Barge Haulers

Barge Haulers


river workers who towed boats by means of ropes along the river bank or on the water by means of oars. The first barge haulers appeared in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Barge hauling expanded as a consequence of increased river transport at a time when the technical development of transportation by water was very imperfect. The main barge-hauling areas were the Volga, from Moscow to Astrakhan; the Beloe Sea, from Moscow to Arkhangel’sk; and the Dnieper, in the Ukraine. The great majority of barge haulers were peasants in search of jobs, chiefly from Simbirsk, Saratov, Samara, Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Vladimir, Riazan’, Tambov, and Penza provinces.

The terms of employment were established in written contracts. Many barge haulers hired themselves out in the winter for reduced pay in order to obtain advances on earnings so that they could pay their obligations. The men usually worked in artels (four to six and sometimes ten to 40 men), which would then merge into larger artels (up to 150 men) in which all the members were bound together by mutual responsibility. The men were paid only at the end of the fishing season. Frequently the money was not even enough to pay for transportation home, and the barge hauler returned home in debt.

Barge hauling declined in importance as technological advances were made. At the beginning of the 19th century there were as many as 600,000 barge haulers working along the Volga and Oka rivers; in 1851 there were about 150,000. As shipping developed, the number of barge haulers declined still further. By the beginning of the 20th century barge hauling had disappeared.


Rodin, F. N. K. istorii volzhskogo burlachestva. Saratov, 1926.
Arkhangel’sky, S. I. Ocherki po istorii promyshlennogo proletariata Nizhnego Novgoroda i Nizhegorodskoi oblasti XVII-XIX vv. [Gorky], 1950.
Rubinshtein, N. L. “Nekotorye voprosy formirovaniia rynka rabochei sily v Rossii XVIII v. Voprosy istorii, 1952, no. 2.