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    Re: More on Thomas Hubbard Sumner
    From: Trevor Kenchington
    Date: 2005 Feb 9, 23:31 -0400

    It really doesn't help to throw out gratuitous insults by implying that
    your correspondents are ignorant of the basic literature on topics under
    debate. Of course I am familiar with Dana's "Two Years Before the Mast",
    as you would have seen confirmed if you had bothered to read the rest of
    the messages on this thread before firing off a reply.
    Nor is it helpful to try changing the subject by pointing out the rather
    obvious truism that it was no disgrace for an American sailor to serve
    before the mast. The closest that the point at issue comes to that
    observation would be whether or not it was any disgrace for an
    American Harvard-educated mathematician to serve before the mast -- and
    even that isn't very close to the point.
    Finally, I suggest that you put a little more study into historical
    topics before sharing your conclusions with the wider world. Certainly,
    there was a period when American crews were regarded as disciplined and
    professional. It may have extended to as late as Sumner's time. It did
    not, however, last into the mid-19th century, when the archetypal
    American crew was a gang of "Packet Rats" or else the sweepings of
    waterfront taverns who manned the Yankee clippers and were driven to
    their work by the Mate's fists (and sometimes the Captain's pistols) --
    and who were so very unlike the elite men of the British tea clippers
    (to take an extreme example). You were right on at least one point
    though: It was to a considerable extent the social mobility in America
    which prevented ship owners from drawing on such crews as were available
    across the pond. Once the United States began to expand to the westward,
    there were just too many better opportunities ashore, of a kind denied
    to British seamen.
    Your characterization of the American shipping industry seems applicable
    to the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but not remotely to the
    entire 19th century as your message suggested.
    None of which goes anywhere towards explaining why an educated
    mathematician and astronomer, with the smarts to understand what was
    under his nose, was navigating a ship off the Smalls on the morning of
    17 December 1837. And that is the real question at hand.
    Trevor Kenchington
    Frank Reed wrote:
    > Trevor wrote:
    > "Granted that Harvard College in 1826 had not yet earned a reputation to
    > rival the older English universities, while Sumner studied there at an
    > age closer to modern high school than university. Still, it is all a bit
    > odd."
    > Even today, I meet Europeans who are amazed that Americans in this
    > century can change jobs, career paths, etc. so easily without regard to
    > established patterns and educational prerequisites (and not just
    > Europeans with respect to Americans, of course, but I'm speaking from my
    > own experience specifically here). In the 19th century sailing "before
    > the mast" was no disgrace for an American sailor. Furthermore, many
    > common sailors were given a real financial stake in their voyages. For
    > example, on Bowditch's voyages to the Indies, each crewman was allowed
    > to trade separately on his own account and bring back a small cargo of
    > his own to sell. American crews were regarded as disciplined and
    > professional by many European commentators of that era in part because
    > of this egalitarian atmosphere. And yes, a common sailor could advance,
    > buy his own vessel, and hire his own crew. In the 19th century, a large
    > fraction of US ocean-going vessels were owned by "small businesses", as
    > we would call them today. A captain and a couple of investors could send
    > a sailing ship around the world and come back a few years later richer
    > than gods.
    > I, also, would recommend reading Dana's "Two Years Before the Mast".
    > It's available online (see the Links section on my web site). It's a
    > great story, and it will give you a Harvard man's view of life at sea at
    > mid-century. And finally, don't forget Herman Melville.
    > -FER
    > 42.0N 87.7W, or 41.4N 72.1W.
    > www.HistoricalAtlas.com/lunars
    Trevor J. Kenchington PhD                         Gadus@iStar.ca
    Gadus Associates,                                 Office(902) 889-9250
    R.R.#1, Musquodoboit Harbour,                     Fax   (902) 889-9251
    Nova Scotia  B0J 2L0, CANADA                      Home  (902) 889-3555
                         Science Serving the Fisheries

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