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“Men of the World”: British Mariners, Consumer Practice, and Material Culture in an Era of Global Trade, c. 1660–1800

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 April 2015


Growing numbers of sailors powered British fleets during the long eighteenth century. By exploring mariners' habits, dress, and material practice when in port, this article uncovers their roles as agents of cultural change. These men complicated material hierarchies, with a broad impact on developing western consumer societies, devising a distinctive material practice. They shaped important systems of transnational exchange and redefined networks of plebeian material culture. Mariners were also endowed with a growing rhetorical authority over the long eighteenth century, embodying new plebeian cosmopolitanism, while expressing facets of a dawning imperial masculinity. Marcus Rediker described eighteenth-century Anglo-American mariners as plain dealers, wageworkers, and pirates, as well as “men of the world.” This international contingent mediated between world communities, while demonstrating new tastes and new fashions. They also personified the manly traits celebrated in Britain's burgeoning imperial age.

Copyright © The North American Conference on British Studies 2015 

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76 Ibid., 2:447.


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78 Probated will, 1729, PROB11/632, NA, UK.

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81 Lubbock, Barlow's Journal, 2:455.

82 Ibid., 2:352.


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89 Miscellaneous Letters received by the Directors of the East India Company, 1729, IOR/E/1/20/88, BL.

90 A fact evident in wills both with the naming of executors and beneficiaries. See Table 3 and discussion of findings.

91 Quoted in Colley, Britons, 65.

92 Ibid., 68.


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94 “The Sailor's Return,” a tin-glazed tile, made in Liverpool by Sadler and Green 1758–1761, C449-1922, Victoria & Albert Museum.

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106 IGR Rogers, “Brief Observations,” 3 July 1702, N.P. Caird Library, NMM, Greenwich.

107 IGR Rogers, “Brief Observations,” September 1702, N.P. Caird Library, NMM, Greenwich. Peter Mundy described in 1632 the training up of young dancing girls both as dancers and prostitutes, “And there is scares any meeteinge of friends [sic] without them.” Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Rawlinson A 315, fol. 73v.

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111 Daniel Vickers, “Beyond Jack Tar,” in Early American History: Its Past and Future,” special issue, William and Mary Quarterly 50, no. 2 (April 1993): 418–24Google Scholar.

112 Fielding, John, A Brief Description of the Cities of London and Westminster . . . . (London, 1776), xvGoogle Scholar.

113 Rodger, Wooden World, 34, 37–41.

114 Letter from Customs House, Edinburgh, T 1/467/121 (1768), NA, UK.

115 Scotland, Customs and Excise: Draft Clause for Suppressing Allowance of Portage to Seamen, 1768, T 1/466/243, NA, UK.

116 Miscellaneous Letters received by the Directors of the East India Company, 1740–41, IOR E/1/30/41.

117 For example, Lemire, Beverly, “Peddling Fashion: Salesmen, Pawnbrokers, Taylors, Thieves and the Second-Hand Clothes Trade in England, 1680–1800,” Textile History 22, no. 1 (January 1991): 6782CrossRefGoogle Scholar, Dress, Culture and Commerce, and Business of Everyday Life, chapter 2.

118 Cremer, Ramblin’ Jack, 75–76.

119 Letter from Anthony Askew to his cousin, re Mrs. Bonner, 1746, D HUD 10/2/2/6, Cumbria Record Office, Carlisle Headquarters.

120 Account Books of Betty Wright, proprietor of sailors' lodging house and ship chandlery, 1743–44, CLA/024/08/124-126, London Metropolitan Archives (hereafter LMA).

121 Ibid., CLA/024/08/124, LMA.


122 Ibid., CLA/024/08/125, LMA.


123 Earle, Peter, “The Female Labour Market in London in the Late Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries,” Economic History Review 42, no. 3 (August 1989): 328–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hunt, “Women and the Fiscal-Military State.”

124 Multiple bequests to an individual of the same name, at the same location, were treated as one bequest. Not every bequest included the geographic residence of the beneficiary.

125 Crew list for the Addison August 1720, IOR E/1/11/160; crew list for the Dartmouth August 1720, IOR E/1/11/161; crew list for the Monmouth, February 1721, IOR E/1/12/57; crew list for the Streatham, February 1721, IOR E/1/12/58, BL. Ralph Davis found a similar distribution of seamen. Seamen's Sixpences: An Index of Commercial Activity, 1697–1828,” Economica 23, no. 92 (November 1956): 328–43Google Scholar, at 339, Table 1.

126 Despite the repeal of sumptuary laws in England in 1604, the regulatory impulse remained strong within English (later British) authorities, with the anti-calico campaign (1690s–1720s) the most extreme of these social/political reactions against new-style consumer practice. Lemire, Cotton, chapter 3, and ‘Le goût du coton: Culture matérielle, politique et consommation dans le Japon des Tokugawa et l'Angleterre modern,” Revue d'histoire moderne et contemporaine 60, no. 1 (Spring 2013): 71106Google Scholar.

127 Edward Barlow likewise stipulated a “land waiter at the custom house of London” as one of his executors. Edward Barlow's probated will, 1705-6, PROB 11/500/352, NA, UK.

128 Purchase and use of domestic slaves, including concubines, was an established tradition among at least some EIC employees based in India. Love, Henry Davison, Vestiges of Old Madras, 1640–1800 (London, 1913)Google Scholar, 1:545; Lubbock, Barlow's Journal, 2:468.

129 Probated wills, 1601, PROB 11/98/683; 1602, PROB 11/102/187; 1602, PROB 11/102/1v; 1603, PROB 11/101/ir 911; 1603, PROB 11/102/227-v, 1603; 1622, PROB 11/150b (9720); 1639, PROB 11/185b (28); 1643, PROB 11/203 (39); 1699, PROB 11/601; 1725, PROB 11/617, NA, UK.

130 Probated wills 1744-45, PROB 11/ 763, PROB 11/754, PROB 11/740; PROB 11/782; PROB 11/854; PROB 11/842; PROB 11/832, NA, UK.

131 For example, Lemire, Business of Everyday Life, chapters 2 and 3; Boulton, Jeremy, Neighborhood and Society: A London Suburb in the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, 1987), 2123CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 62–92; Muldrew, Economy of Obligation.

132 Lubbock, Barlow's Journal, 1:194.

133 Edward Barlow's probated will, 1705-6, PROB 11/500/352, NA, UK.

134 De Vries, Industrious Revolution, 45.

135 Dibbits, Hester, “Pronken as Practice: Material Culture in The Netherlands, 1650–1800,” in Luxury in the Low Countries: Miscellaneous Reflections on Netherlandish Material Culture, 1500 to the Present, ed. Rittersma, Rengenier C. (Brussels, 2010), 135–58Google Scholar; Anne McCants, “Global Wardrobes: Clothing Assemblies Reconstructed from the 18th c. Amsterdam Poor,” presented at the Canadian Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies Conference, October 2012, Edmonton, Canada.

136 Tract printed in Aberdeen in 1739, sent to the Directors of the East India Company, 1740, IOR E/1/29/52b, 52d, BL.

137 Scotland Customs: correspondence concerning smuggling, 1775, T1/517/1-4, NA, UK.

138 Charles Ludington notes the exceptional quantities of French claret available in all coastal villages, towns, and ports of Scotland in the late 1600s and for much of the 1700s. Ludington, Politics of Wine in Britain, chapters 3 and 6. Michael Kwass notes the impact of smuggling along peddlers' routes in land-locked areas of Europe. Contraband: Louis Mandrin and the Making of a Global Underground (Cambridge, MA, 2014)Google Scholar.

139 Report from Customs House, Portsmouth, 1764, T 1/429/18, NA, UK.

140 De Vries, Industrious Revolution.

141 For a discussion of prostitutes routinely found in India see Peter Mundy, in Temple, Travels of Peter Mundy, 2:216; Bodleian Library, Rawl. A 315, Relation 15, fol. 73; Lubbock, Barlow's Journal, 1:162, 192.

142 Miscellaneous Letters received by the Directors of the East India Company, 1751, IOR/E/1/36/91, BL.

143 Miscellaneous Letters received by the Directors of the East India Company, 1728, IOR E/1/19/103; 1733, E/1/24/124; 1731, E/1/22/233, BL.

144 Miscellaneous Letters received by the Directors of the East India Company, 1724, IOR, E/1/15/119-120, BL.

145 Scotland, Customs and Excise: Draft Clause for Suppressing Allowance of Portage to Seamen . . . . , 1768, T 1/466/243, NA, UK.

146 Formal and informal pawnbrokers were scattered throughout these neighborhoods, benefitting from the flow of goods through many hands. Lemire, Business of Everyday Life, chapter 2; Hunt, “Women and the Fiscal-Imperial State,” 31–33.

147 See, for example, Old Bailey Proceedings Online,, version 6.0 (accessed 9 March 2012), December 1714, trial of Mary Nichols (t17141209-37); April 1715, trial of Cornelius Gough (t17150427-84); April 1718, trial of John Morris (t17180423-26); February 1722, trial of John Andrews, alias Anderson Elizabeth Andrews, alias Anderson (t17220228-28); August 1726, trial of Isabel Lucky Sarah Jones (t17260831-27); January 1729, trial of David Millford (t17290116-2).

148 Cremer, Ramblin’ Jack, 125, 206.

149 Earle, City Full of People, 74–6; Robinson, Charles Napier, The British Tar in Fact and Fiction . . . . (London, 1911), 87127Google Scholar. Newman, Simon P., “Reading the Bodies of Early American Seafarers,” William and Mary Quarterly 35, no. 1 (January 1998): 5982CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Dye, Ira, “The Tattoos of Early American Seafarers, 1796–1818,” American Philosophical Society 133, no. 4 (December 1989): 520–54Google Scholar.

150 Styles, John, The Dress of the People: Everyday Fashion in Eighteenth-Century England (New Haven, CT, 2007), 93Google Scholar.

151 Adams, Elizabeth and Redstone, David, Bow Porcelain (London, 1981), 59Google Scholar, 124–26, 137–38. AAA6050, Caird Library, NMM, Greenwich.

152 Further consideration of sailors' trousers can be found in Beverly Lemire, “A Question of Trousers: Seafarers, Masculinity and Empire in the Shaping of British Male Dress, c. 1600–1800,” Cultural and Social History (forthcoming).

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