CHAPTER XLV. SAILORS' BOARDING HOUSES.

In walking along the streets in the vicinity of the water, you will notice many buildings with the sign "Sailors' Boarding House." One would suppose that poor Jack needed a snug resting place after his long and stormy voyages, but it is about the last thing he finds in New York. The houses for his accommodation are low, filthy, vile places, where every effort is made to swindle him out of his money; the proprietors are merciless sharks, and they keep the sailors who come to this port in a state of the most abject slavery.

A ship comes in from a long voyage. Her men are discharged and paid off. The runners for the boarding houses lie in wait for them, and, as soon as they get their money, take them to the establishments which prove so fatal to them. There they are made drunk, robbed of their money and valuables, and of all their good clothing, and brought in debt to their landlord. A captain in want of a crew applies to one of these landlords for men. In order to secure them, he has to advance a part of their wages, which the landlord claims for debts which Jack never contracted. The men are made drunk, and in this state they sign the shipping articles, and are sent to sea. When they recover their senses, they are on the blue water, and prefer their present condition to being at the mercy of the landlords. In this way, it frequently happens that poor Jack never gets the benefit of a single penny of his hard earnings.

Efforts have been made by conscientious shipowners to put a stop to the outrages of the landlords, but each one has failed. The wretches have banded together, and have prevented sailors from shipping, and in the end the ship owners have been compelled to abandon the sailor to the mercy of his tyrants. Only a law of Congress, regulating sailors' boarding houses, according to the system now in use in England, will remedy the evil.

Hon. W. F. G. Shanks, who has given much time and research to this matter, in a recent communication to a city journal, thus sums up his experience and discoveries:

Among the things which I learned and the points on which I satisfied myself thoroughly, I may mention, as of possible interest to the public, the following:

1. I have carefully calculated that not less than one thousand destitute women, and five hundred men, are supported by the one hundred and seventy boarding-houses and thirty shipping offices in New York.

2. At least fifteen thousand sailors of all nations are annually robbed, by these people, of not less than two millions of dollars. I name this amount to be within bounds; I believe it to be at least half as much more.

3. Only two of these houses have a legal existence; all the rest are kept open in defiance of a State law, enacted in 1866, 'for the better protection of the seamen,' whom these landsharks prey upon. A grand jury was obtained which indicted the delinquents, who refused to take out a license according to this law, but the State Commissioners have in vain urged the City attorney to prosecute the offenders.

4. The landlords laugh at the authority of the State Commissioners for licensing boarding houses for seamen, of which Mr. E. W. Chester is President, and rely on the license to vend liquor issued by the Police Board, of which Mr. Acton is President, as their ample protection.

5. The landlords have congregated mainly in the Fourth and Sixth Wards of the city, in order to influence, if not control them politically. The combination existing between boarding-house keepers and shipping- masters enables them to cast, in any election in the City, at least one thousand votes, and probably more.

6. Much of the smuggling in this port is done by the runners of these houses.

7. Numbers of criminals flying from justice are aided to get to sea by these men; and during the war hundreds of deserters from the army, who had never been out of sight of land, and knew nothing of an ordinary seaman's duty, were shipped by them as good seamen.

8. No inquiry is made by owners, captains, or shipping agents, into the moral character or seamanship of the men employed by these agents.

9. Seamen are allowed to ship only when penniless, and often without sufficient clothing to protect them from the inclement weather.

10. They are discharged from ships without the wages due them, and have no alternative but to go to the men whom they know will rob them; and the United States laws authorize the owners of vessels to deny them their pay until ten days after the cargo is discharged - much longer than the owners usually withhold it. It is these laws which throw the sailor under the control of the 'land sharks.'

11. Foreign sailors are induced to desert their ships and go in other vessels by landlords who aim to rob them of the advance pay which custom exacts. The sailors thus not only lose by desertion the pay due them by the ship they abandon, as well as the advance which, they get from their new commander, but also forfeit their nationality and the protection of their former flag.

12. Foreign captains frequently force their men to desert them, in order to save their keep and back pay. This they accomplish either by bad treatment of the men or collusion with the landlords.

13. Large ships are often detained in port, after having their cargo on board, because of the refusal of landlords to allow the seamen to ship while their money lasts.

14. The owners submit to this indirect control of their great interests for fear of giving offence to the men who furnish and control the crews. The United States has not a law which would protect owners in an effort to change the system of shipping seamen, improving their condition, or protecting them in their rights, or in increasing the number and the utility of seamen.

15. There is not a single training or school ship in this port, although Boston boasts two in successful operation. The United States laws do not require, as they should, that every ship leaving an American port, under the United States flag, should carry its complement of apprentices. Neither of these practical means of building up the merchant marine service is generally adopted in the United States, though the experience of England, and other great maritime powers, has shown the benefit and the necessity of both systems.

16. Generally speaking, the very worst enemies of the sailor in all ports are the consuls who are sent to protect them. Practically, they are the aiders and abettors of landlords. There may be exceptional cases, but I cannot venture to name them. A special investigation of consulate abuses would reveal the sailor as the most frequent victim.

I could mention other important points, if space permitted. To be brief, I have seen that the sailor is without protection from Government laws, Government agents, or the owners whose interest he serves. He is systematically robbed, imprisoned and sold into the hardest of servitude, as openly as negroes were sold a few years ago in the South. If he complains of the robbery, judges, who hold their positions by the favor of the landlords who commit the robbery, release the culprit on bail, and send the sailor to the House of Detention as a witness, where he is forgotten, or finally turned penniless into the street, to wander back to the man who robbed him, to beg for assistance and work. If he refuses to ship as landlords direct, he is forcibly put on board by legal process, or through the agency of the whiskey bottle, and in either case is sent penniless and almost naked to sea. They never complain of the terms of sale. After Jack has been on a packet ship for two months, he is glad to escape, by any means, to the ills of the boarding houses, and after enduring that slavery for a fortnight, he is only too glad to rush back to the hardships of the ocean life he lately thought so terrible. His life is one desperate effort to escape the ills he has and fly to others that he knows well enough. The sailor has no respect for Hamlet's philosophy.