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 five 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 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 source 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 translates and quotes a German immigrant who was forced to use the sailor's toilet:
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 one 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. The four holes provided by the seats of easement must have been insufficient. There were alternative means of waste storage and disposal on slavers, as we shall see below, but four seat is still remarkably few.

A lack of seats of easement appears to have been a habitual problem afloat for slave ships and other similarly crowded craft. 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 [the Spanish sailors] 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]
Regulations would never be enough to prevent the filthy conditions that a group of young hypermasculine men could degrade to. In 1798, Aaron Thomas wrote in his journal about a sailor improvising a tool for waste disposal: 'Asked the cause of the Speaking Trumpet smelling so strong, said it was caused, by reason that [an officer] had been using it, as a Pissing Machine to carry his Urine from his body, off the Quarter Deck, through one of the Ports, into the Sea.'[11]

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.[12] 
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'[13]:
Being made of metal, a handful of these have survived to be excavated by maritime archaeologists.
Piss-dale from the Invincible, 1758 [14]
Piss-dale from the Henrietta Marie, 1700 [15]
Piss-dale from an unknown wreck [16]

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).'[17]

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.[18]
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.[19] Were chamber pots a more common mode, we would expect to see more than three for such a crew.
Chamber pot from Invincible, 1758 [20]
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.[21] John H. Bingeman isn't entirely clear in his The First Invincible (1747-1758): Her Excavations (1980-1991), but it appears the chamber pot pictured above was the only one found among the wreckage.[22]

I found no reference to chamber pots in reports of the privateer Defence, gunboat Philadelphia, or sloop Boscawen.[23] 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.[24] In the mingled 1788 wrecks of the French Boussole and Astrolabe another chamber pot was excavated.[25]

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).[26]


From 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.[27] 
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.[28]

Among enslaved Africans on the Middle Passage, tubs continued to be the main depository of human waste. With the exception of chamber pots, all 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.[29]
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.[30]

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 and as a factory to transform those human beings into commodities.[31] Part of this was subjecting them to a dehumanizing terror, and the use of tubs rather than more effective means of waste disposal may have been an intentional part of that.

By studying universal aspects of the human condition, 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] "Monday 30th July 1798," Aaron Thomas: The Caribbean Journal of a Royal Navy Seaman, University of Miami Library, Elizabeth H. Locke editor, page 55, accessed March 1, 2018, <>.
[12] 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>.
[13] "A Ship of War of the Third Rate," 1728, University of Wisconsin Madison via Wikimedia Commons, accessed December 1, 2018, <>.
[14] Piss-dale, inv.280-2, Invincible collection, The Historic Dockyard Chatham, accessed December 1, 2018, <>.
[15] Henrietta Marie Pissdale Tube 86.08.1888, Mel Fisher Maritime Museum via Sketchfab, accessed December 1, 2018, <>.
[16] Pissdale (12A07), © The Ships Project (Shipwrecks and History In Plymouth Sound), accessed December 1, 2018, <>.
[17] 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.
[18] Simmons, Vulgar Tubespage 4.
[19] Harrison, Simon, 'British sloop 'Swift' (1763)' Three Decks, accessed December 2, 2019, <>.
[20] Chamber pot, inv.354-2, Invincible collection, The Historic Dockyard Chatham, accessed December 1, 2018, <>.
[21] Harrison, Simon, 'British Third Rate ship of the line 'Invincible' (1747)' Three Decks, accessed December 2, 2019, <>.
[22] Bingeman, John H., The First Invincible (1747-1758): Her Excavations (1980-1991), Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2010, pages 172-173.
[23] 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,  <>;
[24] 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, <>.
[25] Staniforth, Mark, Material Culture and Consumer Society: Dependent Colonies in Colonial Australia, Springer Science & Business Media, 2012, via Google Books, accessed December 5, 2018, <>.
[26] 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.
[27] Simmons, Vulgar Tubespage 34.
[28] Ibid., 52.
[29] Equiano, Olaudah, The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings, edited by Vincent Carretta, New York: Penguin, 2003.
[30] 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. 
[31] 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. 

Friday, October 5, 2018


The name Jack Tar comes from sailors' tarred clothing. There is no evidence, as yet, that garments were intentionally tarred for waterproofing, but sailing was an inherently dirty business. As a teenager, Ebenezer Fox found himself coated in tar:
I ascended the side of the ship, and, finding no one on deck, I lay down in my wet clothes, and putting my hat under my head, slept soundly all night. When I awoke in the morning, I found that I was unable to move in consequence of my clothes adhering to the pitch, which the heat of the climate caused to ooze from the seams in the deck.[1]
Recently Paul White raised the question: how did sailors do their laundry afloat?
Adam Hodges-LeClaire demonstrates laundry aboard the French frigate L'Hermione
While ashore sailors generally relied on women to do laundry. David Cordingly in his book Seafaring Women points to the role of sailors' wives in doing laundry for the maritime community, including no less lofty a figure than Frances Boscawen, well connected wife of the Admiral Edward Boscawen (albeit for her own household and not to make a living).[2] Samuel Kelly remembered joining a ship in the 1780's and mentioned the role of women doing laundry while still in port:
In the evening I was called into the cabin to sign Articles, where I found the captain's wife and his sister at work, ironing some washed clothes.[3]
At sea, sailors were largely responsible for their own laundry. Perhaps they did their laundry together in each mess, having a designated washer or rotating the responsibility among themselves. Hannah Snell (who disguised herself as a man and went to sea as a marine in the 1740's) made herself amenable to the crew partly by taking on the regular task of laundry that usually fell to the men at sea:
As she was very tractable, sprightly, and wiling, she soon was caressed by her messmates, for whom she would very readily either wash or mend their linen, or stand cook, as occasion required.[4]
Traditionally feminine tasks like sewing, cooking, and laundry often fell to men afloat. Entire ships were often completely devoid of women. It has been suggested that sailors' hypermasculinity and strongly avowed aversion to the idea that homosexuality was rampant afloat was in part a reaction to the requirement that they be competent in tasks outside their gender sphere.[5]

This is not to say women were not present at sea at all, nor that they did no laundry when they were. Suzanne Stark, in her book Female Tars: Women at Sea in the Age of Sail says this is the case, and that women on men-of-war sometimes used fresh water to launder shirts for the sailors (for a price) because salt water tended not to dry out. She suggests that laundry was expected to be done with salt water. Stark quotes Admiral John Jervis, 1st Earl of St. Vincent: 'the women, who still infest His Majesty’s ships in great numbers, will have water to wash, that they and their reputed husbands may get drunk with the earnings.' In 1796 he instructed his captains to reprimand the women of the fleet for wasting fresh water.[6]

The actual mechanics of laundry at sea are one of those details that were so mundane as to go unrecorded in most sources. However, by taking a look at this menial and routine task, we can reflect something about attitudes toward women at sea. While not bad luck, women could be seen as a nuisance by naval commanders, even when assisting with essential tasks. But the common sailor might welcome women (and women posing as men) if they could take on a traditionally feminine task that the sailors themselves bore only out of necessity.

[1] Fox, Ebenezer, The Adventures of Ebenezer Fox in the Revolutionary War, Boston: Charles Fox, 1847, pages 215-216.
[2] Cordingly, David, Seafaring Women: Adventures of Pirate Queens, Female Stowaways, and Sailors' Wives, New York: Random House, 2009, pages 244 and 246.
[3] 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 72.
[4] 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 10.
[5] For the life of me I cannot find the paper in which this idea was put forward. The idea is not my own. It is hinted at by Stephen Berry: Berry, Stephen, A Path in the Mighty Waters: Shipboard Life & Atlantic Crossings to the New World, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015, page 161.
[6] Stark, Suzanne, Female Tars: Women at Sea in the Age of Sail, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2017, pages 56-57.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Hornpipe

Detail from The Sailor's Fleet Wedding Entertainment,
M. Cooper, 1747, Lewis Walpole Library.
The Sailor's Hornpipe is arguably the most recognizable maritime tune in popular culture. Whether you've heard it at the Last Night at the Proms or at the very beginning of a Popeye the Sailor cartoon, you probably know the tune by heart. Given how prevalent the song is, and how dominant nineteenth century maritime music is today, I was surprised to learn that the tune dates to my period of study.
The above image is a scan of William Vickers' 1770 songbook, containing the original tune, from the Folk Archive Resource North East database.[1]

Follower and champion Scottish fiddler David Gardner was kind enough to record his performance of this page, including the first two tunes: 'Clap hir Warm They,' and 'The Humours of Wapping.' In David's performance you can hear a few differences between this original manuscript and the tune as we know it today, but it is undeniably the same song.

At the time it was called the College Hornpipe or Lancashire Hornpipe. Why, then, do we now refer to this tune as The Sailor's Hornpipe? Because sailors and hornpipes became inseparable in the eighteenth century.

A hornpipe is a dance typically performed by a single dancer in hard shoes. It has been suggested that the dense and crowded footsteps of the hornpipe lent itself well to shipboard performances due to the confined space afloat, though I can't say for certain if that is true. The term 'hornpipe' may also refer to the music that accompanied the dance, as is the case with the song above. Several secondary sources state that the hornpipe was not associated with sailors until 1740 when a hornpipe was performed 'in the character of a Jack Tar' at Drury Lane during the second act of The Committee, or, The Faithful Irishman.[2]
The play was well over a century old by 1740, and from all the editions I've skimmed through, I've found no mention of Jack Tar as a character. Even a much later version of the same play lacks that character. This is not wholly surprising. Eighteenth century theatrical performances often had dances between the acts, or to open and close a performance, that were unrelated to the narrative as a way of adding variety. So why was Jack Tar suddenly dancing the hornpipe in 1740?

Probably because the character of Jack Tar was gaining prominence in the popular consciousness. I asked collector and historian Casey Hill, who runs the War of Jenkins' Ear Facebook page, about why Jack Tar was becoming popular in 1740: 'I think a lot of it had to do with Admiral Vernon's victory at Porto Bello in 1739. That really boosted national pride specifically within the Royal Navy.'[3] His argument largely echoes that made by Paul Gilje in his To Swear Like a Sailor: Maritime Culture in America, 1750-1850. In Gilje's eyes, the association of the sailor and the hornpipe is one event in the rise of the character of Jack Tar.[4]

The association between mariners and the hornpipe was also present in art. The caption to the 1743 print of Humours of a Wapping Landlady declares that 'Tom Gunter bids the Fidler strike up a hornpipe which he fools about with such agility.' It is possible that this print, and more importantly the painting it was based on, were derived from The Humours of Wapping recorded on the very same page as The College Hornpipe in the 1770 manuscript by William Vickers above, further cementing the sailors to hornpipes.
Detail from The Humours of a Wapping Landlady, Francis Hayman,
publisher unknown, 1743, British Museum.
The association of the hornpipe with sailors became stronger as the eighteenth century progressed. In the fictional 1762 exchange below, one gentleman expresses surprise that women would dance the hornpipe, 'appropriated to the rough sailor only.'[5]

In the 1760 cartoon by Matthew Darly below, an unnamed sailor lives up to that 'rough sailor' stereotype. Boldly approaching a woman at a sermon with the ever-present stick under his arm, the tar turns his back to the famous reverend George Whitefield. The sailor declares 'I wish Nancy I had him in the Round top Id make him Dance a Hornpipe to my whistle.' Darly created a sailor who embodied the national idea of Jack Tar's character: a womanizer, violent, and irreligious. Included in that package of the cartoonish sailor is the hornpipe.
Detail from Squintums Farewell to Sinners, 1760, M. Darly, Yale University.
During a 1761 theatrical performance penned by the famous playwright David Garrick, an actor spoke to the diverse audience and directly affiliated hornpipes and 'hearts-of-oak,' referring to the famous song extolling the virtues of British sailors.[6] Again the character of common sailors comes to the fore: Garrick was speaking directly to the association of sailors, hornpipes, and the nation.
While often characters in plays, actual sailors were not always welcome in the theater. According to a (probably fictional) story in a 1760 edition of The Derby Mercury, a sailor and his several 'temporary Wives' attempted to enter a theater and occupy a box well above his station. When informed the performance would be 'based on scripture,' the unnamed tar declared 'we'll sheer off to Wapping, get a fiddle, drink flip, and dance Hornpipes.'[7]
The character of Jack Tar was both something to be lauded through song and dance, and to be avoided as an ill disciplined ruffian.

Given that it was sailors who connected and protected the far flung British empire, it is no surprise that sailors' hornpipes were also performed on stage in the American colonies. Closing out the many performances being advertised in The New-York Mercury as part of a show in 1753 was 'a hornpipe in the character of a sailor by Mr. Dugee.'[8]
Interestingly, despite the hornpipe's affiliation with sailors, it was still performed by the higher classes. When advertising his services in Philadelphia as a dancing master in 1772, Alexander Russell promised 'Those gentlemen who choose to learn high dancing will be taught the sailor's hornpipe,' among others.[9]
In fiction, art, and theater (both on stage and off) the hornpipe was affiliated with sailors in my period of study. Of course, popular perceptions of sailors and their behavior do not always reflect the truth. But in this case it appears that sailors did indeed dance the hornpipe.

When Janet Schaw sailed from Scotland to the New World in 1774, she kept a journal in which she described the passengers and sailors at leisure: 'We play at cards and backgammon on deck; the sailors dance horn pipes and Jigs from morning to night.'[10]

Captain Cook's sailors danced the hornpipe for the entertainment of a Pacific monarch. In August of 1773, the seamen of the Resolution performed a dance to bagpipes for the King of Tahiti and his retinue. Among the Tahitians, Cook noted a few could imitate the sailor's dances, 'both in country-dances and hornpipes.'[11]
An Irish gunner's mate aboard the Resolution named John Marra, also wrote about the entertainment for the King of Tahiti, and the delight with which the Tahitians enjoyed the hornpipe:
They were entertained and amused...particularly with music and dancing in a grotesque taste, which gave them infinite pleasure, as among other humorous performances a hornpipe was introduced, at which they could scarce contain themselves.[12]
Mary Ellen Snodgrass, in The Encyclopedia of World Folk Dance, states that Cook sometimes ordered his men to dance hornpipes for their health.[13] She also states that one of Cook's protégés, William Bligh, adopted this practice on the notorious 1787-1789 voyage. This fact borne out in this snippet from Bligh's log quoted by Caroline Alexander in her book The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty:
I have always directed the Evenings from 5 to 8 O'Clock to be spent dancing & that every Man should be Obliged to dance as I considered it conducive to their Health.[14]
Whether for work or pleasure, for themselves or royalty, sailors of the eighteenth century did indeed dance the hornpipes we are familiar with today.

[1] Vickers, William, 'College hornpipe, or, Lankinshire [sic.] hornpipe,' 1770, via Folk Archive Resource North East, accessed August 30, 2018, <>.
[2] The London Daily Post and General Advertiser, May 19, 1740. It appears that most (if not all) secondary references to this event refer to Emmerson, George S., 'The Hornpipe,' Folk Music Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1970, page 22, via Jstor, accessed August 30, 2018, <>. Unfortunately, Emmerson did not include his original source in his notes, but Paul Gilje cited this clipping in his To Swear Like a Sailor: Maritime Culture in America, 1750-1850. I am indebted to Mike McCarty for tracking down the original newspaper advertisement included here.
[3] Personal communication with the author, September 3, 2018.
[4] Gilje, Paul, To Swear Like a Sailor: Maritime Culture in America, 1750-1850, New York: Cambridge University, 2016, page 43.
[5] 'Dialogue between Mr. Gay and Mr. Rich,' The Beauties of All Magazines, Vol 1, London T. Waller, 1762, page 353, via Google Books, accessed August 20, 2018, <>.
[6] Garrick, David, 'Epilogue to the Same,' The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure, vol 28-29, London: John Hinton, 1761, page 327, via HathiTrust, accessed August 20, 2018, <;view=1up;seq=375>.
[7] The Derby Mercury, March 14, 1760, page 3.
[8] The New-York Mercury, August 20, 1753, page 3.
[9] The Pennsylvania Packet; and the General Advertiser, December 14, 1772, page 3
[10] Schaw, Janet, Journal of a Lady of Quality; Being the Narrative of a Journey from Scotland to the West Indies, North Carolina, and Portugal, in the Years 1774 to 1776: Electronic Edition, University of North Carolina, Documenting the American South, accessed August 30, 2018, <>.
[11] Cook, James, 1773 August, Saturday, 28, A Voyage towards the South Pole, and Around the World, Vol 1, London W. Strahan, 1777, page 156, via Google Books, accessed August 20, 2018, <>
[12] Marra, John, Journal of the Resolution's voyage: in 1772, 1773, 1774, and 1775, London: F. Newbery, 1775, page 188, via University of Michigan, Eighteenth Century Collections Online, accessed August 30, 2018, <;view=fulltext>.
[12] Snodgrass, Mary Ellen, The Encyclopedia of World Folk Dance, New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016, page 141.
[14] Alexander, Caroline, The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty, New York: Penguin, 2004, page 102.