With Sails Whitening Every Sea

With Sails Whitening Every Sea: Mariners and the Making of an American Maritime Empire

Brian Rouleau
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt1287cd0
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    With Sails Whitening Every Sea
    Book Description:

    Many Americans in the Early Republic era saw the seas as another field for national aggrandizement. With a merchant marine that competed against Britain for commercial supremacy and a whaling fleet that circled the globe, the United States sought a maritime empire to complement its territorial ambitions in North America. InWith Sails Whitening Every Sea, Brian Rouleau argues that because of their ubiquity in foreign ports, American sailors were the principal agents of overseas foreign relations in the early republic. Their everyday encounters and more problematic interactions-barroom brawling, sexual escapades in port-city bordellos, and the performance of blackface minstrel shows-shaped how the United States was perceived overseas.

    Rouleau details both the mariners' "working-class diplomacy" and the anxieties such interactions inspired among federal authorities and missionary communities, who saw the behavior of American sailors as mere debauchery. Indiscriminate violence and licentious conduct, they feared, threatened both mercantile profit margins and the nation's reputation overseas. As Rouleau chronicles, the world's oceans and seaport spaces soon became a battleground over the terms by which American citizens would introduce themselves to the world. But by the end of the Civil War, seamen were no longer the nation's principal ambassadors. Hordes of wealthy tourists had replaced seafarers, and those privileged travelers moved through a world characterized by consolidated state and corporate authority. Expanding nineteenth-century America's master narrative beyond the water's edge,With Sails Whitening Every Seareveals the maritime networks that bound the Early Republic to the wider world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5508-7
    Subjects: History, Transportation Studies, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. viii-xi)
  4. [Illustrations]
    (pp. xii-xvi)
  5. Introduction: “Born to Rule the Seas”
    (pp. 1-15)

    Alexis de Tocqueville gazed east toward the ocean when he prophesied American power. Witness to the bustle of the nation’s waterfronts—their clamorous shipyards, thriving exchange houses, and legions of sailors—this most famous tourist declared that the United States “will one day become the first maritime power of the globe [because] they are born to rule the seas as the Romans were to conquer the world.” A veritable chorus of the young republic’s citizens arose to accompany him. Toasts printed and reprinted throughout the Union celebrated the aqueous ambitions of Americans, “who may soon command the ocean, both oceans,...

  6. Chapter 1 Schoolhouses Afloat
    (pp. 16-42)

    Mark Twain, remembering a Missouri boyhood distant from the ocean, in fact “incalculably far from any place,” nevertheless spoke of American nautical daring as “in everybody’s mouth.” Recalling reports about the exploring expedition to the Pacific Ocean of U.S. naval officer Charles Wilkes, the famed author commented on “the noise it made, and how wonderful the glory!” People throughout his town were abuzz with new discoveries of lands and peoples that had previously “existed rather as shadows and rumors than as realities.” Talk of the Wilkes mission thus joined a host of newspaper reports, editorial pieces, museum displays, panoramic spectacles,...

  7. Chapter 2 Jim Crow Girdles the Globe
    (pp. 43-73)

    The shipLagoda, while anchored at Honolulu, hired several Hawaiian crewmen who were renamed to reference popular African American caricatures such as “Jim Cuff,” “Jim Crow,” and “Uncle Tom.” David Kanaka later became “Sambo” to his shipmates. Frederick Schley, ashore at Guayaquil, Ecuador, spoke of the “naked, dirty negroes” who wandered the streets there as men who all “showed the Sambo.” William Abbe’s whaleship halted at the Cape Verde Islands for provisions in 1858, where he found a beach “lined with darkees … flinging out their arms and gesturing in the most excited manner in the true negro fashion.” Simeon...

  8. Chapter 3 Maritime Destiny as Manifest Destiny
    (pp. 74-101)

    So begins a much longer poem extolling the virtues of young American manhood during the 1850s. Here, a courageous spirit of enterprise helps light the world’s darkest and most remote spaces; here, sailors help pioneer an expansive global frontier. Yet what makes this ode so intriguing is its claim thatboth“the forest and the sea” comprised the country’s wilderness. This early nineteenth-century insistence on the basic equivalence of woods and water as coextensive fields for American ambition, a claim common to the era, has not trickled down into twenty-first-century historical accounts. Instead, westward territorial growth receives a disproportionate share...

  9. Chapter 4 A Maritime Empire of Moral Depravity
    (pp. 102-133)

    In November of 1852, they descended upon Honolulu in droves. “Vengeance!” was their cry. American sailors, enraged after one of their number had been killed by an overzealous prison guard’s club, swarmed the city to punish those deemed responsible. The targets of the nearly 4,000 rioters, as one of many witnesses described it, were symbols of religious authority and a repressive government: “Last night the crews of the ships went ashore and raised a great disturbance … knock[ing] down the fort to get the man that killed the sailor,” not to mention “pull[ing] down the station house to set it...

  10. Chapter 5 An Intimate History of Early America's Maritime Empire
    (pp. 134-163)

    Any fixation on fisticuffs alone would, of course, lend the impression that the oceanic frontier was strictly a battleground. But like all frontiers, it was characterized by many varieties of interaction. The nation’s waterborne workers most often simply mingled among peoples whom they occasionally mangled. The resulting intimacies, especially between sailors and women abroad, meant that early American foreign relations were often indistinguishable from sexual relations. Men who worked in the maritime community often pursued the latter and thus constructed the former. And nowhere is the relationship between those two subjects—the intimate and the diplomatic—more apparent than in...

  11. Chapter 6 Making Do at the Margins of Maritime Empire
    (pp. 164-194)

    “Sam dont never get it in your head to come to sea as long as you can get your bread on shore.” Walter Brooks offered this piece of advice to his brother Samson in 1850, halfway through a voyage into the Pacific. Writing to his family in Rochester, New York, from locations around the globe, Brooks titillated relations at home with stories of adventure abroad, all the while insisting that no one should repeat the mistake he made in shipping out. “I think if I was in america again I cood go to work and be contented,” the mariner continued,...

  12. Epilogue: Out of the Sailor's Den, into the Tourist Trap
    (pp. 195-208)

    In his boyhood, as we have seen, Mark Twain witnessed the height of American maritime expansion. He wrote of national nautical daring and the spectacular achievements of the United States Exploring Expedition as “in everybody’s mouths.” Its commander, Charles Wilkes, seemed “a marvel” to him and his fellow Missourians, “for he had gone wandering about the globe in his ships and had looked with his own eyes upon its furthest corners.” What Twain called the world’s “dreamlands”—those “names and places which existed rather as shadows and rumors than as realities”—had been made tangible by sailors and seafaring. The...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 209-256)
  14. Index
    (pp. 257-268)