. Manuscript contract, 4pp., folio, in a clear, legible hand, with a few ms. corrections. Marsh and his son contract to build a merchant ship for Welsman. With incredible detail, the contract lays out the materials to be used, including the different types of wood, iron and copper fittings, dimensions, etc. This document, likely a working draft of the final contract, is annotated here and there in pencil, a word or two lined through in ink, as the parties come to agreement on aspects of the construction.
Pride of workmanship is clear throughout, the contract stating the shipwrights' intention to build with the best quality materials, including wood "cut in the proper season and...perfectly free from all defects of whatever kind or description." Marsh and his son agree to make the "height between decks, from lower deck to upper deck plank 6 ft. 8 in., depth of Hold from ceiling or limber boards to lower deck plank 13 ft. 4 in.," to use live oak for the upper deck if it could be obtained, and white oak root if not, and to always "work square." The windlass was to be "suitable and complete in every respect, whether as to wood or Iron work for a first rate and fully equipped merchant ship." Welsman, for whom the ship was being constructed, was to be responsible for paying the carvers bill for the decorative work on the trailboard or stern which he might "deem proper," as well as joiners work on the Cabin. Payments for construction were to be made in several installments totaling $10,000, the balance (unspecified) to be paid upon completion, with penalties built in if the ship was not ready to be launched on Jan. 15, 1833. Item #63687
Although there is no mention of who was employed to build this merchant ship for James Welsman, it was likely at least partially built with slave labor. In a May 13, 1833 letter James Marsh and James Poyas wrote in response to a query from Jesse Elliott of the U.S. Navy regarding the construction of a proposed navy yard in Charleston. They state: "There are eight master shipwrights or firms that carry on business in Charleston, owning from seven to nineteen negro ship carpenters, and twenty white apprentices in various progress of their time. These eight master carpenters own, in the aggregate, one hundred slave carpenters, whose usual wages are one dollar and a half per day." [see: American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive... Part 6, Vol. 4, Naval Affairs, (Gales & Seaton: 1861) p.575, for the full text of Marsh's letter.] Shipbuilders in Charleston often used a combination of hired and owned laborers, according to Michael Thompson in his book "Working on the Dock of the Bay: Labor and Enterprise in an Antebellum Southern Port," [USC Press: 2015].
James Marsh (1772-1852) was a well known shipwright in Charleston, arriving in the city around 1800. When President Jefferson's administration ordered the construction of 200 shallow draft gunboats in about 1807, Marsh built five of them at his shipyard in Charleston. He also submitted a design for an "unrigged floating battery" on March 14, 1814, and in 1845, offered to sell to the United States "a floating dry dock, adapted to the sloops of war of the United States." [see: Spirek's "Management Plan for Known and Potential U.S. Navy Shipwrecks in South Carolina," (Wash. Navy Yard: 2004) and Congress' Series of U.S. Public Documents, vol. 448, Journal of the Senate, Feb. 12, 1845.]
According to his will, dated Dec. 1, 1852, Marsh owned several houses on East Bay Street in the city, along with a shipyard, work shop, wharf and docks on Concord Street, one half of the "Charleston Balance Floating Dry Dock," half of Palmetto Wharf, "six negro Carpenters and Caulkers," three superannuated old men, as well as a half share of nine more negro Carpenters and Caulkers already belonging to the business operated by Marsh and his son James, Jr.
James Welsman was a prosperous Charleston ship-owner. During the 1840s he was engaged in the slave trade. His name appears as the slave owner/shipper of at least two ships in the Port of Savannah Slave Manifests of 1845. The ship contracted for here was to be used as a merchant ship. Whether it could have also been used in the interstate transport of slaves is not known.