|For the record: almost nothing on this page is correct.|
To be fair to Keith C. Wilbur, he was well intentioned and immensely readable for a young audience. Nonetheless, Wilbur's work was not academically rigorous. Abundant primary source images produced in my period of study directly contradict that idea that sailors wore long and tightly bound "rattails."
|Detail from A Marine & Seaman fishing off the Anchor |
on board the Pallas in Senegal Road, Gabriel Bray, 1775, National Maritime Museum.
|Detail from A View of ye Jason Privateer, Nicholas Pocock, |
c1760, Bristol City Museums.
|Seamen relaxing on the Pallas, Gabriel Bray, 1774, National Maritime Museum.|
|Seaman Leaning on a Gun on the Pallas, Gabriel Bray, 1775, |
National Maritime Museum
Short hair may also have been seen as a marker of the subculture of common sailors, like their blue jackets, cocked hats worn reversed, and walking sticks. American sailor Jacob Nagle, then serving in the Royal Navy, remembered the justice meted out to the first lieutenant of the 74 gun Ganges, probably in early 1784. Variously described by Nagle as 'a villen and a terror to a seamen,' and 'a rail tarter to a seaman':
[Edward Riou] was coming a cross the fields to the hard way in the night. He was atack'd by three sailors, and they got him down and cut his long hair off, close to the neck, though he was a strong, powerful man, but they did not hurt him any other way, but he could never discover who they ware that done it.Perhaps this was a way of reducing Riou to the level of the seamen he so terrorized.
If short hair was indeed a cultural marker, the transition from the short hair worn by sailors for most of my period of study may have left a superstitious imprint when the transition began to long plaited pigtails. From the memoirs of Samuel Kelly, relating an incident in 1783:
I requested one of my shipmates to comb and tie my hair, for which purpose I sat under the bow of the boat. While we were at this work the master came forward to see what we were about, and being very superstitious, he flew into a great passion and gave us to understand that it was no wonder we experienced such a foul wind when such trash (as me) was combing his hair in the night.
Kelly's anecdote comes shortly before the publication of the first image I'm aware of that clearly shows a long, tightly plaited pigtail:
|The True British Tar, Carrington Bowles, 1785, collection unknown.|
|Detail from Ban-yan Day on board the Magnificent; or, |
Pease Porridge hot from the Coppers!, John Nixon, 1789, British Museum.
I still do not know when precisely the transition began from short hair to long pigtails, but it was clearly late in the eighteenth century.