Mission

Pork during the GAoP

19 posts in this topic

I'm reading a book called Daily Life of Pirates by David F. Marley. So far I don't see where it adds a lot of 'new' info to the topic, but the author does a nice job of sifting and organizing and draws some interesting conclusions at times. (I wish he supported some of them with period references a little better, but it is an engaging book nonetheless.)

He has a whole chapter on food which focuses primarily on meat (particularly as it relates to the buccaneers) and I thought you all might find this interesting.

"Like wild cattle, the earliest boucaniers had also hunted wild pigs on French Hispaniola, and pork was to remain a favorite meat among Antilliean residents and visitors alike, despite being somewhat less abundant than turtle or beef. Sir Charles Lyttleton, deputy governor of Jamaica referred to it in an October 1663 report to London as 'the planters food,' but demand would so far outstrip supply throughout the islands that it soon had to be imported in large quantities from North America and Ireland, preserved with salt." (Marley, p. 47)

I wonder just how hard pork was to come by?

Curiously, in The Seaman's Preservation by Dr. John Wilkinson, he says:

"The less pork is eaten, the better; it ought to be prohibited in hot climates and seasons, or else to be eaten with good plenty of vinegar.*

*Sanctorius observes, (Sect. ii. observ. 5.) that pork retards perspiration. the hog is remarkable for filthiness, and feeding upon all kinds of ordure [excrement], even carrion [decaying flesh] if it lied in his way: it is the only animal in the brute creation, subject to
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scrofulous diseases [tuberculosis] and the leprosy, and also something very like what we call the king's evil, which in Latin is termed scrofula from scrofa a sow: this disease in Greek is named [something in Greek] from [something else in Greek] a hog: it is also subject to the measles, a noisome disease, and contagious, in so much that it past into a proverb, as we learn from Jubenal, who calls it porrigo [actually, this is a disease of the scalp]. The putrescent quality of its flesh, and the uncleanliness of the beast, shew that its prohibition as food amongst the scrofulous Jews, was rather a physical than a divine institution." (Wilkinson, p. 79-80)

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Ah, I know some points that might explain this. For Jamaica, especially as you get father along into the seventeenth century and into the eighteenth, it was full speed ahead with cultivating land for sugarcane, and mostly sugarcane. So that's why they had to import food, including pig. Pig is an animal that Europeans liked very much, and the English with no exception. Pigs are easy enough to take care of, and produce good amounts of meat. Pigs are easier to transfer over the seas compared to cows plus pigs are basically bottom feeders in terms of consuming food (which I always thought explained why pork, while tasting just fine, often brought health issues with it in the long run and possibly explained why some religions restricted it's consumption), contributing to the ease of taking care of them. So Jamaica would be short on port at times because of having no other option but to import (I suspect the 1660s would not have the same network of supply set up for food as they would later on), and I also suspect that's why they tried exploiting other things such as turtle so much. Why go out of the way to import pork and pig? The English (and Europeans in general) were known for trying their best to maintain qualities of life they knew from back home across the ocean, and one of those included pork. This was especially true of the well to do, who went to long extents to get everything from clothing to bread of the proper style. There is a portion of the book Sugar and Slaves that goes into greater detail on this kind of phenomenon. Also, I'm pretty certain pirates ate it since remains of pig bones, cut up for cooking, were found in the archaeology on the probably Queen Annes Revenge site. As to the medical recommendations, simple situation of medical knowledge differing from what the common person practiced.

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Interesting! I don't doubt pork was popular, although it's funny that the only sourced comment in that first quote was the one by Lyttleton which seemed to be dismissing pork as food for farmers.

As for the medical quote, I just threw it in there without any salient reference to the first quote. To be honest, I just started writing about pork and remembered that I had posted that quote from Facebook for fun and thought I'd put is somewhere where I could find it again if I wanted it.

But since I'm rambling on about medical opinions, I have another book (The Way to Health, Long Life and Happiness by Thomas Tryon) which says,

"The Uncleanness of this Creature [the pig] does further appear, if you burn their Fat, it does send forth a gross fulsome smell; also its flame is not clear and bright, as the Flame of other Flesh, but of a dimmish Brimstone colour, which does arise from the dark Poysons in nature, as is further manifest in Charcoal, and also in Brandy, and other distill'd Liquors, when the sweet Oyl, or Balsamick Body with the pure subtle Spirits, are by any violence suffocated and destroy'd, then the dark original Forms of Nature appear;

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such things, being burn'd the Flame is not bright and clear, but of a duskish dim and Brimstone colour, as I have particularly shewn in another place, where I treat of the nature of Brandy.

But in England the Flesh of Swine is of great use, but not wholsom to be eaten fresh, especially in August, September or October, not indeed in any hot Season; this Flesh, where it is frequently eaten, does generate a gross Nourishment; but the way that English People use for ordering it, makes it much better than otherwise it would be. That Bacon and Pork which is fed with Corn and Acorns, and have their liberty to run, is much sweeter and wholsomer, easier of digestion and breeds better blood [in the body - in simple terms, food was thought to turn into chyle which was then turned to blood] than that which is shut up in the Hog-sties [Look! Promotion of free range pork in 1697!] such Bacon for want of Motion, becomes of a more gross phlegmatick Nature, insomuch that the House-wife is put to all her shifts to make it take Salt; for where in any thing the Phlegm does predominate, the pure Spirits are weak, and as it were, fainty and dull; and when this doth happen in Flesh, as often it does, such flesh will not take Salt, but by halves; where the Spirit is weak, the Salt cannot penetrate nor incorporate; for Salt cannot make the dead body living; but such Bacon as is fed with Corn, and not over fat, especially if they have egress and regress, such will take Salt greedily, because it is lively, brisk and full of spirits, which are a pleasant habitation for the spirit of the Salt to incorporate its self: This sort is to be preferr'd before all the others." (Tryon, p. 66-7)

He goes on (and on and on) in similar vein for another page and a half. He wrote a couple of books like this one and although he refers to himself as a "Student in Physick", he doesn't seem to have had any actual medical training. Wiki says of him, "In 1657 he heard an inner voice, which he named the "Voice of Wisdom", encouraging him to become a vegetarian and to live on a frugal diet." The whole thing sort of reminds me of a lot of the holistic stuff you read today.

As you say, this does NOT appear to have been the common opinion or even a particular concern of the hoi polloi.

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This is very interesting reading. I do wonder, with the comments made about the noxious smell of the burning fat, if he is not reacting like many vegetarians I know. After not consuming meat for some time the smell can be rather bad. Much in the same way smoke affects a reformed smoker.

I hope I have not insulted any vegetarians. It was not intended.

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Actually, being a vegetarian myself, I agree with your statement somewhat. Cooking meet can occasionally smell nauseating to me for some reason. However, this is not usual. Most of the time it smells pretty good. (I have no idea why that is.)

Then again, lately the smell of ripe black olives (even 'natural' ones) has bothered me ...and I used to love them. So who can say precisely why something smells good or bad to you?

I DO wonder how anyone but the purest of purists could dislike the smell of cooking bacon.

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That Bacon and Pork which is fed with Corn and Acorns, and have their liberty to run, is much sweeter and wholsomer, easier of digestion and breeds better blood [in the body - in simple terms, food was thought to turn into chyle which was then turned to blood] than that which is shut up in the Hog-sties [Look! Promotion of free range pork in 1697!] such Bacon for want of Motion,

We should remember there's a difference between free range proponents today and "free proponents" of back then. I suspect that today's advocates have more concern for the well being and nice treatment of the pig as an animal - while back then I suspect they were looking for a better quality product. And letting the pigs run in Britain at that time would have meant taking the pigs to a place to go rooting around for nutrients like acorns (or penning them up into a bigger area for them to pick over). The pigs serve a great purpose in being taken to areas to go root, helping clear land for further cultivation. The pigs will get rid of all the acorns and other edible things within their reach, which helps get the land ready for whatever cultivation one wishes to engage in (easier and probably more effective than trying to do it by your own hand). But then there was the issue of having to herd the pigs to and fro between area they are getting fed and where they are being kept. You might loose a pig and it takes workers to herd them. Keeping them in a pen and bringing food to them reduces chance of loosing them and requires less hours from the workers.

On the flip side, early colonial pigs were not penned in that often and allowed to roam free and created large amounts of feral pigs. Virginia is especially known for this. Why? Similar problems that Jamaica had, Virginia had in the early 17th century. It wasn't sugarcane that took everyone's attention in Virginia, it was tobacco. With workmen being in short supply in Virginia, once tobacco became the realized cash crop, everyone went whole hog (pun intended) for growing it. So, with so few workers around, taking the time to cut the wood and establish fences that could keep animals in our out of properties (including the pigs) was not really done much. Pigs roamed the streets of settlements eating trash from the streets. Of course, this practice eventually went away later in the 17th century when a population with workers established itself and African-based slavery became the dominant labor force. Roaming pigs really ticked off American Indians because said pigs would root up the crops of American Indians.

Another interesting point, while it's known that plenty of early Europeans let pigs and other animals loose (accidental or otherwise) and left, some islands along coasts throughout the colonies of America had pigs left by settlers where the pigs could roam without a fence (water worked for that) and the colonists could go back and pick up pigs as needed. These islands would often get the name of hog island, so if you see a local island named hog island, you probably can guess why it's called that.

It's interesting what history studies will do to you, I apparently know a lot about pigs and their influence on Atlantic world history.

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You should write something about food during this time period. I'm really enjoying your insight into the topic. In fact, I'd say what you've written so far is an improvement on Marly's work. (And you would probably cite your sources better than he did.)

I am planning to give diet a section in my work, but I only have food notes from sea-going accounts and don't have the breadth of understanding of the topic that you've given us already.

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Not adding much to what Brit Privateer has to say on this, except to confirm that the practice in Virginia (and some other colonies) was to allow the pigs and cattle to roam, and use the fencing to keep the animals _out_ of the fields once they had been cleared and planted. Pigs, left to their own devices like this, can multiply quite freely and become a nuisance animal if not culled regularly (yes, I know this first hand *L*). Butchering and preserving in the warmer months is problematic, as pork tends to spoil quite quickly in the heat. You really want to do your butchering when it gets cooler if the animal isn't to be eaten right away. And if I was growing sugar cane for a living, I certainly wouldn't want those creatures loose where they could do damage once I had started growing my crops, but they sure would have been handy to clear the small debris and pests from the field. And yes, pigs will eat just about anything! This probably explains why their manure is so incredibly noxious. Noxious smells = bad air = disease in period thought, iirc. So it is not surprising that medical writers have a poor opinion of the animals.

Archaeology is your best bet in determining who was eating what for a given population, and by now many sites have had some statistical analysis of bones done to determine percentages of beef/pork/fish/fowl/other. They can even determine how the meat was cooked based on the shape the bone is in. It will be interesting to see what else you guys come up with here. If I can locate my references I'll happily share what i have. It'll all depend on wether or not I've packed them or not. Moving is hard on research!

Thinking about the burning of the pig fat, I don't remember it being used for anything of a lighting, medicinal or cosmetic nature. Lard & tallow seemed to be preferred. But considering this is a nose to tail culture when it came to how an animal carcass was used, I can't imagine the fat was wasted. I'll keep my eyes peeled for references.

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Who knew pork would be such a watershed topic? In support of Jen's comment, let me quote some more of Tryon:

"Also, all Swine ought to be killed in cold weather; and after it is well salted, it ought to be rusted [meaning smoked?] a convenient time with the smoke of Wood-fire or Straw, which will make it look of a brisk lively Red Colour, which does much correct that gross Quality that is contain'd in their Flesh: And altho' Swine naturally are the uncleanest of all Creatures that are so much eaten, nevertheless if they be fed with Corn, and are sing'd and kill'd in the properest Season then well Salted, and rusted a considerable time, they are made thereby a firmer and wholsomer food than several other sorts of clean Flesh that is kill'd in hot seasons, and

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eaten fresh; and many People in Summer time had better eat Bacon that is kill'd in Winter and well order'd, than to eat fresh Meat, especially those that live in Cities, by reason most Cattle receive prejudice by long driving, and other accidents. But small Bacon, or Pork kill'd in Summer, or in a hot season is of ill consequence to Health; for then the fat is so gross and full of phlegmy matter, that it will not take salt is as it ought; besides, it obstructs Nature, and causeth Fluxes, and an internal Fever: Those that accustom themselves to the frequent eating of Bacon, it does generate a gross strong Nourishment, and dull and heavy Spirits; therefore such People are not so brisk and airy, but duller of Apprehension than others that eat more airy and thinner food; for every sort of Food does by simpathetical Operation strengthen and awaken its Likeness..." (Tryon, p. 67-8)

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Having worked as a hired hand on a pig farm, and due to my prolonged love of bacon, I say bring on more period pork quotes. This is a great thread.

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"Swine's flesh was looked on with some suspicion, but it was believed to be healthy if the pig had been allowed to roam in the wild and eat natural foodstuffs. [Thomas] Cogan wrote:

brawne, which is of a bore long fed in a stie can in no wise be wholesome meat, although it be young. For beside that it is hard of digestions (as common experience proveth) it must needs breed ill [j]iuce in the body, considering the want of motion and grosse feeding thereof for which course we use commonly to drinke strong wine with brawne to help digestion. [Cogan, Haven of Health, p. 133 (1584)]

Thomas Fuller in his History of the Worthies of England (1662), praises 'Hampshire Hoggs' as producing the best bacon because 'Here the swine feed in the Forrest on plenty of Acorns (mens meat in the Golden, Hog's food in this Iron Age); which going out lean, return

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home fat, without either care of cost of their owners... they lodge at liberty (not pent up, as in other places to stacks of Pease), which some assign the reason of the fineness of their flesh.' [Fuller, p. 400] Thomas Mouffet agreed that the pig was especially nourishing 'if he feed abroad upon sweet grass, good mast and roots; for that which is penn'd up and fed at home with taps droppings, kitchin offal, soure grains and all manner of drosse cannot be wholsom'. [Mouffet, Heaths Improvement, p. 68 (1655)]" (Andrew Ware, Knowledge and Practice in English Medicine, 1550-1680, p. 206-7)

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Royal Navy rations provided the seamen a pound of pork on Sundays and another pound on Thursdays, per the 1707 Sea-Man's Vade Mecum. So I would expect salt pork would be available anywhere that the RN victualled.

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Given the (obviously non-period) use of Ham in The Pirates!, I was sort of fascinated to discover that there are no period references in my file of medicine and diet-related quotes to the word "ham," other than referring to the back of a man's thigh in medicine. It is used once in Père Labat's English account of a sea voyage he made, but since that was translated from the original French in the 20th century, I don't know if that qualifies as proof of use on a ship.

The term appears to be period. From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

ham (n.1)

"meat of a hog's hind leg used for food," 1630s, from Old English hamm "hollow or bend of the knee," from Proto-Germanic *hamma- (cf. Old Norse höm, Middle Low German, Middle Dutch hamme, Old High German hamma), from PIE *konemo- "shin bone" (cf. Greek kneme "calf of the leg," Old Irish cnaim "bone").

It makes me wonder if this cut of meat was either not used or if it was just packed in with other cuts of pork and so not differentiated when salted and packed for ship travel.

Anyone know differently?

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Would salting the pork kill the dreaded worms that frequently infested swine flesh?

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You would think so, but there were several period reports of wormy ['measeled'] pork.

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While the worms, and the damage that they did, would still be there, they would be quite dead if they had been well salted.

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I decided to write an article for Easter on pork as food during the GAoP (thinking of the Easter - ham connection). You can read it via this link. It talks about what they ate (and why what we call ham and bacon today was not the same as what period sailors ate), where and how they got the pork and includes some information different kinds of pigs and hogs that were used. I used some of the material provided in this post, with recognition to those who provided it.

pork_The_Wonderful_pig_mod_Thomas_Rowlan

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I decided to write an article for Easter on pork as food during the GAoP (thinking of the Easter - ham connection). You can read it via this link.

Great stuff on salt pork, Mission. I enjoyed it a lot. I always knew salt pork taken aboard was salty, but that recipe is mind-blowing: four pounds of bay salt plus four pounds of white salt in four gallons of water...!

Greg

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Thanks, Greg. That article was originally supposed to have a medical component to it, but I got all involved in the details of salt pork and the food part of it ended up being twice as long as I expected. I will probably add the medical portion some time in the future.

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