HistoryWired About the Program Help Comments Smithsonian Institution
Philadelphia after the American Revolution

Laborers, sailors, apprentices, and servants made up about one-third of Philadelphia's working population at this time. A sailor shipping out from the port might be English, Anglo-American, Scottish, Irish, German, African, or even Native American, and he worked with other sailors--or "brother tars"--of various races, religions, and languages.


The American Sailor in the Late 1700s and Early 1800s

The sailor was among the first wage earners to sell his labor on the free market. He was at liberty to find work on any ship in port--preferably, one with an appealing destination, good wages, a skilled navigator, and a fair captain. He was free to be unemployed, or to take up laboring jobs in the many months when an economic downturn or a frozen harbor made work at sea hard to find. Aboard ship, however, he was subject to the harsh discipline of the captain, for the owner's profits depended on hard work and obedience from the crew. The dangers of life at sea made the strictest discipline aboard ships essential. Not surprisingly, sailors became staunch defenders of liberty and skeptical of authority. They were prominent figures in the crowds that protested British rule, and many fought for independence during the Revolutionary War.


Start HistoryWired | About the Program | Help | Comments

Smithsonian Institution | Terms of Use | Privacy