Bibliographic Information

The Plough Boy Journals

The Journals and Associated Documents

The Plough Boy Anthology

19th Century American Whaling

Bonin Islands

Pitcairn's Island

Dictionaries & Glossaries

Ashley's Glossary of
Whaling Terms

Dana's Dictionary of
Sea Terms


W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. LIV, No. 4 (Oct 1881)
pp. 363-364

My Portuguese Shipmates. 363

. . . .



A nut for the student in human nature is the "'Guee," as he is to be found on board American whalers, or located, as many of them are, in the whaling ports of New England. Not the Portuguese from the mother country, is to be understood by this term; but the colonial. 'Guees, and of these there are two distinct classes. The prejudice existing between the white 'Guee from the Azores, and the black 'Guee from the Cape Verde Islands, is quite equal to that to which we have been acustomed in this country.

      The white or Azores men form the great bulk of the 'Guees in the whaling service. It has been customary, for many years past, for whaleships to sail from home ports with a partial complement of men, and to fit up their crews at those islands. Hence the large number of them to be found employed in the business. But the number who become American citizens is comparatively small. The great ambition of most of them is, to save money sufficient to return and purchase a homestead in their native island. They are deeply imbued with the love of home, or as phrenology has it, "inhabitiveness," for which mountaineers and islanders are especially famed.

      In their peculiarities of character, the 'Guees form quite as distinctive a class as the Irish or Germans. Nay, more so; for the 'Guee is always a 'Guee, though he be an American citizen. He may be naturalized, but not assimilated.

      Those who return to their homes, partially Americanized, form a sort of local aristocracy, as the possession of a few hundred dollars in hard cash secures them independence.

      Of course, they are not slow to plume themselves upon their superior knowledge of the great world; while the sobriety of their habits, have, in almost, every case, saved them from the demoralizing influences of sailor life.

      As seamen, at least in the whaling service, they are highly valued; distinguished as they are, not only for hardy endurance and submissiveness, but for qualities rarely to be found in Jack before the mast, – sobriety and avarice. This last attribute is of special moment in a business where every man, from the captain to the green hand, has a direct interest in the gains of the voyage. The American or English sailor, with characteristic recklessness and improvidence, may make little account of his small share of a hundred or two, more or less, in reckoning up the catchings. But Daniel Dancer himself was not a closer financier than is our genuine Azores 'Guee. He knows, at any moment, his exact interest in every barrel of oil stowed under hatches, and makes up his account anew as each successive "fare" is taken. If, as generally happens, he is not arithmetician enough to do this himself, he gets the figures from some comrade better versed in mathematics, who probably never took half as much pains to calculate his own "lay."

      For this reason, he will always stick to a ship, and finish the voyage in her, rather than lose the money due him. He is not, like his Yankee comrades in too many cases, always laying plans for desertion in the next port, where the anchor may be dropped; nor is he to be easily induced to abandon his "little bird in the hand" for the sake of larger prospective gains. Even

364 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

the allurements of the Californian Ophir, which in '48 and '49 made such havoc among whalers' crews in the Pacific, had little effect in enticing away the Azores' men.

      The 'Guee, as is generally the case with close-fisted men, is temperate in his habits. But, to do him justice, that is not altogether the effect of parsimony, for he can seldom be induced to drink deeply, even at others' expense. This trait makes these men particularly valued while the ship is in port. As captains and officers express it, "Where you put a 'Guee over night, you find him in the morning."

      The 'Guee, when he comes on board at Fayal or Flores, is a most unpromising looking specimen to the eye of the veteran salt. He is usually loose-jointed and awkward in his movements, with a general air of sheepishness about him; seeming, as A. Ward has it, "to apologize, on behalf of his parents, for being here at all."

      He brings nothing with him, but a single suit of homespun, with a cone-shaped woollen cap, which towers a foot or less above his head. But he straightway begins to accumulate property. Before the end of the first season, he is better clothed than any of his American shipmates, while his slop-bills are much less in amount than theirs. Unless we are very fortunate, the accounts of Jack Harris and Pat. Farrell show them to be in debt to the ship; but Manoel Rodriguer always lives within his means, and keeps a balance due him.

      In illustration of this mysterious accumulating (the effect of a sort of thrift not generally well understood on shipboard), it is often said, that if two 'Guees, with one shirt apiece, were shut up in the fore-peak to trade with each other, they would both come out with full suits of clothes.

      He wastes nothing which may possibly be made available at some future day, however distant; while Chatham Street can hardly produce his match at a bargain, I have never been more highly amused than in looking at a chaffering trade between a 'Guee sailor and a Jew clothier, in which my shipmate would triumphantly bear off a garment at forty per cent of the price first asked for it. And the best of the joke was, he would leave Moses well pleased with the result: while I myself had nearly broken his heart, by giving him the full amount of his original demand.

      He is always au fait to all the ingenious contrivances for prolonging the existence of a garment, known among long-voyage mariners; such as quilting one old shirt inside of another, "breaking joints" with the thin places, so that no part of it shall be transparent when completed; or curtailing the sleeves in tropical latitudes for material wherewith to "re-enforce" the back. And the story of the 'Guee who bought an outfit of number twelve brogans, when his feet would hardly have filled sevens, because the prices were the same, and he got more leather for his money, the writer can vouch for, from his own knowledge.

      But very few of the 'Guees who find their way into our marine are able to read or write, even in their own language; and it is only in rare instances, that they show any aptitude for book-learning. Hence few of them rise to be shipmasters, or officers above the station of second or third mate. But with such traits of character as have been mentioned, it is not to be wondered a: that they save money, even in subordinate positions.

      The number of the young men at the Azores who have the index finger, or a part of it, cut off, has often excited wonder and remark. It is safe to say that one in every three or four is thus mutilated. This, we are told, is done to escape the annual conscription for the Portuguese army. They appear, as a general thing, to have little affection for the mother country, and an unconquerable dread of military service.

      They are, as may well be supposed, the must bigoted of Romanists. But they make little account of feast or fast days after enlisting under the American flag; and eat their allowance of bovine mahogany without asking what day of the week it may be. Whether they purchase a dispensation to fit their special case, this deponent is unable to say. It is certain that they seldom neglect their duty of confession, if an opportunity offers to fulfill it; but on arriving at a port where priests of their faith are to be met with, usually strike a balance of their long-current accounts, and open a new score.

      On the whole it may be said of them, that, despite their ignorance, superstition and "nearness" (as Mrs. Peggotty Barkis would say), for which they are often disliked by their forecastle comrades, they stand well with those in authority on the quarter-deck, as being steady and trustworthy men, both in and out of port Such of them as have settled among us, and formed new homes, while clinging tenaciously to their national characteristics, are, almost without exception, worthy members of society. Naturally conservative and unprogressive, the Azores peasant is ever noted for economy, plodding industry, and perseverance, if not for enterprise; and while we smile at his whims and eccentricities, we respect him as an orderly, temperate and thrifty citizen.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: My Portuguese Shipmates.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol 54, No. 4 (Oct 1881)
Pages: 363-364