Monday, April 02, 2007 04/02/07-Shanghaied

In today's excerpt, unsuspecting young men "shanghaied" into servitude aboard the great 19th century sailing ships:

"The 19th century, the heyday of sail-powered merchants shipping, was also the heyday of the sea pimp, or crimp, who supplied unscrupulous captains with fresh crew members, often unwilling ones. In other words, the men were shanghaied. (The term crimp, originally British slang for 'agent,' probably arrived in America with British sailors. The term 'shanghai' likely arose because many crimped sailors ended up in Shanghai, China, a major port in the day of sail.) Crimping took place in all major ports around the world: London, New York, and Hong Kong were all infamously dangerous places. ...

"Toward the end of the sailing ship's reign in the last quarter of the 19th century, the West Coast of the United States was reported to have the most dangerous ports in the world. Portland was a rough, corrupt city whose economy had risen quickly through timber and grain shipping. In the 1890's it was common for 100 windjammers to be docked in Portland Harbor. ...

"[In one typical instance, Portland resident] A.E. Clarke was wandering down Burnside Street when he met a man who invited him aboard to a riverboat party. Clarke accepted the offer and spent the afternoon drinking and chatting with young women as the boat made its way to Astoria, a port town located where the Columbia River enters the Pacific Ocean. Once there, Clarke was told to sign a passenger list so the crew would know when everyone was back on board, and then he was taken on a 'tour' of an iron-hulled, deep-sea square-rigger. At that point, Clarke and the other victims were held at gunpoint, manacled and shoved in a dark hold. It was seven years before Clarke saw Portland again."

Steve Wilson, 'Of Crimps and Shanghaied Sailors,' American History, June 2006, pp. 58, 60.


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