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‘Old Dick’
The Boarding of the Loch Err and the Political Sanctity of Sailor Enslavement in Post-Plantation America
Based on a reading of The Barbary Coast by Herbert Asbury, pages 188-222
The ships that discovered America were crewed with criminals released from prison as a way to relieve overcrowding in old medieval facilities and staff shops at no cost other than the miserable, moldy food dished out to the doomed denizens of the crew. Only the ships boys were explicitly named as slaves. The sailors, once beaten up in an alley or bar or dragged from their home or the bed they occupied in an inn, were theoretically due wages. This was necessary for morale—the fiction of payment, of eventual reward.
Therefore captaining a ship became an exercise in non-payment. If one captained a British Man of War, 60 to 80% of the crew were such wretches, dragged aboard by the big, burly mates and marines, the “pressmen,” who pressed a smaller man into service. This, as in the coal mining towns of late 19th Century Pennsylvania and West Virginia, the men who acted as the bullies, police, and in San Francisco “runners” who were charged with abducting sailors for sail to ship’s captains, were a species unto themselves. The sailor was typically “a little wharf rat,” orphaned, malnourished from birth, smaller than average and doomed to dearth and oblivion. The mate, marine, bully, pressman or runner, tended to be burly giants of masculine expression—literal Conanesque characters of great brutality, who, likewise, worked as bouncers in boarding houses that specialized in holding potential sailors prisoner, until they were beaten senseless, and or drugged, and dumped on deck like so much cargo. The state of such unwilling denizens of the seagoing ship of sail may best be judged by the fact that the “crimp” or boarding-house master [sometimes a brutal woman] in San Francisco rewarded runners who would sell a dead body or a dummy stuffed with rags and live rats to a captain, thus being paid to murder a man and also selling the corpse as [drugged] a sailor.
In Post-Plantation America, it was, as it had been before, necessary in this Land of the Lie, that the fiction of free will and renumeration be assigned to the unwilling laborer and ship-incarcerated hostage, who died at 8% per year from sailing mishaps, malnutrition and disease and who would be sailing around the world for 1 to 4 years. This crew had already been sold to the captain, and the captain, with his very small number of mates—usually only 3 men, must reign as a terrible tyrant over some thirty men, men he had beaten regularly, men who had been beaten by brutal stepmothers as a child and had been beaten by bullies and pressmen and crimps on his way to this grim destination. But one real man had to emerge from this rabble to lead a mutiny, so, in all likelihood, that barbaric soul would be bought off by the captain and set upon his lesser fellows. In line with this reality—the big grisly stick—was the sweet carrot of payment upon release. Running a merchant ship was like operating an understaffed private prison largely via the promise of payment upon release. In the military setting, the marines and mates would simply ship off the poor bastards under threat of death and strand them in an alley to starve and die. But the private captain putting into port, found that his pre-existing relationship with the crimps could save him from making good on his promise of payment, by permitting the piratical boarding of his ship by the most savage crew of characters, any of whom might have been one of his one, two or three mates.
These big, burly, athletic men, often former sailors and former and active prize-fighters, would board a ship in loose association from the same boats and compete to cajole or drag off sailors. If the captain or mates tried to prevent this they were attacked and overwhelmed, facing 10-1 odds against their own grade of willful, armed and fit men. The runner was armed first with bottles of drugged liquor to ply the unfortunate sailor with booze. He was then armed with nude pictures of the beauties this sailor would never be permitted to touch with promises that he would. He was then armed with three or more of the following:
A club, a sap or blackjack or slung shot
A big knife
Brass knuckles or even a cargo hook, as one ruffian who had his hand removed by a bowie knife wielding policeman had placed on his stump to drag off sailors
A pistol
Some of these psychopaths were armed with all of the above.
It is of interest to the modern reader that the least harried and best treated kind of person in San Francisco, from 1850 through 1906 when the fires levelled this rats den of a city, was the Negro, particularly the Negro sailor, who had entire establishments built to cater to his tastes and who was invariably referred to as Mister Pete, for reasons unknown.
The most desirable slave sailor was the British sailor, because he had been brutalized to the highest degree by the most savage military institution in human history, held in bondage, according to one Winston Churchill by “rum, buggery and the lash.”
In 1861 the San Francisco Times printed:
“…the crew of a newly arrived foreign vessel have actually been driven like slaves over the ship’s side…”
What follows are excerpts from the account of a passenger by the name of Charles Ridgeway, who wrote the following in his book, Through the Golden Gate, concerning his experiences in September 1870:
A number of small boats were grappling alongside and being towed by the ship, even as the captain had warned them off. In this case the captain tried to defend his men and was thoroughly overwhelmed by the pirates. All the sailors but one “Old Dick,” a man who had been a slave of the sea for fifty years and, at 70, was by any definition a senior citizen, had been taken. Then, two of these professional man-hunters, best described as discharged NFL players armed as bounty hunters and sent out to abduct lesser men, to the point of fighting over them, including each biting an ear until the wretch held between two insistent sets of teeth, choose who his escort to damnation would be, set their unsavory sights on Old Dick.
When the British captain commanded the pirates to stop abducting his men one claimed that he was now in “God’s own free land,” honoring the sentiment of the Founding Fathers who defined liberty as the latitude to dispose of human property without government interference, and cowed the captain. So now it was just Old Dick and the adventuresome passenger coming to his aid:
“After partaking of breakfast I was about to leave, when I saw two men drag Old Dick towards the companion ladder. I attempted to stop them, but received curses and several blows on my face. I returned the insult, and letting go of old Dick we engaged in close contest, during which I knocked him down. Meanwhile, Dick was not idle, but fought with his man in order to free himself. I was about to spring to his assistance, but on account of the hatch which was close behind him, the impetus of trying to free himself caused him to reel backwards, and before I could grasp him, poor Dick fell headlong down, striking his head against the keel of the ship. I called for assistance, and after securing the two men, we descended and found poor Dick quite dead, his head and body being frightfully mangled…”
A man of Honor, Charles Ridgeway, went into that savage city and into court to witness against the killers, who, “being well-represented by counsel, got off with a slight sentence of six months hard labor.”
Good for Old Dick and for Charles Ridgeway, two Englishmen who fought against the American ideal of God and freedom with their bare hands, and lost, in the land of the wee and the home of the knave.
The picture is clearly one of class warfare, wherein the criminals and political elite ally against the working man, using the most violent specimens of his kind, the “bully” to apply the necessary physical force for monetary gain. There is very little different from the picture above and the modern American city where the working man such as myself is harried to and from work and besieged in his small house by dozens of police and hundreds of thugs, to the point where he can no longer defend his ongoing house purchase and most sell it short or leave it to the bank as he evacuates his dependents from the hellscape sold to him as his place of opportunity.
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LittlebookJuly 10, 2020 12:52 PM UTC

King James Bible

And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death.