Research Update: A First Look at Civil War Sailor’s Occupations

Thanks to everyone who is working so hard to complete classifications on Civil War Bluejackets. It is still very early days, but our Information Science team have begun to have a look at some of the early data coming in from your efforts on “A” vessel muster sheets. Ultimately, we are hoping that we will be able to get a near complete picture of these men, but in this post we wanted to share some of the most common occupations that are emerging from your work thus far. For ease of reading we are presenting it as a list, listing the occupations from most common to least common (with a cut-off point of at least 100 entries). They are as follows:

None – This is a mix of no occupation (i.e. unemployed) and no occupation listed.

Mariner – This is the most common occupation listed so far, indicating that men with previous maritime experience were very valuable to the Navy.

Laborer – Laborer’s are the next most common, indicative of the urban focus of much naval recruitment, where unskilled workmen were plentiful.

Firemen (Library of Congress)

Farmer – While some of these men were farmers, others would have been farm laborers, who were often recorded under this occupation. It also was occasionally used to describe formerly enslaved men.

Seaman – A variation of “Mariner”, again indicating the importance of prior naval experience.

Carpenter – A valuable skilled-occupation aboard a vessel, men with this profession could often obtain higher ratings.

Cook – An interesting comparison will be how many men who held this pre-enlistment occupation performed cook duties on board ship.

Machinist – Men familiar with the use of machinery, this tended to be an urban occupation. They were particularly useful on vessels reliant on engines.

Fireman – Another occupation common in urban locations, firemen were also useful aboard vessels that relied on steam power.

A blacksmith and his tools (Library of Congress)

Sailor – Another of the variations used for men with maritime experience. It will be interesting to assess if specific meaning was attached to the different terms utilised, or if it was down to the individual preferences of the officer entering the muster record.

Slave – One of the terms used for African American men who had escaped enslavement to enlist in the Navy.

Blacksmith – Another useful trade for shipboard life, something that may have facilitated some of these men entering at higher ratings.

Shoemaker – Yet another trade that brought with it promise when entering the Navy, given the amount of running repairs needed aboard ship. Sometimes this term was also used for men who worked in shoe factories.

Shoemakers (Library of Congress)

Waiter – An occupation that tended to be focused on urban areas, although there is some evidence that it might occasionally have been assigned to African Americans as well.

Painter – Men who were engaged in painting buildings etc. for a living- another occupation that was particularly common in urban locations.

Clerk – These men, with their ability to read and write, were often highly prized in the navy- it will be interesting to analyse the ratings that men with this occupation entered at.

Moulder – The last of our most prominent occupations, moulders were men who made moulds, often in iron production. Given their familiarity with things like machines, it will be interesting to determine how often they were assigned to the crews working the ship’s engine.

We are excited to see how this list of most common occupations will change as the project advances, and what we will learn as we begin to link it with the other data that you are transcribing. It goes without saying that none of these insights would be possible without our dedicated Citizen Scientist team- if you would like to “Climb Aboard” with us and join that team, you can access our Zooniverse Project Page by clicking here!

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