Out of the Blue: Maritime Deserters on North America's Pacific Shores

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 11:40 AM
Washington Room 6 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Edward Dallam Melillo, Amherst College
During the nineteenth century, sailors from New England or mid-Atlantic harbors piloted their vessels into the most remote regions of the Pacific Ocean in pursuit of sea otter pelts, seal skins, whale oil, and coveted commodities from island ecosystems. The diverse crews aboard these multi-year expeditions labored on a relentless schedule that challenged even the diabolical rigors of the "Dark Satanic Mills" in William Blake's rendition of the Industrial Revolution. As a result, thousands of seafarers abandoned their floating factories and became renegades in California's Spanish redwoods, beachcombers on the shores of Hawai'i, or entrepreneurial fugitives in the Pacific Northwest. This paper considers the environmental and social aspects of this surreptitious migration from the Atlantic seaboard to the American West. In addition to "knowing nature through labor," these maritime deserters in the Pacific World eluded regimes of wage labor by knowing nature. My paper reflects upon the production of this environmental knowledge, its dependence upon indigenous communities, and its relationship to states and statelessness in the nineteenth-century American West.