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Average number of crew and average number of men shipped per 100 tons on steam and sailing vessels in foreign and coasting trade.
Following is the report in full, except statistics elsewhere tabulated, of the shipping commissioner at New York, before whom one-fourth of the official shipping of seamen for the country takes place. Attention is asked particularly for the suggestions as to the protection of sailors.
OFFICE OF THE U. S. SHIPPING COMMISSIONER,
BARGE OFFICE BUILDING,
SIR: I have the honor to submit a report of the business of this office during the fiscal year ending with June 30, 1894, together with some observations upon subjects relating thereto, in response to inquiries made by you.
Notwithstanding the general depression of business, 48 more vessels passed through this office than during the fiscal year of 1892-'93. There was some difference, however, in the relative proportions of the different duties charged. During the fiscal year of 1892-'93 15,490 seamen were engaged, of whom 5,092 were reshipped, or were substitues for men engaged but who did not join their vessels, and, therefore, for whom no fees were entered upon the books of the office. During the past fiscal year 15,002 seamen were engaged, of whom 5,230 were reshipped or were substitutes. While there was this slight decrease in the shipments, the number of discharges during the past fiscal year was larger than during the fiscal year preceding, the total number in 1892-'93 being 9,960, while in 1893-'94 it was 10,644. The amount of money paid to sailors during the past fiscal year was $473,988.71, a larger amount of wages than for some years.
The increase in the foreign business was especially marked. In 1892-'93 crews were engaged for 393 vessels bound to foreign ports, and the crews of 372 vessels arriving from foreign ports were discharged. In 1893-'94 481 crews for vessels going to foreign ports were engaged, and 347 such crews were discharged. Of coasting vessels (which are exempt from the jurisdiction of this office, but whose owners, agents, or masters, on the one part, and whose crews on the other, voluntarily applied), 1,218 crews were engaged in 1892-'93, and 1,162 in 1893-'94. Of such crews 13 were discharged in 1892-'93 and 54 in 1893-'94. The remarkable difference between the number of coasting crews engaged and the number discharged in each year is explained by stating that the law does not compel an "exempt" vessel to discharge its crew through this office, even when the engagement was made here. My predecessor, the Hon. James C. Reed, in commenting upon the "exempt" business done by this office, suggested in his report to the Commissioner of Navigation for the year 1887-'88 that the law should be amended so as to provide that, at the request of a seaman of an "exempt" vessel engaged through this office, he should also be paid off here.
FOREIGN TRADE STEAMSHIPS.
More American steam vessels going to and coming from foreign ports have shipped and discharged crews through this office during the past fiscal year than ever before, and this branch of the business of the office bids fair to increase.
The following vessels have shipped crews: New York (American Line), 15 times; Paris (American Line), 14 times; Columbia (formerly Columbian Line to Isthmus of Panama, recently the Pacific Mail Line), 11 times; City of Para (now Pacific Mail Line), 11 times; Newport (now Pacific Mail Line), 11 times; Venezuela (Red D Line to Venezuela), 12 times; Caracas (Red D Line), 12 times; Philadelphia (Red D Line), 11 times; Maracaibo (Red D Line), 6 times; Valencia (Columbian Line to Isthmus of Panama), 3 times; Alliance (Columbian Line), 1 time; Advance (Columbian Line), 1 time; Santuit (bound for Brazil), 1 time.
Each of these vessels, except the New York and Paris, shipped its entire crew at every shipment. The New York's shipments varied from 58 to 238, out of a crew of a few more than 400. The Paris's shipments varied from 53 to 103, out of a crew of the same size as the New York's.
On the New York most of the men shipped were in the engineer's department, such as firemen, coalpassers, water-tenders, and greasers. On the Paris, the mates, engineers, masters-at-arms, quartermasters, storekeepers, surgeons, pursers, and pursers' clerks were shipped. The rest of the crews of these two vessels have been engaged at Southampton, England, before the U. S. consul.
NATIONALITY OF OUR SEAMEN.
Seamen born in the United States are becoming fewer at this port every succeeding year. The books of this office show that 7,433 seamen of native birth were engaged during 1892-'93. During the past fiscal year the number of native-born sailors engaged decreased to 2,989. It is possible, however, that the decrease is more apparent than real. During the past year the assertions of men manifestly of foreign birth that they were native born have not been implicitly received. Scandinavians especially are apt to asseverate that they were born here. When their declaration of native birth is not received, they generally begin proceedings to be naturalized.
One of the reasons why alien seamen claim this country as their birthplace is the law, which provides that every officer of our vessels shall be an American citizen. They want to become officers, and do not like to wait until the lapse of time necessary for naturalization. In the coasting trade about four-fifths of the sailors are Scandinavians, and most of the sailors on our yachts are of the same nationality. During the past fiscal year 5,790 Scandinavians shipped through this office, against 3,174 British, 1,497 Germans, 116 Austrians, 632 Russian Finns, 96 French, 20 Italians, and 688 other foreigners, including a few Japanese, Chinese, and Lascars. It is a curious fact that many of the Scandinavians were not sailors in their own country. They came here to get work of any kind, fell in with their countrymen at this port who are manning the vessels, and decided to go to sea. They bid fair to drive out all other nationalities.
They make good sailors. They are strong and enduring. But the captains of "deep-sea" ships who come into this office agree that they prefer native American sailors to all others. Their reasons may thus be summed up: The modern ship differs very much from the ship of even twenty years ago. Her rigging is of steel, and the sails are hoisted and the capstan is turned by steam. There are various mechanical contrivances, such as patent halliards and blocks, used about her, unknown until recently. To handle her rightly requires more intelligence than was formerly requisite for a sailor. It takes less than one-half as many men to handle a ship of 2,000 tons as it did twenty years ago, but they must be good men. And all the captains agree that the American sailor can do the work in a modern ship as no other sailor can. As Capt. Joseph W. Holmes, of the ship Charmer, sailing between this port and San Francisco, put it: "I want American sailors, and I always make every effort to get them. Why? Because they are so quick and bright and handy. They can do anything; and they can always be depended upon in a crisis. They rise to the occasion. The only sailors that equal the Americans are the Irish. But they are scarcer at this port than Americans even, and Americans are getting fewer and fewer. I think myself lucky if I can get 3 or 4 in my crew of 26." Capt. Holmes is 70 years of age, the oldest captain sailing out of this port. He is a hale and hearty Connecticut Yankee. He went to sea when he was 13 years old; was fourteen years a whaler; has sailed around the Cape of Good Hope sixteen times and sixty-eight times around Cape Horn. He is now loading his ship for his thirty-fifth voyage to San Francisco.
CAUSES OF SCARCITY OF AMERICAN SEAMEN.
Why are American seamen so scarce? The reason, in short, is that there are not inducements enough offered for Americans to become sailors. They can make a better living on land and more easily than they can on sea. Almost all the captains of "deep-sea" ships are native Americans, who began as common sailors. One of them, Capt. Baker, of the big iron ship Kenilworth, in discussing the matter, said: "If a native American goes to sea and does not become an officer in six years at the longest, he leaves the sea. Most of them do become officers. There would be more American sailors if there was more money for them."
In England there is the same complaint about the scarcity of British seamen that there is here about the scarcity of American seamen. The cause in each case is probably the same-the indisposition of an intelligent race to do hard physical labor for poor pay when they can get light labor for good pay. At this port the highest wages are paid for seamen of any port in the world. There is always a demand for seamen here, even during the worst periods of business depression.
These circumstances attract the Scandinavians to this port, where the wages are much in advance of any they can get at home. They attract also New Brunswickers, Nova Scotians, and Prince Edward Islanders, for a large share of the seamen included under the 3,174 British who shipped through this office during the past fiscal year came from the maritime provinces of British North America, where the conditions of life are nearly as hard as they are in Norway, and somewhat similar. Foreign vessels coming to this port pay higher wages to their sailors than when their voyage is to a port in another country. If they did not, they would not be sure of keeping their crews. A British ship coming here pays its able seamen about £3 a month; a German pays its able seamen about 60 marks a month; a French about 80 francs. Italian ships coming here pay the least-the equivalent of about $14 a month for able seamen. But there is little demand for Italian seamen here.
Most of the Norwegian vessels that come to this port are owned by Americans, and they pay the same wages as American registered vessels. Some of the German vessels coming here are owned by Americans, and several of the British, especially the freight steamships.
AMERICAN SHIPS LIKED BY SAILORS.
Among the points of information required by you was as to the treatment of seamen upon American ships. A careful inquiry shows that it is better on American ships than on the ships of any other nation. The only nation which approaches ours in this respect is the British since the passage of the Plimsoll laws. In recently built American vessels, even coasters, the unwholesome and cramped forecastle between decks next to the bows exists no longer. In its place is the "forward house," a roomy, well-lighted structure, the top of which is some feet above the main deck. One ship now in this port, the Kenilworth, 2,179 net tonnage, has a bathroom for sailors in the forecastle in addition to their ample quarters in the forward house. Her commander, Capt. Baker, and the ship were cheered by the crew when they quit at the end of her last voyage. As a rule the food of the sailors on American ships is better than the law requires. The sailors bear testimony to this. During the past year only one complaint was made to this office of the quality of the provisions, and that was in regard to the condition of the hard bread which was served. On the same ship it was shown that the crew had good flour three times a week, which was made up by the cook, either as bread or "plum duff" or fried cakes.
PROTECTION OF SAILORS.
The office of shipping commissioner was created for the protection of sailors, and except in one particular the law is ample for the protection of the sailor against everybody except himself. The hardest duty cast upon the shipping commissioner is to protect the sailor against himself. Take the case of allotment notes. The law of 1884, as amended in 1886, prohibits the payment of alvance wages to sailors, but permits them to stipulate in their shipping agreements for the allotment of a portion of their wages, not exceeding $10 a month for the ordinary length of the voyage, to their "wife, mother, or other relative, or to an original creditor in liquidation of any just debt for board or clothing which he may have contracted prior to engagement. This ought to prevent the sailor from being robbed, but it generally does not, owing to the sailor himself. Two forms of allotment notes have been provided by the Government-one for the allotment of wages to relatives and one for the allotment of wages to creditors. Very few sailors give allotment notes to relatives. Such notes are usually given by mates, stewards, or other officers. The sailors' notes are given, for the most part, to boarding-house keepers, and for the full sum which can be allotted. This office has tried in various ways to prevent fraud in the giving of these notes, but probably without success. On the back of each
allotment note is a declaration, which the payee of the note must sign, to. the effect that he is the original creditor of the seaman, and that the seaman is justlyndebted to him for board and clothing. The seaman is asked by the deputy commissioner, who supervises the engagement of the crew, whether he really owes all the money specified in the note for board and clothing, and the seaman invariably answers "yes." In one case during the past year several of the crew who gave allotment notes to the full possible amount had only been in port two days, yet the boardinghouse keepers declared that the sums were owing them for board and clothing, and the men backed them up. A shipping commissioner may be perfectly satisfied that the men do not owe the money, but he has no power to go behind the declarations of the parties most in interest. If a man will sign away his rights and tell falsehoods to enable himself to do it, it is hard to prevent him.
A portion of the money acquired by the giving of these allotment notes is said to go to shipping agents, who contract with the owners, agents, or captains of vessels to furnish them crews. This is called among the sailors "blood money." These shipping agents appear to work in company with the keepers of the sailors' boarding houses. Captains and sailors alike say that a sailor who does not go to a sailors' boarding house as soon as he gets ashore can not get another ship. The shipping agents will not give him a chance. On the other hand, these same boarding-house keepers complain once in a while, in moments of temporary indignation, that the shipping agents will not take any men out of their houses unless they pay "blood money." Between them is appropriated the amount of the allotment note, and the sailor goes to sea with a good share of his wages used up.
Under the administration of the English law for the protection of seamen the business of these shipping agents can not go on. The English law recognizes no middlemen. When the owner, agent, or master of a vessel wishes to ship a crew there, he goes to the shipping commissioner's office and makes the necessary statement. Then an inspector accompanies him to the place connected with the shipping commissioner's office and under its control, where the sailors are waiting to be engaged. From these sailors the owner, agent, or captain selects his crew, and all hands then return to the shipping commissioner's office and the articles are signed. Each sailor is entitled to advance wages for half a month or for a whole month, according to the length of the voyage, and he may allot half his wages to a dependent relative. If a sailor fails to provide for the support of those he should support and they become a charge upon the poor rates, the money thus paid out is deducted from the sailor's wages upon his return from his voyage. There are no allotment notes; allotments are made by notice to the shipping commissioner.
If sailors would combine for their own protection they might accomplish something for the removal of the evils from which they suffer. A strong sailor's union, under wise and determined guidance, could do away with the payment of "blood money" in a short time. There are two unions in the city now formed of men who go to sea-one the Atlantic Coast Seamen's Union, composed of able and ordinary seamen who are American citizens; and the other a union composed of men who work in the engineer's department of steamships, such as firemen, greasers, coal passers, water tenders, and oilers. The Seamen's Union claims to have about 800 members in this city. As there are always about 2,500 seamen in this city waiting for engagements, very few of whom belong to a union, the good which the Atlantic Coast Seamen's Union accomplishes at present is of little account, proportioued to the evil which sailors suffer every day, mainly by their own acts, committed in spite of the law which was enacted to protect them.
The Firemen's Union, as it is generally called, was formed last March. It exists only in this city, and has no allied unions in other cities, as the Seamen's Union has. The members of the Firemen's Union formerly belonged to the Seamen's Union; but they seceded last winter, in consequence of a disagreement over a controversy with the Morgan Line of steamships. Its membership is given out as 600.
It is obvious that the salvation of the sailor, like the salvation of everyone else, lies mainly in himself. This office sees to it that he does not make an engagement, when he is drunk; that the shipping articles are properly drawn; that he does not give an allotment note unless he chooses to; that complaints as to food, treatment and the supply of clothing from the slop-chest at exorbitant prices are redressedand, lastly, that when his voyage is ended, he gets every cent that is due him, paid into his own hand. A U. S. shipping commissioner can get a sailor to the street with his wages in his possession. Beyond that he can not go. What more can be done? To this end a great number of the ship captains who come into this office have been interrogated. All these captains expressed their hatred of the payment of the "blood money" by the sailor, and wished it could be stopped. They admitted that it could not be stopped as long as the shipping agents were employed by the owners, or agents of the vessels. Capt. T. R. Sharpe, a sailor for more than thirty years, now one of the principal officials of the Merritt Wrecking Company, is in favor of changing the system of hiring sailors, so that they will be hired by
the year instead of by the voyage. He holds that if the sailors could be kept on the ship all the year round, they would soon regard the vessel as their home, and would thus be kept away from the boarding houses, which shipowners and captains consider to be the root of all the sailors' evil. But how can this change be brought about? All men who have to do with the sea are conservative. I have been unable to find another sea captain who looked favorably upon the yearly engagement idea advocated by Capt. Sharpe, Sailors always have been engaged for the voyage from time immemorial and therefore they always must be. Yet in the steamships which go out of this port a practical revolution is working and what is equivalent to a yearly hiring obtains in many cases. The men are nominally engaged for each voyage; but the stay of the steamships in port is short; the men engage right over again, and do not have the opportunity to squander their money. Sailing ships stay so long in port between voyages that they can not follow the practice of steamships in that respect.
The apprentice law, which was passed with a view of training up desirable boys to be seamen, has but little effect in that direction. Only seven apprentices were shipped through this office during the past fiscal year. Captains do not desire apprentices. Not many boys are offered. There is a prejudice in this country against the system of apprenticing, which does not seem likely to be overcome.
The COMMISSIONER OF NAVIGATION,
MAURICE J. POWER,
Washington, D. C.
Following are summaries of the replies of commissioners to special inquiries of the Bureau. The replies of the commissioner at New York to these inquiries are published in immediately preceding pages.
7. DECREASE OF AMERICAN SEAMEN.
To the inquiry, "Is the number of American seamen at your port increasing or decreasing," commissioners reply as given below. A decrease in American seamen is reported except at Baltimore, where an influx of colored seamen is noted, and Norfolk, and at New Orleans and Providence, where no change is observed.
Philadelphia: The number of American able seamen usually available at this port is 150, the greater part of whom are negroes and naturalized foreigners. The number of American able seamen at this port is decreasing.
Baltimore: The number of American seamen has slightly increased at this port within the two years past. There has been quite a number of colored seamen coming from Virginia, North and South Carolina, who sail from this port and have increased the number of American seamen. They are engaged principally in the coastwise and West India trade.
Bath: There are no American able seamen immediately available at this port. Practically all the crews shipped at this office are secured from the larger seaports. The number of American able seamen here has decreased until there are practically
New Orleans: I should think it is at a standstill.
Rockport: There are about 150 men who follow the sea as a vocation; very few foreigners here; they come here from Bangor, Rockland, Portland, or Boston. Think the number of American able seamen is decreasing, as the young men are moving toward the cities.
Port Townsend: Usually there are about 50 seamen available at this port, twothirds of whom are Scandinavians. The remaining are of various nationalities. An
exact classification not obtainable.
New Bedford: The number of American able seamen is decreasing.
Pascagoula: American seamen are not regularly at this port, and can only be found at intervals. Available foreign able seamen can always be procured at this port to the number of 15. I can not see any improvement in numbers or decrease as to American seamen, as they have not been regularly here to an extent to justify any accurate conclusion.
Providence: The number of American able seamen remains about the same. I find that there are a great number of men who claim to come from some place in the United States who were born in some other country, and, when I press them for a correct answer to my question, state that the place given is where they hail from.