advertisements, newspaper dispatches, merchant and governmental records, as well as a wide variety of miscellaneous documents from more than thirty archives across the Atlantic. The database can, as was done in the “Global Seafarers” display in Merseyside Maritime Museum’s recent “Black Salts” exhibit, demonstrate the global movement of black mariners. It also enables historians to detail the lives of individual Black sailors and the employment patterns of such men. See e.g., Michael Bundock, The Fortunes of Francis Barber (New Haven, 2015), 85, 235n14; Charles R. Foy, “Black Seamen at Scarborough, 1748-1756,” https://www.africansinyorkshireproject.com/black-seamen-at-scarborough.html; Charles R. Foy, “Compelled to Row: Blacks on Royal Navy Galleys During the American Revolution,” Journal of the American Revolution, https://allthingsliberty.com/2017/11/compelled-row-blacks-royal-navy-galleys-american-revolution/; Charles R. Foy, “The Royal Navy’s Employment of Black Mariners and Maritime Workers, 1754-1783,” International Maritime History Journal, 28, no. 1 (Feb. 2016): 6-35. 
[4] Vincent Carretta, Equiano The African: Biography of a Self-Made Man (Athens, GA, 2005), 119-34.
[6] Examples include: Welcome Arnold Papers, John Carter Brown Library, Providence, RI; Aaron Lopez Papers, Center for Jewish History, New York, NY; Henry Laurens Papers, X, 241n;  Samuel Gilford Papers, New-York Historical Society, Box 3, Folder 1; Philip D. Morgan, Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake & Lowcountry (Chapel Hill, 1998), 239; David Barry Geggus, Bondmen & Rebels: A Study of Master-Slave Relations in Antigua (Baltimore, 1999), 297n51 .
[7] Joyce Goodfriend, Before the Melting Pot (1992), 124. Not all ship captains were so supportive of runaways. See e.g., Harry Gandy 4 Aug. 1796 Letter, Granville Sharp Papers, D3549/1/G2, Gloucester Records Office (Captain put stowaway to work on his ship, then had the runaway imprisoned in Bristol and subsequently attempted to compel the unfortunate bondman to be returned to his Dominica slave owner).
[8] HMS Garlands Muster, 1764, TNA ADM 36/7390;  Carretta, Equiano The African, 71-91; Julie Winch, A Gentleman of Color: the Life of James Forten (New York, 2002),  54.
[9] Charles R. Foy, “Eighteenth-Century Prize Negroes: From Britain to America,” Slavery and Abolition 31:3 (Sept. 2010): 379-393.
[10] Rodger, Wooden World, 159-60.
[11] HM Galley Scourge, Muster, 1779-1785, TNA ADM 36/10427; HM Galley Arbuthnot, 1783-1786, TNA ADM 36/10426. 
[12] See e.g., Maryland Gazette, Apr. 30, 1752, Oct. 29, 1762 and Mar. 10, 1774. As the BMD contains few entries from Chesapeake planters’ or merchants records this number undoubtedly undercounts Chesapeake Black mariners.
[13] See e.g., Maryland Gazette, June 10, 1762, Sept. 20, 1764, May 5, 1768,  June 25, 1795 and July 4, 1799.
[14] HM Galley Cornwallis Musters, 1777-1782, TNA ADM 36/10259; Virginia Gazette (Dixon & Nicholson), Richmond, Mar. 3, 1781.
[15] These have been identified from a review of Virginia and Maryland fugitive slave advertisements and a random sampling of Royal Navy musters. While this review understates the number of maritime fugitives it does provide a sense of their not inconsiderable numbers. It is an attempt to provide greater specificity to which slaves fled via the sea and their numbers. As Cassandra Pybus has demonstrated, white Southerners often exaggerated the numbers of slaves fleeing to British forces. Cassandra Pybus, “Jefferson’s Faulty Math: The Question of Slave Defections in the American Revolution,” William & Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., Vol. 62, no. 2 (Apr. 2005), 244-45. 
[16] Maryland Gazette, Aug. 3, 1759. 
[17] Maryland Gazette, Aug. 12, 1762, Nov. 30, 1763.  
[18] Virginia Gazette (Rind), Williamsburg, Oct. 31, 1771; Maryland Gazette, Aug. 2, 1779.
[19] HMS Rose, Muster, 1775 TNA ADM 36/7947; South-Carolina Gazette (Timothy), Oct. 3, 1761.
[20] Morgan, Slave Counterpoint, 254. 
[21] See e.g., Virginia Gazette (Purdie), Aug. 1, 1766; Pennsylvania Gazette, Dec. 18, 1766; Virginia Gazette (Nicolson & Prentis), Oct. 25, 1783;  Pennsylvania Packet or General Advertiser, Oct. 28, 1783.
[22] Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), Jul. 26, 1762. 
[23] See e.g., Philadelphia Gazette & Universal Daily Advertiser, Nov. 6, 1797. One of the few examples of a successful prosecution for employing a maritime fugitive was in 1725 when Captain Moffet was fined for not barring a slave from stowing away on his ship.  New England Weekly Journal, April 24, 1724.
[24] For example, between 1766 and 1790 one Saint-Domingue newspaper published more than 200 advertisements regarding maritime fugitives. 
[25] 4 Sept. 1788 Petition of Philip Johnston, David Library of the American Revolution; Carol Wilson, Freedom at Risk: The Kidnapping of Free Blacks in America, 1780-1865 (Lexington, KY, 1994), 95-96. 
[26] David R. Owen and Michael C. Tolley, Courts of Admiralty in Colonial America, The Maryland Experience (Durham, NC,1995), 316.
[27] Naval Documents of the American Revolution, Vol. 9, 899; Norwich Packet, Jan. 23, 1781; Simon Schama, Rough Crossings (London, 2005), 13 and 168; Foy, “The Royal Navy’s Employment of Black Mariners and Maritime Workers, 1754-1783,” 6-35.
[28] Charles R. Foy, “‘Unkle Somerset’s freedom: liberty in England for black sailors,” Journal for Maritime Research 13:1 (Spring 2011): 21-36.  
[29] Our Lord the King v Twenty-Eight Negroes, 2 Feb. 1795, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, United Kingdom, CAL 127; Cassandra Pybus, Black Founders: The Unknown Story of Australia’s First Black Settlers (Sydney, 2006), 50.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

From Foremast to Quarterdeck: Rising in Social Hierarchy at Sea

Detail from Voyage to Margate, Isaac Cruikshank,
published by W. Hinton, 1786, National Maritime Museum
A persistent myth holds that common seamen and the men who commanded them were separated by an impermeable social and cultural barrier. Only gentlemen could captain a ship, and only illiterate and unskilled dregs occupied the tween decks. In the exaggerated words of Martin Dugard: 'Being just another faceless crew member was akin to being an inmate...Real sailors didn't inhabit their netherworld. Real sailors were up top, barking commands, or making a good living on merchant ships.'[1]

We have long since jettisoned the idea that common sailors were uneducated and incapable, but they were not gentlemen. Could common sailors rise through the ranks to command? In a word: yes. But there's a lot of caveats to that.

Historians agree that moving from a Jack Tar to a place of recognized prominence was not common or easy. In his book Sailors: English Merchant Seamen 1650-1775, Peter Earle writes:
Offices such as boatswain, gunner or second mate were within the range of any competent sailor but further promotion was more difficult, since the most senior positions required more education and more influence than the generality of sailors possessed.[2]
Denver Brunsman addressed the slim possibility of advancement with the navy in his The Evil Necessity:
The best most seamen could hope for was to climb one or two rungs above their station by becoming misdshipmen or warrant officers (the highest rank before Lieutenant). If not a true meritocracy, in sum, the eighteenth-century Royal Navy left open the possibility for some advancement based on seamen's abilities and performance.[3]
Both Earle and Brunsman were careful not to state it was impossible. Tracing the origins of prominent sea captains (both in the merchant and naval services) can be tricky. N.A.M. Rodger summed up the problem in The Wooden World:
There are not many people who can be said with certainty to have risen from foremastmen to senior officers, probably because there were not that many in fact, but also because they were not necessarily keen to advertise their origins.[4]
There was a certain stench to sailors who had risen up in a society that adhered to a strict hierarchy of class. 'The service was not only a highly honourable profession attractive to the nobility and gentry,' Rodger wrote, 'but also to a large degree a career open to talent wherever it might be found.'[5]

Few men rose from the rank of common sailor to a position of command, but enough of them did to startle some of the gentry less secure in their own standing. In the words of Stephen Berry, the use of 'class conceptions to lock sailors at the bottom of the shipboard social hierarchy carried over to captains and mates, whose close connections to their vessels also polluted them in the eyes of passengers.'[6]

Colonial Virginia planters, always nervous about how their social position was viewed across the Atlantic, were particularly attuned to the dangers of opening up the hierarchy to deserving laborers. George Washington had an affinity for the sea, borne of his voyage to Bermuda in 1751, but wrote virtually nothing about the sailors and officers who accompanied the Braddock Expedition with him in 1755. When Braddock and other officers praised Lieutenant Spendelowe of the Royal Navy, the usually prolific Washington afforded him only a brief mention in a single memorandum.[7] Still, neglecting naval officers and merchant captains was better than lambasting them. Fellow Virginia planter William Byrd II tried to equate sea captains with a lesser race, gender, and species in 1737 when he wrote 'one may as soon tutor a monkey to speak or a French woman to hold her tongue as to bring a Skipper to higher Flights of Reason.'[8] The rising middle class in Britain shared a disdain for the mariners' ability to move up the social ladder, however rare that might be. In Samuel Johnson's periodical The Rambler, a fictional squire humorously dismissed 'the sailor as a rude uncultivated savage, with little more of human than his form.'[9] Those who felt more secure in their social standing, like General Edward Braddock, could afford to give credit to skilled mariners, even those with the taint of a humble origin.

There were some men who broke through the permeable barrier separating the tween decks and the quarterdeck, and a few rose to some of the highest positions of power within the British Atlantic world.

The most famous of these men was James Cook. Though Cook was not, as Dugard bizarrely asserts, 'the first man in Royal Navy history to rise from the bottom of those ranks to an officer's commission and command.'[10] As a single example: Samuel Cornish had risen from the lowly position of a common seaman to command of the 90 gun Namur a full twenty-four years before Cook passed his lieutenant's examination, and was made a vice-admiral and a baronet four years before Cook's first fateful Pacific voyage.[11]

Cornish was not alone in climbing from before the mast to the rank of admiral. In a more surprising case, John MacBride was pressed in Portsmouth by a gang from the frigate Garland in 1754.[12] The Garland's muster shows his promotion to midshipman in April of 1756.
ADM 36/5659Garland muster book, April 1754-December 1756, f.251, photo by Alexa Price.
This was the first step in a career that would eventually see MacBride promoted to Admiral of the Blue after a distinguished career through the American Revolution and French Revolutionary Wars.
Captain John MacBride, Gilbert Stuart, 1788, Yale Center for British Art.
Within the Royal Navy, achieving the rank of midshipman was necessary to attain higher office. This was where the boundary between officer and seaman was most fluid. Ashley Bowen, arguably the first American seaman to write a memoir, volunteered to join the expedition to conquer Quebec during the French and Indian/Seven Years War as a midshipman. He had a telling exchange with the famous General James Wolfe:
"What department are you of?"
I said of the Marine Department.
"What ship?"
I answered, "His Majesty's Ship Pembroke."
"What are you on board the Pembroke?"
My answer was "Acting Midshipman."
"Where is your uniform?"
I said, "I have none. I come from New England with a company of volunteers to serve His Majesty in the reduction of Canada."[13]
Bowen had risen from abused captain's servant to mate on merchant voyages, and the navy gave him an opportunity to ascend further, to the point that he rubbed elbows with eighteenth century military legends like Wolfe and James Cook, even if he still bore the look of a common Jack Tar.

Once a sailor became a midshipman, preferment was still key. Midshipmen required a reliable, powerful patron to help them get ahead. This was likely the case for James Alms, another man to rise from the tween decks to post captain. As a teenager, Alms was wrecked on the flagship Namur (the same ship that Cornish had once commanded) on the Coromandel Coast and was one of only 23 or 26 survivors out of a crew of hundreds. Both the captain of the Namur and Admiral Edward Boscawen were providentially ashore and escaped the catastrophe. According to the Gentleman's Magazine, 'immediately after this disaster, [Alms] was promoted to be lieutenant of the Syren.'[14] With hundreds of men wiped out in a single moment, but the powerful commanders spared, Alms likely fell into patronage.

Naval men near the top of the social ladder took an interest in the advancement of their lowliest subordinates. Such was the case when the shattered remnants of the naval detachment to Braddock's 1755 expedition finally limped back to the Royal Navy. Commodore Augustus Keppel wrote a letter of introduction to the Admiralty for midshipman Thomas Haynes who 'behaved with great Bravery...I cant help begging you would be please to lay his case before their Lordships that he may receive the Rewards due to his Meritt, Losses & Fatigue.' Keppel also recommended boatswain's mate Henry Kelsey of the Centurion be promoted to boatswain.[15]

It may have been easier to rise through the hierarchy on merchant vessels. Samuel Kelly made the transition from before the mast to the captain's cabin, and left a memoir of his time at both ends of the ship. Both the naval and merchant services still required a degree of social connection. New Englander Christopher Prince, who would lead a very eventful life at sea during the American Revolution, came from a family of mariners: 'All my father's brothers had been seafaring men and ship masters, and stood high in the estimation of merchants as able commanders of vessels, all of which obtained property.'[16] The Prince family's connections ran throughout maritime New England. Ashley Bowen served as a mate beside Prince's uncle and namesake in 1751.[17] Christopher's tie to the shining reputation of the Prince family name was certainly an advantage to him as he wound his way through a turbulent career.

This was true for slave ship captains as well. Marcus Rediker wrote in his book The Slave Ship: A Human History that:
Family connections often guided the way to the captain's cabin, but only after considerable experience at sea. On average, the first command of a slaver came at age thirty in Liverpool and thirty-one in Bristol. The path to the ship was similar among captains in the Rhode Island slave trade, although American masters were less likely to specialize in it.[18]
It was possible for enslaved men to become captains of small vessels in the American colonies. In his Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail, W. Jeffrey Bolster wrote about 'patroons.' Patroons were enslaved American captains who 'had considerable amounts of time without white supervision, substantial freedom of movement, and independent income from petty trading.' This freedom carried a definite risk for the enslavers:
Like drivers in the fields, they had to balance competing interests between masters and other slaves to secure their positions, although it is clear that many used their positions to convey unauthorized slaves from place to place and to nourish slaves' illicit market in stolen goods. This workaday resistance flared into open rebellion during the chaos of the American Revolution, when maritime slaves piloted British invasionary forces intent on destroying their masters.[19]
Prior to the Revolution, whites feared the ability of black sailors gaining power at sea. Enslaved sailor Olaudah Equiano wrote about his attempts to learn navigation from his captain: 'But some of our passengers, and others, seeing this, found much fault with him for it, saying, it was a very dangerous thing to let a negro know navigation; thus I was hindered again in my pursuits.'[20] Certainly a good deal of this fear was derived from the knowledge that enslaved sailors could escape to freedom if they knew how to navigate, but navigation was also a path toward command, and enslaved skippers upended societal norms.

With the American Revolutionary War, the Royal Navy embraced this inversion of colonial maritime hierarchy to an astonishing degree. They welcomed patroons and black pilots to their fleet in the Chesapeake and southern colonies, all the way through the Siege of Yorktown.
'London, at Sea, October 29, 1781 extract of letter from Rear-Admiral Graves,'
The London Chronicle, November 27, 1781, page 1.
It is during this tumultuous and contradictory period that the most startling case of rising to command is found. In what Rodger calls 'undoubtedly the most striking example of the Navy as a profession open to merit wherever it appeared,' a 'mulatto [who] may well have been born a slave' named John Perkins joined the Royal Navy in Jamaica. Before the end of the American Revolutionary War, Perkins was a commissioned lieutenant, and would retire at the rank of post captain in 1805.[21]

Perkins is an exception. For most black sailors, there was no chance of such advancement. Charles Foy of Eastern Illinois University analyzed his massive Black Mariner Database (BMD) and found:
Among the 1300 identified black naval seamen in the BMD there are only seven officers. Nor did the Continental Navy promote blacks into its officer ranks. Thus, although during the 18th century berths on ships offered blacks opportunities for meaningful employment often not available on land, progress up the maritime hierarchy was frequently very limited for most black seamen in the Atlantic.[22]
Social mobility works both ways. Christopher Prince, despite his pedigree and undeniable skill as a sea captain, entered the Connecticut State Navy ship Oliver Cromwell as a landsman in late 1776. Prince explained his decision to enter as the absolute lowest possible rank on a warship in his memoir decades later as motivated in part by his attachment to an unskilled friend:
It is a long time since I have been before the mast, and if I entered as a seaman, I might remain in that situation as long as I continued on board, and should deprive you of my company, both on deck and mess. But if I shipped as a landman I was sure of promotion, and take you with me as I went along, which has now proved to be true, for I have gone from a landman to a seaman, and did not stop there, for you see I am captain of this top, which is nearly as honorable as a midshipman, and I shall not stop here.[23]
Prince thought that he could easily advance up the ranks (which turned out to be true) and that he could advance another along with him, mimicking the preferment system that the Royal Navy operated under. Probably he also entered as a landsman to secure a degree of anonymity and establish his seafaring credentials before it was revealed that he had served the British (albeit unwillingly) in Canada. When Captain Coit of the Oliver Cromwell asked Prince where he had learned his seafaring skills, 'I did not want to tell him at once all my experience, and in particular, of my being in the English Navy for twelve months...for it might bring some jealous feelings on his mind.'[24] Or, he leaves unsaid, it might have brought reprisals.

Others were forced before the mast. As punishment for desertion, Royal Navy midshipman John Newton was 'degraded from  my office, and all my former companions forbidden to show me the least favour, or even to speak to me. As midshipman, I had been entitled to some command, which (being sufficiently haughty and vain) I had not been backward to exert. I was now, in my turn, brought down to a level with the lowest, and exposed to the insults of all.'[25]

As the eighteenth century advanced, the porous divide between officers and men began to solidify. Rediker writes in his Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea:
Upward mobility in the British merchant service seems to have declined as the industry's growth slowed in the first half of the eighteenth century and as merchant captains increasingly secured their positions by kinship and other connections to merchants, rather than by promotion through the ranks.[26]

The same was true in the Royal Navy. Brunsman relates:
In a study of social mobility in the navy during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, Michael Lewis found that a regular seaman had only a 1-in-2,500 chance of becoming a commissioned officer; of those lucky few, only 30 percent rose higher than lieutenant.[27]
For most of the eighteenth century, the sea offered an opportunity for social advancement, even for those at the very bottom of the otherwise rigid hierarchy in the British Atlantic world. This does not mean it was easy, nor that most sailors would advance, only that it was possible. One can see why merchant and naval vessels were so attractive to the countless servants and enslaved men who ran away to them. The sea provided a degree of mobility that was virtually impossible ashore, and though the route to the top was treacherous and unlikely, it was still there.

[1] Dugard, Martin, Farther Than Any Man: The Rise and Fall of Captain James CookNew York: Washington Square Press, 2002, pages 32-33.
[2] Earle, Peter, Sailors: English Merchant Seamen 1650-1775, London: Methuen, 2007, page 43.
[3] Brunsman, Denver, The Evil Necessity: British Naval Impressment in the Eighteenth-century Atlantic World, University of Virginia, 2013, page 165.
[4] Rodger, N.A.M., The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy, New York: W.W. Norton, 1996, page 268.
[5] Rodger, Wooden World, 273.
[6] Berry, Stephen R., A Path in the Mighty Waters: Shipboard Life & Atlantic Crossings to the New World, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015, page 91.
[7] “Memorandum, 30 May–11 June 1755,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified April 12, 2018, accessed April 24, 2018, <http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-01-02-0147>. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, vol. 1, 7 July 1748 – 14 August 1755, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1983, pp. 293–298.].
[8] “Letters of Colonel William Byrd 2d, of Westover, Va.” Virginia Historical Magazine, Vol. 9, No.3, January 1902, page 249, via Google Books, accessed September 29, 2017, <https://books.google.com/books?id=twc1AAAAIAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s>.
[9] Johnson, Samuel, "The Rambler," Gentleman's Magazine, Volume 22, 1752, page 71, via HathiTrust Digital Library, accessed April 23, 2018, <https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015009221634;view=1up;seq=91>.
[10] Dugard, Farther Than Any Man, 11.
[11] Rodger, Wooden World, 268; 'Sir Samuel Cornish,' Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed April 23, 2018, <http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-6334>; Harrison, Simon, "British Second Rate ship of the line 'Namur' (1729)," Three Decks - Warships in the Age of Sail, accessed April 23, 2018, <https://threedecks.org/index.php?display_type=show_ship&id=90>.
[12] Brunsman, Evil Necessity, 164; ADM 36/5659, Garland muster book, April 1754-December 1756, f.99.
[13] Bowen, Ashley, The Autobiography of Ashley Bowen (1728-1813), edited by Daniel Vickers, Ontario: Broadview Editions, 2006, page 72.
[14] "Obituary of considerable Persons; with Biographical Anecdotes," The Gentleman's Magazine, 1791, Volume 2, page 681, via HathiTrust Digital Library, accessed April 24, 2018, <https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015014709904;view=1up;seq=97>; Harrison, Simon, "British Third Rate ship of the line 'Namur' (1746)" Three Decks - Warships in the Age of Sail, accessed April 24, 2018, <https://threedecks.org/index.php?display_type=show_ship&id=11058>.
[15] Letter from Augustus Keppel to John Cleveland, October 30, 1755, ADM 1/2009, f 18-20, transcribed by David L. Preston, author of Braddock's Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution.
[16] Prince, Christopher, The Autobiography of a Yankee Mariner: Christopher Prince and the American Revolution, edited by Michael J. Crawford, Washington, D.C.: Brassey's Inc., 2002, page 19.
[17] Bowen, Autobiography, 60.
[18] Rediker, Marcus, The Slave Ship: A Human History, New York: Viking, 2007, page 190.
[19] Bolster, W. Jeffrey, Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail, Cambridge: Harvard University, 1997, page 23-24
[20] Equiano, Olaudah, The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings, edited by Vincent Carretta, New York: Penguin, 2003, page 123.
[21] Rodger, Wooden World, 272.
[22] Foy, Charles R., 'Black Mariners on Martin Luther King Day,' Uncovering Hidden Lives: 18th Century Black Mariners, January 20, 2015, accessed April 24, 2018, <https://uncoveringhiddenlives.com/2015/01/20/black-mariners-on-martin-luther-king-day/>.
[23] Prince, Autobiography, 127.
[24] Ibid., 128.
[25] Newton, John, The Works of the Rev. John Newton, Late Rector of the United Parishes of St. Mary Woolnoth and St. Mary Woolchurch Haw, London, Volume 1, New Haven: Nathan Whiting, 1824, page 23.
[26] Rediker, Marcus, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates, and the Anglo-American Maritime World, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987, page 295.
[27] Brunsman, Evil Necessity, 164, referencing Lewis, Michael A., A Social History of the Navy, 1793-1815, London: Allen and Unwin, 1960, pages 47-48.

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Jenny and Rose: Addendum

This is an addendum to my series of posts on the Jenny and the Rose, part of my ongoing series Race, Revolt, and Piracy examining racial violence at sea in the eighteenth century.

It's been a couple of years since I first posted on the strangely similar voyages of the guineamen Jenny and Rose. I thought I had pretty well wrung that story dry for research, but thanks to W. Jeffrey Bolster and his excellent book Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail a single new source has completely blown open the case of the Jenny.

In providing sources for his argument that creolization began on the African coast for enslaved mariners, Bolster referenced this run away advertisement from the Maryland Gazette.
Maryland Gazette, October 23, 1760, page 3.
RAN away from the Bay Side in Talbot County, on the 16th of October, Two new Negro Men. One of them has liv'd among the English on the Coast of Guiney, and can speak some English. They came in lately in the ship Jane, Capt. Wilkinson, and he that can speak English denies his being a Slave, and is supposed to be gone to dispute it with the Captain: He is a lusty likely Fellow, and had on a brown Frize Pea-Jacket, Oznabrig Shirt, and wide Trowsers. The other had on an old Pea-Jacket, and wide Trowsers. They both appear as if they had just left some Ship. They are gone away in a Yaul of about 16 Feet Keel. Whoever secures the said Negroes so that their  master may have them again, shall have Forty Shillings Reward, paid by BENJAMIN KEMP.
The 'Jane' is undeniably the Jenny. John Wilkinson was captain of the Jenny, which was one of only two slave ships to sail into Maryland in 1760 (the other being the Duke).

The two enslaved Africans, described as looking 'as if they had just left some Ship', may well have been put to a maritime trade. The boundaries of Talbot County on Maryland's Eastern Shore is perforated by rivers all draining into the Chesapeake Bay. Given the unnamed African's having 'liv'd among the English on the Coast of Guiney,' it is possible that he was working with slave ships there, and perhaps even familiar with how to sail them.

More importantly, he felt that he could negotiate his way to freedom with Captain Wilkinson. This may have been a product of his living alongside English slavers in Africa, where negotiation was central to navigating that fraught cultural relationship. It is also possible that this was what convinced the Africans Wilkinson had armed to put down their weapons. If he promised freedom to all who defended his ship, it would have been far easier to disarm the fifty enslaved men who bested the French in combat. This would also explain why the angry African stole a yawl to 'dispute it' with Captain Wilkinson.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Sailors and the Enslaved: An Odd Bond

This post is the latest in my occasional series Race, Revolt, and Piracy, examining racial violence at sea.
Detail form The Jovial Crew, Thomas Rowlandson, 1786, Royal Collection Trust.
In the nineteenth century writers often compared working as a sailor to slavery. It is easy, on the surface, to see why this comparison was made. As Paul Gilje wrote in Liberty on the Waterfront, 'Life at sea was a study in contrasts-offering both unfettered liberty and a peculiar form of bondage...the almighty power of the quarterdeck was tested by many means of resistance and assertion of independence exerted from the forecastle.'[1] These comparisons were made less often in the eighteenth century, but were still present. Mariners were forbidden to control their own movement and beaten if they stepped out of line. Sailors employed some of the same means of resistance as the enslaved: running away, feigning sickness, and sometimes physical violence. Members of the reading public who were unfamiliar with chattel slavery might be forgiven if they thought these two conditions bore more than a passing similarity.

While slavery and employment as a sailor are clearly different from each other, sailors and enslaved people both occupied the lower strata of society. Through this, they shared an odd, often contradictory, and ill-defined bond.

Sailors often wrote of their disgust toward slavery. Timothy Boardman recorded the reflections of his shipmate (an unnamed gunner) when their New England vessel touched in Charleston, South Carolina and exposed the crew to chattel slavery:
I Cannot Behold such a Number of My fellow being (altho Differing in Complexion) Dragged from the Place of their Nativity, brought into a Country not to be taught the Principles of Religion & the Rights of Freeman, but to be Slaves to Masters, who having Nothing but Interest in View without ever Weting their own Shoes, Drive these fellows to the Most Severe Services, I say I cannot behold these things without Pain.[2]

John Nicol related two cases in which sailors were so moved by their exposure to slavery as to inflict violence on the oppressors of the enslaved:
One cruel rascal was flogging one on our deck, who was not very well in her health. He had struck her once as if she had been a post. The poor creature gave a shriek. Some of our men, I knew not which-there were a good many near him-knocked him overboard. He sunk like a stone. The men gave a hurra! one of the female slaves leaped from the boat alongside into the water and saved the tyrant, who, I have no doubt, often enough beat her cruelly.[3]
In the anecdote above, Nicol's shipmates did not all directly intervene on behalf of the enslaved woman, but when one of them did, none stepped up to save the drowning overseer. A bolder move was made by his mate George in the Caribbean:
A black driver was flogging a woman big with child. Her cries rent the air, the other slaves declaring by their looks that sympathy they dared not utter. George ran to him and gave him a good beating, and swore he would double the gift if he laid another lash upon her. He had not dared when we returned.[4]
In comparing these two incidents, a negotiation of race is evident. The overseer in the first of Nicol's anecdotes was most probably white. Only one sailor, acting within the safe anonymity of the crowd, threw the 'cruel rascal' overboard. In the second, Nicol states that the abuse is being given by 'a black driver.' As a white man, George intervening on the behalf of an enslaved black woman, could be confident in his racial status protecting him from recrimination.

Enslaved people of the West Indies appear to have returned this strange affection. A shared desire for freedom (though to very different degrees) moved enslaved people to assist runaway sailors. Ebenezer Fox wrote:
I had become acquainted with several negroes in Kingston, and always found them kind and willing to give any information that was in their power to furnish. They appeared to feel a sort of sympathy for the soldiers and sailors; seeing some resemblance between their own degraded condition and that of the miserable military and naval slaves of British despotism. Whatever might be the cause, I always found the negroes in and about Kingston ready to give every facility to a soldier or sailor who wished to desert.[5]
Fox's account should always be taken with a grain of salt and he speaks only in generalities, but appears to be relating a genuine truth. Jacob Nagle gave a concrete example of this phenomenon from his voyages:
The capt was standing on the beach with his caine in his hand, Jack was in the bow of the boat, and leaped on the gangboard, and from thence on shore, and snatched the cain out of the capt hand and nocked him down and then took to his heels and run for it, and the whole barges crew after him, crying out, "Stop him," runing through the market place, but the blacks nowing they wanted to press him, cried out, "Run Massa, run Massa, no ketche, no have," and Jack got into a kain patch where they could not find him. So the capt went on board with a broken head and lost his man into the bargain.[6]
Another reason for enslaved people and sailors to construct a bond was that they were so often one and the same. Olaudah Equiano is the only enslaved sailor to leave a detailed memoir from this period, and it is very telling. He joined in strong friendships with white sailors, who in turn encouraged his struggle for freedom:
He used to say, that he and I never should part; and that when our ship was paid off, as I was as free as himself or any other man on board, he would instruct me in his business, by which I might gain a good livelihood.[7]
Perhaps catching wind of this attitude among the lower decks, Equiano's enslaver Royal Navy Lieutenant Michael Pascal decided to sell him without warning. Equiano's shipmates took it hard:
The boat's crew, who pulled against their will, became quite faint at different times, and would have gone ashore; but he would not let them. Some of them strove then to cheer me, and told me he could not sell me, and that they would stand by me, which revived me a little, and encouraged my hopes.[8]
Even when Equiano was finally sold, 'some of my old shipmates told me not to despair, for they would get me back again; and that, as soon as they could get their pay, they would immediately come to Portsmouth to me, where this ship was going.'[9]

We must be careful not to put too much stock into this bond. It was, as I said above, ill-defined. When Boardman's shipmate decried how the enslaved were 'Dragged from the Place of their Nativity,' he failed to mention that it was sailors who were doing the dragging. Equiano himself worked on a number of slave ships ferrying the enslaved from the Caribbean to North America.

An example of the fragilitiy of this bond is seen in the popular culture of the eighteenth century with the popular tale of Yarico. Though the story has many permutations, it generally revolves around an enslaved woman of African or West Indian descent in a mutually loving relationship with a British sailor, who then betrays her by selling her to a slaver.
Detail from Man sells a slave woman to another, Guillaume-Thomas-Fran├žois Raynal,
1775, John Carter Brown Library Archive of Early American Images.
It was aboard slave ships that the bond between common sailors and the enslaved was least likely to manifest. Marcus Rediker in The Slave Ship: A Human History wrote of the change that happened among a slaver's crew when they began to take aboard captive Africans:
A new social cement called fear bonded the entire crew, from captain to cabin boy, whose lives now depended on their unity of vigilance and action, their cooperation against a more numerous and potentially powerful group of captives in their midst. As the sailor and the captain moved closer together, the corporate community grew stronger and the class community weakened, although it did not disappear. Now a deeper antagonism ruled the ship, and with it came a new discipline. It would be called "race."[10]
Cooperation between sailors and enslaved people on slavers was still possible. As I theorized in my series Revolt of the Marlborough, the slaver's cook may have been of African descent, and negotiated the violence to enable the revolt and spare his own life.

Broadly speaking, sailors and the enslaved did share a bond. This bond had its limits, was never codified, and was often contradictory, but it did exist and is worthy of deeper study.
[1] Gilje, Paul A., Liberty on the Waterfront: American Maritime Culture in the Age of Revolution, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2008, page 69.
[2] Boardman, Timothy, Log-Book of Timothy Boardman, edited by Rev. Samuel W. Boardman, Albany, New York; Joel Munsell's Sons, 1885, page 72.
[3] Nicol, John, The Life and Adventures of John Nicol, Mariner, edited by Tim Flannery, New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997, page 37.
[4] Nicol, Life and Adventures, 70.
[5] Fox, Ebenezer, The Adventures of Ebenezer Fox in the Revolutionary War, Boston: Charles Fox, 1847, page 171.
[6] Nagle, Jacob, The Nagle Journal: A Diary of the Life of Jacob Nagle, Sailor, from the Year 1775 to 1841, edited by John C. Dann, New York: Weidenfield & Nicolson, 1988, pages 49-50.
[7] Equiano, Olaudah, The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings, edited by Vincent Carretta, New York: Penguin, 2003, page 92.
[8] Equiano, Narrative, 93.
[9] Equiano, Narrative., 94
[10] Rediker, Marcus, The Slave Ship: A Human History, Viking, 2007, page 260.