The Life Of A Seaman During The Stuart Age

Decent Essays

Gregory Leatherman
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March 31, 2015 The Stuart Age was a tumultuous time for the men of the Navy Royal. Seamen had to endure to austere conditions that heretofore were unknown to men in service of the crown. The men were cut off the common life ashore for months, having to deal with cramped quarters, disease, repetitive and salty foods, and low pay. On top of all of this sailors had to face the danger of weather at sea and the constant threat of attack by enemy ships. This paper will attempt to give the reader a real sense of the experience of the 17th century English sailor. I would be remiss if I did not mention the lack of accurate recordkeeping
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Once a man had signed on and come aboard, the officers were supposed to decide if the man was an able or ordinary seaman. Able seamen were more advanced than ordinary and would be given positions of increased responsibility. Able seamen would helm the ship or control the sails and rigging, positions that required considerable skill. Taking the helm of a ship meant controlling the movements of the ship. While an officer would oversee this position, the helmsman may have to make a decision in an emergency to ensure that wind stayed in the sails. An ordinary seaman was not one that was unskilled, many times working above the deck and learning the rigging or manning a gun such as a musket. The pay of a navy man was decent; after 1693 ordinary seamen were given 19 shillings per month and able seamen were given 24. This pay was about the same as a land laborer, but was less than could be paid for service in the merchant service. Men expected to be paid a lump sum at the end of each trip, but naval administration of the time usually did not have the money to do so. Crews could accumulate massive running debts owed to them by the administration, sometimes up to 3 or 4 years of pay. In such cases, families of sailors had to use credit or charity from friends and family to afford life. Samuel Pepys noted in his diary that this put undue stress on the sailors and their families,
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