Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Like the Devil from Holy Water

As long as we are on the subject of shanghaiing, there is so much material on that subject that wouldn't fit in my book I will be serving up little dollops from time to time. I am, however,  preparing a fairly exhaustive look at the situation in Astoria and Portland from the mid 1870s up to Oregon's institution of prohibition against alcohol in 1915. It is an odd obsession, this shanghaiing history thing, and one I would have never actually chosen for myself. But there is so little factual information, and such a growing tide of horse feathers and balderdash being spewed forth on the subject, I feel obligated to say a few words from time to time.

At the bottom of this page is the text of a paid advertisement that Mr. Turk placed in the Oregonian to refute an article published in the previous day's Daily Standard. It is interesting to me in several ways, but the first and foremost is that it suggests rather strongly that in late 1880 Turk's "Sailor's Home," listed in the City Directory as being on C Street between Front and First, was the only sailor's boardinghouse in the city. 

Turk would have been hard to compete with. Not only was he a big, ugly bruiser, but he was quite wealthy, having received a large inheritance a few years earlier. Competition would arrive, but at this date he was still a monopoly.

It is evident the Henry Stamford was a seaman from the schooner, Cutwater, who upon arrival in Portland brought charges of cruel and violent treatment against the first mate of that vessel, a man named Nichols. 

There was a time when sailors cringed beneath the lash of ship's officers, but by the mid 1800s this sort of treatment was punishable by U.S. and British maritime laws. In many ports this gave rise to shyster lawyers who frequented the waterfront dives and dens looking for likely candidates. Vessels could be "liabled," a term that is common in old Portland newspapers. It is a term from maritime law that means the vessel is prohibited from sailing until certain legal obligations are met. A sailor bringing charges against a ship's officer, or a sailor's boardinghouse master bringing charges against the ship for money owed for obtaining crew members were two common reasons for a vessel being liabled. These sorts of cases were constantly before the court in days of yore.

Is appears that either Henry Stamford disappeared, or claimed he was nearly shanghaied by Turk to keep him from testifying against Nichols. I was unable to dig up anything else on this story, but I am with Turk on this one. It is unlikely that Turk would try to shanghai anyone when there were no vessels set to sail.  The story of liabling ships in Portland is a vastly interesting one that would make a fine project for some enterprising young historian to use as a master's thesis. Here is what Mr. Turk had to say:

Location of Turk's "Sailor's Home"

Portland, Or. Sept. 2. 1880

The 'Daily Standard' of yesterday, in an article entitled "Shanghaiing a Sailor," makes so uncalled for and false a charge against myself that I feel it but just and right to set myself right before the public. It is true that I was arrested on the charge of trying to shanghai Henry Stamford, the prosecuting witness against R. Nichols, first mate of the Cutwater but that is the whole matter as I can easily prove my entire innocence. The Standard reporter must be very ignorant of the term shanghai, as in the first place there is no vessel in port which is about to sail, so it would be an impossibility to shanghai any one. Again, Stamford has only on one occasion been in my house, and then but for a short time when the house was full of men. It appears to me that I must be a most notorious character, as the Standard never omit a chance to fling mud and decry me on every occasion--It may be because I keep the only sailor's boarding house in town; but in all justice I appeal from the Standard's condemning me before I am found guilty. What that paper lacks in enterprise it seeks to make up in defamation of personal character. I have never spoken to Mr. Nichols in my life except on one occasion, when the only conversation was a simple "Good morning." Another thing which proves the charge false is, that should I ever so far forget all principles of honor as to "shanghai" men. my business would soon be ruined, as it is well known that seamen flight as shy of a professional crimp as the devil does of holy water. Trusting you will grant me space for this vindication, I remain yours respectfully.
James Turk