The British Sailor’s Loyal Toast, 1738
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.
The Sailor’s Return, 1744
Note to the Readers: This is a two-page article. This is page two of two, featuring the third and fourth sections of the article. For sections one and two, which cover Anne Bonny and Mary Read, see PAGE ONE (Click Here).
Other Women Pirates and Female Interactions with Pirates
For the period of 1680 to 1740, Anne Bonny and Mary Read are almost the only examples of women who went onboard pirate ships and actively participated in piracy. The exception to the famous pair is a woman named Mary Critchett. In May of 1729, a group of six convicts, transported from England and sold in Virginia, ran away from their masters and banded together to steal a vessel. The crew managed to hijack a sloop, the John and Elizabeth, in the middle of the night of May 12, without any weapons. The group sailed the vessel out of the Piankatank River and into the Chesapeake Bay for several days, and eventually let the master of the sloop and his servant leave in a flat boat. There are no details of when or who caught the five men and Critchett. Since their trial showed the convicts had limited maritime skills, and the charges in court all concerned the John and Elizabeth, it appears someone caught them in the Chesapeake Bay before they could go to sea and attack other vessels. During this briefest of pirate careers, Critchett’s most significant actions as a pirate included sitting on a hatch to prevent their two prisoners from escaping and arguing against allowing the prisoners to leave since they would tell the authorities. The court found her guilty of piracy along with the rest of the crew. There are currently no known documents showing authorities carried out this execution. While Critchett’s piracy consisted of two minor acts on her part, and lasted a shorter amount of time than the already brief careers of Bonny and Read, it is the only other example of a woman pirate for this period. 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
Excerpt from image of Capt. George Lowther and his Company at Port Mayo in the Gulf of Matique, 1734, showing pirates in a makeshift tent.
Table of Contents:
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