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Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Merchant Seamen, Pirates, and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700–1750

Table of Contents

Ch. 1: The Seaman as Man of the World: A Tour of the North Atlantic, c. 1740
Ch. 2: The Seaman as Collective Worker: The Labor Process at Sea
Ch. 3: The Seaman as Wage Laborer: The Search for Ready Money
Ch. 4: The Seaman as Plain Dealer: Language and Culture at Sea
Ch. 5: The Seaman as the ”Spirit of Rebellion”: Authority, Violence and Labor Discipline
Ch. 6: The Seaman as Pirate: Plunder and Social Banditry at Sea
Conclusion: The Seaman as Worker of the World
Appendix A: Age Distribution among Deep-Sea Sailors, 1700-1750
Appendix B: English Trade, 1650-1750
Appendix C: Wages in the Merchant Shipping Industry, 1700-1750
Appendix D: Literacy in the Merchant Shipping Industry, 1700-1750
Appendix E: Mutiny at Sea, 1700-1750
Appendix F: The Courts of Admiralty and their Records

Excerpt from the Introduction, page 9:

“In reconstructing the social and cultural life of the early eighteenth-century common seaman, I have sought both to tell a story and to write a history. I hope that general readers as well as specialists will find the effort of interest. Following Tobias Smollett, one of the earliest writers concerned with the plight of the seaman, I have also sought to inspire ‘that generous indignation which ought to animate the reader against the sordid and vicious disposition of the world.’ As we shall see in abundant, sometimes gruesome detail, the jolly tar did indeed live in a world fully possessed of a ‘sordid and vicious’ side. His creative survival in it is the subject of this book.”

Excerpt from Chapter Five, “The Seaman as the ‘Spirit of Rebellion’: Authority, Violence, and Labor Discipline,” pages 234-5:

“The collective logic of mutiny and, I would argue, all of social life among common seamen is fully illustrated in the sailors’ creation of a cultural form, the instrument of protest known as the Round Robin. This ‘Mutinous and Seditious paper’ was essentially a means of organizing resistance. Nathaniel Uring provided a detailed description:

They take a large Sheet of Paper, and strike two Circles, one a good distance without the other; in the inner Circle they will write what they have a mind to have done; and between the two Circular Lines, they write their names, in and out, against the Circles; beginning like the four Cardinal points of the Compass, right opposite to each other, and so continue till the paper is filled; which appears in a Circle, and no one can be said to be first, so that they are all equally guilty: Which I believe to be contrived to keep ’em all firm to their purpose, when once they have signed it; and if discovered, no one can be excused, by saying, he was the last that signed it, and he had not done it without great Persuasion.

Seamen used the Round Robin ‘to engage one another’ in a plot, ‘to try ye Strength of their party,’ while guaranteeing that ‘it might not be known who were the beginners or Ringleaders.’ The sailor had to select his forms of protest carefully, lest his complaints be ‘returned upon his back with a Vengeance.’ The Round Robin was a cultural innovation from below, an effort at collective self-defense in the face of nearly unlimited and arbitrary authority. The Round Robin eloquently expressed the collectivistic ethos of the seaman’s oppositional culture, demonstrating how the equal distribution of risks was often essential to survival.”

Excerpt from the “Conclusion: The Seaman as Worker of the World,” page 291:

“The tars’ collectivism, as we have seen, took many forms. The hands, dispossessed and limp, that were assembled on board the ship slowly began to curl their fingers into a collective fist. The hand that turned the handspike in the windlass also downed it in a work stoppage. The hand that signed a wage contract drew up a mutinous Round Robin. The hand that mended white canvas sail emblazoned a black flag with the skull and crossbones. Seamen thus signaled in their actions a new dialectic whose power extended far beyond the world of maritime labor. As swelling numbers of men and women were reduced to the labor of their hands, they began to see the potential, even the necessity, of joining those hands in collective action and resistance.”