In this thematically rich book, Mary Kathleen Eyring examines authors whose writings were connected with their charitable endeavors, which addressed the worst by-products of the brisk maritime commerce in Atlantic seaport cities in the first half of the nineteenth century. She argues that charitable institutions and societies emerged in this era because they captured and contained the discontent of imperiled and impoverished groups, thereby effectively thwarting the development of a revolutionary class in America.
According to Eyring, the men and women who most successfully wrote about and engaged in benevolent work strategically connected their work with the affluence generated by maritime commerce. The water trades supported the growth of the American publishing industry, but they also generated both vast inequities in wealth and physically and economically hazardous conditions that, in the absence of a welfare state, required the intervention of benevolent societies. Laborers in Atlantic port cities barred from lucrative professions by gender, race, physical ability, or social status found a way to make a living wage by conjoining the literary with the charitable—and attaching both to a profit structure. In so doing, they transformed the nature of American benevolence and gave rise to the nonprofit sector, which has since its inception provided discontented laborers with a forum in which to express their critique of for-profit American enterprise, by imitating it.
In Captains of Charity, Eyring looks at writers who overcame their marginalized status by bringing together the strands of maritime industry, publishing, and benevolence. These include Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, two black clergymen who managed a massive relief effort when refugees fleeing revolution in Haiti transported the yellow fever virus to Philadelphia in 1793; Nancy Prince, a free woman of color who sought her livelihood in the Protestant missions of Jamaica in the years immediately following Britain’s emancipation of laborers in its Caribbean colonies; Sarah Josepha Hale, who parlayed the social influence she had gained as the founder of a seaman’s aid society in Boston into a role as editor of the hugely popular periodical Godey’s Lady’s Book; and Sarah Pogson Smith, who donated the proceeds of her writing to such prominent charitable causes as the New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb and then capitalized on the goodwill this charity work generated among her wealthy friends in New York City, Philadelphia, and Charleston.
Hardcover is un-jacketed.