I have mentioned in prior posts that run away ads in eighteenth century newspapers offer us a glimpse at the material that made up the garments that sailors wore. Another benefit of them is that they can give us a hint of what the life of those sailors was actually like.
Thankfully, the Maryland State Archives has done a phenomenal job of scanning in many extant copies of the eighteenth century paper the Maryland Gazette. It's free to peruse for anyone and, though it has no text search option, is a wealth of information of the day to day workings within a British colony of the 1700's.
While searching runaway ads in this paper, I came across a fairly common one describing a sailor by the name of James Couley:
|July 3, 1766|
But the story doesn't end there.
|April 6, 1769|
So what was life like for these sailors? It's difficult to say precisely. The advertisements taken out to push the cargo carried by the Polly and her crew are vague, promising only "An Assortment of European and East-India Goods." Though the first ad, placed in 1767, promises a tantalizing mystery "unopen'd cargo."
|June 11, 1767|
|July 4, 1771|
But what sort of man was he? Were his sailors tempted by the possible wealth and comforts of shore? Or were they driven from the ship by a domineering captain? These, and other questions, will probably remain perpetually unanswered.
Even so, it's good for us to orient the people we study, and place them in the context of their time. The clothing sailors wear says something about them, but there has to be something to be said to begin with.