For Justice and Protection to Sailors.
A MEETING HELD AT
NEW YORK, MARCH 21st, 1902
J. AUGUSTUS JOHNSON.
PUBLISHED BY THE
J. AUGUSTUS JOHNSON,
Ex-U. S. Consul General.
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen:
My attention was first called to the status of sailors when years ago I was summoned by the captain of an American ship to quell a mutiny on board. His wife and daughter and the vessel were exposed to danger beyond his control. Ordinarily it would have been my duty as a consul in a non-Christian country, having jurisdiction in criminal and civil cases and in admiralty, to put the crew in irons and send them ashore to a Turkish prison. But I didn't want to do that because the Turks were very fierce against Christians at that time, some 11,000 having been massacred in our neighborhood, and we didn't know when and where the trouble would end. I therefore went on board ship and gave both sides a hearing. The men had refused to work because they did not have the required hours for rest; the master had knocked down some of the men and put two in irons, but he couldn't work his ship home without their assistance. In this dilemma I reasoned with all the parties in interest and arbitrated the questions at issue. Rather than go into a Turkish prison while the massacres were in progress the men promised to go to work and take the ship back to America. Rather than lose his crew, the master promised to give more hours of rest and better food--and thus the matter was settled.
This experience was burned into my mind by the heat of burning villages and the other horrors of the Syrian massacres of 1860. About ten years ago another incident led me to investigate the status of seamen on shore. Nominated by Dr. Satterlee, then [1/2] rector of Calvary parish, I was elected to serve as one of the lay managers of the Church Missionary Society for Seamen, and, feeling my responsibility as a citizen, from that day to this, I have co-operated with its successful and sympathetic work.
In speaking for seamen therefore I speak with some knowledge of their rights and wrongs. I accepted this service willingly--in part, because during my official life in the East I had to ride hobbies in order to avoid the melancholic effects of climate and environment. One of these was to collect antique coins, many of which were encrusted in the rust of centuries before the Christian era and therefore indistinguishable. By the aid of acids and brushes and coin books, I found that some of the most unpromising lumps of rust and dirt were in reality very valuable coins. One I remember, although a copper coin, was, from its great rarity, marked as worth a great sum. So I was prepared to find among the rustiest and most unpromising of sailors specimens of humanity in which the Divine image might with careful treatment be brought out to recognition.
Well, I found on examination that the sailor had been forgotten in the onward movement, and that while slavery and other abuses had been abolished, while societies had been formed for the prevention of cruelty to animals, and for the protection of children, birds, fish, trees, forests, historic localities, genealogies and for aid to the aged, crippled, insane, and to all classes and conditions of men, I found no society organized to prevent cruelty to seamen. Church missionary societies for seamen had been organized and sermons regularly preached to sailors on shore whenever they could be induced to attend religious services; but Jack was ever an impatient and a restless listener to sermons and services of regulation length, and generally he preferred to have a good time in his own way during his brief residence on shore.
Within the last few years, however, a great wave of sympathy, a great heart-beat towards humanity has brightened the sailor's life, has pulsed and throbbed with the power of the tides, and he has seen a new light. He has learned to regard the missions, the reading rooms, the pleasant entertainments, the care for his physical comfort and the legal aid offered him for the protection of his rights as having a direct bearing upon his present life, and as originating in an unselfish desire to serve the sailor as an individual, [2/3] as a unit; and he goes with more confidence to the chaplain and to the mission which cares for his health, his comfort, his rights, his money and his entertainment, and incidentally he attends service, not because he wants to, but in gratitude and appreciation of the warm, visible and inspiring sympathy shown in matters within his comprehension.
This society, responsive to needs of the man and the hour, has been heard before committees in Congress and at Albany for better legislation, by cabinet and other administrative officers of the Government for better enforcement of the laws, and by courts and magistrates, consuls and commissioners for justice in respect of wages, food, hours of rest, and for redress of wrongs endured from brutal officers on shipboard, and the more cruel crimp and keeper of the average sailor boarding-house. Sailors are no longer imprisoned for breaking civil contracts in home ports; their advance wages are less frequently seized by corrupt men who thrive professionally by robbing seamen, and their food is legally based on sanitary requirements, so that scurvy, that horrible plague of seamen when deprived of fresh provisions, is kept in abeyance.
But there are still many abuses to be remedied and many blessings to be conferred before this port can free itself from the stigma of being one of the most unjust and injurious to seamen, and we are here to-day to consider what shall be done in the coming years.
What we do for the three million of seamen of our day must be done quickly. Our time for giving and helping is short. They are in port for a week or two at most; their miserable lives average but twelve years, of hardship, suffering and dangers until death comes to them, generally at sea.
And when the sea is called to give up its dead, its millions of sailors, who have lost their lives in the service of mankind, and we are enquired of us to what we have done to save them, will it be enough to say in answer: "am I my brother's keeper?" or shall we not say, rather, "we have done what we could?" Shall the sailor, that stepson, that unloved child of our civilization, homeless, friendless, without a vote, and, therefore, without consideration among politicians, without companionship, clubs, lodges, associations in which landmen find zest for life, have no refuge from his foes? Left to the mercenary and unholy allurements of the [3/4] saloon, the subterranean dive, the low and degrading boarding houses for seamen, which, vampirelike, soon absorb the vitality of their victims; left to the crimp, who robs him still too often of his money and his liberty, he tends towards the human scrap heap and floats out to a shoreless sea as rapidly as the swift flowing tides of evil can carry him.
Now, why is this? Is the sailor not entitled to consideration?
To whose fidelity, staunch and steadfast courage and boundless heroism, do you confide your lives when crossing the ocean? Who cares for your sons and daughters on the voyages for rest and pleasure, through fogs and darkness, storms and collisions, amid the wreck and ruin of tempest and the horrors of ships on fire? What is it that nerves the sailor in those dreadful moments? The stern voice of command is not sufficient. Discipline is often powerless to control. May it not be the inate nobility of the man, his latent chivalry that inspires the sailor to look death in the face and give his life to save yours, if need be? This spirit of self-sacrifice and nobility in the heart of man, born of woman, is the leverage on which we must work to redeem the odds and ends of mankind, and fan the dying embers in his soul, and rouse his ambition and aspiration after the best things. Bread cast upon these waters will return again. The kindness inspired by the great motherly heart of our noblest womanhood will nerve these men to deeds of greater daring, to acts of more sublime self-sacrifice. They will be saved from great moral perils by the knowledge that women are thoughtful for their welfare on sea and shore and develop a growing reverence for human life. Even now they ask for no charity; they only ask for a chance to work and to live on their own earnings.
They may save or lose a ship according to their morale; they may carry physical and moral disease into every port they visit, or they may be made an influence for good on the shores of every sea. Once establish the wireless telegraphy of sympathy between the sailor at sea and your societies on shore and you will make every sailor a hero.
This claim for consideration should appeal to the women of New York--the most alert, energetic, charitable and compassionate women in the world. In your pursuit of fads--whether for old [4/5] laces, fans, porcelain, musical instruments, antiques and bric-a-brac, bridge whist, golf, fine dogs, cats and horses--none are more industrious and successful. But in your choice of hobbies, for Heaven's sake choose among others one having a human interest, vitalized with the red blood of a strenuous life, and become effective in putting your shoulder under some corner of the great burden of sorrow and suffering by which human life is bowed down!
You have better protection, more influence, more enjoyments, more consideration than any women in the world. Your property rights are safe guarded, under the statutes here, as no where else. Freely you have received; freely give! What you do here for seamen will set an example to women in other cities and the echo of your deeds will be heard around the world.
Now as to present needs.
We should use our combined and associated wisdom and strength to watch over the sailor, to bring to justice those who rob him of his money, his self-respect, his liberty and his life. He is the ward of the state; existing laws are adequate, but they must be enforced. His claims should be brought into Court, his witnesses produced, his wrongs redressed, his diseases healed, and his loneliness and homelessness alleviated--and for all these things money and sympathy are needed. Humanity demands this. Greater New York ought to furnish it. Its maritime interests require it. The women of New York can achieve it. Ask the Chamber of Commerce what it will do for the sailor when it has completed its palatial home now under construction. Ask the Board of Trade, the Maritime Exchange, the great marine insurance companies and steamship lines and ship owners what they are going to do about it. Ask the church, the synagogue, the cathedral, what they will do to help the men who go down to the sea in ships. As matters now stand, a large proportion of losses at sea are preventable. Improperly loaded, insufficiently manned, brutally officered, corruptly financed, many vessels disappear and the crews go down to their death for lack of care by the owners, agents and managers. It has been said that for every vessel that wears out in the service a hundred fall victims to the vicissitudes of the sea. No Plimsol or load line has yet been fixed in America, in which we are still behind England. The vessels are insured but sailors are not.
 Oh for some man of consecrated enthusiasm, like Henry Bergh in his crusade against cruelty to animals! Oh for more angelic souls like those of Florence Nightingale in her zeal for soldiers in the hospitals, of Miss Barton and her Red Cross associates, of Miss Dix and Mrs. Ballington Booth for prisoners, and our own Mrs. Foster, in whose honor tablets are being placed in the Courts and the Tombs prison. Who will follow in their steps and show a Christ-like care for the sailor?
Now, in conclusion, let us be more specific. We need support for our reading rooms for sailors. We need a launch to take our chaplains and legal aid and medical officers from ship to ship, to give all needed succor to the sick, the maimed, the abused and the friendless sailor, take him to the hospital, to a sailor's home, to mission chapels and reading rooms where he will find friends; to prevent impressment of unwilling victims, drugged and shanghaed, to take evidence of crimes, obtain witnesses, and prevent the boarding of vessels by saloon runners and the desertion of crews under their influence.
The principal ports of England have such a launch. Boston and Baltimore have one, but this great cosmopolitan port, soon to become the centre of the world's commerce; this city with its annual visitation of 250,000 sailors, soon to be greatly multiplied, has no launch for such humane, uncommercial and sympathic work. For this launch $4,000 will be needed at once, with a provision for $3,000 more for its first year's equipment and maintenance.
A Free Shipping Bureau is needed, where seamen can find employment without paying the illegal exactions of blood money by the crimps who annually rob the seamen in this port of one million dollars.
A sailor's home is needed whose foundations shall be broad and deep. It should cover at least two full lots facing Battery Park, near the British Consular shipping office. Sir Percy Sanderson states that last year 117,950 sailors--shipments and discharges--passed through that office alone. The location is excellent, because near the consulates, the American Shipping Commissioners, the Aquarium, where other maritime creatures are gathered, and the Immigration Bureau. This building should be large, commodious, and ample for 250 beds at least, and be six or eight stories high, in order to afford an adequate home for seamen, at a cost perhaps of [6/7] $250,000. It should have on its first floor a Free Shipping Bureau, where captains and seamen may congregate and arrange for shipment of crews without cost to the sailor. It should contain a restaurant, where seamen, having a room at fifteen or twenty cents each night, may obtain a good meal for same price, or less than five dollars per week all told. (Whereas, they now pay seven dollars, with extras, which make up an aggregate of ten dollars a week at the miserable boarding houses for seamen, some of which are located over or adjoining saloons as an annex, and rent of which is paid by the saloon keeper.) This may all be done on a self-supporting basis, and with some profit, if conducted as the Mills Hotels, owned by D. O. Mills, and as the model tenement houses are carried on by the City and Suburban Homes Company, of which our City Chamberlain, Dr. Gould, is the successful manager.
Attached to this building and connected with its management should be a large supply store, with all sailors' furnishings, at a fairly profitable price, in order to save the sailor from the exorbitant price of the boarding house keeper and the captain's slop chest. This building should have a high tower with an illuminated clock and a Star of Hope at its top, throwing a light out into the harbor which should be visible to every sailor coming into the bay, and through the silent watches of the night, suggesting rest and friends ashore. In front of this building the new Launch should be moored, with steam up, ready for active and efficient service. Our special police officer, who gathers from improvident sailors about $5,000 each month for sending home to their families, should have his desk and safe and great register of the names of all visiting sailors in one corner of a great reading room, and the Seamen's Branch of the Legal Aid Society should be satisfactorily housed; all under the charge of a paid superintendent and a paid secretary, who should look after state and national legislation and the general interests of the sailors in American and foreign lands and keep in touch with all societies for seamen. When all this is done, Mr. Chairman, if Christ should come to New York, He would see what the sailor, Prince Henry did not see, a Sailor's Home, worthy of the city; not a sky scraper, but a sea scraper and a world scraper, of helpless and needy sailors, the high water mark of wisest sympathy and of intelligent philanthropy. True, the Sailor Prince is [7/8] brother to an Emperor; but the common sailor is still a man and a brother. Prince Henry received the freedom of the city; why should not our sailors have some recognition also. The rank is but the guinea's stamp. The sailor "man's a man for a' that." The American navy was founded by a common sailor, who became famous as John Paul Jones, and three common sailors were offered the freedom of the city in 1847 and 1848 for acts of conspicuous bravery. You might persuade the city and State to make an annual provision for the support of such an institution out of the millions of dollars it receives from the licenses of 13,000 saloons and from dives, dime museums, dance halls and other sinks of iniquity, which now give a revenue to the municipality. [* The total amount collected under the liquor tax law in this state from May 1, 1896, to Sept 30, 1901, is said to be $73,604,425.93. See Report of State Commissioner of Excise recently submitted to the New York Legislature.]
But we need not wait for that. Miss Gould has built a home in Brooklyn for seamen of the navy. Mr. Kennedy has built a Charity Organization Building. Mr. Pierpont Morgan has built a woman's hospital. Mr. Carnegie and Mr. Rockefeller have endowed libraries and universities. Other men and women, with hearts of oak and the wisdom of both worlds, may arise in imitation of their example, and do this great work for our rapidly developing commercial marine. It is a great opportunity for good work. But while waiting for such a Home we want a Launch for present and constant use.
We ought to have a Women's Auxiliary Committee and Children’s Guilds to help the "Church Missionary Society for Seamen" in aid of its several reading rooms and missions. We have had a dry time all these years in raising money, in providing reading matter and entertainments; but now I seem to see in this movement of the Women of New York, a cloud no bigger than a man's hand, aye, no bigger than a woman's hand, from which we may hope for refreshing showers, of blessing, cheer and cooperation.
This meeting will give encouragement to the friends of seamen in every port and to the hearts of the managers of this society, some of whom have given thirty, forty and fifty years of service. They will feel grateful if, when they are called hence, and can work no more, there is a hope that other hands and other hearts will take up the work and hand it down in turn to their successors, until "there shall be no more sea."