Subalterns at Sea: Women and Blacks in a Revolutionary Atlantic

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Tuttle, Michael Christopher
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
October 09, 2013
Committee Members:
  • William Pencak, Dissertation Advisor
  • Matthew Bennett Restall, Committee Chair
  • David Giguette Atwill, Committee Member
  • Tim White, Committee Member
  • history
  • colonial
  • maritime
  • women
  • blacks
This dissertation examines two segments of the maritime community in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century western Atlantic world: women and blacks. Described by others, these groups left little record of themselves in the first person. However they can be found in commercial and official documents. Presented in two parts and engaging current historiographical trends, these previously marginalized maritime community members may have the actual conditions of their lives illuminated. Part I reviews several well-known instances of women participating at sea throughout Western history to the eighteenth century. These women were generally not representative of the community at sea, but cultural outliers. The entry and cultural acceptance of women into the maritime labor force as mariners, people who repair to sea to receive a wage, is also explored. Utilizing commercial documents an argument is made for women working regularly at sea in the mid-nineteenth century. Part II is an examination of participation rates of black mariners utilizing various documents; portage bills, government issued identification, seamen protection certificates, and in a few cases ‘auto’biographies. The participation rates for black sailors in several colonial and early national New England ports are found to be lower than in contemporary historiography, but higher than their rates in the local populations studied. The late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were a dynamic time in the development of America’s maritime trades. This dissertation posits some conclusions identifying the first regularized work at sea by women and attempts to establish baseline participation rates for blacks in the blue-water trades at a critical period in American history.