Student-Faculty Collaborative Research Grant Report
Admiralty | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Gender and Sexuality | History | Law | Law and Race | Law of the Sea | Legal History | Race and Ethnicity | Sexuality and the Law
Two student researchers assisted me in transcribing and contextualizing primary source documents related to a remarkable court case, Enos v. Sowle (1860). In the winter of that year, a teenage cabin boy (Manuel Enos) contracted to an American whale ship, the Montreal, charged Captain Nathaniel Sowle with repeated counts of sexual abuse. After a closed hearing that lasted several days, the court not only found the captain guilty, they fined him $2,500, a tremendous sum for the time.1 With over 200 pages of handwritten testimony and several more hundred pages of related government correspondence, this court case offers an extremely rare window into the roles of sex and sexuality on board American whaling ships, and, by extension, the implementation of law and order in the maritime world of the nineteenth century. While scholars have long known same-sex sexual relations must have occurred aboard these vessels, the dearth of available evidence has severely limited our ability to learn more about such liaisons. The primary aim of this student-faculty collaborative project was thus to process hundreds of pages of primary source materials to explore what this trial might reveal about issues of sexuality and race, as well as the reach of state authority in the Pacific whaling fleet.
1Judgment of Justice Robertson, Dec. 11, 1860, Case 35, Enos v. Sowle, Series 001, Admiralty Records of First Circuit Court, Box 3, Hawaiian State Archives, Honolulu, Hawaii.
Wadewitz, Lissa K., "Student-Faculty Collaborative Research Grant Report" (2016). Post-Grant Reports. Report. Submission 74.