Young Men and the Sea Yankee Seafarers in the Age of Sail Daniel Vickers, Vince Walsh

Publication date:
26 Apr 2007
Yale University Press
352 pages: 235 x 156mm
25 b-w illus.


Two centuries of American maritime history, in which the Atlantic Ocean remained the great frontier.

Two centuries of American maritime history, in which the Atlantic Ocean remained the great frontier Westward expansion has been the great narrative of the first two centuries of American history, but as historian Daniel Vickers demonstrates here, the horizon extended in all directions. For those who lived along the Atlantic coast, it was the East—and the Atlantic Ocean—that beckoned. While historical and fictional accounts have tended to stress the exceptional circumstances or psychological compulsions that drove men to sea, this book shows how normal a part of life seafaring was for those living near a coast before the mid–nineteenth century.

Drawing on records of several thousand seamen and their voyages from Salem, Massachusetts, Young Men and the Sea offersa social history of seafaring in the colonial and early national period. In what sort of families were sailors raised? When did they go to sea? What were their chances of death? Whom did they marry, and how did their wives operate households in their absence? Answering these and many other questions, this book is destined to become a classic of American social and maritime history.

Daniel Vickers is the head of the department of history at the University of British Columbia. His previous book, Farmers and Fisherman: Two Centuries of Work in Essex County, Massachusetts, won the John Dunning Prize from the American Historical Association and the Louis Gottschalk Prize from the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. Vince Walsh is an independent scholar and project coordinator at the Maritime History Archive, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

?[An] important book? What has been left behind is a rich source of data that Vickers has been able to exploit to provide a detailed picture of the port from its origins to almost the end of its maritime heyday. It is an excellent study both of the port and as an example of what can be done where such records survive. It is thoroughly recommended to anyone who has an interest in maritime communities of the period 1650-1850.? - Richard Harding, The Mariner?s Mirror

?Young Men and the Sea is a gripping book. A sound and original contribution, the book reflects Daniel Vickers? career-long immersion in maritime history. His astute insights make for fascinating reading.??Christopher Clark, The University of Warwick

"Deeply researched, powerfully argued, and movingly eloquent, Young Men and the Sea is the perfect antidote to the romanticized image of seafaring. This stunning account of maritime life rings true. It will be a classic."?Philip Morgan, Johns Hopkins University

"With the quiet competence of a seasoned shipmaster in ill-charted waters, Vickers has redefined the meaning of seafaring under sail. Meticulously researched and elegantly written, this is a stunning book."? W. Jeffrey Bolster, author of Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail


"Casting away what we think we know, Vickers has redefined the meaning of seafaring under sail. Distinguished by impeccable scholarship and innovative methodology, this is the most original American maritime history ever published."? W. Jeffrey Bolster, author of Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail

Provides solid and exciting information about [the] region?s formation [provoking] controversy in some quarters. The heart of good historical inquiry.

?This meticulously researched book leaves crystal-clear impressions of life from the early 1600s through the 1800s, as seen through the microcosm of Salem?s maritime orientation. . . . Young Men and the Sea will prove indispensable for the student of history seeking an overview of the early colonization of New England and the forces that shaped it, as well as satisfy readers of nautical literature who wish to fill in the gaps left by our great writers of sea literature such as Dana, Melville and Cooper.??Neva Sullaway, San Diego Union-Tribune

"Vickers's provocative argument emerges from his mastery of local sources."?Joseph F. Cullon, William and Mary Quarterly

"Young Men and the Sea provides a wonderful glimpse, as grounded as it is imaginative, into the lives of families along New England's long coast. In recovering the working lives of these mariners, he recovers a world of early American labour and labourers whose unfamiliarity to us today has unduly circumscribed their place in historical interpretations."?Marla R. Miller, International Journal of Maritime History

"Young Men and the Sea[is]a phenomenal work of scholarship, exquisitely crafted, [and] delightful to read."?Paul E. Fontenoy, Nautical Research Journal

"Through exhaustive research and fluid writing, the author is able to convey to the reader the ways in which seafaring changed during this period, and what these changes meant to Salem (and by extension, the rest of maritime New England). [This] is as much a story of the maritime industry in this region as it is a detailed assessment of the motivations that drew fishermen, naval officers, privateers and merchant seamen to their respective trades. . . . Young Men and the Sea: Yankee Seafarers in the Age of Sail is an important work that redirects the attention of scholars back to the maritime dimension of New England's history. . . . Dan Vickers should be commended for an excellent demographic study that should stimulate similar works on other parts of the Atlantic World. Young Men and the Sea  deserves a wide audience and guarantees an engaged readership."?Timothy G. Lynch, The Northern Mariner

"Young Men and the Sea is a masterpiece of the historian's craft. Beyond the meticulous research and subtlety with which sources are considered, the powerful analysis is something best described as wisdom. Vicker's central insight?that for most of the age of sail, the ships and sailors that plied the sea were very much a part of the communities from which they voyaged?is important not just to maritime historians but to all those who would better understand the early modern world and the world to which it yielded."?Tamara Plakins Thornton, New England Quarterly

"Superb. . . . The six chapters that cover this approximately 200-year-period are immensely rich, covering such topics as sailors at sea, their careers, their lives on land, their families and widows. . . . Vickers has produced a study that will surely take its place among the classics of New England maritime history."?American Historical Review

"Serious students of maritime studies will follow the influence of this book as its merits become increasingly well known."?Barry Gough, The Historian

"A masterfully written and eminently readable social history that explains the transformation of American identity from one that was primarily seafaring and outward in outlook to one that became continental and focused inward. . . . An engaging and comprehensive overview of the early modern maritime experience useful to specialists, yet accessible to the general reader, this work is essential for anyone studying of interested in the Atlantic world of that era."?Martin Hubley, Social History