Jobs done by black sailors.

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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I know that approximately 10% of the Union sailors were black but what tasks did black sailors do? Unlike the US Army there were black sailor in the Navy before the Civil War and were allowed to make up to 10% of a ship's crew. I take it the ones with experience were ranked as seamen but how many were ranked as petty officers?
 

RobertP

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From the National Archives: https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2001/fall/black-sailors-2.html


“The strength of such prejudice coupled with the clannishness of the naval officer corps created insuperable barriers to a black man's being commissioned an officer during the Civil War. Although navy officials— like their army counterparts— feared the effects that placing black men in command over white men might have on discipline, they had little desire to upset the dynamics of the wardroom. No matter how much officers might depend on black cooks and stewards to prepare their meals and minister to their comforts, they steadfastly opposed sharing a table with black men on a basis of equality. But even deeper prejudices stood between black men and a naval commission during the nineteenth century: the values and traditions of the naval officer corps simply could not accommodate black men in the fraternity. Accordingly, no black man held a regular commission or a warrant as a naval officer during the Civil War.”

“The strength of such prejudice coupled with the clannishness of the naval officer corps created insuperable barriers to a black man's being commissioned an officer during the Civil War. Although navy officials— like their army counterparts— feared the effects that placing black men in command over white men might have on discipline, they had little desire to upset the dynamics of the wardroom. No matter how much officers might depend on black cooks and stewards to prepare their meals and minister to their comforts, they steadfastly opposed sharing a table with black men on a basis of equality. But even deeper prejudices stood between black men and a naval commission during the nineteenth century: the values and traditions of the naval officer corps simply could not accommodate black men in the fraternity. Accordingly, no black man held a regular commission or a warrant as a naval officer during the Civil [email protected]

“The overwhelming majority of black men rated as petty officers were cooks and stewards. Navy officers often favored black cooks and servants, in part due to the common prejudices of the day— which held persons of African descent as naturally subservient— and in part due to their experience with black mess attendants at the U.S. Naval Academy. Academy graduate Lt. Roswell Lamson, for instance, reported to his fiancée that two men tended him on the Nansemond: Charles, "my steward and cook," and James, who "waits on the table and takes care of my room." Claiming that both were "excellent servants," Lamson took special pride in Charles, "a very fine cook" who "has been at sea a good deal, and for some time waited on Admiral Du Pont."Volunteer officers who lacked an association with Annapolis quickly learned the conventions of the ward room. When Paymaster William F. Keeler, who before the war had been a manufacturer and merchant in Illinois, reported to USS Monitor and learned that he was entitled to a servant, he meticulously went about "hunting up a contraband." He soon became accustomed to the assorted amenities that his nameless "darkey" furnished, not least of which were "a wash bowl of warm water," "well blacked boots," and breakfast in his room each morning.”


“Academy graduate Lt. Roswell Lamson, for instance, reported to his fiancée that two men tended him on the Nansemond: Charles, "my steward and cook," and James, who "waits on the table and takes care of my room." Claiming that both were "excellent servants," Lamson took special pride in Charles, "a very fine cook" who "has been at sea a good deal, and for some time waited on Admiral Du Pont."Volunteer officers who lacked an association with Annapolis quickly learned the conventions of the ward room. When Paymaster William F. Keeler, who before the war had been a manufacturer and merchant in Illinois, reported to USS Monitor and learned that he was entitled to a servant, he meticulously went about "hunting up a contraband." He soon became accustomed to the assorted amenities that his nameless "darkey" furnished, not least of which were "a wash bowl of warm water," "well blacked boots," and breakfast in his room each morning.”
 

Kurt G

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May 23, 2018
I know that approximately 10% of the Union sailors were black but what tasks did black sailors do? Unlike the US Army there were black sailor in the Navy before the Civil War and were allowed to make up to 10% of a ship's crew. I take it the ones with experience were ranked as seamen but how many were ranked as petty officers?
In an article by Joseph Reidy called "Black Men in Navy Blue During the Civil War" it states that although cooks and stewards were technically rated as Petty Officers , barely 100 blacks ( .6%) of all black enlistees held the rank of Petty Officer of the line.
 

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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That is not a huge number of Petty Officers of the line. However, it does show that black sailors could become Petty Officers of the line.
 

James N.

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If I remember correctly, Robert Smalls who famously "stole" the CSS Planter and delivered it to the Federal Navy blockading Charleston Harbor was allowed to retain command of the ship, of which he had formerly been a pilot for his Rebel owner. I don't remember what his exact status or rank (if any) was however.
 

Rhea Cole

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One of the great shocks suffered by elite slave-holders was, once the war started, the first slaves to run off were house servants. Theses often highly trained butlers, cooks, kitchen & parlor maids were highly prized by hotels in the North. Letters & accounts indicate that there was wage competition between hotels, resorts & steamships.

Elite slave-holders’ letters & journals are filled with the hurt feelings & resentment felt when their privileged “servants & “friends” ran off. The delusional Lost Cause tropes about happy slaves had its genesis in that reality.

When Pullman started his sleeper service, he hired former house slaves because of their reputation for high quality work.

Traditionally, naval officers have a personal servant & high ranks a steward & cook. There was , obviously, a racist element of the practice that ran right through to the 20th Century. However, the high quality of the craft & culinary excellence practiced by those men is something to be celebrated. The sailor in the citation was right, at that time a well trained, experienced black servant really was the very best he could find.
 
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An extension of your question might be "What did black contrabands do on Union ships?"

Contrabands were escaping slaves who approached Union forces in their quest for freedom. Since the fugitive slave law mandated that escaping slaves be returned to their "owners," a legal loop hole had to be devised, and escaping slaves were considered "contraband" - goods that would have aided the Southern war effort if they were returned. Some of these "contrabands" approached Union ships and were put to work on board until their fates could be resolved. Frederic Augustus James, a sailor on the USS Housatonic who is the only sailor known to have kept a diary at Andersonville, wrote to his wife that there were contraband blacks on board and he and the other sailors were not too pleased about it. They were assigned to the ship's mess, but field hands had no clue how to cook a ship's stores, and it did not go well. They did not know that they needed to soak the salted meat before preparing it, for example, and served it to the men in a less tan edible state. According to James, the contrabands in question did not particularly want to learn the "right" way of doing things and he viewed them as "lazy."

I imagine that the black contrabands probably felt like they'd exchanged one form of bondage for another when they came on board the Navy ship. They drew no pay and had neither rank nor status. I suppose they weren't any happier with the arrangement than Fred James was, because he wrote to his wife about what might politely be referred to as a stomach flu, and told her that he was "running on all ports." (Why do men always assume that their wives and mothers want such detail about these things?). But he told her not to worry, the ship's doctor had dosed him with calomel (which is actually toxic), and assigned "a brace of contrabands" to take care of him and tend to his needs while he was spewing from all possible orifaces. I can't imagine that the two contrabands were too thrilled with THAT duty, either.

Jame's letters currently reside at the Massachusetts Historical Society, and there are pre-donation transcriptions of them on my laptop as well. Interesting reading! His letters were my entry to Civil War Studies.
 

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