Books by willis j. Abbot



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Indeed, it would appear that the law protecting American ship-builders, while apparently effective for that purpose, has destroyed American shipping. Our ship-building industry has attained respectable and even impressive proportions; but our shipping, wherever brought into competition with foreign ships, has vanished. One transatlantic line only, in 1902 displayed the American flag, and that line enjoyed special and unusual privileges, without which it probably could not have existed. In consideration of building two ships in American yards, this line, the International Navigation Company, was permitted to transfer two foreign-built ships to American registry, and a ten years' postal contract was awarded it, which guaranteed in advance the cost of construction of all the ships it was required to build. It is a fact worth noting that, while the foreign lines have been vying with each other in the construction of faster and bigger ships each year, this one has built none since its initial construction, more than a decade ago. Ten years ago its American-built ships, the "New York" and the "Paris," were the largest ships afloat; now there are eighteen larger in commission, and many building. Besides this, there are only two American lines on the Atlantic which ply to other than coastwise ports--the Pacific Mail, which is run in connection with the Panama railway, and the Admiral line, which plies between New York and the West Indies. Indeed, the Commissioner of Navigation, in his report for 1901, said:

"For serious competition with foreign nations under the conditions now imposed upon ocean navigation, we are practically limited to our registered iron and steam steel vessels, which in all number 124, of 271,378 gross tons. Those under 1,000 gross tons are not now commercially available for oversea trade. There remains 4 steamships, each of over 10,000 gross tons; 5 of between 5,000 and 6,000 gross tons; 2 of between 4,000 and 5,000 tons; 18 between 3000 and 4000 tons; 35 between 2000 and 3000 tons, and 33 between 1000 and 2000 tons; in all 97 steamships over 1000 tons, aggregating 260,325 gross tons."

Most of these are engaged in coastwise trade. The fleet of the Hamburg-American line alone, among our many foreign rivals, aggregates 515,628 gross tons.

However, we must bear in mind that this seemingly insignificant place held by the United States merchant marine represents only the part it holds in the international carrying trade of the world. Such a country as Germany must expend all its maritime energies on international trade. It has little or no river and coastwise traffic. But the United States is a little world in itself; not so very small, and of late years growing greater. Our wide extended coasts on Atlantic, Pacific, and the Mexican Gulf, are bordered by rich States crowded with a people who produce and consume more per capita than any other race. From the oceans great navigable rivers, deep bays, and placid sounds, extend into the very heart of the country. The Great Lakes are bordered by States more populous and cities more busy and enterprising than those, which in the proudest days of Rome, and Carthage and Venice skirted the Mediterranean and the Adriatic. The traffic of all these trade highways is by legislation reserved for American ships alone. On the Great Lakes has sprung up a merchant marine rivaling that of some of the foremost maritime peoples, and conducting a traffic that puts to shame the busiest maritime highways of Europe. Long Island Sound bears on its placid bosom steamships that are the marvel of the traveling public the world over. The Hudson, the Ohio, the Mississippi, are all great arteries through which the life current of trade is ceaselessly flowing. A book might be written on the one subject of the part that river navigation has played in developing the interior States of this Union. Another could well be devoted to the history of lake navigation, which it is no overstatement to pronounce the most impressive chapter in the history of the American merchant marine. In this volume, however, but brief attention can be given to either.

The figures show how honorably our whole body of shipping compares in volume to that operated by any maritime people. Our total registered shipping engaged in the fisheries, coastwise, and lake traffic, and foreign trade numbered at the beginning of 1902, 24,057 vessels, with an aggregate tonnage of 5,524,218 tons. In domestic trade alone we had 4,582,683 tons, or an amount exceeding the total tonnage of Germany and Norway combined, or of Germany and France. Only England excelled us, but her lead, which in 1860 was inconsiderable, in 1901 was prodigious; the British flag flying over no less than 14,261,254 tons of shipping, more than three times our tonnage! It is proper to note that more than two-thirds of our registered tonnage is of wood.

[Illustration: THERE ARE BUILDING IN AMERICAN YARDS ]



I have already given reasons why, in the natural course of things, this disparity between the American and the British foreign-going merchant marine will not long continue. And indeed, as this book is writing, it is apparent that its end is near. Though shipyards have multiplied fast in the last five years of the nineteenth century, the first years of the new century found them all occupied up to the very limit of their capacity. Yards that began, like the Cramps, building United States warships and finding little other work, were soon under contract to build men-of-war for Russia and Japan. The interest of the people in the navy afforded a great stimulus to shipbuilding. It is told of one of the principal yards, that its promotor went to Washington with a bid for naval construction in his pocket, but without either a shipyard or capital wherewith to build one. He secured a contract for two ships, and capital readily interested itself in his project. When that contract is out of the way the yard will enter the business of building merchant vessels, just as several yards, which long had their only support from naval contracts, are now doing. There were built in the year ending June 30, 1901, in American yards, 112 vessels of over 1000 tons each, or a total of 311,778. Many of these were lake vessels; some were wooden ships. Of modern steel steamers, built on the seaboard, there were but sixteen. At the present moment there are building in American yards, or contracted for, almost 255,325 tons of steel steamships, to be launched within a year--or 89 vessels, more than twice the output of any year in our history, and an impressive earnest for the future. Nor is this rapid increase in the ship-building activity of the United States accompanied by any reduction in the wages of the American working men. Their high wages, of which ship-builders complain, and in which everyone else rejoices, remain high. But it has been demonstrated to the satisfaction, even of foreign observers, that the highly-paid American labor is the most effective, and in the end the cheapest. Our workingmen know how to use modern tools, to make compressed air, steam, electricity do their work at every possible point, and while the United States still ranks far below England as a ship-building center, Englishmen, Germans, and Frenchmen are coming over here to learn how we build the ships that we do build. If it has not yet been demonstrated that we can build ships as cheaply as any other nation, we are so near the point of demonstration, that it may be said to be expected momentarily. With the cheapest iron in the world, we have at least succeeded in making steel, the raw material of the modern ship, cheaper than it can be made elsewhere, and that accomplished, our primacy in the matter of ship-building is a matter of the immediate future. A picturesque illustration of this change is afforded by the fact that in 1894 the plates of the "Dirigo," the first steel square-rigged vessel built in the United States, were imported from England. In 1898 we exported to England some of the plates for the "Oceanic," the largest vessel built to that time.

Even the glory, such as it may be, of building the biggest ship of the time is now well within the grasp of the United States. At this writing, indeed, the biggest ship is the "Celtic," British built, and of 20,000 tons. But the distinction is only briefly for her, for at New London, Connecticut, two ponderous iron fabrics are rising on the ways that presently shall take form as ocean steamships of 25,000 tons each, to fly the American flag, and to ply between Seattle and China. These great ships afford new illustrations of more than one point already made in this chapter. To begin with they are, of course, not constructed for any individual owner. Time was that the farmer with land sloping down to New London would put in his spare time building a staunch schooner of 200 tons, man her with his neighbors, and engage for himself in the world's carrying trade. It is rather different now. The Northern Pacific railroad directors concluded that their railroad could not be developed to its fullest earning capacity without some way of carrying to the markets of the far East the agricultural products gathered up along its line. As the tendency of the times is toward gathering all branches of a business under one control, they determined to not rely upon independent shipowners, but to build their own vessels. That meant the immediate letting of a contract for $5,000,000 worth of ship construction, and that in turn meant that there was a profit to somebody in starting an entirely new shipyard to do the work. So, suddenly, one of the sleepiest little towns in New England, Groton, opposite New London, was turned into a ship-building port. The two great Northern Pacific ships will be launched about the time this book is published, but the yard by that time will have become a permanent addition to the ship-building enterprises of the United States. So, too, all along the Atlantic coast, we find ancient shipyards where, in the very earliest colonial days, wooden vessels were built, adapting themselves to the construction of the new steel steamships.

How wonderful is the contrast between the twentieth century, steel, triple-screw, 25,000-ton, electric-lighted, 25-knot steamship, and Winthrop's little "Blessing of the Bay," or Fulton's "Clermont," or even the ships of the Collins line--floating palaces as they were called at the time! Time has made commonplace the proportions of the "Great Eastern," the marine marvel not only of her age, but of the forty years that succeeded her breaking-up as impracticable on account of size. She was 19,000 tons, 690 feet long, and built with both paddle-wheels and a screw. The "Celtic" is 700 feet long, 20,000 tons, with twin screws. The one was too big to be commercially valuable, the other has held the record for size only for a year, being already outclassed by the Northern Pacific 25,000-ton monsters. That one was a failure, the other a success, is almost wholly due to the improvements in engines, which effect economy of space both in the engine-room and in the coal bunkers. It is, by the way, rather a curious illustration of the growing luxury of life, and of ocean travel, that the first voyage of this enormous ship was made as a yacht, carrying a party of pleasure-seekers, with not a pound of cargo, through the show places of the Mediterranean.

It will be interesting to chronicle here some of the characteristics of the most modern of ocean steamships, and to show by the use of some figures, the enormous proportions to which their business has attained. For this purpose it will be necessary to use figures drawn from the records of foreign lines, and from such vessels as the "Deutschland" and the "Celtic," although the purpose of this book is to tell the story of the American merchant marine. But the figures given will be approximately correct for the great American ships now building, while there are not at present in service any American passenger ships which are fairly representative of the twentieth century liner.

The "Celtic," for example, will carry 3,294 persons, of whom 2,859 will be passengers. That is, it could furnish comfortable accommodations, heated and lighted, with ample food for all the students in Harvard University, or the University of Michigan, or Columbia University, or all in Amherst, Dartmouth, Cornell, and Williams combined. If stood on end she would almost attain the height of the Washington monument placed on the roof of the Capitol at Washington. She has nine decks, and a few years ago, if converted into a shore edifice, might fairly have been reckoned in the "skyscraper" class. Her speed, as she was built primarily for capacity is only about seventeen knots, and to attain that she burns about 260 tons of coal a day. The "Deutschland," which holds the ocean record for speed, burns nearly 600 tons of coal a day, and with it carries through the seas only 16,000 tons as against the "Celtic's" 20,000. But she is one of the modern vessels built especially to carry passengers. In her hold, huge as it is, there is room for only about 600 tons of cargo, and she seldom carries more than one-sixth of that amount. One voyage of this great ship costs about $45,000, and even at that heavy expense, she is a profit earner, so great is the volume of transatlantic travel and so ready are people to pay for speed and luxury. Her coal alone costs $5,000 a trip, and the expenses of the table, laundry, etc., equal those of the most luxurious hotel.

But will ever these great liners, these huge masses of steel, guided by electricity and sped by steam, build up anew the race of American sailors? Who shall say now? To-day they are manned by Scandinavians and officered, in the main, by the seamen of the foreign nations whose flags they float. But the American is an adaptable type. He at once attends upon changing conditions and conquers them. He turned from the sea to the railroads when that seemed to be the course of progress; he may retrace his steps now that the pendulum seems to swing the other way. And if he finds under the new regime less chance for the hardy topman, no opportunity for the shrewd trader to a hundred ports, the gates closed to the man of small capital, yet be sure he will conquer fate in some way. We have seen it in the armed branch of the seafaring profession only within a few months. When the fine old sailing frigates vanished from the seas, when the "Constitution" and the "Hartford" became as obsolete as the caravels of Columbus, when a navy officer found that electricity and steam were more serious problems in his calling than sails and rigging, and a bluejacket could be with the best in his watch without ever having learned to furl a royal, then said everybody: "The naval profession has gone to the dogs. Its romance has departed. Our ships should be manned from our boiler shops, and officered from our institutions of technology. There will be no more Decaturs, Somerses, Farraguts, Cushings." And then came on the Spanish war and the rush of the "Oregon" around Cape Horn, the cool thrust of Dewey's fleet into the locked waters of Manila Bay, the plucky fight and death of Bagley at Cardenas, the braving of death by Hobson at Santiago, and the complete destruction of Cervera's fleet by Schley showed that Americans could fight as well in steel ships as in wooden ones. Nor can we doubt that the history of the next half-century will show that the new order at sea will breed a new race of American seamen able as in the past to prove themselves masters of the deep.

CHAPTER III

AN UGLY FEATURE OF EARLY SEAFARING--THE SLAVE TRADE AND ITS PROMOTERS--PART PLAYED BY EMINENT NEW ENGLANDERS--HOW THE TRADE GREW UP--THE PIOUS AUSPICES WHICH SURROUNDED THE TRAFFIC--SLAVE-STEALING AND SABBATH-BREAKING--CONDITIONS OF THE TRADE--SIZE OF THE VESSELS--HOW THE CAPTIVES WERE TREATED--MUTINIES, MAN-STEALING, AND MURDER--THE REVELATIONS OF THE ABOLITION SOCIETY--EFFORTS TO BREAK UP THE TRADE--AN AWFUL RETRIBUTION--ENGLAND LEADS THE WAY--DIFFICULTY OF ENFORCING THE LAW--AMERICA'S SHAME--THE END OF THE EVIL--THE LAST SLAVER.

At the foot of Narragansett Bay, with the surges of the open ocean breaking fiercely on its eastward side, and a sheltered harbor crowded with trim pleasure craft, leading up to its rotting wharves, lies the old colonial town of Newport. A holiday place it is to-day, a spot of splendor and of wealth almost without parallel in the world. From the rugged cliffs on its seaward side great granite palaces stare, many-windowed, over the Atlantic, and velvet lawns slope down to the rocks. These are the homes of the people who, in the last fifty years, have brought new life and new riches to Newport. But down in the old town you will occasionally come across a fine old colonial mansion, still retaining some signs of its former grandeur, while scattered about the island to the north are stately old farmhouses and homesteads that show clearly enough the existence in that quiet spot of wealth and comfort for these one hundred and fifty years.

Looking upon Newport to-day, and finding it all so fair, it seems hard to believe that the foundation of all its wealth and prosperity rested upon the most cruel, the most execrable, the most inhuman traffic that ever was plied by degraded men--the traffic in slaves. Yet in the old days the trade was far from being held either cruel inhuman--indeed, vessels often set sail for the Bight of Benin to swap rum for slaves, after their owners had invoked the blessing of God upon their enterprise. Nor were its promoters held by the community to be degraded. Indeed, some of the most eminent men in the community engaged in it, and its receipts were so considerable that as early as 1729 one-half of the impost levied on slaves imported into the colony was appropriated to pave the streets of the town and build its bridges--however, we are not informed that the streets were very well paved.

It was not at Newport, however, nor even in New England that the importation of slaves first began, though for reasons which I will presently show, the bulk of the traffic in them fell ultimately to New Englanders. The first African slaves in America were landed by a Dutch vessel at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619. The last kidnapped Africans were brought here probably some time in the latter part of 1860--for though the traffic was prohibited in 1807, the rigorous blockade of the ports of the Confederacy during the Civil War was necessary to bring it actually to an end. The amount of human misery which that frightful traffic entailed during those 240 years almost baffles the imagination. The bloody Civil War which had, perhaps, its earliest cause in the landing of those twenty blacks at Jamestown, was scarcely more than a fitting penalty, and there was justice in the fact that it fell on North and South alike, for if the South clung longest to slavery, it was the North--even abolition New England--which had most to do with establishing it on this continent.

However, it is not with slavery, but with the slave trade we have to do. Circumstances largely forced upon the New England colonies their unsavory preƫminence in this sort of commerce. To begin with, their people were as we have already seen, distinctively the seafaring folk of North America. Again, one of their earliest methods of earning a livelihood was in the fisheries, and that curiously enough, led directly to the trade in slaves. To sell the great quantities of fish they dragged up from the Banks or nearer home, foreign markets must needs be found. England and the European countries took but little of this sort of provender, and moreover England, France, Holland, and Portugal had their own fishing fleets on the Banks. The main markets for the New Englanders then were the West India Islands, the Canaries, and Madeira. There the people were accustomed to a fish diet and, indeed, were encouraged in it by the frequent fastdays of the Roman Catholic church, of which most were devout members. A voyage to the Canaries with fish was commonly prolonged to the west coast of Africa, where slaves were bought with rum. Thence the vessel would proceed to the West Indies where the slaves would be sold, a large part of the purchase price being taken in molasses, which, in its turn, was distilled into rum at home, to be used for buying more slaves--for in this traffic little of actual worth was paid for the hapless captives. Fiery rum, usually adulterated and more than ever poisonous, was all the African chiefs received for their droves of human cattle. For it they sold wives and children, made bloody war and sold their captives, kidnapped and sold their human booty.



Nothing in the history of our people shows so strikingly the progress of man toward higher ideals, toward a clearer sense of the duties of humanity and the rightful relation of the strong toward the weak, than the changed sentiment concerning the slave trade. In its most humane form the thought of that traffic to-day fills us with horror. The stories of its worst phases seem almost incredible, and we wonder that men of American blood could have been such utter brutes. But two centuries ago the foremost men of New England engaged in the trade or profited by its fruits. Peter Fanueil, who-built for Boston that historic hall which we call the Cradle of Liberty, and which in later years resounded with the anti-slavery eloquence of Garrison and Phillips, was a slave owner and an actual participant in the trade. The most "respectable" merchants of Providence and Newport were active slavers--just as some of the most respectable merchants and manufacturers of to-day make merchandise of white men, women, and children, whose slavery is none the less slavery because they are driven by the fear of starvation instead of the overseer's lash. Perhaps two hundred years from now our descendants will see the criminality of our industrial system to-day, as clearly as we see the wrong in that of our forefathers. The utmost piety was observed in setting out a slave-buying expedition. The commissions were issued "by the Grace of God," divine guidance was implored for the captain who was to swap fiery rum for stolen children, and prayers were not infrequently offered for long delayed or missing slavers. George Dowing, a Massachusetts clergyman, wrote of slavery in Barbadoes: "I believe they have bought this year no less than a thousand negroes, and the more they buie, the better able they are to buie, for in a year and a half they will earne with God's blessing, as much as they cost." Most of the slaves brought from the coast of Guinea in New England vessels were deported again--sent to the southern States or to the West Indies for a market. The climate and the industrial conditions of New England were alike unfavorable to the growth there of slavery, and its ports served chiefly as clearing-houses for the trade. Yet there was not even among the most enlightened and leading people of the colony any moral sentiment against slavery, and from Boston to New York slaves were held in small numbers and their prices quoted in the shipping lists and newspapers like any other merchandise. Curiously enough, the first African slaves brought to Boston were sent home again and their captors prosecuted--not wholly for stealing men, but for breaking the Sabbath. It happened in this way: A Boston ship, the "Rainbow," in 1645, making the usual voyage to Madeira with staves and salt fish, touched on the coast of Guinea for a few slaves. Her captain found the English slavers on the ground already, mightily discontented, for the trade was dull. It was still the time when there was a pretense of legality about the method of procuring the slaves; they were supposed to be malefactors convicted of crime, or at the very least, prisoners taken by some native king in war. In later years the native kings, animated by an ever-growing thirst for the white man's rum, declared war in order to secure captives, and employed decoys to lure young men into the commission of crime. These devices for keeping the man-market fully supplied had not at this time been invented, and the captains of the slavers, lying off a dangerous coast in the boiling heat of a tropical country, grew restive at the long delay. Perhaps some of the rum they had brought to trade for slaves inflamed their own blood. At any rate, dragging ashore a small cannon called significantly enough a "murderer," they attacked a village, killed many of its people, and brought off a number of blacks, two of whom fell to the lot of the captain of the "Rainbow," and were by him taken to Boston. He found no profit, however, in his piratical venture, for the story coming out, he was accused in court of "murder, man-stealing, and Sabbath-breaking," and his slaves were sent home. It was wholly as merchandise that the blacks were regarded. It is impossible to believe that the brutalities of the traffic could have been tolerated so long had the idea of the essential humanity of the Africa been grasped by those who dealt in them. Instead, they were looked upon as a superior sort of cattle, but on the long voyage across the Atlantic were treated as no cattle are treated to-day in the worst "ocean tramps" in the trade. The vessels were small, many of them half the size of the lighters that ply sluggishly up and down New York harbor. Sloops, schooners, brigantines, and scows of 40 or 50 tons burden, carrying crews of nine men including the captain and mates, were the customary craft in the early days of the eighteenth century.

In his work on "The American Slave-Trade," Mr. John R. Spears gives the dimensions of some of these puny vessels which were so heavily freighted with human woe. The first American slaver of which we have record was the "Desire," of Marblehead, 120 tons. Later vessels, however, were much smaller. The sloop, "Welcome," had a capacity of 5000 gallons of molasses. The "Fame" was 79 feet long on the keel--about a large yacht's length. In 1847, some of the captured slavers had dimensions like these: The "Felicidade" 67 tons; the "Maria" 30 tons; the "Rio Bango" 10 tons. When the trade was legal and regulated by law, the "Maria" would have been permitted to carry 45 slaves--or one and one-half to each ton register. In 1847, the trade being outlawed, no regulations were observed, and this wretched little craft imprisoned 237 negroes. But even this 10-ton slaver was not the limit. Mr. Spears finds that open rowboats, no more than 24 feet long by 7 wide, landed as many as 35 children in Brazil out of say 50 with which the voyage began. But the size of the vessels made little difference in the comfort of the slaves. Greed packed the great ones equally with the small. The blacks, stowed in rows between decks, the roof barely 3 feet 10 inches above the floor on which they lay side by side, sometimes in "spoon-fashion" with from 10 to 16 inches surface-room for each, endured months of imprisonment. Often they were so packed that the head of one slave would be between the thighs of another, and in this condition they would pass the long weeks which the Atlantic passage under sail consumed. This, too, when the legality of the slave trade was recognized, and nothing but the dictates of greed led to overcrowding. Time came when the trade was put under the ban of law and made akin to piracy. Then the need for fast vessels restricted hold room and the methods of the trade attained a degree of barbarity that can not be paralleled since the days of Nero.

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