Working on the Dock of the Bay
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An examination of the role and struggles of enslaved dockworkers shortly after the emancipation

Working on the Dock of the Bay explores the history of waterfront labor and laborers—black and white, enslaved and free, native and immigrant—in Charleston, South Carolina, between the American Revolution and Civil War. Michael D. Thompson explains how a predominantly enslaved workforce laid the groundwork for the creation of a robust and effectual association of dockworkers, most of whom were black, shortly after emancipation. In revealing these wharf laborers' experiences, Thompson's book contextualizes the struggles of contemporary southern working people.

Like their postbellum and present-day counterparts, stevedores and draymen laboring on the wharves and levees of antebellum cities—whether in Charleston or New Orleans, New York or Boston, or elsewhere in the Atlantic World—were indispensable to the flow of commodities into and out of these ports. Despite their large numbers and the key role that waterfront workers played in these cities' premechanized, labor-intensive commercial economies, too little is known about who these laborers were and the work they performed.

Though scholars have explored the history of dockworkers in ports throughout the world, they have given little attention to waterfront laborers and dock work in the pre-Civil War American South or in any slave society. Aiming to remedy that deficiency, Thompson examines the complicated dynamics of race, class, and labor relations through the street-level experiences and perspectives of workingmen and sometimes workingwomen. Using this workers'-eye view of crucial events and developments, Working on the Dock of the Bay relocates waterfront workers and their activities from the margins of the past to the center of a new narrative, reframing their role from observers to critical actors in nineteenth-century American history. Organized topically, this study is rooted in primary source evidence including census, tax, court, and death records; city directories and ordinances; state statutes; wills; account books; newspapers; diaries; letters; and medical journals.



Publié par
Date de parution 15 avril 2015
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781611174755
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 2 Mo

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,1600€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


Working on the Dock of the Bay
Working on the Dock of the Bay
Labor and Enterprise in an Antebellum Southern Port
© 2015 University of South Carolina
Cloth and ebook editions published by the University of South Carolina Press, 2015 Paperback edition published in Columbia, South Carolina, by the University of South Carolina Press, 2018
27 26 25 24 23 22 21 20 19 18 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
The Library of Congress has cataloged the cloth and ebook editions as follows:
Thompson, Michael D.
Working on the dock of the bay : labor and enterprise in an antebellum Southern port / Michael D. Thompson.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-61117-474-8 (hardcover : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-1-61117-475-5 (ebook) 1. Stevedores—South Carolina—Charleston—History—19th century. 2. African American stevedores—South Carolina—Charleston--History—19th century. 3. Labor—South Carolina—Charleston—History—19th century. 4. Charleston (S.C.)—Race relations—History—19th century. 5. Charleston (S.C.)—Economic conditions—19th century. 6. Charleston (S.C.)—Social conditions—19th century. I. Title.
HD8039.L82U695 2015
ISBN 978-1-61117-857-9 (paperback)
Cover illustration: Henry Alexander Ogden (after his original), South Carolina—Our Great National Industry—Shipping Cotton from Charleston to Foreign and Domestic Ports—A Scene on North Commercial Wharf . From Frank Leslie’s Illustrated , November 16, 1878. Courtesy of Deborah C. Pollack.
For my wife, Melissa, my children, Ben and Lily, and my mentor, Jim
List of Illustrations
One . “Using violent exercise in warm weather”: The Waterfront Labor Experience and Environment
Two . “This very troublesome business”: Actions, Reactions, and the Pursuit of Mastery
Three . “Improper assemblies & conspiracies”: The Advantageous Enticements of Wharf Labor
Four . “Laborers from abroad have come to take their places”: The Racial and Ethnic Transformation of the Waterfront Workforce
Five . “The unacclimated stranger should be positively prohibited”: Comparative Disease Susceptibility and Waterfront Labor Competition
Following page 93
1. “A Plan of the Town & Harbour of Charles Town,” 1711
2. “Ichnography of Charleston, South Carolina,” 1788
3. Plat of Crafts’s, Motte’s, and Greenwood’s Wharves, 1793
4. Drayman in Charleston, circa 1812
5. Plat of Kunhardt’s Wharf, 1824
6. “City of Charleston, South Carolina, Looking Across Cooper’s River,” circa 1838
7. Map of Charleston, 1849
8. “Panorama of Charleston,” 1851
9. “At the Charleston Hotel,” 1853
10. Drayman near St. Michael’s Church, 1853
11. Wharf Hands in Charleston, 1853
12. Wharf Hand Marking a Cotton Bale, 1853
13. Map of Charleston, 1855
14. Draymen at the Corner of East Bay and Broad Streets, 1857
15. Walker, Evans & Co. Advertisement, circa 1860
16. Cotton Drayman on Union Wharf
17. Waterfront Workers on South Carolina Currency
18. Charleston Harbor, 1861
19. “Charleston, S.C. and Its Vicinity,” 1862
20. Civil War Damage on Vendue Range, 1865
21. “Bird’s Eye View of the City of Charleston,” 1872
22. “Scene on a New York Dock,” 1877
23. “Loading Cotton at Charleston, South Carolina,” 1878
24. “A Scene on North Commercial Wharf,” 1878
25. “Weighing an Invoice of Cotton,” 1878
Like any long-term project, this book benefitted from the support and assistance of many selfless individuals. My most profound thanks goes first and foremost to my mentor, Jim Roark, who generously and patiently has guided my professional and scholarly development over the past decade. I similarly owe a debt of gratitude to David Gleeson for taking an early interest in my work and for offering regular encouragement ever since. I am grateful as well to my editor, Alex Moore, for fielding the countless questions of a first-time author and for offering thoughtful and always constructive feedback. The writing and revising of this book also was facilitated by much appreciated comments and suggestions from Jonathan Prude, David Eltis, Bernard Powers, Jeffrey Bolster, Dylan Penningroth, James Schmidt, Leon Fink, Brian Luskey, Wendy Woloson, Glenn Gordinier, Kerry Taylor, Graeme Milne, and the anonymous peer reviewers for the University of South Carolina Press and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Meanwhile it was my privilege to encounter many of the nation’s most outstanding and professional archivists and librarians while conducting the research for this book. I especially would like to thank Allen Stokes, Henry Fulmer, Robin Copp, Graham Duncan, Brian Cuthrell, Charles Lesser, Faye Jensen, Mary Jo Fairchild, Mike Coker, Jane Aldrich, Nic Butler, Harlan Greene, Eric Emerson, Carol Jones, Janice Knight, Laura Clark Brown, and Amy McDonald. Both the research and writing of this book received generous financial support from Emory University’s Department of History and Laney Graduate School; the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; the South Caroliniana Library and the Institute for Southern Studies at the University of South Carolina; the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture and the Program in the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World (CLAW) at the College of Charleston; the Munson Institute of American Maritime Studies at Mystic Seaport; the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and the John Hope Franklin Collection for African and African American Documentation at Duke University.
Finally, I am appreciative and thankful for the abounding friendship of former graduate school classmates as well as many colleagues at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, particularly Zeb Baker, Aaron Althouse, James Guilfoyle, and Will Kuby. But without the unwavering love and support of my family—my wife, Melissa; my son, Benjamin; my daughter, Lily; my father, Howard; my mother, Rochelle; and my brother, Matt—the completion of this book would not have been possible. Thank you, and I love you.
On October 28, 1869, hundreds of dockworkers gathered for an emergency meeting along Charleston’s commercial waterfront. George B. Stoddard, a forty-seven-year-old Massachusetts-born stevedore who had settled in the city during the 1850s by way of Mobile, had been fired while loading the ship A. B. Wyman . A skilled and experienced cotton stower, Stoddard was dismissed not for professional deficiencies but because he was a white Republican and a member of the port’s mostly black Longshoremen’s Protective Union Association. Notwithstanding the mounds of cotton bales blanketing the wharves and awaiting shipment, Charleston’s exporters refused to any longer engage those vessels employing Stoddard. Either the ship or the stevedore had to go. In the wake of Stoddard’s discharge, fellow union members immediately initiated a strike and then assembled to discuss further actions. Convinced that this conflict was “but the first move of a determined effort to crush out the longshoremen who have demanded and received higher wages” in recent years, the attendees agreed to prolong the work stoppage “until the shippers withdraw all discrimination against longshoremen on account of their political sentiments, whether such members be Republicans or Democrats.” Utterly dependent upon these dockworkers’ vital labor and confronted with united resolve, the exporters quickly capitulated and the longshoremen—including George B. Stoddard—returned to work by November 2. 1
This episode is remarkable not least because G. B. Stoddard just years prior had led Charleston’s white master stevedores in public remonstrations against enslaved black competitors, many of whom as freedmen risked their livelihoods in 1869 to aid their former rival and to save their now common labor union. But most extraordinary is the very existence of this robust association of class-conscious wharf laborers. Waterfront unions, such as that of New Orleans’s highly skilled white cotton screwmen, founded in 1850, were rare in antebellum southern ports. Certainly no formal organization of dockworkers—white or black, free or enslaved, native or immigrant, skilled or unskilled—existed in Charleston before the Civil War. And yet, less than two years after the collapse of the Confederacy and the institution of slavery upon which it was built, many of the South Carolina port’s workers joined in walkouts and to form the Longshoremen’s Protective Union Association. The state legislature granted incorporation to this union in 1869, and by January 1875 the Charleston News and Courier reported a membership of eight hundred to one thousand “of the bone and sinew of the colored workingmen of Charleston.” One historian has contended, “During Reconstruction and throughout the remainder of the [nineteenth] century, the longshoremen launched the most ambitious, aggressive, and well-organized ca

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