San Francisco's Whitehall Boatmen
The Whitehall boat was the water taxi of the 1800s. When a deep-water ship entered the bay, Whitehall boatmen would row their craft out to ferry in passengers and supplies. The 14 to 20-foot boats were also employed by saloon advertisers, and boarding house runners to bring in customers. Boatmen were paid three to five dollars for every customer delivered to a saloon or boarding house.

Competition was so great that Whitehall boats would often row outside the Golden Gate and wait for hours, sometimes all night, for arriving ships – with one man rowing and one man bailing. The small craft would then hook on to inbound ships and, according to the 1861 San Francisco Times, "swarm over the rails like pirates" taking control of the deck and spiriting off crewmen with promises of cheap liquor and willing women.

Many of the boatmen were infamous characters such as Old Activity who was so named for always being involved in dishonest scheme. Others included a Mexican outlaw named Red Shirt, a mumbling illiterate named Old Buzz, and a huge thug named Solly who would threaten to toss his passengers overboard unless they paid him three times the agreed upon fare. One boatman, Thomas 'Hook-on' Crowley owned a single Whitehall which he passed on to his sons. 116 years later that business grew into the diverse worldwide marine transportation and logistics services company, Crowley Corporation.

Around the turn of the century gasoline powered launches began to replace the Whitehall boats and by 1905 they were nearly all gone. As for Solly, he was killed by the mate of a British schooner who decided not to pay the demand for more money. The sailor shot the boatman, rowed back to his ship, and left Solly's Whitehall boat adrift with the dead boatman draped over the gunwhale.
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