Monday, February 18, 2019

Langrage and Improvised Projectiles

Detail from The Battle of Ouessan, James Gillray,
1790, Yale University Lewis Walpole Library.
For as long as man has used gunpowder in warfare, he has stuffed whatever would fit into a barrel and fired it off. An unexpected find by the archaeologists working on the fabled 1718 wreck of the Queen Anne's Revenge was called to my attention by follower Adam Hodges-LeClaire and sparked my interest. Several news stories reported that a page fragment from Edward Cooke's 1712 A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World was found in the remnants of a cannon on Blackbeard's former ship.[1] It may have been wadding and not terribly unusual, nor perhaps even improvised, but archaeologists did find a bundle of iron rods packed in the barrel of a swivel gun.[2]
North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
Improvised projectiles of the time were called langrage or langrel. William Falconer defined langrage in his 1780 An Universal Dictionary of the Marine:
LANGREL, or LANGRAGE, (mitrailles, Fr.) a particular kind of shot, formed of bolts, nails, bars, or other pieces of iron tied together, and forming a sort of cylinder, which corresponds with the bore of the cannon, from which it is discharged. This contrivance is particularly designed to wound or carry away the masts, or tear the sails and rigging of the adversary, so as to disable him from flight or pursuit. It is never used in royal ships, but very often by privateers and merchantmen.[3]
Most examples of improvised projectiles fit into this definition. Langrage appears to be roughly synonymous with 'canister,' a term not defined in Falconer's Dictionary of the Marine that appears less frequently in period sources than langrage.

Langrage was not improvised but deliberately manufactured. Numerous newspapers announce the amount of langrage captured from French forts, just as official requests by American naval officers during the Revolution ask magazines and state governments to provide langrage for their ships.

A notable example of a truly improvised projectile comes from the cooper John Nicol. Most days during his stint on the 28 gun frigate Surprise, he worked peacefully with his tools and anvil or 'study.' In battle he went below to help load powder. Nicol and other shipboard coopers were sometimes nicknamed 'bungs,' and it was by this name that he was hailed up from below by jovial Irish sailors during a heated battle with the American privateer Jason in 1779:
I was serving powder as busy as I could, the shot and splinters flying in all directions, when I heard the Irishmen call from one of the guns (they fought like devils, and the captain was fond of them on that account), 'Halloo, Bungs, where are you?' I looked to their gun and saw the two horns of my study across its mouth. The next moment it was through the Jason's side. The rogues thus disposed of my study, which I had been using just before the action commenced and had placed in a secure place, as I thought, out of their reach. 'Bungs for ever!' they shouted when they saw the dreadful hole it made in the Jason's side.[4]
As entertaining as Nicol's account is, the effects of langrage and improvised projectiles should not be understated. They wreaked awful devastation. Jacob Nagle recalled how he and the desperate crew of an unarmed American schooner managed to throw together a defense against loyalists in 1780:
There was about 20 odd of us on board but no arms to defend ourselves, except a short brass piece which was intended to be shiped on the capstan on the quarter deck of the privateer in case of boarding at close quarters. As luck would have it ther was cartriges sent with the 4 pounder, but no shot, as it was intended for musket balls. We lashed this piece to the bitts as secure as we could with rope, put a good charge into her; having no balls, the capt of the boat had a bag full of old nails, hooks, and thimbels, and we filled the peace to the muzzell. When they ware rounding two to come a longside, as they ware stem on, we left fly, which raked them fore and aft, not more than 8 or 10 yards distance. It came on them unexpected, like thunder. The shrieks and moaning were terible. She pulled 26 or 28 ores. Laying for a minnute in that sittuation, and the few that remained unhurt saw our deck full of men, expecting we ware well armed, we saw about 4 or 5 got out their oars and pulled away for the Jarsey shore. The gun carried away the lashing and fell over on the opposite side of the deck, however it was not wanted more.[5]
When the Continental Navy ship Trumbull fought the British letter of marque Watt in 1780, one of her sailors was struck 'by a piece of langrage, which took off the upper part of his head.'[6]
Captain Carey of the merchantman Earl of Gainsborough became separated from a convoy in 1746 and was attacked by two French vessels. He later condemned their use of improvised projectiles:
They not only fired Bullets into us, but slugs, chew'd Bullets, old Nails, Bottles, Stones, in short, every thing that the Mind of Man could devise most destructive to the Wretch that was so unlucky as to be wounded.[7]
Here we see reflected a trend in the British rhetoric. Captain Carey clearly disapproved of improvised projectiles, and cast the French as villains for wishing a terrible fate on their enemies. This was a constant refrain in the British press, and was just as often declared when langrage and improvised projectiles were used afloat as ashore. One widely reprinted account of the death of Hanoverian General Zastrow went into gory detail about the improvised projectiles that 'tore' his body 'according to Custom' of the French.[8]
Far more damning was the language of Captain Richard Tyrell of the 65 gun Buckingham which wrangled three French men-of-war that were guarding a convoy in 1765:
In his eyes, the French had 'given in to a measure fit hardly to be named of the worst of pirate, and common sea-robbers.' Loading langrage 'is a practice mean and forbid in the highest degree, as it is of no advantage in the action, but only serves to add future languishing torments to the wounds received in battle, and exhibits an instance of French politeness, French honour.'[9] 

Inflamed by the supposed French 'custom,' the writer of a brief notice in The Pennsylvania Gazette about the Seahorse fitting out for battle against privateers states that the use of langrage 'makes our People the more take Revenge for their Cruelty.'[10]
Another author, writing in The Public Advertiser, went so far as to declare the French were behaving 'contrary to the Rules of War.'[11]
For all their shouting about the supposed violations of the 'Rules of War,' and Falconer's assertion that langrage 'is never used by royal ships,' the Royal Navy was willing to use it when they saw fit. Simeon Deane, reporting to his brother and representative of Connecticut in the Continental Congress Silas Deane in 1775, stated that the 64 gun Asia fired langrage into his ship 'which wounded one or two of our men.'[12] In a 1776 fight between an American shore battery and British armed vessels, there was an exchange 'with Ball, Langrage & Small Arms from both Sides for Several Hours.'[13] In the 1778 First Battle of Ushant, the French under Admiral Louis Guillouet, comte d'Orvilliers reported to their American allies that the Royal Navy used langrage to damage their rigging.[14]
The use of langrage was not the first nor last time that a rhetorical battle was waged over an instrument of war. When gas was brought to the battlefield in the First World War, its use was as widespread as the condemnations against it. The hypocritical shouts of armed powers have long decried the suffering and death of wounded soldiers and sailors, and ignored their own culpability. We should not forget that there were human beings down range from these horrifying weapons.

The study of arms is often impersonal and detached from the consequences wrought by their use. I think it is appropriate to end with the words of John Nicol, who gave us the humorous anecdote about the anvil on the Surprise. He wrote of his experiences in later battles:
During the action, my situation was not one of danger but most wounding to my feelings and trying to my patience. I was stationed in the after-magazine, serving powder from the screen, and could see nothing-but I could feel every shot that struck the Golia[t]h, and the cries and groans of the wounded were most distressing as there was only the thickness of the blankets of the screen between me and them...It is after the action the disagreeable part commences. The crews are wrought to the utmost of their strength. For days they have no remission of their toil, repairing the rigging and other parts injured in the action. Their spirits are broke by fatigue. They have no leisure to talk of the battle and, when the usual round of duty returns, we do not choose to revert to a disagreeable subject.[15]

[1] 'Fragments of book recovered from wreck of Blackbeard's ship,' The Guardian, January 11, 2018, accessed February 13, 2019, <>; Dvorsky, George, "Paper Scraps Recovered From Blackbeard's Cannon Reveal What Pirates Were Reading," Gizmodo, January 5, 2018, accessed February 13, 2019, <>.
[2] Page, Courtney, 'Langrage,' Queen Anne's Revenge Project, North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, March 2, 2018, accessed February 13, 2019, <>.
[3] Falconer, William, An Universal Dictionary of the Marine, London: T. Cadell, 1780, page 184, University of California Libraries via Internet Archive, accessed February 13, 2019, <>.
[4] Nicol, John, The Life and Adventures of John Nicol, Mariner, edited by Tim Flannery, New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997, page 45-46.
[5] Nagle, Jacob, The Nagle Journal: A Diary of the Life of Jacob Nagle, Sailor, from the Year 1775 to 1841, edited by John C. Dann, New York: Weidenfield & Nicolson, 1988, page 18.
[6] The Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser, July 6, 1780, page 2
[7] The Boston Evening Post, September 22, 1746, page 4.
[8] The Public Advertiser, July 7, 1759, page 2.
[10] The Pennsylvania Gazette, November 3, 1757, page 1.
[11] The Public Advertiser, January 15, 1760, page 2.
[12] Naval Documents of the American Revolution, Volume 1: American Theatre: Dec. 1, 1774-Sept. 2, 1775, European Theatre: Dec. 6, 1774-Aug. 9, 1775, William Bell Clark editor, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1964, page 1226, via Naval History and Heritage Command, accessed February 18, 2019, <>. 
[13] Naval Documents of the American RevolutionVolume 4: American Theatre: Feb. 19, 1776-Apr. 17, 1776, European Theatre: Feb. 1, 1776-May 25, 1776, American Theatre Apr. 18, 1776-May 8, 1776, William Bell Clark editor, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1969, page 248, via Naval History and Heritage Command, accessed February 18, 2019, <>.
[14] The Pennsylvania Packet, October 8, 1778, page 2.
[15] Nicol, Life and Adventures, pages 170-172

Monday, February 11, 2019

Wherever the Wind May Take Them: The Universality of Maritime Labor

The Jovial Crew, Thomas Rowlandson, 1786, Royal Collection Trust.
In his book The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy, N.A.M. Rodger wrote 'Men joined a King's ship or a merchant's as opportunity or preference suggested, and they moved easily from one to another...there was no identifiable class of man-of-warsmen, there were simply seamen working at the moment for one particular employer.'[1]

Among popular historians and in popular culture, sailors of the Atlantic World are usually perceived as existing in distinctly separate services. This is true, but only to an extent.

The experience of a common tar on a whaler was indeed very different from his mate on a Royal Navy frigate, and both were very distant from the daily life of a slave ship sailor. And these experiences are worth exploring in themselves. Rodger's Wooden World, Peter Earle's Sailors: English Merchant Seamen 1650-1775, and Marcus Rediker's The Slave Ship: A Human History can and should coexist. But it is also important to remember that sailors generally didn't think of themselves as strictly belonging to a single type of service. Sailors didn't join the navy so much as sign on to a particular ship. Nor did sailors see signing on to an East Indiamen as an irrevocable career decision that destined them only to sail between Britain and India.

The willingness to move between different merchant and naval services is readily apparent in The Sailor's Memoirs Project. In a fairly typical example, Christopher Prince began his career on fishing vessels, and eventually took command of a merchantman from New England to Canada, where he was pressed into the service of the Royal Navy, then returned to America and enlisted in the Connecticut State Navy, and found his way back into the merchant trade.[2] More famously, Jacob Nagle bounced all over the earth on merchantmen and naval vessels: enlisting in the Continental Navy, leaving to sign aboard a privateer, briefly serving in the French navy, then the Royal Navy, and later in both American and British merchantmen.[3] Olaudah Equiano had an even more fascinating experience. An enslaved survivor of the Middle Passage, Equiano was held by various naval and merchant officers, and in their service sailed men of war, slavers, and merchantmen. After gaining his freedom, he continued in both the merchant and Caribbean and North American slave trades.[4] Nearly every entry in The Sailor's Memoirs project follows a similar path between the different maritime services.

By expanding our definition of sailor's lives, we can open up interesting opportunities in studying the Wooden World. A version of this expanded scope has been underway for quite some time in naval history. In writing his excellent The Struggle for Sea Power: A Naval History of the American Revolution, Sam Willis was explicit in his willingness to break down the arbitrary divisions made within naval histories of the past, Will made 'no distinction between navies operating on rivers and freshwater lakes and those on oceans. The contributions made by the former to this war are of equal significance to those by the latter. Naval historians tend to make a false distinction between "inland navies" and those that disputed "command of the sea," but contemporaries saw no difference. They simply talked of "command of the water," an excellent phrase that has sadly gone out of use.'[5] By expanding the examination of naval history to privateers, fresh water travel and battle, and other theaters, Willis was able to weave a much more complete narrative of the naval Revolution than any previous historian.

In their book Young Men and the Sea: Yankee Seafarers in the Age of Sail, Daniel Vickers and Vince Walsh take it even further. They make a strong case for expanding our understanding of sailor's lives to the shore as well. Then, as now, sailors spent most of their time on dry land. Ashley Bowen, typical in his freely changing maritime employment, is examined in depth by Vickers and Walsh, who find that 'for Bowen...merchant seafaring was less a specialized trade than a single element within a broader pattern of maritime employment' both afloat and ashore.[6]

Studies of daily life on warships, merchantmen, and slavers are valuable and helpful, but few sailors would have experienced those trades alone, and none would have joined them in a vacuum. Looking at sailors' lives between all services and within the British Atlantic World in which they were raised, can give us a much fuller understanding of the eighteenth century.

[1] Rodger, N.A.M., The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy, New York: W.W. Norton, 1986, page 113.
[2] 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.
[3] Nagle, Jacob, The Nagle Journal: A Diary of the Life of Jacob Nagle, Sailor, from the Year 1775 to 1841, edited by John C. Dann, New York: Weidenfield & Nicolson, 1988.
[4] Equiano, Olaudah, The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings, edited by Vincent Carretta, New York: Penguin, 2003.
[5] Willis, Sam, The Struggle for Sea Power: A Naval History of the American Revolution, New York: W.W. Norton, 2015, page 7.
[6] Vickers, Daniel, with Vince Walsh, Young Men and the Sea: Yankee Seafarers in the Age of Sail, New Haven: Yale University Press, page 99.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Call of Nature

Sailors of the eighteenth century were just as human as the rest of us. That means they had to sleep, eat, drink, and relieve themselves.

Given both the personal and mundane nature of the subject, it isn't surprising that so few people wrote about how sailors, passengers, officers, and enslaved captives disposed of bodily waste. There are almost no references to how sailors 'eased' themselves in their memoirs and journals, and newspapers are similarly silent on the subject. Through archaeology and a few print sources, we can come at a better idea of how they dealt with it. There were four main avenues: the seats of easement or 'head', anywhere sailors damned well pleased, the piss-dale, chamber pots, and tubs. Each of these methods says something about the people who crossed the Atlantic World.

I want to thank maritime archaeologist and follower Brian McNamara for recommending the book Those Vulgar Tubes: External Sanitary Accommodations aboard European Ships of the Fifteenth through Seventeenth Centuries by Joe J. Simmons III. I rely on Simmons' short work throughout this post. I also want to thank Randy Sparks for helping me track down a particularly tricky source. Check out his Africans in the Old South: Mapping Exceptional Lives Across the Atlantic World and Where the Negroes are Masters: An African Port in the Era of the Slave Trade.

The Seats of Easement

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, 2003
When it comes to answering the call of nature, most people with even a passing interest in maritime history know about 'the head.' Whether tossed into novels as evidence of a hard life at sea, or spoken by a museum docent for a surefire snicker from fifth grade students on a tour, we all pretty much know what to expect.

This most well known of facilities inspired an eighteenth century passenger to verse, and provided Simmons the title of his book: 'Those more vulgar tubes that downward peep, near where the Lion awes the raging deep.'[1] N.A.M. Rodger penned this academic definition of 'the head' in his 2000 edition of The Memoirs of a Seafaring Life: The Narrative of William Spavens:
A triangular platform built over the bows and the base of the bowsprit, where situated the ship's company's latrines.[2]
Notably, Rodger inserted this definition into a glossary that Spavens wrote (and largely plagiarized) to pad out his memoir. Spavens did not include the term originally and probably chose not to both because it was a delicate topic and because the term 'head' was not used specifically in reference to sailors' toilets. I have not yet found a period side that uses the term 'head' in this way. In William Falconer's 1769 An Universal Dictionary of the Marine, he does not define 'head' as such nor does he include the facilities in his diagrams.[3] 
The lack of a toilet in Falconer's plans for the head are not entirely surprising. Simmons points out that for this period 'in the detailed construction plans available...there is a serious lack of diagrams of the hygienic facilities at the head,' perhaps because shipwrights 'knew how best to fit the facilities of the day to the vessels they built.' He suggested the term 'head' came to mean marine toilets with the rise of steamships in the nineteenth century.[4] Given that, I refer to them as other historians do: seats of easement.

Regardless of what it was called, the seat of easement was an unpleasant place to do one's business, particularly for those not used to the ways of the sea. In his A Path in the Mighty Waters: Shipboard Life & Atlantic Crossings to the New World, Stephen Berry quotes a German immigrant who was forced to use the sailor's head:
Each one, when one wished to relieve oneself, must hold to the ship's rope with one hand, while with the other, hold one's clothes over one's head and let oneself be splashed by the brine whenever the waves ran high enough.[5]
Such a position would leave sailors and passengers vulnerable to the elements and to their fellow man. As I've written before, resistance was a constant facet of slavery. Guineamen were specifically designed to prevent and fight the frequent revolts on the Middle Passage with barricados, separate apartments for enslaved men, women, and children, and even the placement of the seats of easement. In this illustration of the French slaver la Marie Séraphique you can see a set of seats presumably for the enslaved and another further aft and behind the barricado for the sailors.[6]
Detail from Coupe interne de La Marie Séraphique, artist unknown, c.1772-1773,
Les abolitions de l'esclavage.
The image above emphasizes the sheer number of enslaved people held aboard, and the four holes provided by the seats of easement must have been insufficient. This appears to have been a habitual problem for facilities afloat. Simmons points to the example of the fabled Victory which had 'only six formal sanitary accommodations forward for the roughly eight hundred-man complement of this first-rate.'[7]

Anywhere They Pleased

Given the discomfort, vulnerability, and lack of traditional seats of easement, some sailors avoided them or sought an alternative. In a 1763 case heard before the Maryland Court of Vice Admiralty, two slave ship seamen swore against their captain, who beat a sailor 'for pissing out of the gun hole.'[8] In William Wiliams' semi-autobiographical novel Mr. Penrose: Mr. Penrose: The Journal of Penrose, Seaman, he wrote of a fight between Spanish sailors and their English prisoners. He later learned it was caused by careless urination:
In the foretop was a small Hurricane house for the Captain of the Top to sleep in. In this place was a Model of a Ship, in which some of our people through laziness watered. Unfortunately for us she had a small hole in her bottom, and the urine ran down on the Hoopsticks as they were at prayers. But the whole things blew over next day as we all declared none intended it as an insult.[9]
The Admiralty considered such 'laziness' to be a hazard. To address this, they updated the Regulations and Instructions Relating to His Majesty's Service at Sea to include a specific order 'that all necessary Precautions be used, by placing proper Centinels, or otherwise, to prevent Peoples easing themselves in the Hold.'[10]

The Piss-Dale

For the more considerate sailor, there was the piss-dale. 
Reconstructed piss-dale on HMB Endeavour, © State of NSW DET
A simple metal urinal, the piss-dale was such an integral part of sailors' lives that Edward Ward chose to include it on the very first page of his description of common sailors in the satirical The Wooden World Dissected:
He crawls upon the deck, to the piss-dale, where, while he manages his whip-staff with one hand, he scratches his poop with the other.[11] 
The piss-dale was located near the ladder to the quarterdeck, as illustrated in the widely reproduced 1728 engraving 'A Ship of War of the Third Rate'[12]:
Being made of metal, a handful of these have survived to be excavated by maritime archaeologists.
Piss-dale from the Invincible, 1758 [13]
Piss-dale from the Henrietta Marie, 1700 [14]
Piss-dale from an unknown wreck [15]

Chamber Pots

Numerous wrecks of the eighteenth century turn up chamber pots. In the archaeological report of the Swift, a sloop that wrecked in 1770 off Argentina, archaeologists stated 'three ceramic chamber-pots were found prior to the intervention of the PROAS team, and so have no provenance. But since chamber-pots were not used by ordinary seamen, it is very probable that they belonged to officers.' Chamber pots are very common artifacts from the eighteenth century, found at pretty much every major domestic site. The archaeologists found 'there are clear differences in quality between the three pots: one is plain and coarsely-made, another is plain but of high-quality creamware, and the third is salt-glazed with relief decoration in blue, and probably imported from the Westerwald district of the Rhineland (cf. Hume 1982: 280–1).'[16]

Simmons also concluded that sailors were less likely to use chamber pots:
According to the technologies of a particular period, easily portable collection containers of wood Chamber pots were probably employed more often by officers and privileged passengers than by members of the crew, who used the cruder forms of collection containers.[17]
The number of surviving chamber pots in eighteenth century shipwrecks supports these conclusions. Though a relatively small vessel, the Swift boasted a crew of 125 officers, men, and marines when she was commissioned in 1763.[18] Were chamber pots a more common mode, we would expect to see more than three for such a crew.
Chamber pot from Invincible, 1758 [19]
The idea that chamber pots were primarily for the officers is reinforced by the excavation of the 1758 Invincible wreck. As a seventy four gun ship of the line on active service, she boasted between 650-700 officers, men, and marines.[20] John H. Bingeman isn't entirely clear in his The First Invincible (1747-1758): Her Excavations (1980-1991), but it appears this chamber pot alone was found among the wreckage.[21]

I found no reference to chamber pots in reports of the privateer Defence, gunboat Philadelphia, or sloop Boscawen.[22] All of these are small ships of war operating in American waters.

Merchantmen also carried chamber pots for personal use. In the excavation of an unidentified late eighteenth century merchantman off Lewes, Delaware 'at least two chamber pots' were recovered.[23] In the mingled 1788 wrecks of the French Boussole and Astrolabe another chamber pot was excavated.[24]

Any treatment of chamber pots in archaeological wrecks for my period of study would be incomplete if I failed to include the strange and unique use of chamber pots on the General Carleton wreck of 1785. Joanna Dąbal wrote:
Those discovered on the wreck were most probably not used for their standard purpose. Their number (eleven in total), as well as traces of usage in the form of numerous scratches on the inside and soot stains on the outside of the vessels suggest that they were used in the preparation and consumption of meals on the ship (Fig. 6).[25]


By the Middle Ages, wooden tubs were used to store human waste afloat. Simmons defined one method of tubs, and one that draws an uncomfortable similarity to the chamber pots of the General Carleton:
Steep-tubs were wooden barrels, and half-barrels, generally understood to have been used to steep, or humidity and partly desalinate, salted meats - a staple for crews of sailing ships from at least the fourteenth century to well into the nineteenth century. An alternative has been suggested as well: that of external sanitary accommodations.[26] 
Beginning in the early seventeenth century, tubs were gradually phased out for sailors and passengers as toilets with the rise of alternate and more sanitary means.[27]

Among enslaved Africans on the Middle Passage, tubs continued to be the main depository of human waste. With the exception of chamber pots, other accommodations were constructed so that they would swiftly carry waste out of the ship and drop it into the sea. Tubs were vessels of collection, and contributed to the horror of the slave ship. Olaudah Equiano remembered his survival of the Middle Passage in his Interesting Narrative:
The air soon became unfit for respiration, from a variety of loathsome smells, and brought on a sickness among the slaves, of which many died. The wretched situation was again aggravated by the chains, now unsupportable, and the filth of the necessary tubs, into which the children often fell, and were almost suffocated. The shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable.[28]
Former slave ship captain turned abolitionist John Newton testified before Parliament against the slave trade. When he remarked that slave ships could be 'uncomfortable' below decks, a politician asked him 'In what respect chiefly does it deserve this epithet?' Newton echoed the atmosphere Equiano conjured in his book, and also emphasized the role of necessary tubs in the suffering of enslaved people:
Their being kept constantly in irons; crowded in their lodging; and often in bad weather, almost destitute of air to breathe; besides what they suffer from the ship's motion in their irons, and the difficulty in the night of getting to their tubs, which are sometimes overset.[29]

Marcus Rediker argued in his The Slave Ship: A Human History that Guineamen were constructed both for the physical task of transporting African captives to the New World, but also to transform those human beings into commodities.[30] Part of this was subjecting them to a dehumanizing terror, and the use of necessary tubs rather than more effective means of waste disposal may have been part of that.

By studying universal aspects of the human conditions, we can explore the past. Looking at what we eat and how, the ways we grieve over death, how we sleep, and even how we dispose of bodily waste, it is possible to draw conclusions about class, race, labor, and culture. Seats of easement are simple proof of the danger and discomfort of life at sea. The paucity of chamber pots touches on divisions between officers and men (permeable though that barrier may have been). The continued use of tubs on slavers illustrates how very different that trade was from the rest of the merchant and naval maritime world, and how integral suffering was to the slave trade.

[1] Simmons III, Joe J., Those Vulgar Tubes: External Sanitary Accommodations aboard European Ships of the Fifteenth through Seventeenth Centuries, Texas A&M University, second edition, London: Chatham Publishing, 1997, page 58
[2] N.A.M. Rodger in Spavens, William, Memoirs of a Seafaring Life: The Narrative of William Spavens, edited by N.A.M. Rodger, County Somerset: The Bath Press, 2000, page 232.
[3] Falconer, William, Plate IV, An Universal Dictionary of the Marine, London: Printed for T. Cadell, 1769, Plate IV, Trove, National Library of Australia, accessed December 2, 2018, <>.
[4] Simmons, Vulgar Tubes, page 58.
[5] Quoted in Berry, Stephen, A Path in the Mighty Waters: Shipboard Life & Atlantic Crossings to the New World, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015, page 57.
[6] 'Coupe interne de La Marie Séraphique,' c.1772-1773,Les abolitions de l'esclavage, Ministère de la Culture, accessed January 22, 2018, <>. Link now dead.
[7] Simmons, Vulgar Tubespage 59.
[8] Henry Edwards and others v. The Snow Hannah Edward Priscott Commander, Transcription of "Admiralty Court--Minutes (1754-1775)", Maryland State Archives, David R. Owen and Michael C. Tolley editors, accessed December 1, 2018, <>.
[9] Williams, William, Mr. Penrose: The Journal of Penrose, Seaman, introduction and notes by David Howard Dickason, afterward by Sarah Wadsworth, Indianapolis: University of Indiana, 2013, pages 46-47.
[10] Regulations and Instructions Relating to His Majesty's Service at Sea, ninth edition, London, 1757, page 200, via Google Books, accessed December 1, 2018, <>. This order is not present in the 1734 regulations.
[11] Ward, Edward, The Wooden World Dissected: In the Character of a Ship of War, seventh edition, London, 1760, page 56, via the HathiTrust Digital Library, accessed December 1, 2018, <;view=1up;seq=9>.
[12] "A Ship of War of the Third Rate," 1728, University of Wisconsin Madison via Wikimedia Commons, accessed December 1, 2018, <>.
[13] Piss-dale, inv.280-2, Invincible collection, The Historic Dockyard Chatham, accessed December 1, 2018, <>.
[14] Henrietta Marie Pissdale Tube 86.08.1888, Mel Fisher Maritime Museum via Sketchfab, accessed December 1, 2018, <>.
[15] Pissdale (12A07), © The Ships Project (Shipwrecks and History In Plymouth Sound), accessed December 1, 2018, <>.
[16] Dolores Elkin, et al., 'Archaeological research on HMS Swift: a British Sloop-of-War lost off Patagonia, Southern Argentina, in 1770,' The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, Volume 36, Issue 1, March 2007, page 50.
[17] Simmons, Vulgar Tubespage 4.
[18] Harrison, Simon, 'British sloop 'Swift' (1763)' Three Decks, accessed December 2, 2019, <>.
[19] Chamber pot, inv.354-2, Invincible collection, The Historic Dockyard Chatham, accessed December 1, 2018, <>.
[20] Harrison, Simon, 'British Third Rate ship of the line 'Invincible' (1747)' Three Decks, accessed December 2, 2019, <>.
[21] Bingeman, John H., The First Invincible (1747-1758): Her Excavations (1980-1991), Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2010, pages 172-173.
[22] Bratton, John Raymond, The Continental Gondola Philadelphia, doctorate disseration, Texas A&M University, 1997; Erwin, Gail, Personal Possessions from the H.M.S. Boscawen: Life on Board an Eighteenth-Century Warship During the French and Indian War, master's thesis, Texas A&M University, 1994; Shelley Owen Smith, The Defence: Life at Sea as Reflected in an Archaeological Assemblage from an Eighteenth Century Privateer, doctorate dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1986; Switzer, David C., "The Excavation of the Privateer Defence," Northeast Historical Archaeology, Volume 12, 1983, pages 43-50, via Binghampton University, The Open Repository,  <>;
[23] Underwater Archaeological Investigation of the Roosevelt Inlet Shipwreck (7S-D-91A), Volume 1: Final ReportDelaware Department of State Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, April, 2010, page 135, accessed December 5, 2018, <>.
[24] Staniforth, Mark, Material Culture and Consumer Society: Dependent Colonies in Colonial Australia, Springer Science & Business Media, 2012, via Google Books, accessed December 5, 2018, <>.
[25] Dąbal, Joanna, "An attempt to recreate the ceramic vessel selection," The General Carleton Shipwreck, 1785, Archaeological Research of the Polish Maritime Museum, Volume 1, Waldemar Ossowski editor, Gdańsk: Polish Maritime Museum, 2008, pages 226-227.
[26] Simmons, Vulgar Tubespage 34.
[27] Ibid., 52.
[28] Equiano, Olaudah, The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings, edited by Vincent Carretta, New York: Penguin, 2003.
[29] Newton, John, testimony in Minutes Of The Evidence Taken Before A Committee of the House of Commons, Being A Select Committee, Apointed on the 23d Day of April 1790, To take the Examination of the several Witnesses ordered by the House to attend the Committee of the whole House, to whom it is referred to consider further of the Circumstances of the Slave Trade, 1790, in House of Commons Papers, Volume 73, University of Cambridge, page 142. Special thanks to Randy Sparks for helping me dig up this reference. 
[30] Rediker, Marcus, The Slave Ship: A Human History, New York: Viking, 2007.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Shore Party Armaments: The Cutlass

'Figure of Eight' Naval Cutlass, c.1740-1750, Colonial Williamsburg.
I recently received an inquiry regarding the carrying of cutlasses. Follower Brian McNamara, a maritime archaeologist and historian, noticed that a lot of reenactors portraying naval seamen were wearing blades:
As I pour through images I find very little evidence of a sailor wearing baldric or scabbard, even if they do happen to have a cutlass in hand. In the instances where they do, it is often in a political piece where the author is clearly taking artistic licence. In what situation if any would a before-the-mast common sailor ever be granted such leeway to carry arms? 
In this post, I will approach two main questions: how were cutlasses carried, and by whom?

MacNamara is right that most images from the period show sailors with naked cutlasses. This is particularly notable in the numerous portrayals of the British Tar at Omoa. In each of these a common sailor is portrayed storming the fortifications of Omoa bearing at least one cutlass, and the image often includes background characters also armed with naked blades, but not a single scabbard or baldric among them.

Primary source artwork is of limited use here. There are many images of sailors with sword or cutlass, but most of these are cartoons and not illustrated by mariners familiar with the customs of the sea. Of the cartoons and other images collected there, it's a pretty even split between waistbelt and baldric, or no method of carrying cutlasses at all. Not exactly illuminating.

Even those pieces that are illustrated by mariners are not necessarily reliable or helpful, as is the case with this detail from East India Company mariner William Gibson. The figure on the right holds a sword, but has no visible belt or baldric for sheathing it.
Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum and Park, Newport News, VA
Detail from Earl of Cornwallis Bound to Bengal, William Gibson, 1783
This would support the notion that sailors aboard were issued cutlasses only when necessary, and so did not need scabbards, baldrics, or waistbelts to haul them around. Certainly cutlasses and other weapons were stored aboard ship for easy access in an emergency, and not intended to be carried for long periods of time. When a press gang boarded the Boston merchantman Hawke in 1741, a young Ashley Bowen had to distract the Royal Navy midshipman who 'examined our small arms and missing some of our cutlass and pistols out of their places...began to examine our bulkheads' in search of the shipmates that presumably held those arms to resist.'[1] John Nicol, serving during the Revolutionary War, wrote: 'I was one of the boarders. We were all armed, when required, with a pike to defend our own vessel should the enemy attempt to board; a tomahawk, cutlass and brace of pistols to use in boarding them. I never had occasion to try their use on board the Proteus, as the privateers used to strike after a broadside or two.'[2] John Iver, 'mate of an East India Ship,' in a letter written to his wife and published in Jackson's Oxford Journal, resorted to an extreme measure to carry his cutlass when the ship caught fire and Lascar sailors tried to escape on the only boat available. Ordered by the captain to save the 'save him and the rest of the Europeans,' Iver 'took a cutlass in my mouth, and directly jumped overboard.'[3]
Aboard ship, sailors had little need of a scabbard. Ashore was a different story.

Sometimes this was for ceremonial occasions. James Wyatt, a privateer writing in his The Life and Surprizing Adventures of James Wyatt in 1753 mentions the carrying of swords for a midshipman's funeral ashore: '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.'[4] Again, he says nothing about precisely how the blades were slung.

Gabriel Bray is perhaps the only artist to give us a reliable image of a sailor carrying a cutlass ashore. Bray, unlike most artists I examine on this website, was a naval officer and focused on daily life at sea during his 1774 voyage aboard the frigate Pallas to Africa. In one piece entitled Military Figure Leaning on a Pile of Bales (possibly created shortly before the Pallas voyage) a common seaman is in the background hauling casks.
​He wears all the paraphernalia of a boarding party: pistols tucked into a belt, at least one vambrace to protect the forearm in close combat, boarding helmet reinforced with (presumably) iron bands, and a cutlass in a scabbard.[5] There is no shoulder slung baldric so it must hang from his waistbelt. Given Bray's background, and the other pieces he has painted, I think we can reasonably conclude this is a slice of life depiction, rather than a metaphorical piece using visual shorthand as in cartoons of the day. The curators of the National Maritime Museum state 'it has been suggested he [the figure in this illustration] may be connected with anti-smuggling operations.'

My guess (and I stress it is a guess) is that the sailor was part of a shore party along with the officer who stands as the central figure of the piece, and that the party was dressed and accoutered for close combat in case something went wrong. This would make sense in an anti-smuggling mission.

Certainly merchantmen kept bladed weapons as well. As quoted above, Ashley Bowen served on a merchantman in which cutlasses were stored ready for the crew. Merchant captains also personally owned hand weapons for their personal protection and likely that of their crew. In examining the probate inventories of landowners in colonial London Town, Maryland, Mechelle Kerns revealed just such evidence. Captain Anthony Beck’s estate inventory lists both a pair of pistols and a cutlass among his possessions, just as Captain Richard Jones’ inventory mentions three guns, and Strachan’s lists a 'parcel of old sward blades.'[6]

So how common were cutlasses on non-naval vessels compared to men-ofwar?

Archaeology can be of some help here. Looking through archaeological reports for non-naval vessels the General Carleton (merchant), Defence (American privateer), and Philadelphia (American gunboat) made no mention of recovered swords, cutlasses, or associated leather gear.[7] Matthew Keagle, curator at Fort Ticonderoga, weighed in on the collection drawn from the sloop Boscawen. 'Somewhat to my surprise I don't believe there were any cutlass parts or belting recovered from the wreck. To a certain extent this doesn't surprise me, as it was built and manned largely by army personnel.' The Boscawen was even commanded by an infantry officer from the 77th Foot.[8] Interestingly, these vessels all have surviving artifacts of and related to flintlock small arms.

Naval vessels don't always turn up cutlasses themselves, but the associated gear does reliably appear. Perhaps the lack of swords and cutlasses had more to do with the crew taking those weapons with them than their lack aboard prior to sinking.The 1791 wreck of the Pandora turned up some leather scabbard fragments.[9] The 1798 wreck of the DeBraak, though after my period of study, provides the most complete surviving set of cutlass leather gear. Follower Andrew Lyter of the Zwaanendael Museum in Lewes, Delaware (which displays some of the artifacts recovered from the DeBraak) was kind enough to provide some photographs of the remarkably intact gear.
Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, Department of the State, photographed by Andrew Lyter, Zwaanendael Museum, Lewes, Delaware.
Maritime material culture historian Matthew Brenckle pointed out that some of the buckles recovered from the 1770 wreck of the naval sloop Swift are remarkably similar to that on the belt of the DeBraak.[10]

Almost certainly, shore parties were equipped for what their commanders thought would be most useful and appropriate for the occasion. The thirty three officers and men of the Royal Navy dispatched on the Braddock Expedition in 1755 were armed with bright barreled sea service muskets, cartouche boxes, and bayonets, and no cutlasses (much less belts, baldrics, or scabbards).[11] Braddock's Expedition was a long term campaign and the officers in charge anticipated traditional restricted warfare of the eighteenth century style, with the occasional stand up fight brought on through ambush. Bray's men apparently anticipated close in fighting ashore.
"Figure of Eight" Naval Cutlass, c.1740-1750, Colonial Williamsburg.
All of this suggests that cutlasses were more common on naval vessels than any other sort.

Whether naval seamen carried cutlasses ashore depended very much on the particular situation. The sailors of the Braddock Expedition were on a very different mission than the sailor portrayed by Bray. How precisely they carried these implements requires more research than I've given you here. If you know of artwork I've missed, existing baldrics or waist-belts from the period, or primary source accounts that shed more light on this topic, feel free to share them and shed light on this topic.

[1] Bowen, Ashley, The Autobiography of Ashley Bowen (1728-1813), edited by Daniel Vickers, Ontario: Broadview Editions, 2006, page 38.
[2] Nicol, John, The Life and Adventures of John Nicol, Mariner, edited by Tim Flannery, New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997, page 37.
[3] Jackson's Oxford Journal, January 6, 1759, pages 1-2.
[4] Wyatt, James, The Life and Surprizing Adventures of James Wyatt, London: W. Reave, 1753, page 12.
[5] Boarding helmets are rarely mentioned, and even more rarely researched. William Gilkerson did briefly examine them in his Boarder's Away: With Steel - Edged Weapons & Pole Arms, Lincoln, Rhode Island: Andrew Mowbray Publishing, 1991, pages 104-106.
[6] Kerns, Mechelle, London Town: The Life of a Colonial Town, unpublished master’s thesis, UMBC: 1999., page 244, 311, 347.
[7] Litwin, Jerzy, et. al., The General Carleton Shipwreck, 1785, Gdansk: Polish Maritime Museum, 2008; Shelley Owen Smith, The Defence: Life at Sea as Reflected in an Archaeological Assemblage from an Eighteenth Century Privateer, doctorate dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1986; Switzer, David C., "The Excavation of the Privateer Defence," Northeast Historical Archaeology, Volume 12, 1983, pages 43-50, via Binghampton University, The Open Repository,  <>; Bingeman, John H., The First Invincible (1747-1758): Her Excavations (1980-1991), Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2010.
[8] ; Campbell, Janet and Peter Gesner, 'Illustrated Catalog of Artefacts from the HMS Pandora Wrecksite Excavations 1977-1995,' Memoirs of the Queensland Museum, Volume 2, Issue 1, Brisbane: Queensland Museum, 2000, page 88, accessed July 31, 2018, <;dn=888899821801914;res=IELHSS>.
[9] Personal e-mail communication with the author.
[10] Dolores Elkin, et al., “Archaeological research on HMS Swift: a British Sloop-of-War lost off Patagonia, Southern Argentina, in 1770,” The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, Volume 36, Issue 1, March 2007.
[11] Keppel to Barrington, March 17, 1755, 'IV. The Norwich: Letters,' in The Barrington Papers, Vol. 77, ed. D Bonner-Smith, London: Navy Record Society, 1937, 115-165. British History Online, accessed July 31, 2018, <>.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Pets Afloat

Middle-Deck of the Hector, Man of War, Thomas Rowlandson, 1782, National Maritime Museum.

Thomas Rowlandson took a tour from his studio in London to the wreck of the Royal George in 1782. He completed an album of twenty-seven images documenting his vacation. Two of these images portray the Hector, a 74 gun man of war. Rowlandson's depiction of the gun deck of a third rate as she sits idle in port is telling. The Hector has taken on the appearance of a rounded community, almost like a village ashore. Unlike the almost universally male society of a warship at sea, there are women scattered throughout the scene. In this scene we see a telltale sign of domesticity in the terrestrial mode: pet dogs.
In his The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy, N.A.M. Rodger states it very clearly: 'Every ship had animals of many kinds aboard.' Most common were the pests like rats, followed by livestock, and finally pets.[1] For the sake of this post, I'm defining pets as animals that provided companionship, and were not intended to be eaten.

Sailors, like their brothers ashore, kept pets. Dogs were certainly among them. During the 2005-2006 excavation of the sloop Swift, a Royal Navy vessel that went down off Argentina in 1770, archaeologists recovered an intact metal dog collar.[2]
Photo by D. Vainstub, 2006 [3]
Drawing by N. Ciarlo, 2008 [3]
Dogs were common enough be included in (arguably) high art. William Hogarth's painting depicting Lord George Graham in the cabin of his 24 gun Bridgewater includes two dogs: Graham's spaniel and Hogarth's pug named Trump.
Captain Lord George Graham in his Cabin, 1745,
William Hogarth, National Maritime Museum.
As well as being companions, dogs could also serve diplomatic purposes. When Jacob Nagle accompanied a colonizing expedition to Norfolk island in 1790, both the Europeans and Pacific Islanders exchanged gifts of dogs:
They brought two small dogs as a great present, but so vicious that they had to gag them, which was excepted of, through friendship, and in return the Dutch capt gave them a hound slut, which they seemed to adore. They tied a string round hur neck and danced round hur with great joy and led hur up to the town.[4]
Dogs could also intimidate. When the cooper John Nicol was having trouble getting work done while surrounded by Hawaiians, 'the captain, seeing from the deck my disagreeable situation, hailed me to set Neptune, our great Newfoundland dog, upon them, saying he would fear them more than fifty men.'[5]

If things got difficult, dogs could also become a food supply. In his entry for February 8, 1774, gunner's mate John Marra of Captain Cook's Resolution was matter of fact about it: 'Ships head N. by W. This day roasted the lieutenant's dog for the gun-room.'[6]

Sailors harbored an incredible affection for cats. When the American sailor Ashley Bowen took ill in 1746 as a prisoner in Hispanola, he found 'my cat was the greatest means of my recovery of my health.'[7] Henry Fielding was shocked at just how deep mariners' care for cats was during a voyage to Portugal in 1754:
While the ship was under sail, but making as will appear no great way, a kitten, one of four of the feline inhabitants of the cabin, fell from the window into the water: an alarm was immediately given to the captain, who was then upon deck, and received it with the utmost concern and many bitter oaths. He immediately gave orders to the steersman in favor of the poor thing, as he called it; the sails were instantly slackened, and all hands, as the phrase is, employed to recover the poor animal.
The cat was eventually saved by the boatswain, who stripped and swam to the stricken creature, carrying it back aboard in his mouth. Fielding wrote in his journal that some sailors were disappointed at the survival of the kitten, as 'the drowning of a cat was the very surest way of raising a favourable wind.'[8] As much as sailors' superstitions are overplayed, the belief that cats were somehow connected to the winds appears to be genuine. Samuel Kelly remembered just such a case in 1788:
Having got the pilot on board at Deal and some fresh provisions, we sailed for the river. Our pilot, seeing our cat frolicsome, who doubtless smell the land, and was running in and out on the bowsprit, became exasperated against the poor animal; he being superstitious concluded her gambols denoted a heavy gale of wind, which actually came on and we rode out the storm in Margate Roads, but I do not think the manoeuvres of the cat were in any way connected with it.[9]
Kelly appears to be wrong. Cats may indeed react to changing barometric pressure. Obviously, cats do not affect the weather, but they are affected by it. No less a literary figure than Johnathan Swift commented on this phenomenon when he published his 1710 poem 'A Description of a City Shower' in The Tatler:
Careful observers may foretell the hour
(By sure prognostics) when to dread a shower:
While rain depends, the pensive cat gives o'er
Her frolics, and pursues her tail no more.[10]
There is a key difference between the belief that Kelly's pilot held in cats predicting the weather, and Fielding's crew who believed that cats controlled the weather.

Christopher Hawkins many decades later related a fanciful and probably apocryphal tale of an unnamed British frigate captain during the Revolution that held a 'natural antipathy' to the ship's cat. While around it he was 'uneasy.' Either this captain was no lover of felines, or held to the belief around cats' control of the wind. In any event, Hawkins wrote that a sailor had been condemned to flogging by the cat-of-nine-tails, but escaped punishment by presenting the captain with this ditty:
Exotic pets were also sometimes acquired, especially by sailors in tropical climes. Peter Earle, in his book Sailors: English Merchant Seamen 1650-1775 found that a sailor named 'Thomas Marshall excused his desertion in St Kitts in 1738 by claiming he had only gone ashore to search for his parrot, while the British consul in Lisbon related in 1724 that some wreckage was known to be from a ship from Brazil because of the parrots and monkeys washing ashore.'[12] When sailing from Florida in 1785, Samuel Kelly served on a vessel that was a positive menagerie. He slept near 'two small white face monkeys' named Jacko and Caesar. Among his passengers 'The Colonel had also a racoon on board and each of the young ladies had a lap dog.'[13]

[1] Rodger, N.A.M., The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy, New York: W.W. Norton, 1996, pages 69-70.
[2] Ciarlo, Nicolás C., Horacio De Rosa, Dolores Elkin, and Phil Dunning"Evidence of use and reuse of a dog collar from the sloop of war HMS Swift (1770), Puerto Deseado (Argentina)" Technical Briefs in Historical Archaeology, Volume 6, 2011, pages 20–27, accessed August 15, 2018, <>.
[3] Ibid., page 21.
[4] Nagle, Jacob, The Nagle Journal: A Diary of the Life of Jacob Nagle, Sailor, from the Year 1775 to 1841, edited by John C. Dann, New York: Weidenfield & Nicolson, 1988, page 136.
[5] Nicol, John, The Life and Adventures of John Nicol, Mariner, edited by Tim Flannery, New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997, page 87.
[6] Marra, John, Journal of the Resolution's voyage: in 1772, 1773, 1774, and 1775, London: F. Newbery, 1775, page 127, via University of Michigan, Eighteenth Century Collections Online, accessed August 30, 2018, <;view=fulltext>.
[7]  Bowen, Ashley, The Autobiography of Ashley Bowen (1728-1813), edited by Daniel Vickers, Ontario: Broadview Editions, 2006, page 54
[8] Fielding, Henry, The Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon, London: A. Millar, 1755, page 88, via Internet Archives, accessed August 15, 2018, <>.
[9] Kelly, Samuel, Samuel Kelly: An Eighteenth Century Seaman, Whose Days Have Been Few and Evil, edited by Crosbie Garstin, Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1925, pages 159-160.
[10] Swift, Jonathan, 'A Description of a City Shower,' in The Tatler, Volume IV, George A. Aitken, editor, New York: Hadley & Mathews, 1899, via Project Gutenberg, accessed August 17, 2018,  <>.
[11] Hawkins, Christopher, The Adventures of Christopher Hawkins, edited by Charles I. Bushnell, New York: Privately Printed, 1864, pages 154-155, via Internet Archive, accessed August 16, 2018, <>.
[12] Earle, Peter, Sailors: English Merchant Seamen 1650-1775, London: Methuen, 2007, page 95.
[13] Kelly, Eighteenth Century Seaman, pages 124-125.