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News & Tall Tales. 1800s.

Bridge to the Castle.

Seamen of the United States

September 17, 1835, True Sun, London, United Kingdom


We learn from the last report of the Board of Directors of the Boston Seamen's Friend Society, that the number of seamen belonging to the United States, estimated with as much accuracy as possible, is 103,000; of whom there are in the foreign trade 50,000; in the coasting trade, in vessels of nearly or over 100 tons burden, 25,000; in the cod fishery, 5,000; in steam vessels, 1,000, and in the United States Navy, 6,000.

By the mid-1800s, seamen in San Francisco were at a premium given their tendency to jump ship and head for the mines.

February 19, 1851, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

Injustice to Shipmasters.

The course which has been pursued by the officers of our State, from our State legislature down to the justices of the peace, in the restrictions they have placed upon shipping entering our harbor, and the continued and petty annoyances to which shipmasters have been subjected, have rendered San Francisco a port to which those interested in vessels dread to come.

There are in this city a certain class of lawyers, who make a business of inducing sailors, when they arrive in this port in a foreign or home vessel, to find some flaw in their shipping articles, or bring some frivolous charge against their captains, by which they may obtain a discharge from the vessel in violation of the sanctity of the contracts they have made and to the great damage of the interests of the owners or masters. In addition to this it is a remarkable fact that in almost every ease where seamen have deserted, or some suit has been brought which would allow of what might be called a legal desertion, when brought before a justice of the peace, it has been decided upon the side of the seamen, often most manifestly unjust to the master. Some time since, a French whaling vessel entered the harbor with a cargo of oil, whose seamen were bound by a contract for three years service, which time had scarcely half expired. Through the inducement of one of the class above mentioned they brought a suit for wages, in a Justice's Court, and judgment being given against the captain, the seamen were discharged and the articles broken, on the ground that no white man had a right to dispose of his time by contract. The captain this state of the case was forced to sell his entire cargo to pay his men and the costs of court, thus making his voyage utterly valueless.

In another case of a foreign ship, under a judgment of a justice, a constable was sent on board, and the wheel of the vessel and a clock from the cabin were removed and brought on shore as security. The vessel being foreign, a suit ought to have been brought against the justice or constable for smuggling.

Equal and exact justice should in all cases be meted out both to master and to man but there has seemed to be a sort of determination to annoy and vex, in every possible manner, our ship-masters. It should be the object of all in office, and of all good citizens, to encourage and foster our commercial prosperity, and by every honest and honorable inducement endeavor to make San Francisco what Nature has intended her to be, the great commercial port of the Pacific coast.

April 18, 1851, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

Deserters Again.

Another case of desertion was brought yesterday before Mr. Justice Bailey, in which the dishonest practices to which the seamen resort in this port to deceive and defraud shipmasters and shipping agents were brought under our observation. The case was this: Mr. Murray, a shipping agent, charged three men, named Marsh Carrigham, Alexander Marsh, and Michael Flarity, with breach of agreement and desertion from the Pacific Mail Steamship Company's steamer Oregon, lying at Benicia, having signed shipping articles at the office of Mr. Murray, on the 15th inst., to serve on board the said steamer as able seamen during a voyage to Panama and back again.

On the faith of performing this engagement they asked and received money from Mr. Murray in advance of their wages to accrue on said voyage. Mr. Murray, on being informed of their desertion, had them arrested and brought before Mr. Justice Bailey, but as be could not show any direct authority from the captain to proceed against the men, they were of course dismissed, as the court could not entertain proceedings against them in absence of the necessary evidence.

Mr. Murray then applied to the Recorder for a warrant against these men for their arrest on the collateral; charge of obtaining money under false pretences, and defrauding him of his advances. The deliberate and unscrupulous coolness with which this base class of seamen resort to these practices to raise the wind, and then laugh at their dupes, and repeat the same fraud upon others, is too abominable to be endured; and it is to be hoped that some stringent measures will be adopted and sustained by the courts of San Francisco to visit such frauds and desertions with exemplary punishment. No mawkish delicacy as to infringing the liberty of the subject should save such rascals from the chain gang. That is the cure for this plague.

The Mammoth Book of Life Before the Mast:
Sailors' Eyewitness Stories from the Age of Fighting Ships

Jon E. Lewis, Editor
Firsthand accounts of the real-life naval adventures behind the popular historical sagas of Patrick O'Brian and C. F. Forester. Twenty true-life adventures capture the glory and gore of the great age of naval warfare from the late eighteenth to the early nineteenth century -- the age of the French Revolutionary War, the Napoleonic Wars, and the War of 1812 -- when combat at sea was won by sheer human wit, courage, and endurance. Culled from memoirs, diaries, and letters of celebrated officers as well as sailors, the collection includes accounts of such decisive naval engagements as Admiral Horatio Nelson's on the Battle of the Nile in 1798 or Midshipman Roberts' on the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and also offers glimpses into daily hardships aboard a man-of-war: scurvy, whippings, storms, piracy, press gangs, drudgery, boredom, and cannibalism.

Life of a Sailor (Seafarers' Voices) Ships, Shipping, Migration, World Seaports.Life At Sea.Life of a Sailor.
Frederick Chamier
Chamier went to sea in 1809 as an officer in the Royal Navy. Like his contemporary, Captain Frederick Marryat, he enjoyed a successful literary career and is remembered for his naval novels. This book, his first, is usually catalogued as fiction, although it is an exact account of his naval experiences, with every individual, ship, and event he described corroborated by his service records. Told with humor and insight, it is considered an authentic account of a young officer's service. From anti-slavery patrols off Africa to punitive raids on the American coast during the War of 1812, Chamier provides details of many lesser-known campaigns. His descriptions of British naval operations in America, which reflected his objection to bringing the war to the civilian population, were highly criticized by his seniors.

The Nagle Journal: A Diary of the Life of Jacob Nagle, Sailor, 1775 to 1841Stories of the Sea and Ships.
John C. Dann

Great Stories of the Sea & Ships Sea Stories and the history of America.
N. C. Wyeth
Sea Stories and the history of America.More than 50,000 copies of this collection of high-seas adventures are in print. Not only does it showcase the fiction of such classic writers as Daniel Defoe, Jules Verne, and Jack London, but the entries also feature historic first-person narratives including Christopher Columbus’s own account of his famous voyage in 1492. Vivid tales of heroic naval battles and dangerous journeys of exploration to the stories of castaways and smugglers. The variety of works includes “The Raft of Odysseus,” by Homer; Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Mermaid”; “The Specksioneer,” by Elizabeth Gaskell; Washington Irving’s “The Phantom Island”; and “Rounding Cape Horn,” by Herman Melville. Eighteen black and white illustrations by Peter Hurd add to the volume's beauty.


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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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