With Sails Whitening Every Sea: Commercial Expansion, Maritime Empire, and the American Seafaring Community Abroad, 1780—1870

TitleWith Sails Whitening Every Sea: Commercial Expansion, Maritime Empire, and the American Seafaring Community Abroad, 1780—1870
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsRouleau, Brian J.
DegreePhD Dissertation
Number of Pages344
Date Published2010
UniversityUniversity of Pennsylvania
CityAnn Arbor
Thesis TypeHistory

During the nineteenth-century "Golden Age" of American sail, the nation's merchant and whaling fleets shipped tens of thousands of young men into every sea. Mariners represented one of the largest occupational groups in the country and maritime issues preoccupied political economy and popular discourse. This gave the newly constituted United States not merely an Atlantic outlook but a global vision, as the country was, from the 1790s onward, trading with an array of the world's peoples. Furthermore, the size and importance of the industry meant that the vast majority of citizens who traveled abroad at the time were working men laboring aboard ships. This being the case, the descriptions penned by mariners overseas offer valuable insight into the standards by which ordinary Americans were learning to measure the world's inhabitants.This dissertation examines sailor journals, nautical memoirs, naval records, admiralty court cases, consular files, and diplomatic correspondence in an effort to shed light on the interactions between American seafaring men and peoples overseas. Those manuscripts contain efforts to define citizenship, masculinity, and white racial identity within a global context. Considered as a whole, the experiences of mariners overseas provide valuable evidence about how working men from the United States perceived their nation's place in the world. And moreover, nineteenth-century American print culture, in the form of newspaper articles, editorials, and seafaring narratives, served to disseminate the knowledge sailors acquired abroad Maritime accounts represented the single most influential source of information available to early Americans regarding foreign peoples and places. Mariners' lives became linkages--conduits of information regarding race, nation, gender, and class--between the outside world and an emerging republic.

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