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Bulloch History with Roger Allen: Laws for and against sailors enacted in Savannah
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Roger Allen

Note: The following is the first of a series of columns about early shipping in Georgia and Bulloch County.

"A Digest ... of Georgia" (1851) states that from the very beginning, there were problems with seamen in the port of Savannah.

In 1766, the Georgia Legislature passed "An Act to Punish Seamen or Mariners Neglecting or Deserting Their Duty."

It was concerned primarily with "seamen being harbored and entertained by, and running in debt with the keepers of taverns and tippling houses" to the detriment of them performing their duties.

It declared that anyone who sold sailors "spirituous liquor (amounting to) more than one shilling and six pence (without the captain's permission shall) forfeit the sum of twenty shillings sterling."

Furthermore, "no master ... of any ship ... within this province, shall hire, receive, or entertain, or ship, any seaman or mariner belonging to ... any other ship or vessel ... under the penalty of ten pounds sterling."

Finally, it declared that any ferry owner "in this province (who) shall ... transport over such ferry, any fugitive seaman or mariner not having a certificate of discharge" was guilty of breaking the law.

Once convicted by "his Majesty's Justices of the Peace for the parish where such offence was committed, (the ferry master must) forfeit five pounds sterling, to be recovered by ... sale of the offender's goods."

A new act to define the offense of abducting and harboring seamen, passed in 1843, replaced that law. It forbade anyone to board any ship or vessel in Georgia "with intent to inveigle, entice, convey away, abduct, with or without violence" any sailor.

It also made it illegal to "secretly carry off any articled seaman, or mariner, or apprentice, from such or vessel, or shall afford any conveyance or facility to (help one) desert or leave such vessel."

Anyone who did "harbor, secrete, entertain, lodge or keep, or shall directly or indirectly suffer to be harbored, secreted, entertained, lodged or kept" would be fined $500 or "imprisoned at the discretion of the court."

Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at



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