Sea Captains: San Francisco 1800s

Captain Joshua Slocum

Born 1844 (Nova Scotia); Disappeared 1909 aboard the Spray

Joshua Slocum is noted as being the first person to sail single-handed around the world.

In 1860, sixteen-year-old Joshua Slocum escaped a hardscrabble childhood in Nova Scotia by signing on as an ordinary seaman to a merchant ship bound for Dublin. From there he crossed to Liverpool to become an ordinary seaman on the British merchant ship Tangier bound for China.

Captain Joshua Slocum.

Despite having only a third-grade education, Slocum rose through the nautical ranks at a mercurial pace; just a decade later he was commander of his own ship.

His subsequent journeys took him nearly everywhere: Liverpool, China, Japan, Cape Horn, the Dutch East Indies, Manila, Hong Kong, Saigon, Singapore, and San Francisco where he settled in 1865. His first blue-water command, in 1869, was the barque Washington, which he took across the Pacific, from San Francisco to Australia, and back to San Francisco via Alaska.

April 15, 1870, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Sailed April 13, Barkentine Constitution, Slocum, Guaymas. N. Bichard.

October 7, 1870, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U. S. A.

Shipping Intelligence. Arrived: Barkentine Constitution, Slocum, 23 days from Kodiack; fish, salt, etc., to N. B.


Calling at the Fiji Islands
The Barkentine

Slocum . . . Master

Will sail from Pier 15, Stewart street, on the 19th inst. For Freight or Passage, apply to:

Collin, Stewart & Co.

Corner Front and Jackson streets.

November 3, 1870, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California

Shipping Intelligence. Cleared November 2, Barkentine Constitution, Slocum, Sydney. Collie, Stewart & Co.

In Australia in 1871, he met and married his first wife, Virginia Albertina Walker, who sailed along with him for the rest of her life, bearing and raising their seven children at sea.

March 13, 1871, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

Shipping Intelligence. Foreign Ports: SYDNEY - Arrived January 9th, barkentine Constitution, Slocum, hence November 3d. Cleared Sydney January 31st for San Francisco.

May 4, 1871, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California

Shipping Intelligence. Arrived, Barkentine Constitution, Slocum, 90 days from Sydney (New South Wales). Coal and mdse to N. Richard.
Passengers from Sydney per Constitution: Mrs. Slocum, Mrs. G. T. Thompson, Miss F. Thompson, Miss A. Thompson, Miss M. Shaw, Mr. J. McDonald, Master Geo. Walker.

May 10, 1871, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

LAW INTELLIGENCE, U. S. Circuit Court: The United States vs. Joshua Slocum. Libel for summary proceedings and for beating and wounding one Michael Robinson on board the steamship Constitution. Cause on trial.

May 13, 1871, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California, U.S.A.

Pacific Coast Items: Joshua Slocum was found guilty of beating and wounding a seaman on the high seas, in the U.S. District Court, lately.

May 22, 1871, Louisa, Slocum, sailed from New Bedford May 4th 1869, arrived at Russell March 2, 1872, with 620 sperm and 1,775 whale.

May 23, 1871, Daily Alta California, San Francisco: Whalers' Reports: March 5th, Louisa, 303 tons, Slocum, from South Seas with 100 barrels sperm oil, 600 barrels whale oil, 4,000 pounds whalebone.

December 31, 1871, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

A Marine Dispute.

Some days ago, during one of the severe gales, the bark Scotland, lying at the foot of Beale street, dragged her anchor and collided with the British frigate Zealous. The latter was slightly damaged. The Zealous, it was claimed, was anchored the distance from the wharf required by the regulations of the Bay, and payment of the amount of damages was demanded. The demand was at once satisfied. The position of the Zealous, when the collision occurred, has since been the subject of much dispute, but it now appears to be settled.

It has been demonstrated, by Captain Slocum of the bark Constitution, by actual measurement, that the Zealous was only 448 yards from the corner of Beale street wharf. As the regulations require that she should be 500 yards distant from this point, the money paid as damages will have to be refunded.

He commanded eight vessels, including the merchant vessel Benjamin Aymar, and owned four, including the Pato (150-ton steamer built at Subic Bay, Philippines), the 326-ton Aquidneck enduring hurricanes, shipwrecks, pirate attacks, cholera, smallpox, a mutiny, and the death of his wife (buried in Buenos Aires) and three of his children.

Yet his ultimate adventure and crowning glory was still to come.

The seven seas were his home as he transported goods to and from the California coast, China, Australia, the Spice Islands, South America and more.

February 5, 1872, Daily Alta California: Whalers: Sailed 18th, bark Louisa, Slocum.

May 23 1872, Daily Alta California, San Francisco: Whalers' Reports: March 5th, Louisa, 303 tons, Slocum, from South Seas, with 100 barrels sperm oil, 600 barrels whale oil, 4,000 pounds whalebone.

His fortunes rose and fell. He married a second wife in 1886 (his 24-year-old cousin, Henrietta Elliott), gained and lost commands, Slocum was forced to defend his ship from pirates, one of whom he shot and killed; he was tried and acquitted of murder, and finally ended up in Boston, Massachusetts in 1890.

During the same period steam power supplanted the sail and Captain Slocum's hard-earned skills were in less demand.

Despite the loss of the Aquidneck and the privations of his family's voyage in the self-built Liberdade, Slocum retained a fondness for Brazil. During 1893, Brazil was faced with a political crisis in Rio Grande do Sul and an attempt at civil war that was intensified by the revolt of the country's navy in September. Slocum agreed to a request by the Brazilian government to deliver the Destroyer to Pernambuco, Brazil. His motive was also financial. As Slocum describes, his contract with the commander of government forces at Pernambuco was, "to go against the rebel fleet, and sink them all, if we could find them – big and little – for a handsome sum of gold…"

The Spray

The Spray at Cape Town

The Spray at Cape Town.

In 1895 Slocum set sail from Gloucester, Massachusetts—by himself—in the Spray, a small sloop of thirty-seven feet. More than three years and forty-six thousand miles later, he became the first man to circumnavigate the globe solo, a feat that wouldn’t be replicated until 1925.

"Monday, August 25, the Spray sailed from Gibraltar...A tug belonging to her Majesty towed the sloop into the steady breeze clear of the mount, where her sails caught a violent wind, which carried her once more to the Atlantic, where it rose rapidly to a furious gale.

The Spray fending off pirates. My plan was, in going down this coast, to haul offshore, well clear of the land, which hereabouts is the home of pirates; but I had hardly accomplished this when I perceived a felucca making out of the nearest port, and finally following in the wake of the I was, after all, evidently in the midst of pirates and thieves! I changed my course; the felucca did the same, both vessels sailing very fast, but the distance growing less and less between us. The Spray was doing nobly; she was even more than at her best, but, in spite of all I could do, she would broach now and then. She was carrying too much sail for safety. I must reef or be dismasted and lose all, pirate or no pirate. I must reef, even if I had to grapple with him for my life."

The Spray off Patagonia.

Captain Slocum faced his greatest challenge as he sailed from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean through the Strait of Magellan:

"There was no turning back even had I wished to do so" "It was the 3d of March when the Spray sailed from Port Tamar direct for Cape Pillar, with the wind from the northeast, which I fervently hoped might hold till she cleared the land; but there was no such good luck in store. It soon began to rain and thicken in the northwest, boding no good.

The Spray neared Cape Pillar rapidly, and, nothing loath, plunged into the Pacific Ocean at once, taking her first bath of it in the gathering storm. There was no turning back even had I wished to do so, for the land was now shut out by the darkness of night. The wind freshened, and I took in a third reef.

The sea was confused and treacherous...I saw now only the gleaming crests of the waves. They showed white teeth while the sloop balanced over them...on the morning of March 4 the wind shifted to southwest, then back suddenly to northwest, and blow with terrific force. The Spray, stripped of her sails, then bore off under bare poles. No ship in the world could have stood up against so violent a gale. Knowing that this storm might continue for many days, and that it would be impossible to work back to the westward along the coast outside of Tierra del Fuego, there seemed nothing to do but to keep on and go east about, after all. Anyhow, for my present safety the only course lay in keeping her before the wind. And so she drove southeast, as though about to round the Horn, while the waves rose and fell and bellowed their never-ending story of the sea."

"First to Sail Around the World Alone, 1895-1989"

EyeWitness to History (2002).

Around the World in the Slooop Spray. Joshua Slocum. Scholar's Choice Edition.

His account of that voyage, Sailing Alone Around the World, soon made him internationally famous.

He met President Theodore Roosevelt on several occasions and became a presence on the lecture circuit, selling his sea-saga books whenever and wherever he could. But scandal soon followed, and a decade later, with his finances failing, he set off alone once more—and was never seen again.

Joshua Slocom. Sailing Alone Around the World.
Click the image to view a selection of books about Joshua Slocum, some of which were written by Joshua Slocum.

The Authority to Sail.The Authority to Sail: The History of U.S. Maritime Licenses and Seamen's PapersThe Authority to Sail.
Robert Stanley Bates, George Marsh (Editor), John F. Whiteley (Forward) (Batek Marine Publishing, 2011; Nominated in 2012 for a Pulitzer Prize)
This book depicts important aspects of our maritime history as a result of original research done by the author, Commodore Bates, the holder of an unlimited master's license who has enjoyed a distinguished fifty-year career in both the Coast Guard and the American Merchant Marine.

The U.S. Coast Guard issues all Captain Licenses for U.S. Ports.
Note: Other countries have different regulations, i.e. the RYA (Royal Yachting Association), conducts certification for Britain and Ireland. As of 2011, they did not recognize the USCG certification; certification through their courses was required.

Master Unlimited is a licensed mariner in ultimate command of a vessel any gross tons. The captain is responsible for its safe and efficient operation, including cargo operations, navigation, crew management and ensuring that the vessel complies with local and international laws. All persons on board, including officers and crew, other shipboard staff members, passengers, guests and pilots, are under the captain's authority and are his or her ultimate responsibility. The STCW defines the Master as Person having command of the ship.

The Sea Chart
The Illustrated History of Nautical Maps and Navigational ChartsThe Sea Chart.
The Sea Chart.The Sea Chart.
John Blake
The sea chart was one of the key tools by which ships of trade, transport and conquest navigated their course across the oceans. Herein is a history and development of the chart and the related nautical map, in both scientific and aesthetic terms, as a means of safe and accurate seaborne navigation. 150 color illustrations including the earliest charts of the Mediterranean made by 13th-century Italian merchant adventurers, as well as 18th-century charts that became strategic naval and commercial requirements and led to Cook's voyages in the Pacific, the search for the Northwest Passage, and races to the Arctic and Antarctic.

Get Your Captain's License. Fifth Edition Get Your Captain's License. Fifth Edition. Charlie  Wing.
Charlie Wing
Considered the quickest, easiest, and least expensive way to prepare for the U.S. Coast Guard captain's ratings exams required for anyone who takes paying passengers on a boat, and useful for serious boaters who want to save money on insurance. 350 pages of seamanship and navigation tutorials. More than 1,500 questions and answers from the Coast Guard exams. Includes an interactive CD-ROM with all 14,000 questions and answers in the USCG database, so you can take an unlimited number of practice exams

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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