Sea Captains: San Francisco 1800s

Captain Douglass Ottinger

Douglass Ottinger was captain of the United States Revenue Cutter Frolic between 1852 and 1853 along the Pacific Coast between Oregon and San Francisco. As such, he was up against aggressive waterfront villains, including sailor thieves.

May 20, 1852, Daily Alta California, San Francisco
Arrived. May 20. United States Revenue Cutter, Frolic, Douglas Ottinger, commander. Left San Diego May 7th. 

Daily Alta California, San Francisco, January 8, 1853 



The recent outrages committed by this combination of scoundrels are again calling the attention of the mercantile community to the subject. When our now flourishing and populous city first commenced its wondrous career, the shipping interest of foreign nations, as well as our own, was much injured by the operations of this gang of desperadoes: Their manner of acting and the object intended to be achieved by them was as follows:

San Francisco Bay. 1899.

Topographic Map. San Francisco Bay. 1899.

The moment a ship comes into port, the gang visits her in boats, and the men are immediately incited to revolt. In some cases, they have broken in on the cargo. Masters of vessels have frequently found themselves abandoned by their crews, while the ship was in the stream, with sails hoisted and anchors at the cat heads. Several of our fine clipper ships were, on coming to this port, deserted in the manner above stated.

The Sword Fish, when she arrived, immediately sent to request protection from Capt. Ottinger of the revenue cutter Frolic, which was promptly afforded, Captain Ottinger himself going on board and staying there until the ship was moored alongside the wharf. She was the first vessel that kept her crew until those duties were performed. So bold and daring were they that they openly made threats to board land take the revenue cutter Frolic. Captain Ottinger immediately ordered the round shot to be drawn from the 32 and 12 pounders on board, and loaded them with canister. The guns were then depressed, so that the heavier ones should strike the water at seventy-five yards and the lighter at fifty; small arms were prepared, matches lit, and the crew kept at their quarters. The great pity was, that the scoundrels did not undertake to carry their threat into execution.

Several times Capt. Ottinger has been sent for to protect British vessels in their rights and has always afforded the protection demanded. On one occasion he boarded an English ship, which had been visited by these sailor thieves, and left the crew so panic stricken by their murderous threats, that, although willing to perform their duty, they had not the courage to lower their boats, when ordered to do so by their officers. Captain Ottinger established a code of signals, for both night and day, with the masters of merchant ships, which will at all times bring an armed boat from the cutter to their relief. By hoisting the colors in a "with" at the peak by day, or two lanterns about six feet apart, one under the other by night, captains can at any moment command such aid as they may desire. An offer is at all hours of the day and night on the deck of the cutter, and she is when in port, always anchored at some point which will afford a view of all parts of the harbor.

The combination of sailor thieves is formed for the purpose of plundering and robbing ship owners, by stealing their men from them after they are on board and have received their advance pay. The pay of seamen in California averages from thirty to forty dollars a month, two months wages being paid in advance. The men receive this, go on board, and the ship is streamed. During the night she is boarded by a gang of sailor thieves, who take the men away and convey them on shore to a new boarding house ready prepared for them, and they are as soon as possible re-shipped again, to be again stolen, thus carrying on one of the most nefarious systems of robbery that can be conceived. Not only do ship owners suffer from the actual loss of the money, but also, and sometimes much more, by the detention consequent upon shipping a new crew, and with no better prospects of keeping them than they had the first. The subject is one which has excited the attention of the foreign consuls in this city to a considerable extent, and is a fruitful source of much anxiety and pecuniary loss to our mercantile society. Some merchants, both in England and France, as well as in the Atlantic States, will not send their ships here for the very reasons above stated, and we are of opinion that the legislative powers of the proper authorities could be very usefully employed in furnishing a suitable remedy for this evil.

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Nonetheless, Angel Island's place in the consciousness of Americans on the West Coast is large and out of proportion to the numerical record. Angel Island's Immigration Station was not, as some have called it, the Ellis Island of the West, built to facilitate the processing and entry of those welcomed as new Americans. Its role was less benign: to facilitate the exclusion of Asians, starting with the Chinese, then Japanese, Koreans, Indians, and all other Asians.

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Most families have a skeleton. You may have already discovered yours via the grapevine or your own research. Or you may simply be intrigued by the dark side of our past. This popular history explores the behaviour of our disreputable ancestors from the unfortunate to the criminal, and introduces a host of colourful characters including 17th century witches, 18th century 'mollies' and Victorian baby farmers. Thematically arranged by skeleton, the text also describes how society punished and provided for its 'offenders' - as well as the changing attitudes that could ultimately bring acceptance.

Italy on the Pacific: San Francisco's Italian Americans (Italian and Italian American Studies)Italians in San Francisco.
Palgrave Hardcover)
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San Francisco’s Italian immigrant experience is shown to be the polar opposite of Chicago’s. San Francisco’s Italian immigrants are shown as reintegrating into the host society fairly smoothly, whereas the Chicago group’s assimilation process broke down in dramatic ways.

Migration in World History.Migration in World HistoryMigration in World History. 
(Themes in World History) 
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Drawing on examples from a wide range of geographical regions and thematic areas, noted world historian Patrick Manning guides the reader through trade patterns, including the early Silk Road and maritime trade, effect of migration on empire and industry, earliest human migrations, major language groups, various leading theories around migration.

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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.
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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.

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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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