Salt Pork, Ship’s Biscuit, and Burgoo: Sea Provisions for Common Sailors and Pirates

Ship’s Galley in a Thomas Phillip print of a first rate ship of the line from the 1690s. Note the ship’s cook with a knife in his right hand wearing an apron and possessing a wooden leg. Image printed in Brian Lavery’s “The Arming and Fitting of English Ships of War, 1600-1815” on page 196.

Prologue: Due to the amount of content on this subject, this article is broken into two parts. The second part will be published several weeks from now.  Special thanks to Jeff Pavlik for his consultations regarding period ship’s biscuits.

UPDATE, 9-8-2018: Many people have asked if I will complete part 2 of this article. Since this is one of my most popular posts, I will respond.  As of now, my main priority is to complete my maritime clothing book, so any work on maritime food will have to wait until that is completed.  In addition, after doing work on this post, I realized that the subject is extremely large, and that if I wanted to pursue it further, I would probably want to publish it in some other format beyond a post on my website.  This is also why I removed “Part 1” from the post title.

“Englishmen, and more especially seamen, love their bellies above anything else.”[1]  This classic quote from Samuel Pepys summarized well the significance of food to sailors during the Age of Sail.  Mariners could endure hard work and ragged clothing, but had little patience for short rations or rotten provisions.  Pepys recognized this when he work for the English Royal Navy, and that, “any abatement from them in the quantity or agreeableness of the victuals,” could turn sailors against serving the Navy.[2]  The stereotype for the diet of sailors during the Age of Sail included ship’s biscuit, salt pork, and rum.  Many people at sea in that era ate or drank all the items in this cliché menu, but also consumed many other foods and drinks.  Since food played a significant role in the lives of sailors, exploring the specifics of their diets can provide more insights into their experiences at sea.

Examining food for common-rank Anglo-America sailors in the various maritime services requires answering a variety of questions:

  • What foods did sailors receive in their rations?
  • How did the food issued in European waters differ from those in other places such as the Caribbean?
  • Did Navy provisions differ from those of pirates, merchant sailors, or other maritime services?
  • How did French, Spanish, or Dutch provisions differ from those on British vessels?
  • What dishes did sea cooks prepare?
  • When did mariners eat?
  • What tableware and utensils did they use at mealtimes?
  • What did sailors eat or drink onshore after a voyage?
  • How did the sailors’ diet compare to that of the lower class ashore?

Attempting to answer these questions, specifically for sailors who sailed between 1680 and 1740, offers a glimpse into a somewhat neglected period of maritime history and provides context to future food choices for mariners in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras.

Sea Provisions of the British Navy

Table 1 - British Navy Food Rations, 1677-1740s

Table 1 – British Navy Food Rations, 1677-1740s

Of all the accounts of sailors and provisions, those of the British Royal Navy are the most plentiful and provide a convenient starting point for examining the food mariners received while at sea.  In 1677, Samuel Pepys, the Secretary to the Admiralty, copied into his Naval Precedents a contract he established with victuallers to the Navy.  This document established predetermined rations for each sailor, which included one pound of biscuits and a gallon of beer each day and four pounds of beef, two pounds of salted pork, three eights of a twenty-four-inch cod, two pints of peas, six ounces of butter, and between eight and twelve ounces of cheese each week.  When victuallers could not provide these specific foods, Pepys also established substitutes (see table 1 for a complete list of the Navy’s rations from 1677 to the 1740s).[3]  The most significant alteration came in 1731, when the Navy published a reformed and better-written set of Regulations and Instructions, and replaced the fish ration with three pints of oatmeal a week.[4]  These rations changed little in the one hundred and fifty years after Pepys established them in the late seventeenth century. [5]

Ship's Biscuits made by Jeff Pavlik, as featured in John Pavlik, “‘Consisting Merely of Flour and Water’: Reproducing the Eighteenth-Century English Biscuit,” Journal of the Early Americans 1, no. 11 (April/May 2011), 7-11.

Ship’s Biscuits made by Jeff Pavlik, as featured in John Pavlik, “‘Consisting Merely of Flour and Water’: Reproducing the Eighteenth-Century English Biscuit,” Journal of the Early Americans 1, no. 11 (April/May 2011), 7-11.

In the British maritime service, sailors’ bread came in the form of unleavened biscuits on most voyages.  Most period accounts referred to this bread as a biscuit, or a, “bisket,” in period documents, and not as “hardtack,” a term invented in the nineteenth century.[6]  To make these simple biscuits, bakers used cheaper and roughly ground wheat flour, lower in quality than flour used in common household breads.[7]  The contractors for biscuits in London obtained most of their wheat from south and southeastern England.[8]  One pound of biscuits consisted of three to five biscuits, which one period observer described as plate-sized.[9]   Biscuits often came in bags, each containing a hundredweight, or a hundred Avoirdupois pounds (or modern U.S. pounds), of biscuits.[10]  The ingredients for these biscuits included only flour and water.  Bakers did not add any yeast or salt.[11]  When corrupt victuallers attempted to cheat the Navy, they included flour made from horse beans, rye, barley, or peas since these ingredients cost less than the wheat flour.  If the bakers used too much substituted materials in proportion to wheat flower, not enough gluten formed in the dough and resulted in biscuits that crumbled apart.  One period report on the corrupt practices of some navy victuallers claimed biscuits with such substitute materials contributed to the large loss of life experienced in John Nevil’s 1697 expedition to the West Indies.[12]  While stationed in a port with access to a baker, Navy sailors sometimes received fresh bread, with an allowance of one-half of a two-pound loaf per day.[13]  While rarely mentioned, sailors might receive rusk bread instead of biscuits.  Benjamin Franklin defined rusk bread in sea provisions as, “being made of good fermented bread, sliced and baked a second time.” He also claimed rusk was, “the true original biscuit, so prepared to keep for sea, biscuit in French signifying twice baked.”[14]  While the word “biscuit” etymology does trace back to words meaning, “twice baked,” British bakers seldom baked their ship’s biscuits more than once during the Age of Sail.[15]  Among all the provisions sailors ate at sea, they often relied on these simple and long-lasting ship’s biscuits of flour and water during their voyages.

In addition to biscuits, British mariners received notable amounts of meat, especially beef and pork.  Period satirist Edward Ward recognized that sailors loved beef.[16]  The Admiral in Nathaniel Boteler’s 1634 work, Six Dialogues, claimed mariners in the Navy, “are so besotted on their Beef and Pork, as they had rather adventure on all the Calentures, and Scarbots in the World, than to be weaned from their Customary Diet, or so much as to lose the least Bit of it; so that it may be doubted, that it would set them upon a loathing, and running away, as much as any other thing whatsoever.”[17]  The late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries marked a period when the pig rose in popularity, including in England.[18]  Pepys’s contracts for victualling the navy included salt pork or bacon in a sailor’s rations alongside beef, but issued only one two-pound piece of pork a week per sailor, compared to the four-pound pieces allowed for beef.[19]  Corrupt victuallers might try to improve their profits and provide less wholesome meat to fulfill their contracts at less cost to themselves.  Barrels of meat might include bones, shins, cheeks, hearts, and other similar pieces lacking good meat to make up the weight required for each barrel.  This obliged the Navy to try to regulate the meat provided to include, “no unusual Pieces.”[20]  When obtained in England, much of the beef for ship’s victuals came from North Wales, Lancashire, Somerset, and Glamorgan, where farmers probably raised English longhorns to supply this beef.  When looking for cheaper sources of cattle, victuallers obtained Irish beef, where farmers raised particular types of Dunn and Polled cattle more fit for dairy production.  While less expensive, this beef held a reputation for being lower in quality and thus robbed sailors of good meals, resulting in Navy officials opposing Irish beef for use in Navy rations.[21]  Pork and bacon mostly came from Hampshire, the Midlands, and sometimes Herefordshire, which probably used the Hampshire pig that resembled British saddleback pigs and the Tamworth.[22]

Victuallers needing to supply enough meat to ships with large crews often had little choice but to obtain salted meat for crews because of period meat preservation processes made providing fresh meat to these large numbers of men over long periods of time difficult. Farmers who raised pigs and cows brought their livestock to market in the fall, which butchers killed and processed into the winter months.  Since ships sailed around the world all year long, and the invention of refrigeration not yet in existence, meat to be preserved for many months until victuallers sold it to ships and sailors ate it for their dinners.[23]  To preserve meat until consumption required salt and brine.  The Navy victuallers’ process of salting and pickling meat involved several steps.  First, they dry-rubbed the pork or beef with white salt.  The meat then went into a brine to remove the blood for five days, since blood can cause meat to spoil while in storage.  After removing it from the brine, the meat went into casks, with extra bay salt applied to each layer of meat placed into the cask.  The final step of the process was pouring a fresh brine, the brine having enough dissolved salt in it to float an egg, into the full barrels.  Each gallon of brine water used three and a half pounds of salt.  To complete the salting process for one hundred pounds of meat, Navy victuallers used four and a half gallons of white salt and one and a quarter gallons of bay salt.   Sometimes, barrels of meat did not receive enough brine and crews neglected to check barrels for leaks to make sure the meat needed more or new brine.  Such incidents exposed the salted meat and increased the chances of the meat spoiling.[24]  While British sailors might receive meat several times a week, they received it mostly in salted form since the slaughtering and the processing of meat occurred most often during the fall and early winter.

When mariners received pork for their dinner, it usually came with another common British maritime ration, peas.  Usually spelt as “pease,” the common pairing of dried peas with pork stood as standard practice in the Navy, who issued peas on pork days each week.  In England, many farmers grew peas throughout the country, especially in southeastern England, making them easy to supply.  Other Baltic and northern countries grew peas that victuallers could import if local farmers could not supply their demands.  Pease came in whole and split forms, with whole appearing to be the most common in both green and yellow colors.  The green peas took longer to boil, while yellow peas cooked well when used for puddings.[25]  While sailors did eat other vegetables, peas stood as the most common type in their diets when supplied from northern European countries.

While the Navy issued either pork or beef four days a week, until the 1730s, sailors might eat salted fish on the remaining three days of the week according to the Navy’s regulations.  The lower class, including sailors in English ports and residents of London, regularly consumed fish and saw it as, “dearer than any other Belly-timber.”[26]  While this may have contributed towards the Navy issuing salted fish to sailors, government officials probably considered English interests when making this choice. A large contract for fish from the Navy offered English fishermen another source of income while they competed with the French in the North Atlantic fish market.[27]  The amount of salted fish issued depended on the type and size of fish.  The contract established by Pepys in 1677 mentioned North Sea cod, haberdine (another large kind of cod), “Poor John” (a type of hake fish), and stockfish (another kind of cod).[28]  If victuallers could not obtain fish, substitutes included oatmeal or rice.

Oatmeal, while somewhat disliked by mariners, presented a non-salted food for sailors.  Mariners did not always like eating food with heavy salted content and appreciated receiving non-salted provisions whenever possible.  Medical professionals such as William Cockburn recognized and encouraged oatmeal for improving the health of sailors since they believed salty sea diets contributed to developing scurvy.[29]  Salted fish’s significant vulnerability to dampness and spoiling while in a ship’s hold further discouraged their inclusion in rations.[30]  The Navy sometimes declined to issue salted fish and outright ceased issuing it after the 1720s, and instead preferred oatmeal, and official replaced fish with oatmeal in the 1731 Regulations and Instructions, because of the already salty diet sailors experienced and susceptibility to spoiling.

Beyond meat, biscuits, and peas, mariners in the Navy also received rations of dairy products, specifically cheese and butter.  For the Navy, the primary providers of cheese came from Suffolk, Cheshire, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, and Warwickshire.[31]  Cheshire and Suffolk were the most common sources of cheese, to the point that the Navy named them within the regulations and provided specific ration amounts for both types.  In the 1690s, Cheshire stood as the most common source of cheese, because sailors preferred this cheese made of full fat milk to the hard Suffolk cheese made from skimmed milk.  Victuallers preferred Suffolk because of its longer shelf live and its use of skimmed milk decreased its cost.[32]  The Navy obtained much of their butter from Suffolk and the eastern counties of England, though Ireland, and its propensity for raising dairy cows, also stood as a significant source for butter.[33]  While cattle went to slaughter in the fall and winter, dairy cows produced most of their milk for producing butter and cheese in the spring and summer when they produced milk for their new calves.[34]  While these dairy products stood as common staples to a mariner’s diet in the Navy, especially for non-meat days of the week, it too suffered from sitting for long periods, especially if ships received provisions outside of the regular production season for butter and cheese.

For British sailors in northern European waters, beer was the standard drink at sea.  The regulations for rations allowed each sailor one gallon of beer per day.  In twenty-first-century western society, consuming a gallon of beer may sound like a large amount of alcohol for a working person to consume every day.  One consideration is that the beer issued at sea was a small beer of between one and three percent alcohol.  Today, many of the mainstream American, British, and European drinks, including bitter beer, lagers, Heinekens, Budweiser, or Guinness, all have between two and three times the amount of alcohol in this maritime small beer.[35]  Another consideration is if mariners drank all the beer issued to them.  When César De Saussure, a foreign observer onboard a Navy ship in the 1720s, commented on navy rations, he stated that each sailors received, “as much [biscuits and beer] as, or more than, can be eaten or drunk in a day.”[36]  This suggests that sailors may have not drank the whole gallon they received each day because they could not drink it all or wanted to avoid being drunk on duty.

Regardless of how much they drank, according to a writer who took on the pseudonym of a sea cook named Barnaby Slush, beer was, “the very Cement that keeps a Mariners Body and Soul together,” and that sailors set, “as high a Regard on a single Quart of Ship Beer, as his whole Days Allowance in Provisions.”[37]  With beer holding such a high value in the daily life of the sailor, the Navy regulated the quality of their beer.  After obtaining hops and malt, mostly from Kent and sometimes Hampshire, the Navy set the amount of hops and malt used based on the type of barrel or intended service.  Ironbound barrels of beer meant for sea service specified twenty quarters of malt, eighteen quarters for wood-bound barrels, and beer issued to ships in harbor required enough malt and hops, “to be good, sound, wholesome, and of sufficient strength.”[38]  When brewers of the beer did not use new casks, sold beer intended for the Navy to merchant vessels, or used ingredients unfit for the production of beer; the Navy investigated and prosecuted the brewers.[39]  Since the Navy issued enough beer that some sailors might not be able to drink it all, and that they made many efforts to maintain the quality of their beer, Barnaby Slush’s claim that mariners saw beer as the most important part of their rations appears plausible.

Sailors did not always drink beer while at sea in northern European waters; they occasionally drank water.  While sailing in northern seas somewhat near home, sailors consumed small amounts of water since the beer ration was already a gallon a day.  The Navy required only four hogsheads of water per hundred men a month, or two and a half gallons per man per month.  This changed when going on longer voyages.  When a ship headed on a foreign voyage to the south of 39º north parallel, captains could, “be allowed such farther Quantity of Water Cask as the Ship can conveniently stow, or shall be thought necessary.”[40]  For the amounts of water a ship might carry outside of northern seas, the Navy appeared to make one gallon of combined water and alcohol their goal.  If a ship took on wine instead of beer, the Navy required mixing the two-pint ration of wine with six pints of water, which would, “preserve the Water from stinking.”[41]  In ships heading well beyond the 39º north parallel to such places as the Caribbean or the East Indies, each hundred men received about forty hogsheads of water a month, or near a gallon of water a day per man.  In the Caribbean, this measure balanced well with the half pint of brandy or rum they received for their daily alcohol ration.[42]  While sailors did not only drink alcohol on a daily basis, they preferred not to drink only water.  Barnaby Slush recommended, “the Ships Company shou’d never be reduced to Water-Drinking, so long as any other Liquor was to be had for Credit or Money.”[43]  Be it beer or brandy with water, the sailor usually tried to drink at least a gallon of some kind of drink each day.

While many sailors ate and drank the above rations of ships biscuits, beef, pork, fish (or oatmeal), peas, butter, cheese, and beer when in waters near Great Britain, the Navy did allow substitutions.  Two particular substitutions referenced several times in period sources include replacing fish with oatmeal and substituting meat with flour combined with either raisins, currants, or suet.  As mentioned before, trading oatmeal for fish came from the issues of preserving salted fish and reducing the amount of salted foods in the diet of sailors.  Health also played into the issuing of flour and other ingredients instead of meat.  In 1731, the Navy’s Regulations and Instructions made an official policy of issuing canvas to produce pudding bags so cooks could boil puddings of flour and suet instead of issuing beef one day a week, noting such a ration change was, “for the better Preservation of the Health of the Seamen.”[44]  Both William Cockburn in the 1690s and César De Saussure in the 1720s mention the issuing pudding while on Navy ships in northern waters.[45]

Many of the optional rations presented in the Navy’s period regulations allowed ships to obtain food that would be more available in different regions of the world than the Navy’s normal rations.  When sailing in the Mediterranean or from a place that received food imports from South Carolina, ships might obtain rice instead of fish or oatmeal.  For replacing rations of beef or pork, Navy pursers could purchase mutton or flour.  When butter or cheese were not available, sailors might receive olive oil instead.  Finally, when sailing in seas beyond those of northern Europe, the Navy issued what alcohol they could obtain since beer did not keep well in warmer climates.  Two pints of wine, mixed with six pints of water, substituted for the beer ration, especially on Mediterranean voyages. The Mediterranean featured many suppliers of rougher red or white wines, including Spain, France, Portugal, Sicily, and Italy.  Sailors might also drink Madeira wine in the Mediterranean or West Indies, Madeira being an inexpensive alcohol still consumed by the lower class.  Madeira preserved better in hot weather better than any other wine available.  It had a higher alcohol content than most other wines, featuring twenty-two percent alcohol compared to between thirteen to twenty percent seen in other wines.[46]

Mariners could expect to receive a half pint of brandy or rum a day when stationed in the West Indies or a half pint of arrack in the East Indies.  The late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries saw the relationship between sailors and rum mature into the more familiar association seen in the later eighteenth century, though the dominance of rum at sea appeared to come during or after the 1730s based on the number of references to brandy compared to rum prior to the mid eighteenth century.  Some administrators and doctors felt that rum and strong drink posed a health risk to sailors in warm climates.  Government agents in Jamaica communicating with the Board of Trade begged the Navy’s pursers be, “restrained from supplying the seamen with rum and strong waters.”[47]  This, along with the issue of Navy vessels receiving most of their provisions from supply ships sent from Britain, contributed to the delayed acceptance of rum by the Navy, though economic factors probably helped rum overcome brandy.  The Caribbean and the North American colonies distilled rum in the hundreds of thousands of gallons annually by the last years of the seventeenth century.  Barbados alone exported 600,000 gallons of rum a year by 1700.  Rum preserved well in many different environments, which made it even more appealing to pursers looking to maintain their supply of alcohol as they travelled across various seas.  While British sailors of this period frequently drank brandy, the wars between Britain, France, and Spain interrupted the supply of brandy to Britain and encouraged its substitution with rum, a product made in Britain’s own colonies.[48]

Determining the exact proof of period rum is difficult.  Early distillers of rum in the Caribbean, particularly from Barbados, double distilled their rum.  This rum did contain enough alcohol in it that it passed the fire test, which involved steeping gunpowder into rum and attempting to set the gunpowder on fire.  Barbados law required their rum to pass this test starting in 1670.  The fire and gunpowder test did not guarantee an exact or standardized measure of the alcohol content, but it did mean the rum contained at least 50% alcohol.  Sometime in the 1740s, rum mixed with water obtained the name of grog from Admiral Edward Vernon when he was in the West Indies in 1740, who had the nickname “Old Grog” since he wore a grosgrain cloak.  Documentation for the regular mixing of limes or lemons into rum and water mixtures at sea occurred after the early eighteenth century.  While the change took place over a few decades, by the end of the early eighteenth century, rum surpassed brandy in use at sea.[49]

While not allotted a place in the official regulations, some captains and pursers in the Navy did make some efforts to provide vegetables to sailors beyond their rations of peas.  Documentation for the distribution of such vegetables is difficult to find, but not impossible.  One explanation for this dearth of information may be same the reason Carla Rahn Phillips found difficulties documenting vegetables for the Spanish sea service in the seventeenth century.  She proposed that vegetables not being an official ration and their cost being small compared to official provisions contributed to their lack of period sources.[50]  While British Navy victuallers did not receive official orders for them, some captains and pursers had concerns for the health and morale of their crews and tried to obtain vegetables for their sailors whenever possible.  One of Samuel Pepys’s contemporaries, Captain John Narbrough, held a reputation for being scrupulous with his ship’s rations and suppling his men with cabbages, carrots, and turnips.[51]  In the Navy’s regulations dating to 1757, one new regulation mentions the tradition of pursers providing vegetables to sailors.  The passage says, “some of the eldest Pursers of the Royal Navy,” had, “their constant Practice, as often as their respective Ships were victualled with Fresh Meat, to boil such a Quantity of Greens and Roots with it, as to give sufficient Satisfaction to the Men ; and that, to give them no Room to murmur on Account of the Saving of Pease.”[52]  The type of vegetables acquired for crews depended on the time of year and the place from which a ship obtained its victuals.  Vegetables purchased in northern ports included cabbage, onions, turnips, and carrots.  Potatoes rarely appeared in sea rations in northern waters during the eighteenth century since they sprouted in the warm ship’s hold, might turn green and poisonous if exposed to light, and were not widely accepted yet as an appropriate plant to eat, at least by the English.  While many people held negative views of potatoes in England, some saw their potential since, “being now very plentiful and cheap, they may become good Food for the Poor People.”[53]  While it is hard to document, it is possible to show that sailors in the Navy did occasionally receive cabbage, onions, and other legumes and vegetables in addition to his beef, ship’s biscuits, and peas.

Rations on Civilian Vessels and Obtaining Sea Provisions While on Voyages

For civilian vessels, rations for common sailors shared many similarities to those of the Navy, but also several differences.  Biscuits, flour, salted beef, salted pork, peas, cheese, butter, and salted fish all stood as common staples of maritime diet throughout the Atlantic world.  The foods used to stock merchant vessels, privateers, whalers, fishing craft, and slave ships were similar to each other since these common maritime rations were available in many ports and could remain edible for long periods.  Civilian vessels carried a few provisions that differed to those of the Navy.  One notable difference came with carrying livestock for the crew.  Trying to maintain significant amounts of live animals for consumption by an entire Navy crew did occur,  but the Navy needed room for their large crews numbering in the hundreds, their provisions, and the ship’s equipment and armament.  Storing a significant amount of animals for long-term sustenance of the general crew only occurred on occasion when the situation suited the purchasing and keeping of live animals.  Obtaining, housing, and feeding live animals for these large numbers posed more difficulties than keeping or purchasing salted meat.  Civilian vessels often contained crews numbering below a dozen men.  Some larger vessels above two hundred tons burthen had crews of between one and three dozen men.  Exceptions to these small crews included those of privateering vessels, larger East Indiamen, and some slave ships, which all had the potential of engaging in some kind of combat during the course of a voyage.  When the Navy did keep livestock onboard, it usually belonged to the ship’s captain and officers.  Said animals often ate some of the same food as the sailors, to the dissatisfaction of the crew. [54]  Civilian vessels had more opportunities to carry live chickens, turkeys, geese, pigs, cows, sheep, and goats onboard.  Occasionally, the livestock fell victim to sickness and injury while onboard, with some animals dying, especially during storms because of drowning.[55]  While Navy vessels did have some animals aboard, the smaller crews aboard civilian vessels made keeping live animals for the general crew a more viable option.

“A View of a Stage & also of ye manner of Fishing for Curing & Drying Cod at New Found Land.” As seen on a Map of North America c.1720 by Herman Moll.

In New England, vessels heading out on local trading voyages of short duration and ships heading to the northern fishing grounds carried Indian corn, beans, chickens, and other live animals besides the provisions typical in the Navy.  On fishing vessels, the fish they caught for merchants did offer one means of food, though eating their catch meant consuming part of their potential profits.  Some fishermen collected the oil out of the fish they caught for cooking.  New England mariners at sea drank cider, beer, Madeira wine, and rum.  They consumed whichever drinks were available and affordable.  Many ship owners in the fishing fleets tried to sell addition food, drink, clothes, and other supplies to their crews whenever possible.  Sailors paid for these supplemental supplies through deductions to the pay or shares they received at the end of a voyage.  These deductions allowed merchant owners to pay their men as little of their shares or wages as possible, or to force them into debt servitude.  In the middle of fishing voyages, some owners sent vessels with large cargoes of alcohol to the fishing grounds, which the fishermen bought large amounts of drink from for several days.  This brief indulgence resulted in many of the men returning home with little or no money to show for their efforts.  While the Navy and other merchant vessels also sold their men extra supplies, the fishing industry stands out for selling their men enough goods that they put many fishermen into significant debt.[56]

Slave ships carried some provisions that differed from typical Navy rations since slavers required large amounts of cheap food to feed the slaves they kept during the middle passage across the Atlantic.  For the two daily meals allowed to slaves, at 10 AM and 5 PM, each group of ten slaves received a tub of food along with several spoons.  One common meal for slaves included horse beans boiled with Muscovy lard purchased from Holland.  If they did not provide beans, they probably received boiled peas with either lard, suet, or salted herring.  Sometimes, instead of peas, the slaves received maize or cassava.  Occasionally, these main meals might feature small amounts of palm oil and Guinea pepper.  Slavers sometimes gave out handfuls of mixed maize and cassava between the two meals. To their distaste, the Africans might receive rations of salted beef or pork, but without removing most of the salt from the meat before cooking.   For drink, meal times featured small amounts of water, usually up to a coconut shell worth with each meal.  On rare occasions, to bolster their health, the Africans might receive a dram of brandy or other strong alcohol.  Some slaves refused to eat the food given to them because they could not stomach their strange new diet, or wanted to starve themselves to death since they could not stand the inhuman conditions onboard.  Some believed death would return them to their homeland in Africa.  When a slave refused to eat, the ship’s crews physically harassed and beat them, or force-fed them, sometimes with the assistance of a scissor-shaped device called a speculum oris that forced their jaws open.  While the slaves ate the previously mentioned food, the crews of the slave ships had their own provisions of cheese, biscuits, and other common maritime provisions.  They also shared some of the same types food given to slaves, though the ship’s cook often prepared the sailors’ provision better than the food intended for the slaves.[57]

The types of food issued in the Navy and those purchased for civilian vessels were often similar, though often differed in the quantity of food provided to sailors.  The Navy held one significant advantage over civilian vessels, the government paid for their provisions.  The Navy was a government service that did not operate for a simple financial profit, unlike merchants and other types of civilian vessels who kept a close eye on expenses since it could affect their profits margins.  Before the reforms that occurred during Samuel Pepys’s tenure as Secretary to the Admiralty, sailors regularly complained about the portions and quality of the food issued to them while they served in the Navy.  After Pepys’s late seventeenth century reforms, veteran mariners such as Edward Barlow and doctors who treated sailors such as William Cockburn said the Navy held an advantage over the merchant service in at least the quantity of provisions issued to sailors.[58] The Navy still struggled to maintain the quality of their provisions, but at least made efforts to improve quality through investigations and using public advertising to recruit better quality suppliers.[59]  One example that illustrates the way a civilian vessel reduced their rations compared to those of the Navy is an expedition in 1700 sailing to the Scottish colony of New Caledonia in Panama.  The crew onboard the ship Margaret began their cruise with each six men receiving five pounds of biscuit a day, compared to the six pounds that men in the Navy received.  About two weeks into the voyage, the captain reduced the biscuit rations down to four pounds per six men.[60]  Not long afterwards, the captain reduced the beef ration and limited water to three quarts a day.  Around the same time, some sailors were caught stealing meal from the ship’s hold, and only the intervention of the supercargo Patrick Macdowall prevented the sailors from receiving punishments.[61]  For the Margaret, rations appeared to be less in quantity than those issued to the English Navy at the time.

The Margaret and other ships found themselves short of provisions for a number of reasons beyond their owners attempting to increase their profits.  Some victuallers tried to make as much money as they could by not providing the proper quality or quantity of provisions promised.  Patrick Macdowall blamed victuallers for not providing the amount of rations promised to the Margaret’s owners.  Macdowall wondered where, “the cheat [the corrupt victuallers] lay[,] time can only discover; but our seamen suffers in the meantime.”[62]  Besides not having the planned amount of provisions to begin with, a ship could only hold so many barrels and containers of food.  If a ship could not obtain supplies before running out, this resulted in commanders cutting rations until they could receive more food.  Long voyages across the ocean, beyond the sight of land, might last longer than expected, especially if an accident or natural event occurred that slowed the ship’s progress.  Being stuck at sea pushed some mariners into desperate acts to please their hunger and thirst.  Some resorted to the dangerous practice of drinking urine or seawater when they could not get fresh water or alcohol.[63]  Of all the reasons for mariners to find themselves short of food, spoiled provisions appeared to be the most common cause.  The age of the provisions, the damp environment, damage from an accident, improper cooperage or packaging, and infestations all contributed to food and drink becoming inedible.  In 1717, while anchored in Madeira, Navy Captain Thomas Jacobs of the HMS Diamond presented a typical description of spoiled provisions for his ship, “the Beef was tainted and boyled very black, the Pork was Rusty and tainted, the Flower green and inclinable to be Musty, and that the Butter and Cheese were both decaying.”[64]

For voyages longer than a few months, ships needed to receive more provisions, which the Navy tried to satisfy by sending vessels packed with more food.  Since Navy ships could only carry about six months of provisions at one time, the Navy’s Victualling Office tried its best to supply vessels on long foreign voyages by sending supply vessels to resupply their warships.  During the War of Spanish Succession, the Navy struggled to send provisions regularly to ships stationed in Jamaica and Barbados.  This food often lacked in quality, to the point of being inedible and further added to the Navy’s expenses of maintaining ships in foreign ports.  The largest and most notable exception to this system occurred in Barbados during the War of Spanish Succession, where Navy ships received provisions from private suppliers in the Western Hemisphere instead of from supply ships sent from England.[65]  As time progressed, the Navy began to embrace purchasing local provisions.  Agents for the Board of Trade in Jamaica suggested the Navy should allow local suppliers to provide food in Jamaica during the 1690s. The 1731 Regulations and Instructions made the practice of providing fresh meat twice a week in foreign ports an official policy.  By the War of Jenkin’s Ear in the 1740s, both Jamaica and Barbados supplied Navy ships through private vendors, often from New England.[66]  While the Navy found that private suppliers in the west to be the better solution to providing good quality provisions to their ships, it took several decades for this to become the standard practice for the Navy that otherwise waited for supply ships whenever possible.

Sailors or Pirates loading provisions onto boat for transport to a ship. From an illustration of Blackbeard in Charles Johnson’s, “A General History of the Lives and Adventures of the Most Famous Highwaymen, Murderers, Street-Robbers, &c.,” illustrated by Joseph Nichols, 1736

Ports in the warmer climates closer to the equator and further south offered some sea provisions not typical of those seen in the northern waters of the Atlantic.  When agents in Jamaica made recommendations for providing food to Navy ships, they suggested turtle meat, “pulp, plaintains and other wholesome food,” in addition to beef, bread, and peas.[67]  If a port did not have a supply of salted beef or pork ready for visiting ships, captains and owners could attempt to buy a few live animals and have their crew prepare it for sea themselves.  When William Dampier visited the Cape Verde Islands on the way to Australia, he stated that locals sold cattle, but only with cash money.  Dampier decided to trade salt for local fowl and maize instead.[68]  Obtaining large amounts of livestock could be difficult if locals had only small isolated herds of animals, which made them more costly to potential buyers such as Dampier.  In 1719, when the privateer Speedwell needed more provisions before heading to the Pacific Ocean, Captain George Shelvocke stopped at St. Catherine’s Island off the coast of Brazil.  There, he replenished the ship’s stock of provisions beyond those remaining from Europe and fed his men on local fresh foods while in port.  Shelvocke purchased, “21 head of black cattle, some at 4 dollars, and others at 8; several hogs at 4 dollars each, and 200 large salted drumfish, at 10 dollars per hundred,” during his stay at this island.[69] Besides meat, they obtained 150 bushels of Farina flour, a flour made from a fleshy root plant called cassava, which many people in the Americas use to make bread, especially when mixed with maize flour.  Many vessels that traded within the Caribbean obtained cassava bread for local voyages.  Shelvocke used the Farina flour as a kind of oatmeal.[70]

What a ship might buy in a port depended on where and when said vessel traveled and what foods the local area could provide.  Some less populated locations found it difficult to provide significant amounts of locally produced food to passing ships since their citizens often grew only enough crops for their own consumption.  Ships in the Bahamas or the parts of the Virgin Islands not owned by Denmark featured sparse populations that grew potatoes, yams, and maize in addition to catching local fish.[71]  This is not to say ships never obtained potatoes, yams, or other local produce.  In William Dampier’s voyage to the Pacific from 1703-1704, the fishing boats on island of Magon provided them, “Fish, with some Eggs, Yams, Potatoes, &c. These were very acceptable to us; for now our Salt Beef and Pork was just at an end; and we had nothing to trust to, but our half pound of Flower a Day for each Man, and that very full of Vermine, Maggots and Spiders.”[72]  Vessels stopping at these ports with smaller populace that locals either produced surplus food or that they imported provisions they could buy, otherwise the sailors had no choice but to see what local natural food sources might provide.

When sailing far from friendly ports or in remote waters, mariners preyed upon any enemy ships or settlements they encountered to resupply themselves.  Ships at sea regularly took food from ships they captured and from inhabitants on shore during wars or while engaging in piracy.  While many of the provisions taken from other ships were typical sea rations, some exceptions did exist. During Shelvocke’s privateering expedition, they captured a Spanish vessel, which had a supply of food that included marmalade and preserved peaches.  After distributing the food they captured among the crew, a man who received a jar of marmalade discovered the Spanish hid silver in the marmalade to avoid paying taxes on the precious metal mined from the New World.[73]  In 1731, Navy regulations allowed pursers to have provisions captured from prizes brought onboard Navy ships, but pursers could only issue the captured food when they first ran out of their own provisions of a similar type.[74]  Besides taking provisions off captured vessels, raids on land also provided crews with food.  Privateers, pirates, and other non-Navy raiders went ashore and robbed civilians or ransomed settlements for provisions.  French raiders attacking Jamaica and Spanish Main in the 1690s often targeted cattle and “hattos,” meaning herds of cattle or cattle ranches.[75]  The pirates or buccaneers who raided from the western coasts of the Americas in the 1680s and 1690s carried flour regularly in their ration.  They supplemented the flour with any fish, fowls, pigs, goats, and cattle they encountered while raiding ashore.  These men also drank chocolate when they encountered it in their raids on Spanish territory in Central America, whose populace drank it regularly.[76]  Be it by raiding ships of common sea provisions or farmers ashore of livestock, mariners often found theft to be a convenient means to resupply themselves.

Nature also offered sailors a means by which to obtain more food during their voyages, especially in the more remote parts of the world that featured few or no settlements.  The sea offered crews a bounty of fish to catch.  Navy ships and civilians vessels alike often allowed their men to supplement their diets by fishing.  Their efforts resulted in catching and consuming a variety of ocean creatures, including sharks, dolphins, and manatees.[77]  On remote islands in the middle of the large oceans that contained no inhabitants, sailors often found animals they caught and killed when allowed onshore.  Anything that mariners could catch became fair game, be it birds, reptiles, or mammals.   Some islands, such as Juan Fernandez island off the coast of Chile, featured goats the Spanish purposely left on the island so they could reproduce and offer future voyages an additional food source.[78]  Maritime and travel accounts of the period mention crews obtaining goats regularly in remote lands and in well-populated regions of the world.[79]  Regardless of what was available, if an island or remote coastline offered a viable source of provisions, especially animals, mariners regularly tried to exploit it for food.

Of all the animals sailors ate in the Atlantic and Pacific, turtles receive the most coverage in period accounts of sea provisions not obtained from Europe or colonies in the northern half of America’s eastern seaboard.  In Dampier’s account of his voyage around the world in the 1680s, there are five continuous pages dedicated to turtles.[80]  Considering their value as a food source, Dampier’s in-depth of this coverage is understandable.  Several accounts of ships travelling in the Pacific mention gathering turtles, particularly in the Galapagos Islands.  Many men in the Caribbean made a living by gathering turtles to sell to both local residents and to ships.  In 1684, when French Privateers attacked and prevented turtler sloops from bringing turtles to market, a local account estimated that 2,000 people in Jamaica alone ate turtles daily.[81]  Dampier described three main types of turtle in the West Indies, the terapen, the hawksbill, and the green turtle.  The green turtle was the type sailors consumed the most while in the Caribbean, and are the type turtler sloops often brought alive to markets in Jamaica where they penned in the sea with wooden stakes until purchased.  They not only offered delicious flesh to eat, their fat produced large amounts of oil.  Dampier described the green turtles as the best tasting in the Caribbean, and were, “larger than any other [turtle] in the North Seas.  There they commonly will weigh 280 or 300 pound: Their Fat is Yellow, and the [flesh] Lean white, and their flesh extraordinary sweet.”[82]  In the West Indies and South Pacific in particular, the turtle stood as a common staple of the maritime diet.

To Be Continued…

Postscript: Part 2 of this article will cover provisions from non-English maritime services, pirates and maritime food, cooking on ships, mealtime utensils and tableware, dishes served on ships, sailors eating in port, and comparisons to food of the greater lower class.


[1] Samuel Pepys, Samuel Pepys’s Naval Minutes, ed. J. R. Tanner ([London]: The Naval Records Society, 1926), 250.

[2] Ibid.

[3] A Descriptive Catalogue of the Naval Manuscripts in the Pepysian Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge, volume 1, ed. J. R. Tanner ([London]: The Naval Records Society, 1903), 165-167.

[4] Regulations and Instructions Relating to His Majesty’s Service at Sea (London: 1731), 60.

[5] Janet Macdonald, Feeding Nelson’s Navy: The True Story of Food at Sea in the Georgian Era (London: Chatham Publishing, 2004), 9-10.

[6] “hardtack, n.”. OED (Oxford English Dictionary) Online. September 2015. Oxford University Press. (accessed November 14, 2015); “biscuit, n.”. OED Online. September 2015. Oxford University Press. (accessed November 15, 2015).

[7] John Pavlik, “‘Consisting Merely of Flour and Water’: Reproducing the Eighteenth-Century English Biscuit,” Journal of the Early Americans 1, no. 11 (April/May 2011), 7; Samuel Jeake, A Compleat Body of Arithmetick, in Four Books (London: Tho. Newborough and John Nicholson, 1701), 74.  This flour often included visible pieces wheat meal and bran.

[8] John Ehrman, The Navy in the War of William III, 1689-1697 (1953, reprint, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 145.

[9] César De Saussure, A Foreign View of England in the Reigns of George I. & George II. The Letters of Monsieur Cesar de Saussure to His Family ed. and trans. Madame Van Muyden (London: John Murray, 1902), 363-364; Pavlik, “‘Consisting Merely of Flour and Water’,” 9.

[10] Ehrman, The Navy in the War of William III, 150; Jeake, A Compleat Body of Arithmetick, 74. These hundred-pound bags stood as a basic unit for their sale for ship’s biscuits.

[11] Pavlik, “‘Consisting Merely of Flour and Water’,” 7-8; Jeake, A Compleat Body of Arithmetick, 74; Thomas Tryon, The Good Housewife Made Doctor, or Health’s Choice and Sure Friend, 2nd ed. (London: H.N. and T.S., 1692), 65.

[12] Remarks on the Present Condition of the Navy, And Particularly of the Victualling (London: 1700), 18-19; Jeff Palvik, private correspondence, October 4, 2015.  The substitute ingredients could be cheaper because of damage or poor quality, and fit for little else than being turned into a flour.  Buying them, drying them out over ovens, and turning them into flour could be cheaper than obtaining wheat flour.

[13] James Lightbody, The Mariners Jewel; or, A Pocket Companion for the Ingenious (London: Robert Whitledge, 1695), 133.

[14] Benjamin Franklin, “On Board the Pennsylvania Packet, Captain Osborne, at Sea, 5 April, 1775,” in The Works of Benjamin Franklin, volume 11, ed. John Bigelow (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904), 124.

[15] “biscuit, n.”. OED Online. September 2015. Oxford University Press. (accessed November 15, 2015); Pavlik, “‘Consisting Merely of Flour and Water’,” 9.

[16] Edward Ward, The Wooden World Dissected (London: H. Meere, 1707), 104.

[17] Nathaniel Boteler, Six Dialogues about Sea-Services. Between An High-Admiral and a Captain at Sea (London: Moses Pitt, 1685), 85. Calentures refers to a tropical disease sailors frequently suffered from and scarbot meant scurvy.

[18] Megan E. Edwards, “Virginia Ham: The Local and Global of Colonial Foodways,” Food and Foodways 19 (2011): 67-68.

[19] A Descriptive Catalogue of the Naval Manuscripts in the Pepysian Library, 166, 176; Regulations and Instructions (1731), 60-61.  For why pork or bacon did not supplant beef, even though bacon was cheaper and resistant to spoilage, it still deteriorated more quickly than beef, especially in warm places such as a ship’s hold.  This effect becomes worse when considering vessels in tropical environments such as the West Indies, Emily Cockayne, Hubbub: Filth, Noise & Stench in England 1600-1770 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), 95; Hoh cheung Mui and Lorna H. Mui, Shops and Shopkeeping in Eighteenth Century England (Kingston, ON, Canada: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1989), 154.  During this period, bacon did not represent the pork belly bacon that Americans associate with the term.  In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, pork could mean any flesh from a pig, including bacon.  When referred to by name during this period, bacon meant meat from the back and sides of the pig. “bacon, n.”OED Online. September 2015. Oxford University Press. (accessed November 15, 2015); “pork, n.1”. OED Online. September 2015. Oxford University Press. (accessed November 15, 2015); Macdonald, Feeding Nelson’s Navy, 19.

[20] Regulations and Instructions (1731), 61; John Hollond, Two Discourses of the Navy, 1638 and 1659, ed. J. R. Tanner ([London]: The Navy Records Society, 1896), 178.

[21] Janet Vorwald Dohner, The Encyclopedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry Breeds (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001), 256-258; Pepys, Samuel Pepys’s Naval Minutes, 134; Hollond, Two Discourses of the Navy, 177.

[22] Ehrman, The Navy in the War of William III, 145; Dohner, The Encyclopedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry Breeds, 182-184, 249.

[23] Ehrman, The Navy in the War of William III, 145.

[24] Stephen Hales, Philosophical Experiments: Containing Useful, and Necessary Instructions for such as undertaking long Voyages at Sea (London: W. Innys, R. Manby, and T. Woodward, 1739), 89. The differences between white salt and bay salt according to the 1728 Cyclopaedia is that bay salt came from salt marshes and was not refined to a white color, but remained brown.  White salt came from sand impregnated with salt water that salter makers placed in pits to collect the salt water.  This salt came out of the pit already white in color. Salt makers then took the salt water from the pits and purified it by boiling. Most of this white salt came from Normandy in France. E. Chambers, Cyclopaedia: Or, an Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (London: James and John Knapton, 1728) 2: s.v. “salt”.  For the measure of salt described in this process, it is expressed in volume and not weight.  At the time, the Navy often used the Winchester measurement for several materials featured in their rations.  A gallon of either bay or white salt, as referenced by Hales’ account, refers to a dry measure the salt itself and not to the amount of brine used.  It was common to see salt sold by dry measure in the Winchester measurement system during this period: Jeake, A Compleat Body of Arithmetick, 70.  One hundred pounds of meat required about five gallons of water.  This is based on the efforts of Charles Heath, who prepared a hundred pounds of salt pork based on a set of nineteenth-century instructions that practically mirrored the method described by Hales in the eighteenth century. Charles Heath, “Looks Worse than it Tastes,” Civil War Historian 3, no. 1 (January/February, 2007), 21-22, 27.

[25] Ehrman, The Navy in the War of William III, 146; Macdonald, Feeding Nelson’s Navy, 33-34.

[26] Henri Mission, M. Mission’s Memoirs and Observations in His Travels Over England, trans. Mr. Ozell (London: D. Brown, A. Bell, J. Darby, A. Bettesworth, J. Pemberton, C. Rivington, J. Hooke, R. Cruttenden, T. Cox, J. Batley, F. Clay, and E. Synom, 1719) 81; K. G. Davies, The North Atlantic World in the Seventeenth Century (Vol. 4. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, 1974), 158; Maureen Waller, 1700: Scenes from London Life (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2000), 186.

[27] Davies, The North Atlantic World in the Seventeenth Century, 161-162.

[28] A Descriptive Catalogue of the Naval Manuscripts in the Pepysian Library, 166; “† haberdine, n.” OED (Oxford English Dictionary) Online. September 2015. Oxford University Press. (accessed November 07, 2015); “Poor John, n.” OED (Oxford English Dictionary) Online. September 2015. Oxford University Press. (accessed November 07, 2015); “stockfish | stockfish, n.” OED (Oxford English Dictionary) Online. September 2015. Oxford University Press. (accessed November 07, 2015).

[29] Lightbody, The Mariners Jewel 125; A Descriptive Catalogue of the Naval Manuscripts in the Pepysian Library, 167; Regulations and Instructions (1731), 61;  William Cockburn, An account of the nature, causes, symptoms, and cure of the distempers that are incident to seafaring people with observations on the diet of the seamen in His Majesty’s navy (London: Hugh Newman, 1696), 5-6, 9-11, 24-25; Edward Barlow, Barlow’s Journal of His Life at Sea in King’s Ships, East & West Indiamen & Other Merchantmen from 1659 to 1703, ed. Basil Lubbock (London: Hurst & Blackett, LTD, 1934) 1: 60.

[30] Macdonald, Feeding Nelson’s Navy, 38.

[31] Ehrman, The Navy in the War of William III, 146.

[32] Ibid.; Macdonald, Feeding Nelson’s Navy, 30-31.

[33] Ehrman, The Navy in the War of William III, 145; Macdonald, Feeding Nelson’s Navy, 30-32.

[34] Macdonald, Feeding Nelson’s Navy, 30, Ehrman, The Navy in the War of William III, 145.

[35] Ibid., 40; David Hancock, Oceans of Wine: Madeira and the Emergence of American Trade and Taste (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 85.

[36] Saussure, A Foreign View of England in the Reigns of George I. & George II, 363.

[37] Barnaby Slush, The Navy Royal: Or a Sea-Cook Turn’d Projector (London: B. Bragge, 1709), 71-72.

[38] Ehrman, The Navy in the War of William III, 146; A Descriptive Catalogue of the Naval Manuscripts in the Pepysian Library, 166.  A quarter measure is a measure of volume in the Winchester measure system.  There are eight quarters in a bushel and 64 quarters in a gallon, Jeake, A Compleat Body of Arithmetick, 70.

[39] The Report of the Committee Appointed to Enquire into the Frauds and Abuses Committed in the Victualling Her Majesty’s Navy (London: Samuel Keble and Henry Clements, 1710[-11]).

[40] Regulations and Instructions (1731), 63.

[41] Great Britain House of Commons, The Journal of the House of Commons: From December the 3d 1697,… to October the 24th 1699,…,” vol. 12 ([London]: Reprinted by Order of the House of Commons, 1803), 397.

[42] Ibid.; A Descriptive Catalogue of the Naval Manuscripts in the Pepysian Library, 169.

[43] Slush, The Navy Royal, 72.

[44] Regulations and Instructions (1731), 62.

[45] Cockburn, An account of the nature, causes, symptoms, and cure of the distempers that are incident to seafaring people, 5; Saussure, A Foreign View of England in the Reigns of George I. & George II, 364.

[46] Hancock, Oceans of Wine, 85, 91, 302, 308-309, 333; Macdonald, Feeding Nelson’s Navy, 41-42.  Starting around the middle of the eighteenth century, Madeira wine became more expensive and a status drink for the upper class.

[47] “Considerations offered by the Agents for Jamaica and merchants trading thereto, to the Council of Trade and Plantations, October 16, 1696,” Calendar of State Papers, Colonial Series, (from now on abbreviated CSPCS) 15 May, 1696 – 31 October, 1697, item 324.

[48] Frederick H. Smith, Caribbean Rum: A Social and Economic History (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2005),53-54, 28-33; Macdonald, Feeding Nelson’s Navy, 42-43.

[49] Ibid.; William B. Jensen, “Ask the Historian: The Origin of Alcohol Proof,” Journal of Chemical Education 81, no. 9 (Sept. 2004), 1258.  The earliest account yet to be found where rum and water is referred to as grog comes from an, “Account of the late Action fought between Admiral Knowles, and the Spanish Admiral; taken from the Jamaica Gazette, Kingston in Jamaica,” Whitehall Evening Post or London Intelligencer, January 31, 1749 – February 2, 1749. Considering the date of the newspaper and its origin in a Jamaica newspaper, this reference goes back to 1748.  Even earlier references likely reside either in the Admiralty records within the UK National Archives or in the Jamaica National Archives.

[50] Carla Rahn Phillips, Six Galleons for the King of Spain: Imperial Defense in the Early Seventeenth Century (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 167, 169.

[51] N. A. M. Rodger, The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649-1815 (New York: W.W. Norton, 2005), 133.

[52] Regulations and Instructions Relating to His Majesty’s Service at Sea, Ninth Edition (London: 1757), 202-203.

[53] William Salmond, Botanologia: The English Herbal: or, History of Plants (London: H. Rhodes and J. Taylor, 1710), 480; Macdonald, Feeding Nelson’s Navy, 36-38.

[54] Daniel Vickers and Vince Walsh, Young Men and the Sea: Yankee Seafarers in the Age of Sail (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), 90-91; Robert Gardiner and Ph. M. Bosscher, The Heyday of Sail: The Merchant Sailing Ship, 1650-1830 (London: Conway Maritime, 1995), 27-28; Peter Earle, Sailors: English Merchant Seamen, 1650-1775 (London: Methuen, 1998), 7-8; Remarks on the Present Condition of the Navy, And Particularly of the Victualling (London: 1700), 21-22.

[55] Barlow, Barlow’s Journal, 2: 508; Jonathan Dickenson, God’s Protecting Providence, Man’s Shurest Help and Defence, in Times of the Greatest Difficulty, and most Eminent Danger (Reprint. London: T. Sowie, 1700), 4.

[56] Vickers and Walsh, Young Men and the Sea, 91; Josselyn, John.  An Account of Two Voyages to New England. London: Giles Widdows, 1674), 211-212; John Fontaine, The Journal of John Fontaine, An Irish Huguenot Son in Spain and Virginia, 1710-1719,  ed. Edward Porter Alexander (Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1972), 68-69.  The practice of selling supplies to sailors at sea is also covered in the article “A Sailor’s Possessions.”

[57] Nigel Tattersfield, The Forgotten Trade: Comprising the Log of the Daniel and Henry of 1700 and Accounts of the Slave Trade from the Minor Ports of England, 1698-1725 (London: Jonathan Cape, 1991), 120-121, 142; T. Aubrey, The Sea-Surgeon, or the Guinea Man’s Vade Mecum (London: John Clarke, 1729), 126-130; John Barbot, “A Description of the Coasts of North and South-Guinea,” in A Collection of Voyages and Travels (London: Messr. Churchill, 1732), 546-547; Corey Malcom, “The Copper Cauldrons aboard the Henrietta Marie,” The Navigator: Newsletter of The Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society 15, no. 2 (February, 2000).

[58] Nathaniel Boteler, Six Dialogues about Sea-Services. Between An High-Admiral and a Captain at Sea (London: Moses Pitt, 1685), 72-76; Cockburn, An account of the nature, causes, symptoms, and cure of the distempers that are incident to seafaring people, 5-6; Barlow, Barlow’s Journal of His Life at Sea, 1: 159-162, 2:425-426.

[59] J. D. Alsop and K. R. Dick, “The Origin of Public Tendering for Royal Navy Provisions, 1699-1720,” Mariner’s Mirror 80, 4 (November, 1994), 395.

[60] The Darien papers: Being a Selection of Original Letters and Official Documents Relating to the Establishment of a Colony at Darien by the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies, 1695-1700 (Edinburgh: Thomas Constable, 1849), 324.

[61] Ibid., 327-328.

[62] Ibid., 330.

[63] Henry Pitman, A Relation of the Great Sufferings and Strange Adventures of Henry Pitman, Chyrurgion to the late Duke of Monmouth (London: Andrew Sowle, 1689), 35.

[64] Captain Thomas Jacobs to Josiah Burchett, Diamond in the Madera Road, August 26, 1717, ADM 1/1982, TNA.  Sir Robert Robinson of the HMS Assistance in 1681 presented similar complaints while serving in the Mediterranean.  His complaint stated, “The beef looked very bad before it went into the furnace, but when it came out, ’twas almost as blakc as coal and shrunk to nothing.  The pork tasted so fishy that the men could not eat it.  The peas boiled almost as hard as shot, and would by no means break.  The oatmeal was so sour that many times it could not be eaten.  The beverage wine so bad that men choose rather to drink water.  And in general the provisions was so bad that several of the men chose rather to eat dry bread alone almost to the starving of themselves, than eat the other victuals.” ADM 1/3551, fo. 79 as quoted in J. D. Davies, Pepys’s Navy: Ships, Men & Warfare, 1649-1689 (Barnsley, UK: Seaforth Publishing, 2008), 202.

[65] Christian Buchet, “The Royal Navy and the Caribbean, 1689-1763,” Mariner’s Mirror 80, 1 (1994), 37-38.

[66] Ibid.; “Considerations offered by the Agents for Jamaica …October 16, 1696,” CSPCS, 15 May, 1696 – 31 October, 1697, item 324; Regulations and Instructions (1731), 67.

[67] Considerations offered by the Agents for Jamaica …October 16, 1696,” CSPCS, 15 May, 1696 – 31 October, 1697, item 324. A “plaintain,” or plantain, refers to a type of banana picked before ripening and cooked in a similar manner to vegetables. They are not the same type of bananas many in western society are familiar with, which are usually yellow and eaten raw. “plantain, n.3”. OED Online. December 2015. Oxford University Press. (accessed December 16, 2016).

[68] William Dampier, A Voyage to New Holland, &c. In the Year, 1699 (London: James Knapton, 1703), 3: 31.

[69] George Shelvocke,  A Voyage Round the World By the Way of the Great South Sea (London: J. Senex, W. Innys, J. Innys, J. Osborn, and T. Longman, 1726), 18, 51-52.

[70] Ibid., 52; “cassava, n”. OED Online. December 2015. Oxford University Press. (accessed December 16, 2016); Hans Sloane, A Voyage to the Islands of Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers, and Jamaica (London: B.M., 1707), 1: xviii-xix; Samuel Clarke, A True and Faithful Account of the Four Chiefest Plantations of the English in America (London: Robert Clavel, Thomas Passenger, William Cadman, William Whitwood, Thomas Sawbridge, and William Birch, 1670), 61-62; John Taylor, Jamaica in 1687: the Taylor manuscript at the National Library of Jamaica, ed. David Buisseret (Kingston, Jamaica, University of the West Indies Press, 2008), 217-218.

[71] “Governor Rogers to the Council of Trade and Plantations, Nassau on Providence, May 29, 1719,” CSPCS 1719-1720, item 209; Captain Candler to Josiah Burchet, 12 May, 1717, ADM 1/1597, TNA.

[72] William Funnell,  A Voyage Round the World. Containing an Account of Captain Dampier’s Expedition Into the South-Seas in the Ship St George, In the Years 1703 and 1704 (London: James Knapton, 1707), 226.

[73] Shelvocke,  A Voyage Round the World, 371, 381.

[74] Regulations and Instructions (1731), 67.

[75] Interesting Tracts, Relating to the Island of Jamaica (St. Jago de la Vega, Jamaica: Lewis, Lunam, and Jones, 1800), 255-256; Raveneau de.  Lussan, Raveneau de Lussan: Buccaneers of the Spanish Main and early French filibuster of the Pacific, trans. and ed. Marguerite Eyer Wilbur (Cleveland, OH: Arthur H. Clark Company, 1930), 147, 192, 240.

[76] William Dampier, A New Voyage Round the World, 2nd Ed. (London: James Knapton, 1697), 1-2, 176; Basil Ringrose, Bucaniers of America, Second Volume. (London: William Crooke, 1685), 4, 98-100.

[77] Rodger, The Command of the Ocean, 133; The Darien papers, 348, 366; Dampier, A New Voyage Round the World, 1-2, 249, 302; John Atkins,  A Voyage to Guinea, Brasil, and the West-Indies; In His Majesty’s Ships, the Swallow and Weymouth (London: Caesar Ward and Richard Chandler, 1735), 42-43; Fontaine, The Journal of John Fontaine, 76, 79-80.

[78] Funnell,  A Voyage Round the World, 20; Edward Cooke, A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World, Peform’d in the Years 1708, 1709, 1710, and 1711 (London: B. Linton, R. Gosling, A. Bettesworth, and W. Innys, 1712), 36-37.

[79] Mark C. Kehoe, “Goats in Sailor’s Diets During the Golden Age of Piracy,” The Pirate Surgeon’s Journal, accessed January 16, 2016, This article contains many endnotes containing references to primary sources during this period regarding goats and sea voyages.  This author also wrote on the frequency of pigs and pork at sea, “Pigs as Food During the Golden Age of Piracy,” The Pirate Surgeon’s Journal, accessed January 16, 2016,

[80] Dampier, A New Voyage Round the World, 101-106.

[81] “Colonel Hender Molesworth to William Blathwayt, November 15, 1684, Jamaica,” CSPCS, 1681-1685, item 1938.

[82] Dampier, A New Voyage Round the World, 105.

9 thoughts on “Salt Pork, Ship’s Biscuit, and Burgoo: Sea Provisions for Common Sailors and Pirates

  1. Wow this was a great read, very well written and incredibly well researched and full of interesting information.
    Thank you so much for all your work!
    I’m just wondering, do you think you will write the second part?

  2. David,

    This is an amazing article! I really appreciate the level of detail presented here.
    I play the ship’s cook in an SCA/acting troupe where we strive for historical accuracy. I am very much looking forward to the next installment, As we happen to be a crew of French Privateers.
    Thank you again for writing such a great piece.

    -François Beauchene aka “Le Champignon”

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