Dutchman

the food sailors ate

111 posts in this topic

so i was sitting here thinking about hardtack and wondered if there were any records of what was aboard any of the ships of the era for food.. (pirate, merchant or naval) and what a daily alotment would have actually been. we all know about the rations of rum, but i mean how many pounds of barrelled pork, how many pieces of biscuit. were there dried beans or rice aboard?

now before anyone jumps in and says pirates would have taken it off a captured ship, well yeah- but what is documented that they took.

I'm looking for things like blackbeards treasure that was on board the adventure as recorded by maynard. a few pounds each of sugar, cocoa, coffee or tea and some meats. not much in the grand scheme of a captain of 400 men in the end is it?

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Weren't they on their way to get supplies? . . .and of course they did snag a lot of good food from ships they . . .uh. . . "chose" (much better than the word "targeted"). . . to pull supplies from a vessel. . .isn't that what today's Navy calls "underway replenishment?"

I've found in my research that stores weren't catalogued on a pirate ship as they were on a Naval ship, so who knows how much was aboard. Since a good pirate captain kept his crew happy by hitting port as much as possible. . . the ship might not have needed a lot of storage for foodstuff. . .just ammo!

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i'm looking for anything here. does not need to be pirate specific, but of the era. to get from point a to point b they needed to load up. now i know they loaded what was available for fresh, but for longer voyages there had to be staples.

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It would take some serious research in a good library (as in your not too likely to find this online).. But if you could find some archives of shipping inventories, that would be the best way to find out what they ate.

A detailed search of the British Dictionary of Trade Goods would probably turn up lots of good information...

I know there have been some ship inventory listings posted over the years in Twill... I just did a quick search and wasn't able to find anything right off the bat... But if you tried a more detailed search and some different keyword or phrase searches, you might have better luck than me.

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zing, a few outstanding leads. thankyou michael and lady seahawk.

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And Whereas Benjamin Norton Mariner and John Freebody Merchant both of Newport in the Colony aforesd. have equipped, furnished, and victualled a Sloop called the Revenge of the Burthen of about One hundred and Fifteen Tons,

Account of the Provisions taken on Board the Sloop Revenge att Rhode Island, Wednesday June 10th. 1741

Beef 50 bb. at £7. 10 per bb. £375

Pork 18 bb. £12 per bb. 216

Flowr 64 bb. £8 per bb. 512

Bread 50 C. £4 per C. 200

Beans 10 bus. 8

Rum 100 Gall. 10s. per Ga. 50

Sugar 1C.2[13] £8 per C. 12

Hogs fatt a Cagg[14] 7

£1380

Sloop Revenge and Comp'y to the Owners Cr.

Taken in Att Rhode Island Munday July 13th.

50 bb. of Beef 7.10 £375

18 bb. of pork 12. 216

64 bb. of flour 8. 512

10 bu. of Beans 8

100 Gal. of Rum at 10s. 50

1 C. 2 Qr. Sug'r £8 per C. 12

A Cag of hogs fatt 7

50 C. of bread at 4 per C. 200

£1380

Taken in At New York

8 bb. of Beef 7.10 60

12 bb. of pork 12. 144 By the foot of

A Doctors Chest and Medicines this Acct. to

first Cost New York be carryed to

Cur'y £38.2.1 Acct. Cur't to

Advance 200 per C. 76.4.2[33] 114.6.3 be paid by the

Total £1698.6.3 Sloops Comp'y £1698.6.3

An Account of a prize taken by Capt. Benj. Norton in the Sloop Revenge and Sold att Publick Vandue att New Providence, the 20th and 21st day's of Aug'st 1741. P'r Wm. Moon, Vandue Master, Viz,...

1st day. Corn, 105 buss. Ps. 8/8 397:4 Ps. 8/8 R.

Beef, 29 bbs. 126:

Pork, 46 bbs. 265:4 789:0

———

2d day. Corn, 55 buss. 43:5½

Beef, 6 barrs. 23:

Pork, 40½ do. 250:2

Oyle, 4 bbs. 37:0½

Tarr, 13 do. 23:5

Pitch, 16 do. 16:

Staves, 1500 4:7 398:4

———

3d day. Sloop and Furniture[64] 325:

Pitch, 9 bb. 14:3 339:3

——— ———

Corn 160 buss., beef 35 bbs., pork 86½ bs., Staves

1500, tar 13, pitch 20 bbs., Oyle 4 bb., Sloop and

furniture total 1526:7

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Being so important to health (not to mention being quite gross), I am including a chapter on diet in my barber-surgeon's tome. First off, one thing I have found on quantity of food in the sailor's diet that appears to pre-date the sources cited above (although still not quite period):

“The diet was so restricted in variety and so deficient in the essentials for well-balanced nutrition that it is no wonder scurvy and other diseases were so prevalent. The regulation ration for the middle of the seventeenth century was as follows: In addition to a gallon of beer and a pound of biscuit daily, on Sundays and Tuesdays two pounds of salt beef; on Mondays and Thursdays one pound of salt pork and one pint of peas, or if pork was lacking one pound and a half of beef instead; on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays one-eighth of a pound of butter and one quarter of a pound of cheese. The standard fish sizes were twenty-four inches for cod, twenty-two inches for haberdine, and one-half-sized stock fish was supposed to measure sixteen inches. Even more serious than the limited variety of the foodstuffs was the fact that through imperfect means of preservation and the outrageous dishonesty of the contractors they were nearly always more or less decomposed and wholly unfit for human consumption, but if condemned and returned they were often enough repacked and sent to other ships.” (Vogel, Karl, “Medicine at Sea in the Days of Sail,” Milestones in Medicine, Edited by James Alexander Miller p88-9)

Now, here are just a few of the fun quotes - all of these regarding the BRN, who is the primary source of info on diet I've found:

“…weevils crawled; they were bitter to the taste, and a sure indication that the biscuit had lost its nutritious particles; if instead of these weevils, large white maggots with black heads made their appearance (these were called bargemen in the Navy), then the biscuit was considered to be only in its first state of decay; these maggots were fat and cold to the taste, but not bitter.’ Sailors were known to be particularly suspicious of hardtack that contained no weevils or maggots, believing it to be too bad even for these ever-prevalent pests.” (Bown, Stephen R., Scurvy: How a Surgeon, a Mariner, and a Gentleman Solved the Greatest Medieval Mystery of the Age of Sail, p. 20)

“James Patten, a surgeon aboard Cook’s second voyage, remarked that

  • ‘our bread was…both musty and mouldy, and at the same time swarming with two different sorts of little brown grubs, the circulio granorius (or weevil) and the dermestes paniceus…Their larvas, or maggots, were found in such quantities in the pease-soup, as if they had been stewed over our plates on purpose, so that we could not avoid swallowing some of them in every spoonful we took.’”

(Bown, p. 19)

“Ship’s cheese quickly went rancid, cloaking the entire ship in a cloying cloud of noxious stench. If it didn’t turn putrid, the cheese hardened like a rock, so sailors carved it with their knives into buttons for their clothing.” (Bown, p. 21)

“A brief scan of the report of Antonio Pegafetta, an Italian mariner who kept a journal of [Magellan’s] voyage, sheds some light on the conditions they endured: ‘They ate biscuit,’ he wrote, ‘and when there was no more of that they ate the crumbs, which were full of maggots and smelled strongly of mouse urine. They drank yellow water, already several days putrid…Mice could be sold for half a ducat a piece, and still many who would have paid could not get them…’” (Bown, p. 33)

“The salt was so strong and concentrated on the cooked meat that if it was not eaten quickly, white crystals would form on the surface. It burned the sailors’ mouths as they ate, increasing their thirst for the carefully rationed supply of water.” (Bown, p. 21)

“The Navy Office was now [1650s] required to supply perishable stores for periods of unprecedented lengths, and although in some cases the food was destined for use in warm or even tropical climates, no advance had been made on those methods of preservation devised by Sir Hugh Platt in Queen Elizabeth’s day. The Commissioners, like their predecessor the General Surveyor of Victuals for the Navy, had to deal with many contractors, some of whom were dishonest; they also had to buy cheaply; on many occasions the food remained in store-ships for months before its use, and in the absence of foreign bases the squadrons in distant waters had to depend principally on the source of supply…The privateering ventures had not been his concern: making their own precarious arrangements, they hoped to live off the Spanish settlements that they attacked. Life among the privateers had in any case been held of less value, and the rewards were sometimes great.” (Keevil, John J., Medicine and the Navy 1200-1900: Volume II – 1640-1714, p. 4)

In July, 1689, Edward Russell, who like [Arthur] Herbert had come over with William from Holland, was patrolling the south-western approaches to guard against a French descent on Kinsale. On July 31 he reported that in his squadron, the Blue, the seamen only ate when compelled by hunger, many ships were ‘extremely sickly’ and that ‘the beafe proves full of gaules…and no longer agoe then yesterday, in severall of the buts [butts - containers with about 162 gallon in them]of beare [beer], great heapes of stuff was found at the bottom of the buts not unlike mens’ guts, which has alaramed the seamen to a strange degre’. It was said that dogs which had eaten the seamen’s victuals died and that the beer remained undrinkable even after boiling.” (Keevil, p. 172-3)

“The need to maintain ships in the Mediterranean for long periods [in the Third Dutch War] again revealed the limitations of the victualling department. In spite of Pepys’s endeavors, the rare victuallers brought provisions which were underweight, or improperly preserved, or already decomposing. Only small quantities could be obtained in Spanish ports, and were subject to such uncertainties as the granting of pratique [proof to local port authorities that a ship is free from contagious disease]. The problem was increased by the poor quality of the provisions with which ships sometimes set out from England: on February 18,1668, when Allin was still in home waters, his flagship, the Monmouth, took in ‘some provision of beef, pork, peas, bread and beer, but the butter and cheese was so bad that we returned all the cheese being rotten and 8 or 9 firkins [a white oak barrel] of butter, it stank so.’” (Keevil, p. 114)

Now, who wishes they were living in the grand old GAoP? :rolleyes: If you really want to know about awful diets, I could post the various things I have found that were used for subsistence by marooned and shipwrecked survivors...but that's another chapter still.

Lest you think it was all bad, here is a more stomach-friendly quote regarding merchant marine food - about whom I've found precious few quotes:

“In the merchant service where the individual commander had some discretion and authority the conditions were not necessarily so bad. [Captain Luke Foxe of Hull said in 1631]:

  • “…was victualled compleately for 18 moneths…. I had excellent fat Beefe, strong Beere, good wheaten Bread, good Island Ling, Bitter and Cheese of the best, admirable Sacke and Aqua Vitae, Pease, Oat-meale, Wheatmeale, Oyle, Spice, Sugar, Fruit and Rie, with Chyrurgerie as Sirrups, Iulips, Condits, Trechissis, antidotes, basoms, gummes, unguients, implaisters, oyles, potions, suppositors, and purging Pils; and if I had wanted Instruments, my Chururgion had enough.”

(Vogel, p. 89-90)

However, I should note that I have read another account that says merchant food was almost as bad as the food on BRN ships.

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Thanks for the info. I'll make sure to bring some orzo to add to every dish in place of maggots...

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Iron John wrote:

And Whereas Benjamin Norton Mariner and John Freebody Merchant both of Newport in the Colony aforesd. have equipped, furnished, and victualled a Sloop called the Revenge of the Burthen of about One hundred and Fifteen Tons,

Account of the Provisions taken on Board the Sloop Revenge att Rhode Island, Wednesday June 10th. 1741

Beef 50 bb. at £7. 10 per bb. £375

Pork 18 bb. £12 per bb. 216

Flowr 64 bb. £8 per bb. 512

Bread 50 C. £4 per C. 200

Beans 10 bus. 8

Rum 100 Gall. 10s. per Ga. 50

Sugar 1C.2[13] £8 per C. 12

Hogs fatt a Cagg[14] 7

£1380

I know, for a fact that back in the 1750's, most rum originated from east coast America, particularly new England (Newport, R.I. especially...some 22 distilleries or more just on the island alone, about 9 distilleries in Bristol, just a couple of miles up north). According to the book Complicity by Anne Farrell, Joel Lang, Jennifer Frank, very little rum was produced in the caribbean at that time because of lack of supplies , most was produced in New England from European imported supplies like copper stills and wooden casks and presses, however the sugar cane farming and shipping trade was big business in the caribbean. Ships from America and Europe would sail to Caribbean islands, barter cotton & wool in return for sugar cane, produce rum with the cane in the colonies, then ship large quantities of rum to Africa & etc and buy slaves with the rum. You have to keep in mind that this type of bartering was the most valuable type of currency back then.

Here's an additional link Triangle Trade

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On that webpage, they have a section called "Myths and Legends" which basically says the food wasn't that bad and corruption among victuallers was almost non-existent.

A reading of the book I cited in my previous post, John J. Keevil's Medicine and the Navy 1200-1900: Volume II – 1640-1714 will show otherwise for period. I would guess that at least half of his sources are the same ones they cite: the Admiralty archive, in The National Archives at Kew, London.

However, further down the page, they seem to say that their focus is on the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It was in the late 18th century that several influential people became interested in the health of BRN mariners, so this would tend to support their statements. In fact, several surgeon's journals decried the conditions on Naval ships in the journals they were required to keep (beginning around the 1704, if I recall that correctly), but they had little standing and almost no pull and were largely ignored by Admiralty. Several accounts from surgeon's journals from the 1770s onward show the rise in status of surgeons on BRN vessels, which occurred in parallel with the rise of health-promoting men of stature such as Gilbert Blane and physician Thomas Trotter.

Interestingly, Samuel Pepys was actually one of the first BRN reformers in the mid-late 17th century, but his influence waxed and waned as various wars came and went, his health failed and political intrigues robbed him of his role in that late 17th century, right before GAoP. From reading Keevil's fascinating (and well documented) book, you get the impression that during the GAoP, health and feeding were not of much concern to the Admiralty - as astonishing as this may seem.

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I know, for a fact that back in the 1750's, most rum originated from east coast America, particularly new England (Newport, R.I.  especially...some 22 distilleries or more just on the island alone, about 9 distilleries in Bristol, just a couple of miles up north).    According to the book Complicity by Anne Farrell, Joel Lang, Jennifer Frank, very little rum was produced in the caribbean at that time because of lack of supplies , most was produced in New England  from European imported supplies like copper stills and wooden casks and presses,  however the sugar cane farming and shipping trade was big business in the caribbean.  Ships from America and Europe would sail to Caribbean islands, barter cotton & wool in return for sugar cane, produce rum with the cane in the colonies, then ship large quantities of rum to Africa & etc and buy slaves with the rum.    You have to keep in mind that this type of bartering was the most valuable type of currency back then.

I don't have the whole account handy, but in Aaron Smith's book The Atrocities of the Pirates, the pirates who captured him [whom he oddly never names] take a ship (or maybe it was two different ships - it's been awhile since I read it) with a cargo of rum and coffee - and they keep only the coffee! I don't remember if they sink the ship full of rum, let it go or just throw the rum overboard and keep the ship.

In the account reproduced in Captured by Pirates, edited by John Richard Stephens, Stephens notes that the rum was of little value to the pirates, but the coffee could be sold at a port in Cuba. If I remember, I'll bring the book in and cite the whole thing.

From what I read, the primary things brought back from the Caribbean in the trade or slave triangle (England to Madagascar to the Caribbean and back to England) were sugar, coffee, tobacco and rice. Alcohol and weapons were indeed mentioned in some accounts I read as the primary vehicles of trade in Madagascar. So this sort of jives with your comments.

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Mission wrote:

From what I read, the primary things brought back from the Caribbean in the trade or slave triangle (England to Madagascar to the Caribbean and back to England) were sugar, coffee, tobacco and rice. Alcohol and weapons were indeed mentioned in some accounts I read as the primary vehicles of trade in Madagascar. So this sort of jives with your comments.

New England, Mission.....New England.

I take great pride in this topic. It kind of hits you if you realize the very soil you grew up on has a deep hidden past. Bristol, R.I. being my old hometown. Archaeologists Hit Paydirt

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You should watch Andrew Zimmer on the Travel Channel with his 'Bizzare Foods'. Just about any bug is edible as are parts of an animal you would throw out.... :rolleyes:

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A detailed search of the British Dictionary of Trade Goods would probably turn up lots of good information...

That is an extremely cool database.

Yeppers.. I love the information found on that site...

The dictionary part is great... But there is also sections containing letters and other official government documents... Most are from later periods, but there is a fair amount of good primary source documentation from the GAoP as well. In fact a good amount of my research for Red Coats in the colonies came from that site (not to try and get this thread off topic, I'll be posting more on the "Uniform Colours" (Red Coat) thread when I find more time to work on that)...

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Maybe I read to fast, but I didn't see fish on the menu.

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wow- interesting information coming in folks. thanks- this is indeed what i'm lookin for. i wonder what the calorie intake was- could not be much but the sodium had to have been through the roof.

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ACTUALLY according to the stuff I have been seeing the caloric intake for sailors was higher then you might believe

It attempts to depict graphically a size and distribution of caloric intake for Europe during the 16th-18th Centuries. It shows an intake for Swedish nobility of between 5078 and 6406 calories, an intake for 17th century Pavia (Northern Italy/Switzerland/Southern France/Austria) of between 4446 to 7217 calories. And an average intake for Spanish seafarers of 3422 calories. Parisians in the late 18th century were eating about 2300 calories/day.

It's not a fair comparison, since America today is populated by a diverse group of not only Europeans but Asians, Africans, Native Americans, and others with unique historic eating patterns. Also, as the Figure states, the calculations were based on meals of the privileged (and at least in the case of the Spanish sailors, likely men). But in my reading, that 2300 for Parisians pops up in other places:

"In 1800, the English population consumed a little more than 2,000 calories per day..."

This particular author cites this as a risk for malnourishment:

" ... At this level, historians have estimated that roughly 20 percent of the adult population was too malnourished to work. Of the 80 percent available for work, most could not have worked at anything like the intensity of the modern [year 2001] workplace."

- John H. Coatsworth, What Food? Who Eats It? Why Does It Matter?

You might want to take a look at these (academic ) websites also

http://epub.ub.uni-muenchen.de/53/1/h-usa.pdf

http://www.jstor.org/stable/2598257?seq=2

http://books.google.com/books?id=78WzZlqwF...aj8_D4kO4&hl=en

As I have read many times, the navies understood that it was easier to keep a man fit for duty then to cure the sick. So, as much as disease was a factor, the officers did try to keep their men as healthy as possible. That included high calorie meals. Of course, when they ran out of fresh fruit and vegies they had a mighty big problem.

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ACTUALLY according to the stuff I have been seeing the caloric intake for sailors was higher then you might believe

<snip data>

It's not a fair comparison, since America today is populated by a diverse group of not only Europeans but Asians, Africans, Native Americans, and others with unique historic eating patterns. Also, as the Figure states, the calculations were based on meals of the privileged (and at least in the case of the Spanish sailors, likely men). But in my reading, that 2300 for Parisians pops up in other places:

"In 1800, the English population consumed a little more than 2,000 calories per day..."

It makes sense to me that their caloric intake would be higher. Their activity level would have been far higher on average than it is today.

As I have read many times, the navies understood that it was easier to keep a man fit for duty then to cure the sick.  So, as much as disease was a factor, the officers did try to keep their men as healthy as possible.  That included high calorie meals.  Of course, when they ran out of fresh fruit and vegies they had a mighty big problem.

Actually, from the various sources I've read, they either didn't understand this or didn't care until the late 18th century (post-period). As I mentioned previously, this is why the ships were so crowded - the navy put extra men on board during period because they expected a large percentage of them to die from diseases (particularly dysentery & 'fevers' on any BRN voyage & scurvy on long voyages).

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but the sodium had to have been through the roof.

I wonder if the salt at that time would have a different effect than it does today? (I don't presently have a single shred of information, I'm just wondering.) I suppose salt in any age would cause fluid retention and that is that. Still, given the lifestyle and resulting lifespan of a typical sailor (according to one book, most were in their 20s), heart disease would probably not have been one of their most immediate concerns.

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mission,

i think you're right about the heart disease not being a problem what with all the ailments and traumas aboard. of course william howard was reputed to have made it to 108. another thing to consider is the size difference between the eras. an average of six inches taller now than then i believe- takes more energy to keep a larger body going.

ok i just finished adouble at work and the screen is blurring. i'll pick this up later, thanks to all who are adding to this. its interesting info. lady seahawke, i was only able to look at the first link, i'll get the others after sleep.

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