Browse The Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives Home Page

Treatment of Immigrants on Steamers in the Coastwise and Inland Traffic

A certain percentage of the immigrants who are distributed from New York City and other points travel toward their ultimate destination on smaller steamship lines in the coastwise trade. There seems to be no attention whatever paid to the accommodations for or care of immigrants on these ships.

On one steamer investigated it was found that steerage passengers were carried in a freight compartment separated from the rest of the vessel only by canvas strips and that in this compartment the immigrants were not provided with mattresses or bedding. There was practically no separation between the women and the men.

On this boat passengers other than aliens who pay the same price as the aliens have regular berths with mattresses and pillows, and a dining room is provided.

There is also the separation of the sexes. In this compartment, the negroes who patronize this line are quartered and receive for the same price much better treatment than the immigrants. This line has carried as many as 200 immigrants on one trip in these freight compartments.

On another line, however, which has accommodations for about 50 immigrants in its usual boats, the immigrants could obtain the same food as the crew, but the berths are in three tiers instead of two, as on the trans-Atlantic ships. They are also allowed the freedom of the lower forward deck.

On another trip, consisting of but one night, however, the berths for immigrants were in three tiers, and they were given the same food that was served to the crew, and there seems to be some care for the immigrants by watchmen and otherwise.

On a boat on the Hudson River the description of the cruelties to the immigrants is as follows:

Forward of the freight, in the extreme bow of the ship, is an open space. I saw Immigrants lying on the floor, also on benches, and some were sleeping on coils of rope, in some cases using their own baggage for headrests.

Conditions on the other line from New York to Albany were found to be identical, though in neither case was there the excuse of crowding, as there was plenty of room.

Of a vessel in the coastwise trade an investigator reports:

There was no attempt to separate the men from the women, and going into the sleeping quarters found the women and men in all state of dress and undress (mostly the latter). Hot nights they slept on deck, as it was too hot below.

Sunday, August 9, 1909, some man crept into the Polish woman’s bunk and attempted an assault, but her cries drove him off (this about midnight).

Monday night about the same time, the same man presumably, now acknowledged being some member of the crew (sailor)—this information I obtained by talking to some members of the crew (sailors)—attempted or did succeed in assaulting the same woman.

The captain started an investigation, but what came of it I was unable to learn, as the matter was hushed up.

It is proper to say that this charge was taken up by the proper authorities, but that no further evidence could be obtained. The quarters of that particular boat were clean and well kept and the food fair.

It is satisfactory to learn that upon the steamers of the Panama Railroad and Steamship Line, practically owned and operated by the United States Government, the conditions and discipline were found to be good, the only complaint being as to the food, which was said to be of inferior quality and of very scanty allowance on one of the boats.

The general comment to make concerning this class of transportation of the immigrants seems to be that it is left entirely to the companies. If the line is humane and progressive, the immigrants are well treated. If it is not, the immigrants suffer accordingly.

In all probability, the condition of the immigrants on these ships' could be made much better by the enforcement of existing statutes.

Return to Top of Page

Steerage Definition, Conditions, and the Immigrant Journey
GG Archives

Copyright © 2000- Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives. All rights reserved. See Terms of Use.