Many people in the academic and living history communities know me by my expertise in clothing worn by common sailors and pirates in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. I gained this knowledge from years of research that eventually became a Master’s thesis I wrote in 2015 for the Graduate Program in Maritime Studies at East Carolina University. Now, I wish to bring that to publication, but before this I want to provide my readers with the best information I can provide. This will require a trip to the National Archives in London. To make this trip requires funding that I could not raise before while attending University. To fund the project, I’ve created a crowdfunding project with its own GoFundMe page. There are many more details regarding this project on the page itself, linked below:
Here is a short video I made to go with the project:
If you are interested in seeing the publication of my work on maritime clothing, including a long chapter regarding the attire of pirates in this era, please contribute what you can to the project before Christmas, December 25, 2016. If you know anyone who might find this project of interest, please send them a link to this post or to the GoFundMe project itself.
To the left, the N.C. Wyeth 1911 illustration of Long John Silver from Treasure Island. To the right, Luke Arnold portraying a young John Silver in season 2 of Black Sails in 2015.
Caution to those who have not seen all of Black Sails up to March 26, 2016 and wish not to spoil their first viewings – there are discussions that occasionally spoil small plot points from the show. Also, this editorial and review covers the show’s first three seasons
“…Set in and around a historically accurate time and place, in Nassau in the Bahamas…”
– Jonathan E. Steinberg, Executive Producer/Co-Creator of Black Sails
“It’s brutal, it’s gritty, and it’s real…”
– Hannah New, role of Eleanor Guthrie in Black Sails
“It’s not the cheesy pirate thing, it’s not fantasy, it’s trying to actually portray how life could have been in the Golden Age of Piracy.”
– Clara Paget, role of Anne Bonny in Black Sails
On January 18, 2014, Starz released the first episode of their new show, Black Sails, on Youtube, in partnership with the entertainment network Machinima, a week before it officially aired on Starz’s premium American cable television channel. This early preview included a ten-minute featurette about their new show and presented the previous three quotes. Other promotional videos for the show featured similar claims about accuracy. Two years after the premiere, the show continues to promote itself as “realistic”. One claim they repeated involved avoiding the most common clichés in pirate films such as parrots, eye patches, and Robert Newton’s pirate accent. So far, Black Sails avoided these obvious pirate stereotypes. They did not perpetuate the most blatant tropes of pirates, but Black Sails still repeats many other tropes from the past century of film and television, resulting in many historical inaccuracies. However, some aspects of this show are new to this media genre and present the smallest of steps towards historical accuracy. It also stands as a unique production for the pirate genre in Hollywood. Continue reading →
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.” 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. 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. Continue reading →
By 1716, New Providence stood as a stronghold for pirates. Since past Bahamian residents and governments allowed pirates to enter and use their harbor for generations, this news surprised few among people familiar with New World maritime activity. John Graves, a former customs collector in Nassau, published a prediction in 1707 that the Bahamas would become a, “Shelter for Pyrates, if left without good Government and some Strength.” He further predicted, “that one small Pyrat with Fifty Men that are acquainted with the Inhabitants (which too many of them are) shall and will Ruin that Place, and be assisted by the loose Inhabitants; who hitherto have never been Prosecuted to effect, for Aiding, Abetting, and Assisting the said Villains with Provision.”1 Six years later, Grave’s predictions came true.
In the past decade, a premium channel television program, a billion-dollar video game franchise, and popular press publications all helped revive public awareness and interest in the Bahamas and its pirate past. These shows, games, and books are consistent in the manner they present the history of New Providence. In telling the stories of the pirates, the narratives usually centered on captains, their crews, and the British officials that confronted them. The recent portrayals of Nassau tend to follow what Hollywood and artistic mediums has done for generations. The romanticized image of the typical pirate base set at a remote Caribbean settlement features a group of wooden post-and-beam frame buildings, built near an elegant beach, and populated with pirates gallivanting with attractive women day and night. This common media depiction, while appealing to general audiences, is two-dimensional. This weak caricature does not delve deep into understanding what New Providence was like in 1716-1717, when Nassau’s pirate population was at its peak. Continue reading →
Excerpts from “The Sailor’s Parting,” by C. Mosley, 1743. The image includes depictions of a hammock, sea chest (with initials), and simple bag.
The sea chest is a common piece of material culture seen among stereotypes of pirates and sailors in the Age of Sail. Many people imagine a variety of items locked away within these chests, from fascinating tools of the seafaring trades to treasure plundered during many adventures at sea. In the realm of stories about pirates, Billy Bones owns the most famous sea chest of all fictional pirates. In Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, originally published as a serial in Young Folks magazine from October of 1881 to January of 1882, Bones was the first mate of the pirate Captain John Flint. The exterior of Billy’s sea chest was, “somewhat smashed and broken as by long, rough usage,” with a “B” burned to its top. Stevenson described the contents of the sea chest in detail, including items concerning the story’s treasure, such as Bones’ account book, a bar of silver, a bag of coins, and a treasure map. Beyond these pieces concerning the treasure, the chest contained a suit of clothes, “a quadrant, a tin canikin, several sticks of tobacco, two brace of very handsome pistols,…an old Spanish watch and some other trinkets of little value and mostly of foreign make, a pair of compasses mounted with brass, and five or six curious West Indian shells… [and] Underneath there was an old boat-cloak, whitened with sea-salt on many a harbour bar.”1 Contents such as these are typical by the standards of the modern stereotype of sailors and pirates in the Golden Age of Piracy. When compared to the historical record, with exception to the treasure items, how accurate is Stevenson’s depiction? What did Anglo-American sailors or pirates of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries own? Broadly speaking, some sailors of the era did own the kind of items seen in Stevenson’s stereotypical sea chest. However, examining the historical record for traces of sailors’ possessions provides some insight into the lives of mariners in this era. Continue reading →