Thursday, July 28, 2016

Detail from "A Book of Drafts and Remarks," 1763

Detail from "A Book of Drafts and Remarks," Archibald Hamilton, 1763, National Maritime Museum. Found in Background to Discovery by Derek Howse, University of California Press, 1990, page 163.

Special thanks to Tom Apple for pointing out this fascinating image.

It will come as no surprise to regular readers here that I have a fascination with navigation in the eighteenth century. This sketch by Archibald Hamilton, a master's mate, depicts a fellow of the same rank (or perhaps the man himself) at work with an octant. At his feet are the tools of his trade: a lead line, compass, chip log, and traverse board. As Mr. Apple wrote not long ago, the latter three are essential to dead reckoning.

What is even more interesting about Hamilton's sketch is the figure it portrays. Master's mates were assistants to the master, who was responsible for the navigation of naval vessels in the eighteenth century. You can learn more about masters by reading Lena Mosser's excellent post on their role and rank in naval society. Hamilton and his fellow mates would rank as petty officers on the ship, exempt from standing watch, but shouldering more responsibility. They would have had to possess some skill in the art and science of navigation.

Hamilton's illustration accompanies a journal charting the voyage of the Surprize from England to the Portuguese island of Madeira.

Our mate wears a cocked hat with narrow brim bound in light colored tape. His hair is short, but not of a bob wig style. A black neckcloth hangs down over his chest, and he wears a fanciful jacket with a dark collar and cuffs. His mariner's cuffs, lapel, and vents all feature the same white metal or cloth covered buttons. Our master's mate's waistcoat is unfortunately not well detailed, but his trousers are striped with pockets cut well down the thigh. His trouser legs end above the ankle, revealing white stockings and round toed shoes with oval buckles.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Ann Mills, date unknown

Ann Mills, Served on Board the Maidstone Frigate, R. Graves after unknown artist, original date unknown, National Maritime Museum.

Ann Mills is a mystery. The only artistic depiction to survive, the one featured here, was a copy made decades after the original. Truth be told, Ann Mills may not even be a real person.

Vague recollections of some action around 1740 aboard a frigate named Maidstone (there were other vessels around the 1740's named Maidstone, but no frigate) are related generations after the supposed event, and give so little detail that there is virtually no trail to follow.

Mills offers us far less to go on than the famous Hannah Snell. It may be that Mills was a fiction inspired by the true life of that female marine, who fought at roughly the same time as Mills' supposed service.

Thankfully, Frank Felsenstein has taken an interest in Mills, and published a short piece on gender and national conflict entitled "Unravelling Ann Mills: Some Notes on Gender Construction and Naval Heroism" in McMaster University's journal Eighteenth Century Fiction.

Mills wears a cocked hat with a very short brim over short curled hair. He collarless jacket is double breasted with a remarkable number of buttons on he lapels and open mariner's cuffs. He waistcoat is plain, dark, and also double breasted. A white cravat is neatly tied and tucked into the waistcoat, which hangs above the plain white slops/petticoat trousers. He white stockings run to pointed toe shoes with fanciful rectangular buckles of white metal.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Shipping at Anchor in the Thames Estuary, Date Unknown

Shipping at Anchor in the Thames Estuary Near Wapping, Samuel Scott, date unknown, Sotheby's.

"When one goes into Wapping or Rotherhithe, which places are chiefly inhabited by sailors," wrote the author Sir John Fielding, "but that somewhat of the same language is spoken, a man would be apt to suspect himself in another country. Their manner of living, speaking, acting, dressing and behaving are so peculiar to themselves. Yet with all, they are perhaps the bravest and boldest fellows in all the world."[1]

British sailors living in and visiting Wapping were well aware of the paradoxical nature of a mariner's life. Both the revelry of a shore bound life and the constancy of death were on full display. If a seaman were to look past the gin shops and gibbeted bodies partially afloat at full tide, he would see the forest of masts and yards that Samuel Scott has so ably illustrated here.

Aloft on the ship at the center of the piece are some of those "bravest and boldest fellows in all the world." They wear brown and blue jackets with white and blue trousers. On the foretopsail a sailor wears a round hat with a narrow brim, At the main topsail the sailors wear caps, with the fellow standing by the mainmast wearing a cocked hat.

On deck are a variety of sailors wearing the full range of sailor's garments. Petticoat trousers/slops, trousers, blue, brown and red jackets, round hats, cocked hats, and caps. Standing by the wheel and ladder is a fancy man bowing to a lady in a fine dress, and interesting parallel to the labor being done by the sailors on the forecastle.

The ship's crew fires a salute to starboard, clouding the nearby brig in smoke. Rowing into that smoke is a longboat with a blue painted stern. Her coxswain and oarsmen wear jackets without waistcoats and round hats. One of the oarsmen has a pair of red breeches.

In the foreground, a sailor contents himself with his pipe while his mate pulls away on his oar. The smoking tar has a black round hat with a taller crown and narrow brim. His jacket has slash cuffs which are rolled back on his left arm, the same that supports his pipe. The oarsman appears to be wearing his sleeves rolled up as well, and is without a waistcoat.

The sloop to larboard has but three sailors aboard, who appear to be largely at their leisure. The man leaning against the mast appears to be smoking, as his mate might be further aft. They wear brown and blue jackets with brown slops/petticoat trousers and black caps, with the exception of the smoking man further forward who wears a round hat.

Astern of the large Dutchman is a barge of watermen moving lumber, and a boat of men hauling in an anchor. They wear yellow, red, brown, and blue jackets with caps. One fellow further forward wears a pair of brown or red breeches and a brown waistcoat with a black cocked hat.

[1] Quoted in Marcus Rediker, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700 - 1750, Cambridge University Press: 1987, page 11.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Pyrates in the Bay of Maryland: Race and Resistance in the Chesapeake

This post is a continuation of the "Race, Revolt, and Piracy" series. You can find parts one, two, and three here.

Slavery and convict servitude at times defined sailors in the eighteenth century Chesapeake. British sailors could negotiate wages[1] and hold merchant officers accountable if they stepped out of line.[2] While convict servants possessed some rights, enslaved sailors held virtually none. Both groups were subject to the whims of ship owners and sea captains.

Detail from "The Jovial Crew," Thomas Rowlandson,
1786, Royal Collection Trust.

Convict servants at least had a light at the end of the tunnel. Most were sentenced to seven years of servitude, after which they would be free. This guarantee of freedom also served as a bargaining chip to encourage proper behavior and deference from servants to masters. Some of these convicts went on to relative prominence. By way of example, William Logan was convicted of stealing muskets and rum from the ship Ruby in London and selling them in 1756. After his seven years of labor were up, he came to possess a barber shop, wharf, warehouse, and tavern on City Dock in Annapolis, the very same city the Hopewell cast off from.

An advertisement placed in the August 22, 1765 edition
of the Maryland Gazette, page 3.

Despite the opportunities, many convict servants were nonetheless bound to service and subject to the people who held them, and a good number were certainly physically and mentally abused. Logan himself ran away from his new master, peruke maker Andrew Buchanan, within a year of arriving in Maryland.[3]

Enslaved people suffered the same abuses convict servants endured, along with the added mental toll of perpetual, generational enslavement for them and their families. London Town, the seaport that George Cook hailed from, was home to 961 known enslaved people between its founding and 1788. Of these, only nine are known to have gone free.[4] Free communities in the eighteenth century Chesapeake were remarkably rare, and for some communities were unheard of.

How then did unfree mariners cope with their situation?

The convict servant John Wright and enslaved sailor Anthony Lewis responded with the full rejection of their status through violence. Their murder of Captain Curtis was a desperate bid at freedom, and perhaps even one they knew almost certainly could not succeed. Killing Curtis, kidnapping fellow sailors, and driving hard for the south was the most extreme version of resistance, one that held only two possible outcomes: death or freedom.

Subverting the system was another form of resistance. Lewis claiming himself to be a Portuguese man among white convict servants would have placed him in their class. Though convict servitude was not to be envied by many, the promise of eventual freedom and some basic protections under the law as a white man were very inviting to an enslaved man.

Resistance was a constant in North America and perhaps everywhere slavery was present, but not all forms of resistance were welcomed by the enslaved themselves. The enslaved mariner George Cook was forced by the runaways to travel south, and it is easy for us to imagine ourselves inviting such an abduction. The chance to escape to freedom not as a fugitive but as a blameless victim, removing the threat of punishment in the event of recapture, is appealing. This interpretation is, sadly, divorced from the context of the eighteenth century. In contrast to Lewis, who could pass as a white man, Cook is always described as a "Negro." With darker skin, there was no way for him to blend in with South Carolina's free society, much less the Caribbean. Chesapeake slaves were familiar with the particularly deadly conditions of West Indies plantations, and the frightening efficiency with which Carolinian slave holders put down rebellions and revolts. Lewis was trying to move up the social ladder, but Cook was being dragged down it.

Above all of these considerations loomed the very real threat of brutal punishment. In eighteenth century Maryland, people of color were far more likely to be sentenced to death than any other class. Once sentenced to death, convict servants were less likely to receive a pardon or reprieve than anyone else, including enslaved people.[5] The outlook for unfree people was very grim when brought to court.

Detail from "A Pirate hanged at Execution Dock," Robert Dodd,
late 18th century, National Maritime Museum.
Walking the line between inviting brutal and fatal punishment and resisting the oppressive order was a difficult task. The anger and frustration of unfree mariners sometimes boiled over into violence. By contrast, the violence consistently perpetrated against unfree people was relentless, and when they struck back the legal system was swift in reinforcing social and racial hierarchy.

The Hopewell Mutiny is just one case of maritime violence in the eighteenth century, but it provides us with an intersection of several degrees of slavery and convict servitude.

[1] See N.A.M. Rodger's The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy, W.W. Norton & Co., 1996. 
[2] See my post on Captain James Lowry.
[3] Maryland Gazette, September 22, 1757, page 3.
[4] Ryan Cox, "The African-American Experience," lecture, Maryland State Archives at Historic London Town and Gardens.
[5] "Percent Hanged, Pardoned, and Reprieved: Classes Compared, 1726-1775," appendixed to Seven Hangmen of Colonial Maryland, C. Ashley Ellefson, via Maryland State Archives.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Pyrates in the Bay of Maryland: Punishment

This post is a continuation of the "Race, Revolt, and Piracy" series. You can find parts one and two here.

For two months there was no sign of the murderous mutineers of the sloop Hopewell, but the pirates' luck wouldn't last.

Somehow, the pirates wound up at Capers' Island, a small bit of land about fifteen miles north of Charleston, South Carolina. Months after her capture, an advertisement was placed in the South Carolina Gazette by the Court of Admiralty, stating that the Hopewell was left "at Anchor, on the High Seas," by her mutinous crew.

South Carolina Gazette, July 4, 1754
According to a report in the New York Mercury, the Hopewell was brought in to the Carolina Bar and abandoned by her crew, who were "soon after taken up and secured"[1] except for the mutineer John Smith, who was captured a short while later. Smith immediately claimed not to have anything to do with the murder.

Did the kidnapped sailors raise an alarm? Were the pirates trying to sell or trade their cargo as smuggled goods? Perhaps they were merely taking on water and provisions for a trip further south before things went awry. Or maybe they had no intention of sailing to the Caribbean and thought they could blend into the Carolinas. There are many unanswered questions.

What can be said is that the three mutineers were arrested and brought before the Court of Admiralty. As mentioned in the advertisement above, the court believed the mutiny, kidnapping, and murder were all committed "on the High Seas, and within the Jurisdiction of the Court of Admiralty."  It is worth noting that George Cook and James Manshore, the kidnapped sailors, were not considered to be a party to the crimes of the mutineers, raising the possibility that it may have been them that turned in or revealed the crime of the pirates.

Silver Admiralty Oar of Massacussets, via
United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire

The record of the trial does not survive, but it is abundantly clear that John Smith turned evidence against his co-conspirators. John Wright, who actually committed the murder and took charge of the Hopewell, and Anthony Lewis, who had by this time shed his persona as a slave and passed as "a Portugese," should easily have been found guilty.

The Court, however, was forced to acquit. Apparently the judges were unfamiliar with the geography of the Chesapeake, perhaps evidenced by their referring to "a place called Choptank in Chesapeak Bay." Powerful though it was, the Admiralty Court had no jurisdiction in the "narrow seas" of Maryland. It would fall to a provincial Admiralty Court in Maryland to decide the fate of the mutineers.

Given the dangerous nature of the criminals, they were confined in irons aboard a Royal Navy frigate, the Shoreham, and transported North. Captain Legg, commander of the Shoreham, does not appear to have been bound for Maryland, but rather to Nova Scotia, and rather than make a long voyage to Annapolis and back out to the Atlantic again, dropped the prisoners off in Virginia. Robert Dinwiddie, governor of Virginia, wrote to Horatio Sharpe, governor of Maryland, to let him know that "I have order'd them into the public Prison in this City [Williamsburg]," until Sharpe could send a boat and guard to pick them up at Yorktown.[2] 

George Cook and James Manshore were returned to servitude in London Town, and the prisoners delivered up to Annapolis. After a brief trial, during which John Smith again testified against Wright and Lewis, the two were convicted and sentenced to hang.

Detail from "A view of the procession of John Swan and Elizabeth Jefferies,"
Bispham Dickinson, c.1752, British Museum.
Just outside the Annapolis City Gate, the two were hanged. Their bodies were then carried to Hackett's Point, at the mouth of Severn River, and displayed on gibbets in irons. Lewis and Wright's earthly remains became a grim reminder to sailors of the fate that awaited pirates in the Chesapeake.[3]

Next Time: What can we learn from the Hopewell mutineers, and what does this case tell us about the nature of race in the maritime Chesapeake of the eighteenth century?

[1] New York Mercury, June 17, 1754, page 2.
[2] The Official Records of Robert Dinwiddie, Virginia Historical Society, 1933, Volume 1, Page 212. An interesting sidenote: that greatly renovated and restored prison still stands.
[3] Maryland Gazette, August 8, 1754.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Pyrates in the Bay of Maryland: Kidnapping on the Patuxent

This post is part of the series "Race, Revolt, and Piracy." Follow this link to find part one of the story "Pyrates in the Bay of Maryland."

The Hopewell's crew of three, two convict servants and an enslaved man, were making their way south. After murdering their captain, the mutineers steered toward the Capes of Virginia and the Atlantic, their only real chance at freedom. If the sloop could make it to the open ocean they might find their way to a more distant colony where word of their crime would have no effect. Perhaps they thought they could make a Spanish, French, or Dutch port in the Caribbean that they could disappear in and begin life anew.

Led by the convict servant and navigator John Wright (alias William Wilson), the trio had a good shot of making it out of the Chesapeake. Two main obstacles stood in their way: time and manpower.

Already an armed boat had been dispatched from Annapolis to bring the pirates to justice. Word was spreading of their bloody mutiny. The longer they spent in the Bay, the more likely it was that they would be caught. It was imperative that they reach the Atlantic as soon as possible.

Detail from drawing of a sloop, John Thomas Serres, 1789, British Museum.

The bigger problem was with the sloop itself. Throughout her career, the Hopewell's compliment of sailors was continually reduced. Her maiden voyage to Barbados was managed with six crew, including captain William Strachan. Now, with the murder of captain Curtis, she was reduced to three. Hopewell might have been manageable on the comparatively sheltered waters of the Chesapeake, but a voyage to the Caribbean required more hands.

The solution to the latter problem was aboard the brig Nancy. Captain William Strachan happened to be sailing the Nancy on the Patuxent River when the Hopewell's crew revolted. The mutineers had succeeded in outpacing word of their crime, and Strachan's crew was entirely unaware of the danger that came with sight of the Hopewell.

Perhaps it was a fond memory of how his former command had weathered a hurricane five years before, or maybe he was merely showing the respect that fellow mariners warranted. Whatever the reason, Strachan was convinced to help the Hopewell on her way. Two sailors, a convict servant owned by Strachan named James Manshore and an enslaved man named George Cook owned by the merchant James Dick, were dispatched in a small boat to carry bread to the pirates.

Detail from "The Press Gang," George Morland, 1790, Wikiart.

After Cook and Manshore climbed aboard, their boat was cut loose, the sails set, and the Hopewell slipped away. Strachan almost certainly pursued them, but with a head start and a swift vessel, the pirates escaped.

Soon the Hopewell had the Chesapeake to her stern, sinking with the horizon. Her three mutineers and two hostages had escaped. Maryland had no chance of recapturing the slaves and convicts, but as luck would have it, it was another colony that would deliver them up for eighteenth century justice.

Next time: The pirates and their victims wind up in a wholly unexpected place.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Pyrates in the Bay of Maryland: The Hopewell Mutiny

This post is part of a new series here at British Tars called "Race, Revolt, and Piracy."

"John Wright, have Pity upon me; spare my Life; for I have a wife and four children."[1]

The Hopewell was an unlucky sloop. She was constructed in Annapolis, the colonial capital of Maryland, in 1749 and owned by a local man named Patrick Creagh.

Almost immediately, Creagh's vessel ran into trouble. The London Town, Maryland based captain William Strachan was commanding the sloop to Barbados, but sailed into the teeth of an incredible storm.

Maryland Gazette, October 18, 1749

The Hopewell survived the ordeal, and led a rather unremarkable career for the next half decade running between Annapolis, the Caribbean, and the other North American colonies.

Her string of mundane voyages came to an end in 1754.

Captain William Curtis, who was master of the Hopewell for a short trip across the Chespeake Bay to Maryland's Eastern Shore, appears to have been pretty new to the business. I have only found one other reference to the man: a brief mention in the Virginia Gazette in 1752 in which he commanded a vessel named the Enterprize carrying food down to the Caribbean.[2] It appears that Curtis was a fresh and inexperienced captain.

Curtis was sailing the Hopewell from the small port of Choptank back to Annapolis, hauling a load of barrel heads and barrel staves, when the mutiny occurred.

The first the public heard of what befell Curtis and the Hopewell might have been this brief note in the Maryland Gazette.

Maryland Gazette, March 8, 1754

What they didn't yet know was how it really happened.

A feature of Chesapeake maritime culture is the number of unfree sailors. Enslaved men and convict servants could comprise entire crews, cutting the cost of labor per voyage to virtually nothing.

Among the forced sailors was a convict servant by the name of John Wright. In later papers, an alias is offered for him: William Wilson. I haven't yet been able to find the crime for which Wright/Wilson was convicted, but we do know that he was a navigator.

The sloop had only two other sailors, another convict servant named John Smith and an enslaved man of very light skin referred to as Toney. Toney's full name was Andrew Lewis, and he was known to pass himself as "a Portugeze."

Detail from "The Jovial Crew" by Thomas Rowlandson,
1786, Royal Collection Trust

Only a few hours out from Choptank, Wright bludgeoned Curtis with a handspike, and then struck him repeatedly with an axe after he had fallen. Andrew Lewis brought up a ballast stone and fastened it to the still living Curtis. Despite Curtis' pleas to spare his life for the sake of his wife and children, he was dumped over the side and sank into the Chesapeake.

Donning Curtis' clothes, Wright took command of the sloop and steered her south. Curtis' red suit was recognized by other mariners in the Chesapeake, and word spread of his likely murder. Annapolis mustered volunteers to man and arm a boat and set off in pursuit, but the Hopewell had a significant head start.

Next time: The mutineers have a plan for escape, and that plan involves kidnapping.


[1] The Pennsylvania Gazette, June 13, 1754.

[2] The Virginia Gazette, September 15, 1752, page 3; October 20, 1752, page 2.