Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Women Aren't Bad Luck

Detail from The Sailor's Joyful Return, artist unknown,
date unknown, National Maritime Museum.
In 1808, Cuthbert Collingwood wrote, 'I never knew a woman brought to sea in a ship that some mischief did not befall the vessel.'

Collingwood is quoted by several historians in relating the belief that women were bad luck at sea.[1] Dorothy and James Volo state in their Daily Life in the Age of Sail that this superstition is 'widely documented,' but provide only this quote as evidence.[2] Suzanne Stark, writing in Female Tars, is more measured in her assessment of Collingwood's words: 'one might suspect him of believing women at sea are bad luck.'[3]

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Linda Grant de Pauw does not mince words: 'Women at sea were not considered bad luck.'[4] 

David Cordingly, writing in his book Women Sailors & Sailor's Women: An Untold Maritime History, presents the evidence against this superstition:
As with so many sailors' superstitions, it is hard to discover the origins of the belief that a woman on a ship bring bad luck, and even harder to find any factual basis for it. Columbus, Magellan, and Drake might not have taken women on their epic voyages, but the ships of the Pilgrim Fathers were loaded with women and survived the Atlantic crossing, as did the hundreds of emigrant ships that followed in their wake...The British navy was prepared to turn a blind eye to the wives of warrant officers living on board; and the wives of captains, diplomats, and colonial governors frequently traveled overseas without bringing any harm to themselves or their fellow passengers. Those naval officers who did object to the presence of women on their ships seem to have regarded them as a nuisance, rather than a source of bad luck.[5]
Most historians agree that the belief that women were bad luck at sea, if it was present, took a back seat to a belief that women could cause real world trouble in a male dominated ship. Marcus Rediker summed up the likely situation nicely (albeit for an earlier age) in his essay "Liberty Beneath the Jolly Roger": 'Many sailors saw women as objects of fantasy and adoration but also as sources of bad luck or, worse, as dangerous sources of conflict, as potential breaches in the male order of seagoing solidarity.'[6]

Stephen R. Berry did not even address superstition regarding women when he wrote in his A Path in the Mighty Waters: Shipboard Life & Atlantic Crossings to the New World, 'the entrance of females into the confines of this male community could create a sexually charged atmosphere.'[7] It was the tension of an 'aggressively masculine' society afloat converging with women that caused tension and raised the hackles of many a naval officer or merchant master.

General Wolfe incorporated British seamen's violent misogyny into his strategy to reduce Quebec in 1759. A naval officer wrote that Montcalm responded to Wolfe's 'cruelty' in devastating the region around Quebec with a threat to turn over his British prisoners 'to the mercy of the Indian savages.' Wolfe's reply was a threat to turn over 'all the French Ladies, without distinction...to the  delicate embraces of the English tars.'[8]
Detail from Grog on Board, Thomas Rowlandson, 1789, Royal Collection Trust.
More often than superstition, mariners harbored a misogyny that cast women as immoral temptresses, unwelcome distractions, or likely victims. In this light, Collingwood's later assertion that women were the cause of 'mischief' may not be superstition at all, but merely an officer expressing his concern about an under-sexed and over-masculine group driven to distraction and dangerous ill-discipline by the mere presence of women. Historians have often noted how women have taken the brunt of the blame for any incidents that did occur, despite sailors themselves being instigators of sexual violence or willing participants in consensual acts.[9]

Despite the academic debate involving all of these historians over decades, there is very little evidence that common sailors thought of women as bad luck. The topic is never breached in any sailors' memoir that I've ever read. There is evidence that sailors of earlier and later eras did believe women were bad luck at sea, but the period of 1740-1790 is not a particularly superstitious time among sailors in the first place.

If women were indeed considered bad luck at sea, the treatment of women discovered posing as men (like Hannah Snell) would have been very different from what Stark described in Female Tars:
When a seaman or marine was discovered to be a woman, she was not reprimanded, let alone convicted and punished for having duped the navy by enlisting under a false identity. On the contrary, she suddenly gained the kindly attention of her officers. Previous to the revelation of her gender, when she was merely one of hundreds of seamen, she was below the notice of her ship's commissioned officers unless she misbehaved, in which case she was severely disciplined. But as soon as it was discovered that she was a woman, the officers' attitude toward her changed; they were fascinated by her and treated her with gentle solicitude.[10]
There wasn't much call for sailors to craft or continue such a superstition under the sailing conditions of the period. While admitting that a woman's 'presence was clearly a temptation to sex-starved men and sometimes led to trouble,' Peter Earle found that 'most mariners seem to have been able to manage without women without any great difficulty. Most voyages were not all that long between ports, where there were always plenty of women to satisfy their lust.'[11]

In short, there is a lively academic debate around whether sailors in my period of study considered women to be bad luck at sea, but I simply haven't seen any evidence to prove that was the case.

[1] Cordingly, David, Women Sailors & Sailor's Women: An Untold Maritime History, New York: Random House, 2001, pages 154.
[2] Dorothy Denneen Volo, James M. Volo, Daily Life in the Age of Sail, London: Greenwood, 2002, page 155.
[3] Stark, Suzanne J., Female Tars: Women Aboard Ship in the Age of Sail, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1996, page 53.
[4] Grant de Pauw, Linda, Seafaring Women, Houghton Mifflin, 1982, page 15.
[5] Cordingly, Women Sailors, pages 154-155.
[6] Rediker, Marcus, 'Liberty Beneath the Jolly Roger,' Iron Men, Wooden Women: Gender and Seafaring in the Atlantic World, 1700-1920Margaret S. Creighton and Lisa Norling ed., Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1996, page 9.
[7] Berry, Stephen R., A Path in the Mighty Waters: Shipboard Life & Atlantic Crossings to the New World, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015, page 160.
[8] Author unknown, 'Letters of a Volunteer,' in Doughty, Arthur G., The Siege of Quebec and the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, Quebec: Desault & Proulx, 1901, page 20, via Internet Archive, accessed August 15, 2018, <https://archive.org/stream/siegeofquebecbat00douguoft#page/20>.
[9] Cordingly, Women Sailors, page 237; Berry, Path in the Mighty Waters, page 161; Stark, Female Tars.
[10] Stark, Female Tars, page 111.
[11] Earle, Peter, Sailors: English Merchant Seamen, 1650-1775, London: Methuen, 2007, page 101-102.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Sailors' Funerals

Death was ever present in the minds of people of the eighteenth century, and the dangers of the sea made it especially so among seamen. Much has been written on eighteenth-century funerary practices afloat and ashore. Burial at sea has featured prominently in mass media.
Outlander, Season 3 (2017)
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
It is easy to see why this tradition is well remembered. In the words of Commander Royal W. Connell and Vice Admiral William P. Mack (both United States Navy, retired) in their book Naval Ceremonies, Customs, and Traditions: 'Arguably the most powerful ceremony of the sea is that which consigns mortal remains to the deep.'[1] There have been changes to the ceremony over the centuries, but it is remarkable how little has changed. Hessian soldier private Johann Conrad Döhla witnessed the ceremony on his voyage to America in 1777:
As soon as someone on the ship dies, whether he is a soldier, sailor, or anyone else, he is fastened onto a piece of wood or a board and then a sack filled with sand or a stone, or a piece of iron, or a cannonball, is fastened on the piece of wood or board so that the dead body, which later will become food for the fish, is immediately pulled under the water.[2]
As Commander Connell and Vice Admiral Mack point out 'it is seldom necessary nowadays to bury at sea,' but 'if the deceased is buried at sea, the body is sewn in a canvas shroud or placed in a coffin that has been weighted to ensure sinking.'[3]

The ceremony was often brief. In his The Slave Ship: A Human History, Marcus Rediker states this was because 'seamen were "plain dealers" who did not care for elaborate rituals.'[4] Given the eighteenth century sailors apathy toward traditional religion, this seems likely. This brevity is reflected in the Diary of John Harrower, an indentured servant sent to America in 1773:
Sunday, 27th. Wind at N. V. at 4 AM Tack'd ship. At same time the man who was bade with the flux was found dead in his hammock, at 8 he was sewed up in it and at 9 AM he was burried in the sea after reading the service of the Dead over him, which was done by the Mate.[5]
Hammocks were a common entombment for the dead. Richard Glover makes this explicit in his 1740 ballad Admiral Hosier's Ghost:
All in dreary hammocks shrouded, Which for winding-sheets they wore,
And with looks by sorrow clouded Frowning on that hostile shore.[6]
On a voyage to Angola, scurvy tore through the ship on which Carl Peter Thunberg was sailing. He remembered later:
Five men had been reported dead, all of them had been sewed up in their hammocks, and two had already been thrown overboard, when the third, the instant he was put on the plank, called out, 'Master Boatswain, I am alive still!' to which the Boatswain with unreasonable jocularity replied,-'You alive, indeed! what, do you pretend to know better than the surgeon?'[7]
On the slave trade, some sailors got no funeral at all. Both Rediker and Peter Earle, in his book Sailors: English Merchant Seamen, 1650-1775, quote a sailor from a 1744 slaving voyage aboard the Florida:
We conceal the death of the sailours from the negroes by throwing them overboard in the night, lest it might give them a temptation to rise upon us.[8]
The opposite was true on Olaudah Equiano's Middle Passage. As a young man, he witnessed the crew beat a sailor to death before 'they tossed him over the side as they would have done a brute.' This was a different kind of deterent, because it 'made me fear these people the more; and I expected nothing less than to be treated in the same manner.'[9] Robert Barker, a shipwright on a slaver, uses the term 'thrown overboard' to describe the method by which the bodies of slave ship sailors were disposed of. He implies a distasteful treatment of the dead on the slave trade.[10]

More ceremony could be expected in the Royal Navy and aboard merchantmen. Aboard British warships, only the Anglican Book of Common Prayer was used in burials at sea. Below is an excerpt from the 1762 edition of that religious text, giving the precise language to be used when committing a body to the deep.
We therefore commit his Body to the Deep, to be turned into Corruption, looking for the resurrection of the Body (when the Sea shall give up her dead,) and the life of the world to come, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who at his coming shall change our vile Body, that it may be like his glorious Body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.[11]
As many ships were without clergy, this was read by the captain or officers, or, as related by Stephen R. Berry in A Path in the Mighty Waters: Shipboard Life & Atlantic Crossing to the New World, even by passengers:
The German schoolteacher Gottlieb Mittelberger assumed all the duties of a minster. 'I held daily prayer meetings with them on deck, and, since we had no ordained clergyman on board, was forced to administer baptism to the children. I also held services, including a sermon, every Sunday, and when the dead were buried at sea, commended them and our souls to the mercy of God.'[12]
At first, burial at sea might have been distinctly British. Connell and Mack state 'In the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries French men-of-war sometimes carried the remains of those who died at sea in the holds until the ships reached port. Old reports indicate that this was a very disagreeable practice and one that served solely the purpose of burying the deceased in consecrated soil.'[13] 'French and Spanish Roman Catholic mariners,' writes Berry,' usually transported the deceased in the hold of the ship so that they could be interred in consecrated ground.' He suggests that part of the reason for burial at sea may have been sailors fear of their shipmates 'body haunting the ship.'[14] On the other side of the coin, Earle states that 'most sailors had a superstitious aversion' to burial at sea for themselves.[15] I'm inclined to disagree with both of these historians, as neither provides strong evidence for sailors' feelings toward burial at sea, and sailors' superstitions are often overplayed. But then, neither claims superstition as the sole reason for this aversion to burial at sea.

A more significant reason that Berry points to for sailors wish to be buried ashore is the prevalence of sharks. Rediker agrees that 'the shark was the dread of sailors.'[156] John Atkins, who sailed aboard a slaver in the 1730's, was aghast at the sharks that swarmed around burials from slavers:
Their Voracity refuses nothing; Canvas, Ropeyarns, Bones, Blanketing, &c. I have seen them frequently seize a corpse as soon as it was committed to the sea; tearing and devouring that, and the Hammock that shrouded it, without suffering it once to sink, tho' a great Weight of Ballast in it.[17]
Alexander Falconbridge, a former slave ship surgeon sailing on the coast of Nigeria, witnessed what the sharks did to the bodies of the enslaved, and noted that sailors were not buried at sea on this part of the African coast:
The river Bonny abounds with sharks of a very large size, which are often seen in almost incredible numbers about the slave ships, devouring with great dispatch the dead bodies of the negroes as they are thrown overboard. The bodies of the sailors who die there, are buried on a sandy point, called Bonny Point, which lies about a quarter of a mile from the town.[18]
Perhaps this was the captain splitting the difference between frightening the enslaved with the callous disposal of the dead as mentioned by Equiano, and preventing the enslaved from knowing how their enslavers were being weakend as the sailor of the Florida attested to.

Private Döhla, the same Hessian who said bodies would 'later become food for the fish,' witnessed other sea life consume the dead:
It happens before one's eyes that, as soon as the dead body is thrown into the water, the fish or other creatures gather and tear him apart and consume him, and there are crabs that are so large that they can hold a man in their pincers and pull him under the water. These are called lobsters and are twelve feet long and as large around as a man's body, and one claw weighs over twenty pounds. I myself have seen an English soldier thrown into the water who was grabbed by a crab with his claws and pulled under the water.[19]
The uncertainty about where their bodies would wind up is reflected in the standard form of a sailor's will. Below is an example, repeated countless times, from the 1756 will of mariner Jonathan Hill:
I commend my Soul into the hands of Almighty God hoping for Remission of all my Sins thro the Merits of Jesus Christ my blessed Saviour and Redeemer and my Body to the Earth or Sea as it shall please God.[20]
"Will of Jonathan Hill, Mariner now belonging to His Majesty's Ship Trident 
of Gosport," National Archives (UK), 11 March 1756, PROB 11/821/151
Officers buried ashore, as you might guess, received a bit more ceremony with their funerals. James Wyatt, a privateer serving in the War of Austrian Succession, remembered just such a funeral:
When I came to our Ship, I found one of our Midshipmen (whose Name I have forgot) was drowned in Catwater, in endeavouring to swim ashore. He was buried very decently in the new Churchyard, in Plymouth; and those of our Men that made the best Appearance, and which we were sure would not run away, attended at the Funeral. Every one had a Pair of Pistols stuck in his Belt, a Hanger by his Side, and there were Swords cross'd on the Coffin Lid.[21]
Other burials could be hasty and sloppy. Christopher Prince, an American mariner pressed into British service in the opening years of the American Revolutionary War, related a harrowing near death experience when the people of New York believed he had succumbed to the smallpox epidemic that swept the continent:
I was placed under a sand bank, and there was a number of people over me throwing down sand that often covered me. I then struggled until I got my head above the sand and breathed. But they continued shoveling it upon me until I thought it would be impossible to get my head out and fetch my breath. And the last struggle I made, I was sure it would be the last, for my strength was nearly gone.[22]
When the diggers realized that Prince was still alive, they abandoned him on the beach, presumably still half buried.

As Paul Gilje points out in his To Swear Like a Sailor: Maritime Culture in America, 1750-1850, 'the selling of the contents of a sea chest became a final ritual commemorating the death of a sailor aboard ship. After the burial at sea, the men would haul the chest on deck and then auction off each item with the intent of sending the money raise to the dead man's family.'[23] The practice was so common that muster books were printed with a column for deductions from pay that went toward 'Dead Man's Cloaths.'
ADM  36/6179, Nightingale Muster Book, 1754 Oct - 1756 Jun, photo by Alexa Price.
As Gilje states, 'this sale also became an effective way to distribute used goods among the crew. It also connected the sailor at sea to his family on land.'[24] Among sailors themselves, the chest and their late shipmate's possessions could also serve as a sentimental reminder.

Equiano, enslaved aboard the Preston, made friends with a young man named Richard "Dick" Baker. It was an unlikely pairing, but the dangers of the sea bred an unbreakable bond between them:
He was a native of America, had received an excellent education, and was of a most amiable temper. Soon after I went on board he shewed me a great deal of partiality and attention, and in return I grew extremely fond of him. We at length became inseparable; and, for the space of two years, he was of very great use to me, and was my constant companion and instructor. Although this dear youth had many slaves of his own, yet he and I have gone through many sufferings together on shipboard; and we have many nights lain in each other's bosoms when we were in great distress.[25]
In 1759, Equiano received terrible news:
I ran to enquire about my friend; but, with inexpressible sorrow, I learned from the boat's crew that the dear youth was dead! and that they had brought his chest, and all his other things to my master: these he afterwards gave to me, and I regarded them as a memorial of my friend, whom I loved and grieved for as a brother.[26]
Hardened men though they were, sailors mourned one another. Funeral rites could help them cope with their loss.

[1] Connell, Cdr. Royal W. and Vice Adm. William P. Mack, Naval Ceremonies, Customs, and Traditions, sixth edition, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2004, page 70.
[2] Döhla, Johann Conrad, A Hessian Diary of the American Revolution, edited by Bruce E. Burgoyne, Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press: 1993, page 20.
[3] Connell and Mack, Naval Ceremonies, 71.
[4] Rediker, Marcus, The Slave Ship: A Human History, New York: Viking, 2007, page 38.
[5] "Diary of John Harrower, 1773-1776," The American Historical Review, Volume 6, Number 1, October 1900, page 73, via Internet Archive, accessed August 1, 2018, <https://archive.org/details/jstor-1834690>.
[6] Glover, Richard, "Admiral Hosier's Ghost," via Barlteby.com, accessed August 1, 2018, <https://www.bartleby.com/333/81.html>.
[7] Thunberg, Carl Peter, Travels in Europe, Africa, and Asia, made between the years 1770 and 1779, Third Edition, London: F. and C. Rivington, 1796, page 118, Yale University via the HathiTrust Digital Library, accessed August 1, 2018, <https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008726012>.
[8] Rediker, Slave Ship, page 246; Earle, Peter, Sailors: English Merchant Seamen 1650-1775, London: Methuen, 2007, page 140.
[9] Equiano, Olaudah, The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings, edited by Vincent Carretta, New York: Penguin, 2003, page 57.
[10] Barker, Robert, The Unfortunate Shipwright: Or Cruel Captain, London: Robert Barker, n.d., c1760., page 23.
[11] The Book of Common Prayer, 1762, via Google Books, accessed August 2, 2018, <https://books.google.com/books?id=WgsVAAAAQAAJ&dq=book+of+common+prayer&source=gbs_navlinks_s>.
[12] Berry, Stephen R., A Path in the Mighty Waters: Shipboard Life & Atlantic Crossings to the New World, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015, page 66.
[13] Connell and Mack, Naval Ceremonies, 69. Follower Adam Hodges-LeClaire points out that this may not have been the case by the mid to late eighteenth century. Boudriot, Jean, (trans., Robert, David H.), The Seventy-Four Gun Ship: A Practical Treatise on the Art of Naval Architecture, Volume IV, Manning & Shiphandling, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1986, pages 155-157. This work is also without notes and citations, though the author suggests the Naval Ordinance of 1765 includes a detailed approach to burial at sea in the French Navy. I have not yet found the Ordinance and so cannot verify one way or the other.
[14] Berry, Path in the Mighty Waters, page 124.
[15] Earle, Sailors, page 140.
[16] Rediker,Slave Ship, page 38.
[17] Atkins, John, A Voyage to Guinea, Brasil, and the West-Indies, Scarborough: Ward and Chandler, 1737, page 46, via Google Books, accessed August 1, 2018, <https://books.google.com/books?id=xak-AQAAMAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s>.
[18] Falconbridge, Alexander, An Account of the Slave Trade on the Coast of Africa, Second Edition, London: James Phillips, 1788, page 67, via Google Books, accessed August 1, 2018, <https://books.google.com/books?id=_lTrja-FFXEC&dq=account+of+the+slave+trade+on+the+coast+of+africa&source=gbs_navlinks_s>.
[19] Döhla, A Hessian Diary, page 20.
[20] "Will of Jonathan Hill, Mariner now belonging to His Majesty's Ship Trident of Gosport," National Archives (UK), 11 March 1756, PROB 11/821/151.
[21] Wyatt, James, The Life and Surprizing Adventures of James Wyatt, London: W. Reave, 1753, page 12.
[22] Prince, Christopher, The Autobiography of a Yankee Mariner: Christopher Prince and the American Revolution, edited by Michael J. Crawford, Washington, D.C.: Brassey's Inc., 2002, pages 95-96.
[23] Gilje, Paul A., To Swear Like a Sailor: Maritime Culture in America, 1750-1850, New York: Cambridge University, 2016, page 266.
[24] Ibid.
[24] Equiano, Interesting Narrative and Other Writings, page 79.
[26] Ibid., page 80.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Beards and Facial Hair

Given the mountain of evidence and research regarding facial hair in the eighteenth century, and the years of debate over whether and how prevalent beards were during the period, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the debate has been settled.

Beards aren't a thing.

Perhaps more appropriately, I should say that beards aren't a thing sailors chose to wear, except in the most dire circumstances. In the hundreds of images I've examined, only four clearly show beards.
Without._from the London Gazette of 11 June, 1757, T. Ewart,
Yale University Lewis Walpole Library.
A new way to pay the National-Debt, James Gillray, 1786, British Museum.
Plate from Histoire des Naufrages, engraved by Marillier, 1788,
John Carter Brown Library of Early American Images.
Frost on the Thames, Samuel Collings, 1788-1789, Yale Center for British Art.
In all of these situations, sailors are depicted ashore and worse for wear. The beards represent their rock-bottom situation. The first two shown here are political cartoons in which the artist is specifically calling out the ministry for neglecting the sailors that protect their nation, and so condemning them to poverty.

This appears to be the case in what few references there are in sailors' memoirs, too. Ebenezer Fox, writing many decades after his experiences, claimed that prisoners on the hulk Jersey had 'their beards never cut, excepting occasionally with a pair of shears, which did not improve their comeliness, though it might add to their comfort.'[1] Despite their condition, they still sought to cut away what facial hair they could.

I've found only one case in which a sailor chose to wear a beard in this period. When John Nicol learned that a press gang awaited him back at port, 'I had allowed my beard to grow long and myself to be very dirty to be as unlikely as possible when the man-of-war boats came on board to press the crew.'[2] He believed, perhaps rightly, that the Royal Navy had no interest in taking a dirty, bearded soul that might infect their ship. While it is likely that Nicol did more than grow a beard to appear disheveled and undesirable, it was the only specific action he relates in this goal. Nicol thought that the beard was essential to looking 'very dirty.'

Beards continue to be depicted in movies, television, and video games about the eighteenth century, and continue to be worn by historical reenactors portraying average sailors. Some of this is obstinacy, with more than a few online forums being inundated with bearded fellows who refuse to give up against historical evidence. Some of it is genuine misunderstanding of historical evidence. The word 'beard' could sometimes be misleadingly used as referring to what we might recognize as scruff or a five o'clock shadow. In Hannah Snell's memoirs, she is said to have been ridiculed by her fellow tars (who were unaware she was a woman posing as a man) 'for want of having a rough beard as they had.'[3]

Some sailors undoubtedly did wear sideburns, as depicted by Copley in his masterpiece Watson and the Shark.
Watson and the Shark, John Singleton Copley, 1778, National Gallery of Art
The average Jack Tar went clean shaven. He might be forced to grow out a beard when wrecked on a distant shore, or destitute on the street, but by far the overwhelming majority of sailors took a razor to their facial hair.

[1] Fox, Ebenezer, The Adventures of Ebenezer Fox in the Revolutionary War, Boston: Charles Fox, 1847, page 108.
[2] Nicol, John, The Life and Adventures of John Nicol, Mariner, edited by Tim Flannery, New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997, page 162.
[3] Snell, Hannah, The Female Soldier; Or, The Surprising Life and Adventures of  Hannah Snell, London: R. Walker, 1750, in The Lady Tars: The Autobiographies of Hannah Snell, Mary Lacy and Mary Anne Talbot, Tucson, Arizona: Fireship Press, 2008, page 26.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Book Review: Warships in the Age of Sail

Two things I want to get out of the way right off the bat: I highly recommend this series, and it is not for everyone.

Rif Winfield has done a phenomenal job with the shockingly huge body of information collected into three series. The most well known and most relevant to my work is his British Warships in the Age of Sail. Winfield catalogs every warship of the British Royal Navy. This effort was broken up over four volumes: 1603-17141714-17921793-1817, and 1817-1873, all of which are currently published by Seaforth.
In his second series, Winfield was joined by Stephen S. Roberts to document French warships. Published by the Naval Institute Press, this series consists of two volumes: 1626-1786 and 1786-1862. The latest in this series is a volume on the Dutch navy, focusing on 1600-1714, and is the first in which Rif Winfield had no hand, being written by James Bender.

All of these books are of excellent quality, but are hyper focused. If you are expecting an narrative crammed with yardarm to yardarm sea battles, you'll be disappointed. These are strictly reference volumes, preceded by a brief history of the conflicts in which the warships took part, often reducing entire wars to a single paragraph. Each ship's tonnage, armament, designer, and sometimes a bit of extra information is described in a few short sentences before a rapid fire list of information on their career. These include where she served, what vessels were taken, and how she was decommissioned, captured, or lost.

Think of this as an encyclopedia of warships.

This is very useful to those of us who need a handy and quick reference to a variety of vessels. The citations plentiful, but require a bit of practice to master. Such a body work does not come cheap, and these are pretty pricey books. But if you need a set of top notch reference books to explore the careers of warships in the age of sail, there's really no better source.

Monday, June 18, 2018


Sea Captains Carousing in Surinam, John Greenwood, c. 1752-1758, Saint Louis Art Museum.
Shanties aren't really a thing in the eighteenth century.

Hear me out.

I love shanties. Back when I worked at the Maritime Museum of San Diego, I spent many a weekend singing from the bow of the Surprise and the poop of the Star of India, and attended more than my fair share of their Sea Chantey Festivals. Go to the next one on August 26, you won't regret it.

But we also have to understand that the eighteenth century is not the nineteenth, and that not all maritime traditions are as immemorial as we think they are.

There are many definitions and spellings of the term 'shanties.' Richard Runciman Terry gives a fairly narrow definition in his The Shanty Book:
Shanties were labour songs sung by sailors of the merchant service only while at work, and never by way of recreation.[1]
William Main Doerflinger in his 1990 Songs of the Sailor and Lumberman gives a more generous definition that allows for the inclusion of naval seamen and the use of shanties for recreation:
Shanties are the work songs of the sailor of square-rigger days.[2]
What these definitions have in common is the use of shanties to coordinate work. There is scant evidence for that in the eighteenth century.

All of the surviving eighteenth century songs that I've examined (and sung) are of forms typical of the era at large and not a maritime working context specifically. Period songs with a maritime theme are often based on existing tunes that are not explicitly work songs. As George Carey pointed out in his introduction to A Sailor's Songbag, a collection of fifty seven songs collected by an American sailor in the 1770's, only six 'deal with the sea, a fact that dispels the sometimes stereotyped notion that sailors only sang about their profession.'[3] Further, no sailor of the eighteenth century writes of work songs. Stan Hughill in his 1961 Shanties from the Seven Seas makes mention of the lack of sources referring to shanties as such in the eighteenth century.[4] Doerflinger, in his Songs of the Sailor and Lumberman, argues that shanties go much further back, but fell into 'comparative disuse during the wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.'[5] Paul Gilje, in his very entertaining To Swear Like a Sailor, also states that 'few commentators mentioned shanties until the 1830s. By then they seem to have become widespread.'[6]

I do not argue that there was no singing on the ship. Samuel Kelly suggests there was a time and a place for music in relating a humorous anecdote in which an army band took up their instruments at an inopportune time aboard a transport in 1783:
At daylight the [regimental] band assembled to play a tune on the quarter-deck (I imagine from custom, or regimental orders), this aroused the fury of our master (who probably had not yet forgotten the danger of the night, and being still near the rocks), was astonished at this inconsideration. He therefore with the speaking trumpet in his hand began to lay it on the heads of the musicians with great violence, which soon dispersed the harmony.[7]
Of course, those were not sailors, they were using instruments rather than their voice alone, and they violated the officer's domain of the quarter deck. Seamen were probably more attune to the appropriate time for singing.

Christopher Hawkins, many decades later, remembered crewing an American privateer schooner as she chased down a fat British brig in 1777:
The second Lieut. took the helm and seemed in command-ordered the boatswain after trimming the sails and the great part of the crew to be seated aft and attend to the singing of some of the crew, (Capt. of Marines).[8]
When Hawkins' crew was later captured by the Royal Navy, they defied the British in song:
Our crew were full of vigour and entertained the crew of the frigate with a number of our patriotic songs. Although entertained the loyalists were by no means pleased. The singing was excellent and its volume was extensive-and yet extremely harsh to the taste of the captors. The guard frequently threatened to fire upon us if the singing was not dispensed with, but their threats availed them not. They only brought forth higher notes and vociferous defiance from the crew. The poetry of which the songs were many of them composed, was of the most cutting sarcasm upon the British and their unhallowed cause. I recollect the last words of each stanza in one song were, "For America and all her sons forever will shine." In these words it seemed to me that all the prisoners united their voices to the highest key, for the harmony produced by the union of two hundred voices must have grated upon the ears of our humane captors in a manner less acceptable than the thunder of heaven. For at the interval of time between the singing of ever song the sentinels would threaten to fire upon us and the officers of the frigate would also admonish with angry words. "Fire and be damn'd" would be the response from perhaps an hundred voices at the same instance. The singing would again be renewed and louder if possible. In this manner the first night was spent.[9]
Hawkins is prone to exaggeration, and this anecdote does give me pause, but music was certainly present in the population of American seamen captured by the British during the Revolutionary War. Timothy Connor, held at Forton Prison from 1777 through 1779, kept a collection of songs, numbering fifty seven in all.[10]

British mariners were also fond of music. When John Nicol visited Hawaii in 1785, one of his shipmates earned a place of respect through his singing:
We had a merry facetious fellow on board called Dickson. He sung pretty well. He squinted and the natives mimicked him. Abenoue, King of Atooi, could cock his eye like Dickson better than any of his subjects. Abenoue called him Billicany, from his often singing 'Rule Britannia'. Abenoue learned the air and the words as near as he could pronounce them. It was an amusing thing to hear the king and Dickson sing. Abenoue loved him better than any man in the ship, and always embraced him every time they met on shore or in the ship, and began to sing, 'Tule Billicany, Billicany Tule,' etc.[11]
There is a difference between songs, shanties, and chants. When it came to working tunes, chants appear to have been the choice.

Ebenezer Fox, a young man who served aboard a privateer and was held aboard the prison ship Jersey during the Revolution, referred to work chants in his memoirs. He wrote of the sailors using 'yo-hoi-ho heave' in tossing a young sailor into the water for a swim, and in specifically referencing use of the windlass 'We then weighed anchor, for the last time, with a joyful "Yeo-a-hoi," and set sail for our native land.'[12]

Fox's memoir must be read critically, as he was writing many decades after the event, and there are inconsistencies in his text. The latter quote, however, falls in line with another primary source.

William Falconer's 1769 An Universal Dictionary of the Marine was a seminal work, and though he does include fanciful fabrications, his book is very helpful. In Falconer's entry on 'Windlass' (an identical entry in his 1780 edition is included below) he writes that when sailors are using handspikes in the device to weigh anchor, 'the sailors must all rise once upon the windlass, and, fixing their bars therein, give a sudden jerk at the same instant, in which movement they are regulated by a sort of song or howl produced by one of their number.' Taken with Fox's account of weighing anchor, these sources corroborate each other.
William Falconer, An Universal Dictionary of the Marine, The Strand (London) T. Caddell, 1780,
page 338, University of California Libraries via Internet Archive.
Falconer also included an entry in his appendix on French terms for 'UN, deux, troi' which relates the use of a chant of sorts to coordinate work, including a simple English variant.
William Falconer, An Universal Dictionary of the Marine, London: T. Caddell, 1769,
page 491, Library of the Marine Corps via Internet Archive.
This sort of coordinated chanting was also related by the American Reverend Ammi Robbins, who experienced that familiar frustration of not being able to get a song out of his head:
The boatmen sing a very pretty air to 'Row the boat, row' which ran in my head when half asleep, nor could I put it entirely out of mind amid all our gloom and terror, with the water up to my knees as I lay in the boat.[13]
None of this evidence indicates what we think of as shanties with chorus, verse, or a narrative. In the nineteenth century there was a combination of ballads and chants to create shanties. It is very likely that there was a strong African influence on the creation of shanties, particularly by the enslaved people of the New World.

There has also been some projecting backward, which is very common in the study of maritime history. A belief has run throughout history that sailors don't really change. Whether it is in their religious beliefs, language, or dress, people then and now often imagine sailors are slow to change, and that traditions of the sea are immemorial. As such, ballads and songs that existed at the time are cast as sea shanties when that was not their intention.

Sailors did sing. When we use the term 'shanties,' we imply a specific musical tradition of work songs that was not yet fully formed in the Atlantic world.

[1] Terry, Richard Runciman, The Shanty Book: Sailor Shanties with Lyrics and Music, ebook: CreateSpace, 2014, page 10
[2] Doerflinger, William Main, Songs of the Sailor and Lumberman, revised edition, Glenwood, Illinois: Meyerbooks, 1990, page 1.
[3] Timothy Connor, A Sailor's Songbag: An American Rebel in an English Prison, 1777-1779, George C. Carey ed., Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 1976 page 16.
[4] Hughill, Stan, ed., Shanties From the Seven Seas: Shipboard Work-songs and Songs Used as Work-songs from the Great Days of Sail, London: Routledge & Kegen Paul, 1961, page 5.
[5] Doerflinger, Songs of the Sailor, page xiv.
[6] Gilje, Paul A., To Swear Like a Sailor: Maritime Culture in America, 1750-1850, New York: Cambridge University, 2016, page 170.
[7] Kelly, Samuel, Samuel Kelly: An Eighteenth Century Seaman, Whose Days Have Been Few and Evil, edited by Crosbie Garstin, Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1925, page 78.
[8] Hawkins, Christopher, The Adventures of Christopher Hawkins, edited by Charles I. Bushnell, New York: Privately Printed, 1864, page 14.
[9] Ibid., pages 63-64.
[10] A Sailor's Songbag.
[11] Nicol, John, The Life and Adventures of John Nicol, Mariner, edited by Tim Flannery, New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997, page 83.
[12] Fox, Ebenezer, The Adventures of Ebenezer Fox in the Revolutionary War, Boston: Charles Fox, 1847, pages 190 and 224.
[13] Robbins, Rev. Ammi R., Journal of the Rev. Ammi R. Robbins: A Chaplain in the American Army, in the Northern Campaign of 1776, New Haven: B.L. Hamlen, 1850, page 18, Library of Congress via the Internet Archive.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Untitled Print, 1762

Untitled print, Paul Sandby, 1762, British Museum.

Thanks again to follower Adam Hodges-LeClaire for pointing this piece out to me.

The curators of the British Museum, in the catalog entry for this piece, believe this to be Sandby's reply to William Hogarth's cartoon The Times. The public debate around the peace negotiations to end the Seven Years War got hot in the press, and Hogarth's Times was copied and answered several times by other artists. Sandby's is possibly the most artistically sophisticated of these responses.

There's a lot going on here, and for more on the political message and the various figures, I do strongly recommend reading the curators' catalog entry.

As always, I'm going to focus on the tars in this cartoon. In the frame on the left and out of frame on the right sailors bookend the piece.
Clutching a broken anchor and covered in cobwebs, a sailor and a grenadier stand atop the scroll outside the left frame of the cartoon. They are juxtaposed against a Scotsman beating a legless man with his own wooden leg on the right scroll. The broken anchor is obvious enough, but the cobwebs suggest disuse, which is hard to argue for the Royal Navy in the final year of the Seven Years War. Fighting a war on multiple continents meant that even with the French Navy shattered by the numerous victories of 1759 the British fleet was stretched across the globe and constantly sailing from one ocean to the next. Perhaps Sandby intended this to be a warning of things to come?

This sailor wears a reversed cocked hat with a narrow brim over his bob wig. His handkerchief is worn over the jacket, but the style is indiscernible. The jacket itself is tucked into his wide legged trousers, and may be intended as a frock, as I can't make out any opening on the front. In any case, the jacket ends in slash cuffs. To emphasize his poverty, the sailor has a patch over his left knee. The trousers end about the bottom of the calf.
According to the curators: 'At the extreme right, Edward, Duke of York, Admiral of the Blue, wearing sailor's trousers, and followed by another naval officer, climbs over a blank inn-sign of the Patriot Arms to come to the assistance of his uncle Cumberland.'

His uniform is decidedly that of an officer, and the trousers may be intended to make his affiliation with the sea apparent. I disagree with the curators assessment of the man standing behind him. The handkerchief over his jacket and the stick in his hand are the marks of common seamen, not officers. Neither of these objects are present on the Duke of York himself. The sailor also wears a bob wig.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A Revengeful Stick

Detail from British Resentment or the French fairly Coopt at Louisbourg,
Louis Pierre Boitard, 1755, John Carter Brown Library of Early American Images.
There are a lot of things I didn't expect when I started this website back in 2014. When studying depictions of sailors' slop clothes, I was surprised by the number of open cuffs, bob wigs, cocked hats worn reversed, and the variety of handkerchief styles. Among the most prolific accouterments of the sailor in artwork of my era is the stick.

A question arose from seeing so many representations of sailors and sticks: why? What purpose does the sailor's stick serve?

Now that I have combed through court records, memoirs, and especially period newspapers, it is my belief that the primary purpose of the sailor's stick was as a weapon.

That is not to say the sailor only ever used his stick as a weapon. Mariners are often depicted dancing with sticks.
Detail from Sea Captains Carousing in Surinam, John Greenwood, c. 1752-1758, Saint Louis Art Museum.
Detail from The Sailor's Fleet Wedding Entertainment,
M. Cooper, 1747, Yale University Lewis Walpole Library.
Detail from The Wapping Landlady, engraved from the Original Painting in Vaux Hall Gardens,
published by Carrington Bowles, 1743, British Museum.
Deatil from Greenwich Hill or Holyday Gambols,
William Humphrey, 1770's, British Museum.
Just as often, sailors are depicted bearing sticks in courtship. Including the very not safe for work print that accompanied a 1770 edition of the erotic novel Fanny Hill. Tame examples of sticks present in courtship are depicted below.
Detail from Jack on a Cruise, M. Darly, 1781, British Museum.
Detail from The Modern Harlot's Progress, or Adventures of Harriet Heedless,
Carington Bowles, 15 May 1780, British Museum.
Jack got safe into Port with his Prize, Robert Sayer, 1780, British Museum.
However, I have not yet found any written evidence of sticks being used for any purpose other than violence. This may simply be because sticks were common enough to pass without mention unless there was an exceptional circumstance that required they be mentioned, though the startling lack of any other source is stark. Further, sailors are very rarely depicted carrying sticks at sea or aboard ship, and this absence may be explained by that tool being primarily a weapon, and therefore discouraged or unnecessary afloat.

A hint of the purpose of sticks is in the memoirs of Olaudah Equiano. He faced the usual dangers that accompanied a life at sea: drowning, fire, death in battle, corporal punishment, and the like. As a black man sailing Caribbean and North American waters, Equiano was also subject to racial dangers like attempted kidnapping:
One day, while I was a little way out of the town of Savannah [Georgia], I was beset by two white men, who meant to play their usual tricks with me in the way of kidnapping. As soon as these men accosted me, one of them said to the other, 'This is the very fellow we are looking for that you lost:' and the other swore immediately that I was the identical person. On this they made up to me, and were about to handle me; but I told them to be still and keep off; for I had seen those kind of tricks played upon other free blacks, and they must not think to serve me so. At this they paused a little, and one said to the other—it will not do; and the other answered that I talked too good English. I replied, I believed I did; and I had also with me a revengeful stick equal to the occasion; and my mind was likewise good. Happily however it was not used; and, after we had talked together a little in this manner, the rogues left me.
Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano, London: T. Wikins,
1789, pages 72-73, University of Michigan via HathiTrust Digital Library.
Equiano's use of the stick was for self defense, and he was far from the only one. When an unnamed sailor from the Hastings was accosted by a highwayman, the blustering tar declared 'that he expected some Broadsides before he surrendered' and later struck the highwayman 'on the Head with his Stick, which so stunned the Fellow, that he fell from his Horse.'
The Derby Mercury, January 20, 1748, Page 4.
The use of the stick for personal defense is alluded to in a print depicting the murder of a midshipman from the Wager during the sailors' difficult time ashore after their vessel wrecked. As Captain Cheap shoots Midshipman Henry Cozens, a small group of sailors charges toward the sound of the pistol, sticks in hand.
Detail from A Representation of Capt Cheap, Commander of the ship Wager, Shooting Mr. Cozens his Midshipman, artist unknown, published 1745 in A voyage to the South-seas, and to many other parts of the world, from 1740 to 1744, by an officer of the fleet.
In another case, two sailors jumped a third on the road and attempted to rob him. Both attackers resorted to striking their victim 'with a bludgeon' and 'a stick.' Despite the onslaught, 'by his Knife and Walking Stick, he defended himself so bravely, that they retreated with great precipitation, without their booty.'
The Derby Mercury, November 17, 1749, page 3.
In the above anecdote we see sailors using the stick both for offensive and defensive purposes, but the sources available lean heavily toward the stick as an offensive weapon. In 1758, a sailor used his stick to beat his wife for infidelity, a shocking crime for which he was incarcerated.
Jackson's Oxford Journal, August 12, 1758, page 1.
The use of sticks in domestic violence is echoed in a possibly apocryphal tale from 1790, a sailor saves his unfaithful wife by beating her lover with 'a large oak stick.'
The Public Advertiser, July 30, 1790, Page 3.
This scene is repeated in the comic opera Thomas and Sally, and so depicted in this print that accompanied the score of that play.
Plate from 'Thomas and Sally or, the Sailor's Return. A musical entertainment in two acts and in verse,'
author Isaac Bickerstaffe, artist unknown, 1770, Internet Archive.
On a larger scale, seamen would use their sticks in riots and brawls. In a trial at the Old Bailey in 1761, a number of sailors produced sticks in a tavern.
Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0, 05 June 2018),
October 1761, trial of Stephen Dane (t17611021-30).
In October of 1763, a riot broke out in Shoreditch, and the sailors in the mob struck at the soldiers called to suppress them 'with their sticks.'
"The Late Riot in Shoredtich," The Beauties of All Magazines Selected for the Year 1763,
Volume 2, London: T. Waller, 1763, page 509, via Google Books.
Sailors are also depicted as wielding sticks in the riot on the Strand in 1749.
Detail from The Mob attempting to pull down Peter Woods house, Unknown Artist, 1749, British Museum.
The sailor in Philip Dawe's Bostonians Paying the Excise-Man is also armed with a stick, and is one of the most prominent figures in the American mob depicted there.
Detail from The Bostonian's Paying the Excise-Man, or Tarring & Feathering,
attributed to Philip Dawe, published by Sayer and Bennett, 1774, John Carter Brown Library.
The rioting mess of shipmates who rescue the woman of ill repute from the law in John Collet's A Rescue, or Tars Triumphant also bear sticks.
A Rescue, or the Tars Triumphant, John Collet, 1767, Open Art Collection.
At times the violence that sailors wrought with their sticks was celebrated. Increasingly during the Seven Years War and especially during the American Revolutionary War, sailors were used as personifications of Britain. And so their sticks came to have political meaning as well. When sailors forced their way onto the field in their enthusiasm to engage the French during the Battle on the Plains of Abraham, the story was repeated in several newspapers. These Georgian journalists were particularly impressed that the sailors were so eager despite 'some having cutlasses in their hands, others sticks, and some nothing at all.'
"Behaviour of the brave Tars at Quebec." The Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. VI,
March 1762, page 135, via Google Books.
In 1781, a Mr. Churchill penned a metaphorical ballad in which the sailor's 'trusty oak stick' was used to beat down the French and those that would shelter them.
"Song 421. Written by Mr. Churchill." The Vocal Magazine; or, Compleat British Songster, London: Harrison and Co., 1781,  page 112, New York Public Library via HathiTrust Digital Library.
The theme of the sailor striking at personifications of Britain's enemies is quite present in cartoons of the latter half of the eighteenth century. A pair of sailors bearing sticks have struck a hard blow against a stereotypical Spaniard in Cruikshank's 1790 Political Sparring.
Detail from Political Sparring, Isaac Cruikshank, 1790, British Museum.
William Wells drew a sailor strangling a personification of the Dutch in 1783.
Detail from Proclamation of Peace, William Wells, 1783, British Museum.
And in a poorly engraved cartoon by Thomas Colley, a British sailor watches over his French prisoners while brandishing his stick.
Detail from The Ville de Paris, sailing for Jamaica, or Rodney triumphant,
Thomas Colley, 1782, British Museum.
For attack and defense, the sailor carried a stick with him ashore. As a symbol of violence borne by the personification of Britain, it became an extension of Britain's might. In reality, it was used for the sort of nasty brawling that sailors were (rightly or wrongly) notorious for.