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View of ships in the willamette in the Portland Harbor, 1904.

Image: City of Portland Archives, A2004-002.114 (Used by permission)


Using debt to crew a ship

In the 1880s, captains often relied on "crimps" to find crew members for their ships. The crimps sought out sailors who were searching for housing, food, entertainment, and clothes, and provided all they desired - on credit. The captain would then advance a sailor's wages to the crimp to cover these debts, forcing the sailor to join the ship to pay it all off.

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As Told By...

Doug Kenck-Crispin

Resident Historian, home of the podcast series Kick Ass Oregon History

Website: Kick Ass Oregon History

Doug Kenck-Crispin is the Ribald Resident Historian from He researches, writes and co-produces the bi-weekly podcast series Kick Ass Oregon History, recently featured in the Portland Mercury, Portland Monthly and The Oregonian. He has a BA in History, and is nearing completion of his MA in Public History, with an emphasis on the History of the Pacific Northwest (Portland State University). A lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest, Doug enjoys a good yarn — the more outlandish and unseemly the better — especially when they are true!

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