Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Chapter 2: “Accounting for ‘Wharfage, Porterage, and Pilferage’: Maritime Slaves and Resistance in Charleston, South Carolina” (Excerpts)

In the second chapter of Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Interactions, Identities, and Images, Craig T. Marin shows how the daily work of maritime slaves alongside sailors and servants permanently altered both the plantation slave system and the export economy of South Carolina, making them more reflective of African and African American cultural forms. Marin demonstrates that the constant mobility of enslaved boatmen, sailors, and dockworkers, together with their interactions with other workers, allowed the enslaved boatmen to create an environment of autonomy that challenged the system of slavery and questioned the frontiers of acceptable behavior within and outside of the work environment. Illuminating various aspects of slave resistance developed by enslaved waterfront workers, Marin’s study brings to light a group of enslaved men that has received very little attention from North Atlantic scholars. Below is an excerpt from the chapter:

From the perspective of many employers and owners of slave laborers, this period of growth needed to be accompanied by serious attempts to create a more pliant and efficient workforce. Particularly
revealing of this attitude is the correspondence of Henry Laurens, a well-established merchant in Charleston, who had only recently adopted the role of planter. […] Laurens’ concerns and actions are highly representative of the issues faced by new and well-established planters alike and by propertied residents of Charleston from 1760 onward. Of primary and near-constant concern for Laurens—and an
indication of the deep influence of maritime workers on their
plantation counterparts—was the movement of the enslaved
plantation workers to and from Charleston, by land and by water.

The expansion of landholdings into Georgia and Florida created more demand for coastal water traffic, demand that was met in part by the addition of locally owned vessels and by an increase in the number
of boat hands and sailors. Like the long-established river and coastal transport system, this new fleet of coasters and its accompanying crew presented additional problems for planters and merchants with
interests centered in Charleston. Among the challenging tasks so essential to successful participation in the expanding plantation economy were keeping vessels on time, getting goods to market and ensuring they were handled properly, and keeping reliable captains or patroons and crews. Throughout the 1760s, Henry Laurens wrote of such challenges to personal and business acquaintances along the East Coast from Georgetown to St. Augustine.

In a letter to Samuel Wragg in Georgetown, Laurens asked that he assist the crews of Laurens’s schooners who were “seeking for employ,” in finding a considerable amount of pine planking. He also informed Wragg that he was building a schooner expressly for the lumber trade between Georgetown and Charleston. Especially revealing is the comment in this letter about vessel crews and dockworkers: Laurens noted that because the lumber will be unloaded at his own landing, the typical factor’s charges for “wharfage, porterage, and pilferage” could be avoided.

Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Interactions, Identities, and Images edited by Ana Lucia Araujo is available in hardcover. It is also available as in different ebook formats, which start at $19.99 to purchase and $9.99 to rent. Professors who wish to use this book along with others in the slavery studies collection for their classes should use the Cambria Book Cloud, which allows for the bundling of ebooks at only $9.99 per title for each student.