Wednesday, May 25, 2016
How To Recruit The Crew of a Warship - In 1812
Your crew mates will be about 5' 6", average age of 27, 7-15% black, gray eyes, brown hair cut short or tied back in a braid, 5-10% would be tattooed with initials, anchors, hearts or a cross, and quite possibly be missing fingers and be covered in burns and scars - and maybe wearing a peg-leg!
If you sign on to be a maintopman (main-top-man) you are expected to be up in the highest sheets (sails) in all kinds of weather but most especially during battle. The enemy always angles for the rigging to cripple the handling of the ship. YOU are supposed to dodge all the munitions and knot and splice and fix up the sails and lines. (There are no "ropes" on a ship; they are called lines.) The tools you will have to work with are your ears, to hear orders, and your hands to obey orders. Oh, and a pocket knife in case something unexpected gets you tangled up. During the War of 1812 there are four recorded instances of sailors falling from the rigging. None survived.
As one of over four hundred sailors aboard you ARE expected to do WHAT you are told WHEN you are told - period - and to do your job promptly and CHEERFULLY. Otherwise, there WILL be a flogging.
Off duty, life wasn't so bad. Every man wants to nap in one of these!
All sailors had to holystone the deck if they wanted securing footing in a storm or battle. The holystone was a block of sandstone. Big ones were called "bibles" and smaller ones called "prayer books."
One of the reasons sailors have always had a friendly (?) feud going with the marines is because the marines were to stand at the gangway armed with a musket to ensure that none of the new recruits changes his mind and tries to escape! Conversely, in battle, the marines had only muskets to defend themselves with - and these were the kind where you loaded with a lead ball, tore a cartridge of gunpowder open, poured it in (saving enough for the "pan"), and rammed it home. Then poured the remaining gunpowder in the pan and set it off with the strike of a flint. All the while rolling up and down and left and right with the ship trying to keep their powder dry, dodging cannon balls and bullets from the British. Marines aren't so bad.