Aaron Thomas:

The Caribbean Journal of a Royal Navy Seaman


Broadside: The complete battery or batteries mounted on the side of a ship; the simultaneous fire of all the guns on one side of a ship of war.

Broad pendant (or pennant): Flag of command flown by the Commodore, but with no authority over Captains senior to him. Originally fourteen times as long as it was wide, it eventually became two times as long as wide.

Burgoo: A thick oatmeal gruel or porridge used chiefly by seamen; also known as loblolly or skillygollee. Burgoo may have boiled meat floating in it.

Cadiz: City in Portugal which was the sight of a refitting station established in 1694-95.

Capstan: A mechanism using a wheel on a verticle axis into which levers are inserted into sockets and pushed by men walking around. A capstan is used on a ship to hoist sails and weighing the anchor.

Capstan House: The house in which the capstan, anchor stocks, pump boxes, etc. are manufactured, repaired, and stored.

Carenage: The place where the operation is performed; also refers to the money given for careening (anchorage).

Carronade: A short, light barreled cannon, usually of large caliber, having a chamber for the powder like a mortar; chiefly used on board a ship and good for short range targets.

Clue (clew): The lower corner of a square sail, or aft corner of a fore-and-aft sail.

Collingwood, Cuthbert, Lord (1750-1810): Vice admiral, joined the navy at the age of eleven. Attached to the army at the battle of Bunker Hill in the American Revolution, promoted to leiutenant. Arrived in the West Indies during 1776-7. Collingwood followed closely the career path of Admiral Horatio Nelson. He fought aboard the Excellent in the Mediterranean and fought admirably in the action off Cape St. Vincent on February 14, 1797. He was known for keeping his ships in top order.

Cornwallis, General Charles (1738-1805):  British soldier and statesman, capable general in the American revolution well-known for his defeat at Yorktown, Virginia. From 1798-1801, Cornwallis served as Viceroy of Ireland. He was well respected by both Protestants and Catholics, he suppressed the Rebellion of 1798 and defeated the French invasion in September, 1798. At the conclusion of the rebellion, Cornwallis insisted that only the leaders of the insurrection be punished. He also served as the governor general of India from1786 to 1793, and again in 1805.

Daily allowance: allotment of liquor for each man; either pint of rum or 1 pint of wine (usually red)

Dustee: The offspring of a mustee and a Caucasian, thus making the child 1/16 Negro.

English Harbour, Antigua: a small harbor developed from 1729 onwards as a refitting base. Eventually, stone careening wharves and storehouses were created on filled land in the center of the harbor. Before copper, wood sheathing was used as a barrier to the whipworm, tereda navalis; it had to be replaced periodically, especially in tropical waters, lest the hull become infested beyond repair.

Factor: 1. A partisan, adherent, approver. 2. One who acts for another; an agent, deputy, or representative. 3. One who deals with goods or money.

Frigate: Next in importance to ships of the line, the frigate was used for cruising, scouting, and support of the fleet. Frigates were three or more masted, fully rigged, with up to 50 guns.

Gauntlet: Two rows of men facing each other and armed with weapons with which they strike an individual who is made to run between them.

Gigger (or jigger): from chigoe, L. tunga penetrans. A tiny, burrowing flea common the West Indies of which the female burrows under the skin of the foot or other exposed body part causing great discomfort.

Grape: Abbreviation for grape-shot; small cast iron balls, strongly connected together, so as to form a charge for cannon.

Grog: A drink consisting of spirits (usually rum) and water.

Hartshorn: The aqueous solution of ammonia (possibly obtained from the antler of a hart).

Harvey, Sir Henry (1737-1810): Educated at L’Ecole Royale de la Marine at Calais, France, he entered the navy in May of 1751. He fought in Newfoundland, Quebec, the gulf of St. Lawrence and North America. In 1779, he was sent to the West Indies, and in 1782, he fought in the action off Domenica. On July 4, 1774, Harvey was promoted to the rank of rear admiral, then commanded a small squadron in the North Sea. In April of 1796, he became commander-in-chief of the Leeward Islands. He resigned his command to Lord Hugh Seymour in July, 1799 and returned to England on the Concord frigate. On April 23, 1804, Harvey attained the rank of admiral.

Harvey, Thomas (1775-1841): Captain of the Lapwing during the time of the Aaron Thomas journal. Son of Admiral Sir Henry Harvey, Thomas Harvey entered the navy in 1787 and served on his father’s ship. He was promoted to lieutenant in October of 1794 and served on the Prince of Wales with his father and his cousin, Sir John Harvey. He was promoted to commander in July, 1796 and commanded the Pelican sloop at the reduction Trinidad in February, 1797. He advanced to post rank on March 27, 1797, then commanded the Lapwing and Unite Frigates. He continued to command larger ships, and on January 10, 1837, became vice admiral. In 1839 he was commander-in-chief of the West Indias station. Aaron Thomas often referred to Harvey as "Solomon" in his journal.

Impressment: Applied to seaman, sea-faring men, and persons whose occupations were to work in vessels and boats upon rivers. Landsmen were impressed, but usuallly released. The majority of sailors, however, volunteered.

Ireland, French invasion of: The French effort, led by General Humbert in August 1798, numbered 1099 men who embarked in three frigates. The object was to assist the insurgents in Ireland by giving them weapons and trained support. They sailed from Rochefort on August 6th and disembarked in Mayo on August 22nd. The effort was too weak; they landed in a remote area and surrendered on September 8th at Ballinamuck.

Ireland, insurrection in: The United Irish rebellion of 1798, was the result of tensions caused by sectarian disagreement, agrarian unrest, and an economic crisis. It was also fueled by the American and French revolutions. The United Irishmen, a group consisting of a variety of religious sects, was formed in Belfast in 1791, and by 1795 had developed into an underground military movement. By 1798, terrorism was rampant in the countryside. The insurrection, which began on May 23rd, was the result of anger fueled by government repression and resulted in the occurance of slaughter and mass atrocities. The government forces finally broke the rebellion at Vinegar Hill on June 21, 1798.

Joe: According to Aaron Thomas (p. 82), a Joe was a coin worth approximately eight dollars.  He writes on page 82, "By the new regulation about the Gold Coin in Martinico, I find that no Joes will pass for 8 Dollars, unless they weigh 8 Penny weights. -- Numbers of the Pluged Joes are now not worth 7 Dollars."

Jolly boat: The smallest of the open boats kept on a man-of-war, used primarily for going to and from the shore.

Leghorn (Livorno): A port city in central Italy, Livorno is the capitol of Livorno province in the Tuscany region.

Limbo: Prison, confinement, durance

Manganeel (or manchineel): A West Indian tree having a poisonous and caustic milky sap, with an acrid fruit somewhat resembling an apple.

Mansfield, Sir James, Lord: (1733-1821) Served as Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, and was known as a sound lawyer and good scholar.

Matelot:  Nautical slang for sailor.

Morris, Sir James Nicol: (1763?-1830) Vice Admiral. In October, he was posted to the Boston frigate. He commanded in the Channel, Bay of Biscay, and on the Spanish coast. In 1797 he moved to the Lively, which was lost near Cadiz. Beginning in 1798, he continued to move up in ships and on August 1, 1811 he became Rear Admiral. On August 12, 1819, he became Vice Admiral.

Mulatto: A person of mixed Caucasian and Negro blood.

Mustee (or mestee): The offspring of a Caucasian and a Quadroon (a person with Negro blood.

Muster: A list of all persons actually on board a ship; to assemble the company in order to make such a list.

Nelson, Horatio (1758-1805): Admiral, one of Great Britain’s greatest naval heroes who commanded respect and admiration from all. Nelson went to sea at age 13 and was promoted to Captain by the age of 21. His most celebrated victories were at the Nile (1798), Copenhagen (1801), and Trafalgar (1805).

Newgate kallendar: "The Newgate calendar; comprising interesting memoirs of the most notorious characters who have been convicted of outrages on the laws of England since the commencement of the eighteenth century; with occasional anecdotes and observations, speeches, confessions, and last exclamations of sufferers."

Nile, Victory at: Fought on August 1, 1798, the 1st Fleet action in which Admiral Horatio Nelson was in command. Fought in the Bay of Aboukir on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt, the Admiral displayed outstanding leadership, planning, and execution. A turning point of the wars with France, Nelson temporarily isolated the Emperor and ensured the failure of his Egyptian expedition. Of thirteen French ships, only two escaped.

Nore: The sight of an unsuccessful mutiny on May 12, 1797.

Packet: a small vessel employed to carry mail

Pay: Pay in the Royal Navy was poor, and varied with the rating of a seaman (landsman, ordinary, or able); officer’s pay varied with the rating of the ship they were serving on, with the highest pay on 1st rate ships and the lowest on 6th rate ships.

Purser: Officer on board responsible for the issue of victuals, slops, and the maintenance of accounts; he received a percentage of the profit from the sale of goods

Puttani, Puttana: From the Portuguese "puta," meaning whore.

Quarter Gunner: A rating established (in the proportion of one to every four guns) to assist the gunner in maintaining and handling the guns.

Rainier, Peter (1741?-1808): Entered navy in 1756 and arrrived in the East Indies in 1758 aboard the Tigre. In 1768 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant, but saw no service until 1774, when he was appointed to the Maidstone in the West Indies. Rainier continued to rise in rank and ratings, and in 1794 went to the East Indies on the Suffolk of 74 guns as commodore and commander-in-chief. He was promoted to rear admiral in 1795 and vice admiral in February of 1799. He remained on the East India station as commander-in-chief until 1804.

Ratifia: 1. A cordial liquor flavored with fruits or their kernels, usually almonds or peach, apricot, or cherry. 2. A kind of cake or biscuit having the flavor of ratifia, or to be served with it.

Ratings of ships: One of six classes into which ships were divided. First rates had the largest number of guns (more than 100), followed by second rates (90+), third rates (74+), fourth rates (50+), fifth rates (32+) and sixth rates (20+). The rating of a ship is based solely on the quantity of its guns and has nothing to do with the quality of the vessel.

John Robison’s Proofs of Conspiracy (1739-1805) 239

Rum allowance: See daily allowance

Scurvy: Once the most serious disease to threaten seamen on long voyages, cuased by the restrictive diet (especially lack of vegetables). Symptoms include gum trouble, falling teeth, skin blotches, and general fatigue and infirmity. In 1795, the Admiralty ordered a regular issue of lemon juice (often substituted by lime juice) to combat the disease.

Sempre vitas (or semper vive): The houseleek, used as a drug to purge the system.

Shrove Tuesday Pancakes: Shrove Tuesday, the day before the start of the Lenten season, is also known as Pancake Day. In medieval times, the day was marked with feasting before the Lenten fast. It is believed that pancakes were made to use up household stores of fats and butter, which before the Reformation were strictly forbidden to people for the period of Lent.

Sick and Wounded Board: Also known as the Sick and Hurt Board, this agency was set up in the early part of the seventeenth century to deal with the health issues of men in the navy.

Skuttle butt: A cask with a square piece cut out at the point of largest circumference, which is lashed on dect and contains the fresh water for the daily use of the crew.

Slops: Ready made clothing (stockings, shirts, canvas suits, etc.) sold on board the ship to seamen. The purser often took a cut of what he sold, with the cost deducted from the men’s pay. The service was a necessity as so many men entered the Navy either dirty or dressed in rags.

Smith, Sir Sidney: (1764-1840) Entered the Royal Navy at age thirteen, and had an official commission from 1793-96, when he was captured during an attack on Le Havre. Smith spent two years as a prisoner and escaped back to England. He then commanded an 80 gun ship, The Tigre. He is remembered for his defense of Acre against Napoleon Bonaparte (1799), and was known as quarrelsome, conceited, daring and imaginative.

Spanker: A fore-and-aft sail, set with a gaff and boom at the aftermost part of a ship.

Spithead: The sight of a mutiny of the Channel fleet in April and May of 1797. The men protested against poor pay and working conditions; with few exceptions, the men acted with moderation and restraint. After the mutiny, the sailors were granted full pardons with no ramifications.

Tot: See daily allowance

Treacle: 1. The uncrystallized syrup produced in the sugar-refining process. The term was sometimes used to describe molasses. 2. A light ale or beer brewed from treacle and water.

Vanneau: The Portuguese term for Lapwing; used interchangeably by Aaron Thomas in reference to his ship

Yellow Fever: A dangerous, infectious, febrile disease of hot climates, characterized by vomiting, constipation, fatty degeneration of the liver, and jaundice.

Selected Bibliography

The following titles include materials used in the development of this glossary and are linked to the University of Miami IBISWEB online catalog record.   The catalog record provides links to additional works of interest.

Dictionary of National Biography: from the Earliest Times to 1900.  Stephen, Leslie and Lee, Sidney, editors.  London, Oxford University Press, 1921-22.

Kemp, Peter, editor. Oxford Companion to Ships & the Sea.  London: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Long, George.  The Folklore Calendar.  1970 Detroit: Gale Research 240 p.

Marcus, Geoffrey J.  Heart of Oak: A Survey of British Sea Power in the Georgian Era.  London, New York: Oxford University Press, 1975.

Oxford English DictionaryOxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Pope, Dudley.  Life in Nelson's Navy.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1981.

Rodger, N.A.M. The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1986.

Uden, Grant, and Cooper, Richard. A Dictionary of British Ships and Seamen.  New York: St. Martin's Press, 1981.

Webster, Noah.  A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language.   New York:  Bounty Books, 1970.