Tuesday, September 23, 2014


Some records of the 1800s state that some American and British whalers were not too technical about observing freedom of choice when it came to employment.

Whaling ships often had deserters. Other crew men died on the voyage. Whatever the reason, whaling ships were often in need of new, able hands, and any young man hanging around the docks was fair game for some captains.

In 1899, one John Sablan (he would have been named Juan, but renamed John when he became a crew member on an American ship), from Guam, claims that he was simply working on a whaling ship while it was anchored off Guam.  He was probably doing light maintenance work or repairs, or perhaps even just loading things on or off.

Well, according to Sablan, before you know it, the ship had lifted anchor and set sail; the island of Guam, with all his family, growing smaller and smaller on the horizon. Sablan protested to the ship's captain, all to no avail.

In time, he was "dumped" at San Francisco, California. Perhaps the captain regretted selecting this one individual to kidnap.

Sablan was not a man easily abused. He got himself a lawyer in San Francisco and filed suit in U.S. District Court against W.T. Storey, master of the whaling ship, the Andrew Hicks.  Sablan was hoping to get $5,000 in damages. Quite a sum.

Did Sablan win his $5,000? Did he stay and die in California?

Still trying to find out.


  1. $5,000 was a fortune back then huh? Wonder if he ever made it home. Poor guy.

    1. According to one site that calculates this stuff, $5000 in 1899 is worth $142,857 in today's values.