The Anatomy of a Wooden Ship: Part 9- Shipbuilding and Nautical Terms


Whether originated in India or the Middle East is unknown, but the traditional Dhow have been a common sight in the Arab and Indian Ocean which were commonly used for trade. Nonetheless, its triangular sails influenced European seafaring during the Middle Ages and inspired forms of the fore-and-aft rigs.

When you do a post series about wooden ships, you find plenty of shipbuilding and nautical terms that don’t really belong in some neat little category. Some of these deal with certain shipbuilding techniques and rigging descriptions. Some might pertain to directions or locations on the ship. Some may consist on measurements. And some might reflect aspects of ship life, ship shape, or weather conditions. At any case, such terms can be kind of strange to any layman who hasn’t spent a great amount of time using a sailboat. Yet, they’re nonetheless important if you want to understand ship parts or read a historical captains log of what went on one.

Shipbuilding Terms:

Battens- narrow wood strips used for a variety of purposes. Can be strips of wood or bamboo poles placed in a sail’s leech or sewn into a sail to retain its form. Can be strips of wood used to fasten down edges of material covering the hatches in bad weather. Or can be strips of wood used in the ship’s construction.

Boat Skids- long square softwood pieces on which spare masts, boats, etc. were stored onboard.

Clinker-Built- a shipbuilding method in which the hull planks overlap. Found on early ships.

Coak- a hardwood pin joining 2 timbers or 2 halves of a tackle block.

Coir- coconut husk fibers used for making rope.

Crank- an iron bracket for supporting and/or storing items such as stern lanterns or capstan rods. Also refers to a ship that couldn’t carry a great deal of sail without capsizing.

Deadlights- can be strong shutters or plates fastened over a ship’s porthole or cabin window in stormy weather. Can also be thick windows set in the ship’s side or deck.

Escape Hatch- a small door for escaping from a ship in an emergency.

Fiddley- iron framework around the hatchway opening.

Fife Rail- a rail around the mast or along the ship’s sides with belaying pin holes used to secure running rigging.

Fore-and-Aft Rigged or sloop-rigged- fitted with sails not attached to yards but are bent with gaffs or set onto the masts or on stays in the ship’s mid line. Such ship is often simpler to rig than its square-rigged counterparts, required less crew, and can sail closer to the direction from which the wind blew.

Furniture- all the ship’s moveable equipment like rigging, sails, anchors, spars, etc.

Gaff-Rigged- a fore-and-aft rig where the primary sails behind the mast are trapezoidal in shape. The sail foot is attached to a boom, the luff is attached to a mast, and the head is attached to the gaff.

Leadman’s Platform- suspended grating over the ship’s sides from which soundings are taken.

Lateen-Rigged- rigged with triangular fore-and-aft sails.

Lug-Rigged- rigged with lugsails.

Mortise- a square hole in the plank’s sides, made to receive a tenon and so form a mortise and tenon joint.

Muster Station- place on the ship where people should gather in an emergency.

Plank- a long wood piece used for constructing the hull and decking. Were usually 1-4″ inches thick of varying lengths.

Purchase- any mechanical device consisting of spars and tackle, to increase mechanical advantage (lifting power) when hoisting heavy objects like spars or sails.

Rabbet- a notch in a wood piece made to receive the plank ends or sides which are to be secured by it.

Rig- characteristics of a ship’s masts and type along with number of sails by which the type is determined.

Saddle- a long wood block or a semi-circular wood piece fixed to a mast, bowsprit, or yard.

Scarf- an overlapping joint used to connect 2 timbers or planks. Includes those hooked and keyed.

Shell-First Construction- a construction method where the hull’s formed without a frame. Strakes either overlap, fastened to one another by clenched nails, or they form a smooth skin, fastened edge to edge by a complex system of mortise-and-tension joints.

Ship-Rigged- rigged with 3 or more masts carrying all square sails.

Shiver- a wooden splinter.

Sny- an upward curvature in a plank’s edge resulting from the bend and twist occurring when a plank is laid against a hull or hull frames. Usually amplified at the bow and stern but will occur wherever a plank twists because of the hull’s curvature.

Sprig- a relatively small threaded eye-bolt.

Square-Rigged- fitted with square sails as the principal sails bent to the yards carried athwart the mast and trimmed with braces. Though it can carry more sail than a fore-and-aft rigged ship of comparable size, it’s more dependent on favorable winds.

Tarpaulin- waterproof and treated canvas used for covering hatches, boats, and other gear on board a ship.

Tenon- a side plank projection shaped to fit into a mortise and form a mortise-tenon joint.

Thick Stuff- a plank thicker than 4 inches.

Top-Hamper- refers to the uppermost rigging, spars, and sails.

Treenail- an oak cylindrical pin used to secure a ship’s wooden planks to the ribs. Used since wooden nails didn’t rust nor loosen since they’d swell when wet while metal nails weren’t yet widely available until the Industrial Revolution.

Trunnel- wooden shipbuilding peg used for fastening timbers.

Turtleback- structure over the ship’s bow or stern in a Korean turtle ship.

Whelp- any wood or iron piece bolted onto a windlass or capstan barrel to save it from chafing and damage by the cables it hoists.

White Rope- untreated rope not saturated in tar.

Nautical Terms:

Aback- wind coming from the front or wrong side of sail or sails.

Abeam- at right angles to or beside a ship.

Afore- before or closer to.

Aft or abaft- a ship’s rear section. Can refer to in, toward, or close to a ship’s rear.

Ahoy- a greeting or hail to another ship originating from the 18th century.

Alee- in the direction toward which the wind is blowing; downwind.

Aloft- overhead or above.

Altitude- used in celestial navigation, a celestial body’s angle with a point on the horizon vertically below it. Historically measured with an astrolabe, a cross staff or quadrant, and later a sextant or octant.

Amidship- the ship’s middle.

Anchor’s Away- expression when the anchor just clears the bottom.

Anchorage- any location where a ship can safely or is allowed to drop anchor. Most often a location within or just outside of the harbor. Also, a city in Alaska.

Apeak- when an object like an anchor or oar is straight up.

Articles- signed documents indicating a crew member’s responsibilities, duties, rank and/or position aboard a ship.

Athwart- stop.

Azimuth- used in celestial navigation, the angle measured clockwise around the horizon from North to a horizon point vertically below the observed celestial object. Determined with the help of a compass. North was 0/360 degrees. East was 90 degrees. South was 180 degrees. West was 270 degrees.

Banking- a term for fishing on Newfoundland’s Grand Banks.

Barking or dressing- creating treatment for sails.

Barnacle- a species of shell fish which often attached to a ship’s hull.

Barratry- an unlawful act or fraudulent breach of duty by the ship’s master or crew, which is going against and in conflict of interest with the cargo’s owner. Like selling the ship’s cargo before claiming it was lost at sea.

Beaufort Scale- scale named after Royal Navy officer Sir Francis Beaufort. Used for classifying wind velocity ranging from 0 for calm or no winds to 12 for hurricane strength winds.

Belay- to tie and secure rope.

Bend- to attach a sail or fasten onto its supporting spar.

Board- to force one’s way on a ship without consent.

Boarding- to enter a ship either by invitation or consent.

Boom Chain, boom defense, harbor chain, river chain, or chain boom- a chain or other obstacle strung between two points across a body of water to impede navigation, sometimes strung between a boat and shore.

Broach- when a ship veers or turns suddenly and uncontrollably broadside to the wind and waves.

Broadside- a general term for the vantage of another ship that’s absolutely perpendicular to the direction it’s going. To get along broadside, a ship was to take it at a very vulnerable angle. Of course, this is the ship’s largest dimension and is easiest to attack with larger weapons. A “broadside” has also came to indicate a cannon hit or similar attack to the ship’s main part as well as a simultaneous discharge of some or all the port or starboard guns.

Buoy- a float of different shape and size that’s attached by a cable or chain to the seabed marking navigational channels or underwater hazards like shallow banks, rocks, or reefs. A ship’s buoy could be attached by a rope to the anchor, indicating the anchor’s underwater location so that a ship could stay clear of the anchor and the anchor cable.

Burthen- an older term used for expressing a ship’s carrying capacity.

Careen- to turn a ship on its side for repairs or cleaning. Or a ship leaning on one side while sailing in the wind.

Carpenter’s Measurement- (L x B x D)/95 an unofficial North American management of a ship’s cargo capacity consisting of, which was very popular in the 1800s. Calculated by multiplying the ship’s length from stem to sternpost, with the ship’s beam, and its hold depth before dividing the result by 95.

Cat- name of the purchase where the anchor was hoisted to the catshead in preparation for stowing and letting go.

Cat O’Nine Tails- a knotted whip from unraveling the rope’s strands. Used for a variety of offenses aboard a naval ship.

Celestial Navigation- in such navigation, the 2 coordinates use to determine a ship’s bearing were the celestial body’s altitude and azimuth.

Chain- a length unit equal to 4 rods or 66 ft.

Close-Hauled- the sail trim when sailing into the wind was required, generally within 45 degrees. A ship is said to be close-hauled when its tacks were drawn windward with the sheets hauled close aft and the bowlines drawn to their greatest extension.

Come About- to change tack and the ship’s course or direction. In other words, changing the ship’s position and sails for wind to come in from the opposite direction, from starboard to port and vice versa.

Deadweight- the absolute maximum weight a ship can safely carry when fully loaded. Includes crew, passengers, cargo, fuel, water, and stores. Often expressed in long tons or metric tons. Measured by the displacement when the ship is empty and fully loaded.

Disembark- leaving a ship to go ashore.

Displacement Tonnage- the ship’s actual weight with its contents. One displacement ton is equal to measuring the seawater displacement while ship is afloat, is equivalent to one long ton or about one cubic meter (35ft) of saltwater.

Doldrums- regions near the equator where there’s little or no wind.

Draft- the depth of as ship’s keel below the waterline, especially when loaded. Can also be the minimum water depth necessary to float a ship.

Dressing Sails- applies to sail treatment to preserve and keep them supple in wet and cold weather. Often a mixture of ocher and linseed oil, giving the sails a reddish-brown appearance. Tar, tallow, and oak bark were also ingredients, hence the name barking sails. New sails were normally not dressed in the first year or so. Since they had to be fully stretched before application.

Druxey- fungal decay in a ship’s timbers. Characterized by whitish spots and veins.

Entry- a forepart’s form as the ship cuts through the water.

Even Keel- when the ship’s fore and back draft is equal. Or in layman’s terms, the ship’s keel is parallel to the waterline.

Fathom- a measurement unit for depth. Equals either 1.83 meters or 6ft.

Flank- a ship’s maximum speed which is faster than “full-speed” and is used only in emergencies.

Fleet- a number of ships sailing together, a number of merchant ships owned by the same company, or the whole national navy in a region or country. In the 18th century any more than 5 ships of the line was considered a fleet.

Fore or forward- referring towards the ship’s front.

Freeboard- distance between the waterline and a ship’s main deck.

Furl- to fold or roll a sail before securing it to its main support.

Furring- replanking a ship to give it more beam and freeboard.

Gross Ton- a British weight unit equal to 2240lbs.

Gunnage- number of guns carried on a warship.

Hand- a measurement unit of 4 inches. Used to describe the circumference of masts and yards among other things.

Headway- a ship’s forward motion.

Heave To- to bring a ship up in a position where it will maintain little or no headway, usually with the bow into the wind or close to.

Heeling- when a ship tilts to one side.

Hog- when the keel arches up due to structural weakness causing an improper amount of sheer and the ship being out of trim.

Holystone- a soft sandstone used for scrubbing ship decks.

Impress- to compel or force a person into serving in a specific naval force, often without haven been given any opportunity to make arrangements for leaving family or home.

Inboard- inside the ship’s line of bulwarks or hull.

Interscalm- the minimum distance between rowers or oarsmen when viewing a ship or boat from the side. Sometimes used to estimate the length of ancient galleys and other rowed ships.

Jibling- contrary to tacking and more dangerous, refers to turning back the ship so that it moves through the wind.

Keckling- the process of winding old rope around a cable with a small interval between turns in order to save the cable from being fretted or chafed by the hull.

Keel-Hauling- punishment for various offenses onboard a ship. Involved the offender plunged repeatedly under the ship’s bottom on one side before being pulled up on the other after passing the keel. It’s a particularly cruel treatment since the victim would repeatedly contact the rough hull and mind-numbingl cold seawater often added to the misery.

Knot- a measure unit used to express speed in nautical miles per hour. One knot equals 1.151 mph. Depending on the ship, wind speed, and direction, 4-12 knots was the typical speed for an Age of Sail vessel.

Knuckle- an abrupt change in direction or non-tangency in a ship’s external structure, forming a knuckle line which was the angle’s apex dividing the stern and counter’s upper and lower parts.

Larboard- a ship’s left side.

Lasten- an older Dutch term used to express a ship’s carrying capacity. Equaled 4000 Amsterdam pounds or 1976 kilos. In modern terms, 1 lasten is 2 tons.

Launch- the process of sending a newly built ship from the shipyard and into the water. Also a large dockyard boat with a broad transom which was used a ship’s boat from the 18th century on. It was often lug-rigged.

Lay By- to remain in position with the ship’s bow turned to the wind.

Lay Up- refers to a ship put in a dock for maintainance, modifications, and repairs.

League- a measurement unit equal to 3 miles or 4.8 kilometers. Previously a unit of distance equal to 3 nautical miles.

Lee- the side away from the direction from which the wind blows.

Lee Gauge- when a ship is downwind of another ship allowing its guns firing into enemy rigging.

Line of Battle- a fleet formation before entering battle. Introduced in the 17th century, fleets formed opposing lines to engage one another. Thus, bringing all their respective broadsides to bear. All ships were close-hauled when possible and about 50 fathoms (300 feet) apart.

List- when a ship leans to one side.

Meaking- extracting old oakum from a wooden ship’s seams.

Moor- to secure and hold a ship or boat in a specific location through lines, cables, and/or anchors.

Mutiny- rebellion against a ship’s constituted authority.

Nautical Mile- a measurement unit used in navigation equal to one arc minute (or 1/60 of a degree) of a great full circle sphere. One international nautical mile equivalent to 1852 meters or 1.151 miles.

Nest- when 2 or more boats are either stowed or moored alongside each other.

New Measurement- in effect from 1836, when the recording method of measurements of tonnage and other dimensions of British merchant ships was changed. In NM terms, ship beam and depth were measured from the hull’s inner edges from stem to stern for length, inner edge to inner edge for beam, and overall depth from the gunwales top to the hold’s base. NM dimensions were given in decimals of a foot.

Old Measurement- applied to measurements of ships built, registered, and surveyed before 1836, and in particular British merchant ships. In OM terms, a ship was measured by overall length, from the stem’s fore side to sternpost’s afterside. While the beam was measured from the ship’s outer edges across its widest part. The depth was an inside measurement of the hold’s depth for a single decked ship and the total space between decks for a multi-decked one. In OM, the dimensions are given in feet and inches.

Outboard- a ship’s outside perimeter.

Overboard- generally a very, very, bad thing when a passenger or crew falls from the ship into the water. Closely related to drowning.

Overlaunch- when a plank’s end overlaps with another.

Parish-Rigged- when a ship is worn with bad gear aloft due to neglect by the ship’s owner.

Pied- an Old French (Paris) measurement equivalent to the English foot. 1 pied equals .03248 meter or 1.066 ft. The Old French equivalent of an inch was the pounce and since 1 pied equaled 12 pounces, 1 pounce would be 1.066 inch or .02707 meter. Apparently, the French foot was slightly larger than the English one.

Pitch- a term for the ship’s rotational motion such as the bow and stern’s rise and fall.

Plim- when wood swells in the water.

Plimsoll Line- a mark painted on a merchant ship’s sides indicating the draught levels to which ships may be loaded under varying conditions. Made mandatory in 1876 when too many ships were lost due to being overloaded.

Port- the ship’s left side when facing toward its prow opposite of starboard.

Quintal- a weight measure of 100-120lbs.

Rake- deviation off the perpendicular.

Raking- firing a cannon along the entire enemy ship’s deck. By maneuvering at a right angle across an opponent’s bow or stern, a full broadside could be fired along an enemy ship’s length, causing much havoc. Rendering the opponent only able to bear a few bow and stern chasers.

Rate- a warship classification under to the British Admiralty’s Fighting Instructions of 1653 according to size and capabilities (guns mounted) into 6 distinct rate. A first rate was the largest and most capable, a sixth rate was the smallest and least. Though the number of guns a ship carried of a certain rate changed from time to time. Only the first 4 rates were considered fit for duty as “ships of the line.” Yet, fifth and sixth rates, and other smaller ships did join the battle where and when required.

Reef- an underwater obstruction comprised of rock or coral which can tear a ship’s bottom.

Reef Sails-to take in or lessen a sail without furling it. Depending on the sail’s location, size, and time-period, sails could be single reefed, double reefed, treble reefed, or close reefed. The last indicates that all the reefs were taken in and the minimum surface area was exposed. Between 0 and 4 reef bands were common with often 2 present.

Reeving- to pass rope or line through something else.

Roads- a saved and sheltered anchorage.

Running Before the Wind- sailing downwind.

Sarve- the process of winding something around a rope to protect it against fretting and chafing.

Scantling- a timber dimension after it’s been reduced to a standard size.

Scope- an anchor’s rode length, measured in water depth units.

Scud- when a ship runs before a gale with little or no sails set.

Seizing- binding a rope to another, or to a spar, with turns of a smaller, thinner line.
Shackle- a varying length unit most often used for measuring anchor chains’ length. Used to join anchor chain lengths which can be counted when the anchor’s dropped or raised. Lengths can be anywhere from 75-100ft. But the standard shackle’s length was 15 fathoms or 90ft though differing lengths were used through varying time periods. Can also be a U-shaped metal piece that’s closed with a pin across the end used for connecting and securing rigging parts including anchor chains.

Shanghai- to take someone against their will for compulsory service on board a ship.

Sheer Width- the distance between the sheer-line and centerline of a ship at a specific location.

Shipside- wharf or dock area next to a ship.

Shipyard- area where ships are built and repaired. Called dock or dockyard when near a body of water.

Shipworm- a troublesome wormlike marine mollusk such as the Teredo and the large Bankia, which bore into submerged wooden ship timbers and are capable of doing extensive hull damage. Think of them as the termites of the sea.

Siding- width of deck beams, crosswise ship frame members.

Slough- a shallow, muddy, swampy inlet or channel.

Spilling- the process determining the plank edges’ shape by lifting the desired plank’s shape from the hull with spilling battens.

Splice the Main Brace- breaking out extra rum rations or something rare like splicing the main brace.

Spoondrift- wind swept spray from the water’s surface.

Starboard- the ship’s right side when facing toward its prow opposite of port.

Steeve- the bowsprit’s angle in relation to the horizontal.

Stores- provisions and supplies such as food, water, shoes, arms, sailcloth, and rope aboard a ship during a sea-voyage.

Sway- the operation of hoisting the topmasts and yards of a square-rigged ship.

Tacking- a technique for sailing against the wind on a zigzag course, sailing a few degrees off the wind’s direction for a period of time, then turning through the wind and sailing for another period of time, a few degrees the other side of the wind’s direction.

Thames Measurement- a system for measuring the size of smaller ships and boats. Originally used for calculating port dues for smaller ships like yachts, the formula was also used in handicapping rules for yacht racing. Formula for Thames Tonnages consists of stempost to sternpost length minus maximum beam times maximum beam squared before divided by 188.

Tonnage- a ship’s internal or cargo capacity. 1 ton equals 100 cubic feet.

Topping- raising one spar end higher than the other.

Topside- relating to the ship’s deck.

Trim- relationship between a ship’s front and back draft.

Unship- to remove or detach an equipment piece from its proper location onboard a ship.

Walt- when a ship required more ballast for stability.

Warp- to move or re-position by hauling on the line which, usually using one of the ship’s anchors. Can also be the measuring and laying out rigging on a sail loft before cutting to the desired final lengths.

Watch- one of 6 4-hour periods or work shifts during a day on board a ship at sea.

Waterline- the highest point where water touches the ship’s sides.

Weatherboard- a ship’s weather side.

Weather Gauge- when a ship is upwind of another where its guns can fire at the enemy hull.

Weather Side- the ship’s windward direction or side.

Weep- water leaking to the ship through cracks and seams which was why the wooden ship pumps had to be manned 24/7. Excessive weeping often occurred at launch before the planks had time to plim.

Wharf- a structure or platform like a pier or dock either built along the water’s edge or into the water for loading and unloading ships by means of cranes. Dues were paid for wharf use.

Windward- in the same direction of the wind.

Wreck- a ship’s ruined or sunken remains.

Yaw- sudden or erratic off course deviation.

Zephyr- the west wind or a gentle breeze.

The Anatomy of a Wooden Ship: Part 8- Ship Types


Since the second century, Chinese junk ships have been used for extensive voyages. But none were so grand like that of Admiral Zheng He’s during the Ming. His 1405 voyage had 300 of these ships including treasure ships, house ships, supply ships, troop transports, Fuchuan warships, patrol boats, and water tankers. And unlike many of the great wooden ships, Chinese junks are still used today.

While this series mostly pertains to the massive wooden sailing ships from Europe that existed from the 15th century to the early 19th up to the American Civil War, wooden ships have been with us since the dawn of water travel. Mostly because most boats were made out of wood until the late 19th century when iron and steel ship construction became the norm. Nonetheless, they come in all different shapes and sizes from all over the world from the small fishing boats in the Pacific islands to the large junks of Imperial China during the Ming Dynasty. Ancient ships and medieval ships in the west were propelled by a single sail and men rowing oars. Age of Sail ships traded, found previous unknown worlds, helped their countries build empires, and fought naval battles that made men like Admiral Horatio Nelson household names. While smaller ships were often the choice of pirates wanting to rob a merchant ship to get a way.

Ship Types:

Apple-Stern- sailing ship with a rounded stern.

Balinger- a single-masted sailing ship used in the 15th and 16th century.

Baltimore Clipper- a 2-masted fore-and-aft gaff-rigged schooner-like ship carrying square sails on the foremast and often used as a blockade runner or privateer. The masts were set at extreme angles as it was believed to provide better speed.

Barca-Longa- a 2-3 masted Mediterranean ship carrying lugsails.

Bark- a ship square-rigged on all but the furthest mast which is fore-and-aft rigged. Usually 3-masted with some 4-5 masted. Before the mid-18th century, referred to any 3-masted ship not fitting any other accepted category or nomeclature.

Barkentine- a sailing ship with 3-5 masts in which only the foremast is square-rigged, with the others fore-and-aft rigged.

Bilander- a small 2-masted merchant sailing ship used mainly on Dutch coastal routes and canals. Rarely more than 100 tons. Carried a fore-and-lateen main sail bent to a yard hanging 45 degrees to the mast.

Boejer- a small single-masted Dutch ship with an extreme rounded stem and bow, normally carrying leeboards. Had a very shallow draft but relatively tall mast. Intended for use on canals, rivers, and coastal regions.

Bomb Vessel- a ship developed by French corsairs which used a high trajectory mortar instead of conventional guns. Had a strengthened hull to take the weight of 2 or more mortars and the foremast was completely omitted. Late 18th century bomb vessels had a full 3-masted rig and some were used for perilous polar expeditions since their sturdily built hulls held up well in ice.

Bootship- an 18th century 3-masted ship with a rounded bow and stern along with a flat or rounded tafferel. Developed of the earlier 17th century Fluyt, it was either square-rigged on all masts with a spanker on the mizzen or had a fore-and-aft gaff-rigged mizzen.

Brig Ship- a 2-masted square-rigged ship with the main mast carrying a fore-and-aft sail as well.

Brigantine- a 2-masted ship with square sails on the foremast and fore-and-aft sails on the main mast. Also referred to a variety of 2-masted square-rigged ships in the 17th century.

Buss- a relatively large 2 or 3 masted European ship from the 15th-17th centuries mainly used for the North Sea herring fishery. About 200 tons in size.

Caique- a light sailing ship used in the Easter Mediterranean. Also the name of a long, narrow rowboat used in the Middle East.

Caracore- a small, light, and swift sailboat with a single triangular or rectangular sail and an outrigger that originated in the East Indies. Also called a Proa.

Caravel- a relatively small but light maneuverable Portuguese ship from the 15th and 16th centuries setting lateen sails on 2-4 and sometimes setting a single square sail on the foremast. When lateen-rigged, it’s called a “caravel latina.” When square-rigged, it’s called a “caravel redonda.”

Carrack- a large 3-4 masted ship developed from the earlier cog. Used from the 14th to 17th centuries, usually with elevated structures at the bow and stem.

Clipper- a variety of merchant ships built between 1790 and 1870. Often thought of as some of the most beautiful and elegant ships ever built.

Coble- a small clinker-built open fishing boat from the northeastern English and Scottish coast. Characterized by a relatively high bow, exaggerated sheer and shallow draft, often setting a high lugsail.

Cocca- a Mediterranean equivalent to the cog from the 14th century which was a 1-2 masted square-rigged and clinker-built ship.

Cog- a single-masted, clinker-built ship with a single square sail, 3 decks, high sides, relatively flat bottom, and rounded bilge. Was used from the 900s to the 15th century.

Collier- a broad beamed and shallow draught merchant sailing ship designed to transport coal between ports.

Corvette- the smallest of the 3-masted square-rigged sailing warships. Used primarily for reconnaissance. Armed with 8-22 guns on only one deck.

Crayer- a small, single-masted and slow merchant vessel. Built solely for maximum hold capacity, not for its sailing qualities.

Cutter- a fast-sailing, fore-and-aft rigged, single-masted ship usually setting double headsails. Used for patrol and dispatch services. Ship of choice for English smugglers during the 18th century. Largest were up to 150 tons burden and could carry up to 12 guns. Also a clinker-built ship’s boat used for travel between ship and shore.

Dhow- a lateen-rigged sailing ship from the Middle East. Early dhows were usually shell-first construction. Come in several types depending on their hull shape. A ghanjah was a large 2-3 masted ship with a curved stem and a long sloping and often ornately carved transom from India. A baglah was a traditional 2-masted deep sea dhow with a transom usually having 5 windows and a poop deck similar to galleons and caravels. The smaller battil featured a long stem topped by a large, club-shaped stemhead and a sternpost decorated with cowrie shells and leather. The much smaller badan was a single-masted shallow draught used for fishing and oyster diving. Other large seagoing dhows were the double-ended boom with its large stem pointing to the heavens and a bowsprit flying a jib and the sambuk.

Dogger- a 2-masted fishing ship resembling a ketch.

Down Easter- a square-rigged merchant ship combining large carrying capacity with a relatively sharp hull. Built in Maine during the late 19th century.

Dromon- a medium-sized, fast-sailing Mediterranean galley armed with Greek fire for burning enemy ships.

East Indiaman- a large and heavily armed European merchant ship used for trade in the East Indies.

Felucca- a narrow, swift, and lateen-rigged sailing ship used on the Nile and Mediterranean.

Fifth Rate- a sailing warship with 32-44 guns.

Fireship- a ship or boat deliberately set on fire and steered to collide with a large enemy ship in order to set it on fire and destroy it. Often used in the 17th century to finish off disabled enemy ships.

First Rate- a sailing “ship of the line” warship with 100 or more guns on 3 gun decks.

Flagship- a sailing warship carrying the Admiral (or fleet commander) and his flag. Normally the most powerful ship in a squadron or fleet.

Fluyt- a classic 3-masted square-rigged merchant ship from the 17th and 18th century. Invented by the Dutch as an economical operation with carrying the largest cargo and smallest crew possible. Had a wide balloon-like hull rounding at the stem and bow as well as a very narrow, high stern. Due to being lightly armed, it was very ill-suited for dealing with pirates, privateers, or any other armed opposition.

Fourth Rate- a sailing “ship of the line” warship with 50-60 guns on 2 gun decks.

Frigate- a 3-masted sailing warship with 2 full decks but only one gun deck. Armed between 30-40 guns mostly on the gun deck and possibly some on the quarter deck and forecastle. Used in the 18th and 19th centuries as reconnaissance as well as myriad of other duties. Term was synonymous with warship in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Fully-Rigged Ship- a ship with 3 or more square-rigged masts.

Galeas- a 2-3 masted Scandinavian merchant ship from the 18th and 19th centuries, developed from the Dutch galjoot but with a square stern.

Galjoot- a fast sailing draught Dutch ship. Often used as a coastal merchant ship from the 17th and 18th centuries. Had a rounded stern and bow. Though thought of as a 1 ½ masted small ship, some were as large as 700 tons and had a full 3-masted rig. Also occasionally used as bomb vessels due to its stability and durability.

Gallea- a large, 3-masted galley/galleon hybrid of the 16th and 17th centuries that used both sails and oars. Derived from earlier galleys, it was a very powerful warship of its day, very successful at the 1571 Battle of Lepanto.

Galleon- a square-rigged, 3-4 masted sailing ship from the 16th to the 18th centuries. While most often identified with the Spanish and Portuguese, many other European nations used it.

Galley- an oared fighting ship in the Mediterranean used many centuries BCE until well into the 18th century. Also used in the Baltic and many other northern European nations, but not to such extent. A scaloccio galley was rowed by groups of 3-7 men on a bench pulling a single oar. An ala sensible galley was rowed by a single rower per oar, sometimes 2-3 on a bench. Top galley speed with full oar was usually estimated at 7-8 knots.

Galliot- a light and fast Mediterranean galley.

Ghost Ship- either a ship appearing as a ghostly apparition or one found floating at sea with no sign of the crew.

Gig- a 2-masted coastal vessel carrying lugsails. Or a wide-beamed 18th century ship’s boat often reserved for the captain.

Hermaphrodite Brig- a 2-masted ship with a square-rigged foremast and a fore-and-aft-rigged mainmast. Has a square topsail on the mainmast.

Hooker- a single to 3 masted coastal fishing ship similar to a smack but with square sails on the mainmast. Can also be slang for an outdated, obsolete, unwieldly, or just plain ugly ship.

Hoy- a single to 3 masted coastal merchant and fishing ship from the 17th and 18th centuries.

Hulk- a medieval ship with plank ends parallel to the stern and sternposts. Or a ship that’s fallen into disuse or is used in a static role like in a sheer hulk or a prison hulk.

Jaght- a 3-masted, lightly armed, and speed-built Dutch merchant ship from the 17th century. Often used in convoys to and from the East Indies as well as for exploration voyages. Usually slightly large than the fluyt.

Jagt- a single-masted Scandinavian inland and coastal merchant ship from the 17th to 19th centuries.

Junk- a Chinese sailing ship with bamboo sail battens and a long overhanging counter. Originally developed in the 5th century.

Ketch- a 2-masted ship with the mizzenmast stepped in front of the rudder head. Usually fore-and-aft rigged but could have square sails. Was usually a 100-250 burthen size. Often used as a bombard vessel.

Knarr- a clinker-built Viking ship that was exceptionally sturdy on the rough seas. Broader in the beam and had more draught than a longship. Also more reliant on using sails for propulsion rather than oars.

Koch- a Russian clinker-built ship used for Arctic expeditions.
Lightship- an anchored ship acting as a floating lighthouse where building a lighthouse wasn’t possible or impractical. Would display a light from the mast’s top and sound a fog signal in case of fog.

Lobya- a Russian river, lake, or sea vessel until the 16th century and later.

Longship- generally thought as the Viking warship, it was a 45-148ft galley with up to 40 oars on each side, a square sail on a removable mast, and a 40-80 man capacity. Double-ended and built shell-first with overlapping planks.

Lugger- a small ship rigged with one or more lugsails on 2 or 3 masts and 1-3 jibs set on the bowsprit. Usually outperformed square-rigged ships on coastal tideways but required a larger crew than one of similar size. Frequently used by smugglers and privateers around the English Channel during the 18th century.

Man O’War- a term applied to a ship specifically built for war.

Merchantman- any ship used for trade.

Monkey- a small 16th century coastal merchantman which carried a square sail on a single mast.

Nabby- a Scottish lug-rigged boat with an extreme rake to the mast, usually also setting a jib.

Nao- a classic medium-sized Spanish ship from the Age of Exploration. Had a fully developed 3-masted rig and often a small topsail on the mainmast.

Nef- also known as a roundship, a single-2 masted clinker-built ship in medieval Europe until the 15th century. Used as transporting soldiers during the Crusades. Descendant of the Viking longship, it still had a side-rudder and was used in northern regions a century or two longer with a sternpost rudder.

Packet- a generic name for a ship sailing in regular service between 2 ports.

Pattamar- a 1-3 masted lateen-rigged dhow like ship used off India’s west coast.
Penteconter- an ancient Greek galley with 50 oars, 25 on each side set in a single bank.

Pink- a 2-3 masted 18th century Dutch ship.

Pinnace- a variety of relatively small ships generally having 2 fore-and-aft rigged masts. Or a 17th century ship’s boat usually rowed by 8 oars.

Polacre- a 3-masted Mediterranean ship. Usually square-rigged on the main mast and lateen-rigged on the foremast and mizzenmast. Though some carried square sails on all 3 masts. Also typically carried one piece pole-masts with neither top masts nor topgallant masts present.

Polyreme- a variety of Phoenician, Greek, or Roman war galleys which had 2 levels of oars, each rowed by half the men indicated by the number.

Pram- a clinker-built small boat with a transom at both ends. Though the bow transom was usually smaller than the stern transom.

Privateer- a privately owned ship intent on raiding enemy shipping in wartime for the purpose of making a profit from the captured ships’ sale, including any cargo onboard. Unlike a pirate, a privateer was commissioned by a government like a mercenary. Dangerous business all around since a privateer would often mistake a “friendly” ship for fair game with the consequence of rapidly being promoted to pirate.

Qarib- a small 2-masted lateen-rigged ship. Common in Egypt in the 11th century sailing down the Nile from Cairo as far west as Tunisia and Sicily.

Quinquereme- a Mediterranean war galley with 3 banks of oars on 2 levels being rowed by 2 men each. Used by Greeks of the Hellenistic period and later by the Carthaginians and Romans from the 5th century BCE to the 1st century.

Retour Ship- generic name for a collection of different but heavily armed, and well-manned merchant ships of the Dutch East India Company. They were specifically designed for the long roundtrip voyage from the Netherlands to the East Indies.

Roundship- a clinker-built medieval merchant ship with a rounded stern and bow. Often had a 2-masted rig with a small foresail.

Schooner- a ship rigged with fore-and-aft sails on 2 or more masts. A topsail schooner sets 1-3 square sails on the foremast as well. Consists of many types like a Tern Schooner, Scow Schooner, Coastal Schooner, and Grand Banks Schooner. A Bald-Headed Schooner is a slang term for a schooner to have no set topsails at all.

Scow- a variety of flat-bottomed ships used for carrying cargo. Often had a sloping square bow and stern. Similar to a barge, has a simple hull construction and maximum carrying capacity.

Scow Schooner- a flat-bottomed square-ended schooner-rigged ship mainly used in the later 19th century Great Lakes on the North American coastal routes while carrying the bulk of the continent’s cargo. Often used centerboards or leeboards.

Second Rate- a sailing “ship of the line” warship with 84-98 guns on 2 or 3 gun decks.
Shallop- a 2-masted ship usually carying lugsails. Can also be a 17th century ship’s boat used as a tender. Had no keel but used leeboards instead. Can be propelled by oars or sails.

Sheer Hulk- a cut-down old ship fitted with a pair of sheers used to hoist masts up to another ship being built or repaired. It’s the maritime equivalent to a junkyard car used for scrap parts.

Ship- according to the 18th and 19th centuries, a first rank sailing vessel with a bowsprit and 3 or more square-rigged masts, each composed of a lowermast, topmast, and topgallant mast.

Ship of the Line- a sailing warship built to fight in the battle line with each ship forming a line allowing it to fire full broadside salvos at the opponent. Were usually fourth rate or above. But most were third rate of 74 guns.

Sixth Rate- sailing warship with 20-30 guns.

Slave Ship- either a purpose built or a common merchant ship retro-fit with irons to hold or accommodate securely holding “special cargo.” Slaves were often packed and shackled side by side to fit as many in the hold as possible. Life aboard a wooden ship sailing from Africa to America was perilous enough for the crew, let alone for the “passengers” being transported from the deck below. Scared, cramped, sick, alone dehumanized, the horrors slaves faced are unspeakable. Just enough care was taken to keep most of the slaves alive. It was just a very lucrative business for slave traders who transported and traded them like wheat and wool.

Sloop- a single-masted fore-and-aft rigged ship, setting a mainsail and generally a single jib or headsail. Generally had a mast located more forward than the cutter.

Sloop-of-War- a name given to the smallest sailing warships having 8-22 guns on only one deck. Either fully rigged as ships or as snows.

Smack- originally a relatively large cutter-rigged merchant ship. Later a small single or 2-masted coastal fishing or merchant ship that’s fore-and-aft rigged with a 2-masted variant similar to a ketch. Characterized by a long horizontal running bowsprit.

Snow- a square-rigged ship, differing from a brig only in that it has a trysail mast close behind the mainmast, on which a trysail was hoisted.

Spiegelschip- Dutch term for a ship with a distinctive flat stern and tafferel.

Tarides- a small sail and/or oar powered transport ship used from the Dark Ages to about the 12th century. Early equivalent of landing craft with doors used as ramps for loading and unloading men and their horses.

Tartan- a small and nimble single or 2-masted lateen-rigged ship originating from the Middle East and Africa’s north coast. Like the xebec, often associated with Barbarian corsairs.

Tender- a ship attending to another such as one ferrying supplies and personnel from ship to shore.

Tern Schooner- a 3-masted schooner of 200-400 tons used for carrying cargo in North America during the late 19th century.

Third Rate- sailing “ship of the line” warship with 64-80 guns on 2 gun decks.

Tjalk- a Dutch flat-bottomed ship with rounded ends and leeboards. Used to carry freight and often used as a pleasure yacht.

Triaconter- an ancient Greek galley with 30 oars, 15 on each side set in a single bank.
Trireme- a ancient Phoenician, Greek, or Roman war galley propelled by 3 tiers of oars on each side, each oar pulled by a single man. Used from the 7th to 4th century BCE. Had a shell-first, mortise-and-tenon hull planked with fir, cedar, or pine along a solid oak keel.

Turtle Ship- a 16th century Korean armored warship. Fitted with an iron shell top with sharp spikes for protection and to prevent boarding. Had a red pine hull and carried cannons. Developed and built by Admiral Yi Soon Shin in 1592 who led the Koreans to victory in the Im Jin War.

Van- the ship or ships leading a fleet or squadron.

Velocera- an Italian coastal merchant ship.

Vessel- a craft designed for water transportation.

Vinco- a 3-masted 19th century Italian ship with lateen sails on the main and mizzen masts and square sails on the foremast.

Vileboat- a small 3-masted ship with a broad beam, shallow draft, and a high narrow stern originating from the mid-16th century in the Netherlands. Though designed as merchant ships to navigate rivers and coastal waters, it was also used for exploration and military duties.

Well Found- a ship that’s all-around sound that’s well-built and equipped. With good and regular maintenance, a well found ship can have a lifespan up to 50 years. Lesser built ships only lasted 5-10 years.

West Indiaman- a relatively heavily armed European merchant ship used for trade between Europe, Africa, and the Americas.

Whaler- a sturdy purpose built ship with a large hold. Though intended for capturing whales, many were used on polar expeditions and/or by navies around the world due to their sturdy nature.

Windjammer- a large 2-3 masted merchant ship built between 1870 and 1890 constructed with an all-iron hull and often displacing several thousand tons. The last of the large merchant sailing ships.

Xebec- a relatively small 3-masted lateen-rigged ship favored by the Barbary corsairs operating off the North African coast. Had a long and narrow hull and was fitted with oars like its galley predecessors. Adopted by French and Spanish navies.

Yacht- any of a variety of small sailing ships often used for personal transportation watercraft or a personal pleasure boat.

Yawl- originally a double-ended clinker-built Scandinavian ship, later a small 2-masted sailing ship with the mizzenmast stepped behind the rudder post. Also a ship’s small boat consisting of a sailboat with a main sail and one or more jibs. And usually containing 4-6 oars.

Zabra- a 16th century sailing ship which was used for dispatch, transport, and other utilitarian duties.

Zulu- a Scottish lugger with a straight stem and a raking sternpost.

The Anatomy of a Wooden Ship: Part 7- The Guns, Boats, and Insignia


Built in 1765 as an East India Merchantman for France, the USS Bonhomme Richard was placed at the disposal by John Paul Jones in 1779 as a loan during the American Revolution. While taking a beating by the HMS Serapis, it’s from this ship where Jones stated after being called to surrender, “Sir, I have not yet begun the fight.” Though it won the Battle of Flamborough Head and captured the Serapis, it sank shortly after. Nonetheless, the battle’s outcome was one of the factors convincing the French crown to back the colonies to become independent.

A series on wooden ship parts wouldn’t be complete without discussing the ship’s guns, boats, and insignia. Since sailing the open seas may involve naval battles and encounters with pirates, most of these their share of guns which mostly consisted of cannon. While naval battles and pirate encounters are often depicted in movies as glorious spectacles with lots of swordfights, they were actually quite horrifying involving cannonballs, bullets, and debris flying everywhere. And if you got hit, there was little chance you’d survive the encounter, at least with all your limbs since early modern medical care was appallingly dreadful. But wooden warships had different kinds of cannon and shot classified by the weight and depending on the damage they wanted to inflict on their enemies. Then we have the ship’s boats which were often used as landing craft, rescue boats, reconnaissance, whaling, and even life boats should the ship wreck, mutiny, or be lost in some kind of catastrophe. Yet, while these often consisted of rowboats, some of them also had sails of their own but to a lesser extent. And finally, we get to the insignia which consist of the ship’s flags to identify the country it’s from, its type, and communicate messages with other ships through some kind of flag code.

The Guns:

Bar Shot- an iron bar with a half-sphere from each end. Fired from a cannon to damage an enemy ship’s rigging. Also, a cannonball cut in half with an iron bar wrought in between.

Basilisk- a generic term for a bronze cannon of exceptional power. Used in the 15th and 16th centuries. Named after the ‘king serpent’ or dragon of legend which had a supposed deadly breath or stare. From the 17th century on, a term for a ship’s cannon firing 14 ½ pound stone or iron roundshot.

Bow Chaser or chase gun- a cannon mounted in the ship’s bow used in a chase at sea.

Brass Monkey- a brass tray for holding cannon balls. In cold conditions, it would contract and expel cannon balls it holds.

Breech- a cannon’s solid metal base from the cascabel to the concave inside bore.

Canister Shot- a canister filled with small solid balls for inflicting damage on personnel, rigging, and sails. Think of it as giant shotgun ammunition.

Cannon- an artillery weapon made of bronze or iron from the 16th century on which is usually mounted on a wheeled gun carriage. Early ship’s cannons resembled nothing more than a barrel strapped to a plank with the ‘plank’ later developed into the full gun carriage. Elevation angle could be altered by moving a wooden wedge-like block called a quoin, under the barrel’s base. Size ranged from a 4 pounder to a 60 pounder with “pounder” meaning the shot’s weight. In and before the 16 century, cannons were classified by size. By the 18th century, cannons were classified by the kind of roundshot they fired. A typical cannon’s muzzle velocity was anywhere between 900-1700 fps with a practical range of 400 to 600 meters. Smoothbore, black-powder cannon remained the dominant artillery until the mid-19th century.

Cannon-Perier- a ship’s cannon firing 24 ½ lb stone or iron shot.

Cannon-Royal- the original designation for a cannon firing 60-66 lb stone or iron roundshot.

Capsquare- a metal covering plate for a gun carriage, which passes over the cannon’s trunnions, and holds it in place while allowing pivot.

Carronade- a type of heavy ship armament mounted on a non-moving sliderail, rather than a wheeled carriage. Carronades are usually more powerful, but less accurate and with less range than a cannon. But at short range, it can be enormously destructive to the ship’s timbers. Adding these guns on a ship wasn’t reflected in the ship’s nominal gun rate. A 52-gun ship mounting 10 carronades was still desiganted as a 42.

Cascabel- a rounded projection at the muzzle loading cannon barrel’s breech’s rear.

Chain Shot- a chain with a solid ball at each end, fired from a cannon to inflict damage to a ship’s rigging and masts.

Culverin- a long-barreled heavy cannon used in the 16th and 17th centuries. Often an 18-pounder with 2 serpent-shaped handles and a muzzle velocity of over 1200 fps.

Demi-Cannon- a heavy cannon. Usually a 30-36 pounder.

Demi-Culverin- a long barreled cannon used in the 16th and 17th centuries. Normally a 9-13 pounder.

Falcon- a small anti-personnel cannon. Usually a 2-3 pounder.

Falconet- a small anti-personnel cannon. Usually a 1-1 ½ pounder.

Grapeshot- usually a canvas bag filled with golf-ball sized solid balls, placed over a metal plate fitting to the cannon’s bore. And fired to inflict damage to personnel, rigging, and sails.

Gun- a generic term for a carriage mounted cannon in warships. By the 18th century, guns were rated according to the weight of shot fired, anywhere from 1 pounder to 42 pounders.

Hollow Shot- a cast iron ball with a hollow interior filled with gunpowder. One of the culprits that made wooden warships obsolete.

Lombard- a small cannon used in the 15th and early 16th centuries used by the Spanish and Portuguese.

Long Nine- a cannon that fires a nine-pound shot at an extra-long range.

Minion- a type of cannon, usually a 4-5 pounder.

Mortar- a piece of high trajectory artillery that’s shorter and wider than a cannon. Used to bombard a target from above. A bomb vessel’s main armament.

Murderer- a small anti-personnel cannon.

Patero- a swivel gun.

Port-Piece- a small or short range cannon firing 8-12lb shot. Sometimes all the ship’s guns were referred as port pieces.

Quoin- a wooden wedge used to raise or lower a cannon’s breech to the proper to the proper level for targeting.

Rabonet- a small anti-personnel cannon, usually around a 1/3 pounder.

Rammer- a wooden rod to push the charge (gunpowder) and shot down into a cannon’s breech.

Roundshot- a cannonball. Like a solid stone and later iron ball fired from a cannon.

Saker- a relatively small cannon. Usually a 4-9 pounder.

Serpentine- a small anti-personnel cannon. Usually a ½ pounder.

Shot- general term for all projectiles fired from a ship’s guns.

Shot Rack- a wooden frame holding shot. Usually in multiple and easily accessible locations near the guns.

Six-Pounders- cannons that typically fire a 6lb iron ball.

Slow Match- a rope of braided hemp, often infused with gunpowder that slowly burned like a candle wick and was applied to the cannon’s touch hole in order to fire it.

Sponge- a damp sheepskin sponge attached to a wooden rod’s end or rope end used to extinguish any smoldering residue or embers in a cannon after firing. Meant to prevent a new charge from prematurely igniting for obvious safety reasons.

Star Shot- a small iron ring holding a dozen or so pivoting weighted bars which when fired from a cannon, spread out like a “star” to do damage to a ship’s rigging and crew.

Stern Chaser- a cannon mounted in the ship’s stern aimed behind the ship for use if it’s being chased.

Tomkin- a bung (wooden stopper) used as a cannon muzzle plug to prevent water from entering the gun.

Trunnion- a cylindrical projection on a cannon’s each side forming the axis on which it pivots, and by which it rests on a gun-carriage. Normally located near the cannon’s center of gravity, closer to the breech and base.

Turret- a high part on a military ship where guns are attached used to turn to shoot the guns in any direction.

Wad- a ball or cylinder rolled from old rope yarns and hay that acted as a stop keeping the shot and charge of power in the cannon’s breech while the ship was in motion at sea.

Worm- an iron corkscrew for removing the charge and wad or the charge’s remnants after the last cannon fire to avoid material build-up in the cannon’s barrel.

The Boats:

Barge- a 17th century long and narrow ship’s boat rowed by 10-20 oars and often used to transport senior officials.

Boat- a small open vessel for water travel by rowing or sailing. Used as a tender for shore landing parties, towing, warping, rescue missions, patrols, escape from mutiny, and more. Come in a variety of shapes and sizes, depending on time-period, geography, and function.

Currach- a small rounded boat made of hides stretched over a wicker frame.

Dinghy- a small wooden sailing boat. Often a tender to a larger ship.

Dory- a small, narrow flat-bottomed and shallow draft boat between 15-20ft long. Has usually high sides, sharp prow, and propelled by oars.

Jolly Boat- an all-purpose boat onboard a ship.

Longboat- the largest boat carried onboard a larger ship. Propelled by sail or oars.

Oar- a flattened wooden pole flattened at the outboard end when pulled. Used in pairs to propel a rowboat forward. Consists of 3 parts: a broad blade for making water contact, a shaft which is its main length, and the loom or handle.

Oarlock- a metal piece holding a rowboat’s oar.

Pot Boat- an ancient boat made from clay or similar material for use in inland waterways.

Punt- a 14-18ft square ended rowboat.

Quarter Boat- a boat hung from or located on a ship’s quarter.

Ro- a traditional Japanese sculling oar, similar to the Chinese yuloh.

Rowlock- a U-shaped or O-shaped hole cut in a ship boat’s gunwale where an oar is located, or any number of devices providing a pivot point for an oar while rowing. Often consisted of a swiveling U-shaped or O-shaped holder located just above the gunwale.

Skiff- a small, flat-bottomed ship’s boat with a small pointed bow and a square stem. Can be propelled by oars or sails.

Stretcher- a staff or wooden bar fixed athwart the boat’s bottom for a sailor’s feet to push off against while rowing.

Sweep- a long and heavy oar used for propelling a ship or boat.

Thole- a vertical wood piece in rowboat’s side to keep an oar in place.

Thwart- a usually traverse seat used to maintain the topsides’ shape in a small rowing boat.

Wherry- a light and fast 17th century ship’s boats.

Yuloh- a long Chinese oar placed over the stern used for both steering and sculling without being taken out of the water.

The Insignia:

Burgee- a small ship’s flag used for identification or signaling.

Ensign- a large standard, banner, or flag. Hoisted on the ensign-staff. Used to distinguish ships from different nations from each other and to characterize different naval squadrons.

Flag- the colors by which one nation is distinguished from another. Flown from the fore, main, or mizzen mast. On a warship, a banner signifying the Admiral’s ship from all the others in the squadron.

Jack- a flag to indicate nationality. Can be flown on either bow or stern.

Signal Flags- flags used for ship to ship communication. Were read from top to bottom and were possibly flown from halyards on all masts to convey a message or condition onboard. A ship usually in the harbor and on special occasion may be dressed with signal flags along the ship’s entire length just for show.

The Anatomy of a Wooden Ship: Part 6- The Decks and Compartments


Launched in 1854 by the United States Navy, the USS Constellation was the last-sail only warship. Built out of the disassembled timbers of the 1797 Constellation, this corvette sloop-of-war was in service for close to a century, including a stint in a blockade during the American Civil War, before its retirement to museum duty at Baltimore Harbor in 1954.

While the ship’s main part is the hull, the decks are where the action happens. A deck often refers to a ship’s covering over a compartment. On a typical ship, the upper deck constitutes of a horizontal structure forming its roof to resist tension, compression, and racking forces, and serves as the primary working station while protecting the ship’s interior from the weather. Yet, wooden ships of the Age of Sail often had more than one level both within the hull and in superstructures above the primary deck that’s similar to a multi-story building. While wooden ships then were nowhere near the floating metropolises like today’s cruises, they had plenty of compartments built over certain superstructure areas as well as within the hull. Decks with specific names can also have specific purposes. Nevertheless, traditional wood decks consisted of planks laid front to back over beams along carlins that were caulked and paid with tar. As for compartments, you have a berth for the seamen along with a kitchen, a sickbay, a brig for prisoners, a gun magazine, and storage space for supplies and cargo. Strangely these watertight bulkhead compartments were invented by the Chinese which strengthened the junks and slowed flooding in case of holing during the Han to Song Dynasties. This application soon found its way to Europe through Indian and Arab merchants.

The Decks:

Aftercastle- a medieval tower-like structure placed near the sailing warship’s stern where soldiers stood and fought during battle.

After Deck- deck behind a ship’s bridge.

Awning- a canopy over a weather deck, gallery, or quarter gallery intended to shield officers and crew from the sun in warmer climates or hot weather. Often made of extra sail material.

Beak Head- a small platform at the fore part of a large ship’s upper deck.

Beam or arm- a timber piece perpendicular to a ship’s sides supporting the deck. Supported on the ship’s sides by right angle timbers called knees. Also used to identify objects in relation to those perpendicular to the ship that are visible from the port or starboard side. Can even be the hull’s widest point from one side to the other.

Belaying Pin- a removable wooden, iron, or brass pin fitted into a rail hole. Used for securing and tying the running rigging. Also made a handy club in hand-to-hand combat situations.

Belfry- a usually single arch structure from which the ship’s bell was hung. After 1660, often located at the forecastle.

Bilge Pump- a manual pump with the inlet set at the bilge’s lowest point where water collects when the ship is upright. Most common was the hand-pump or elm-pump. Often located on the highest deck not open to the weather. The more complex and effective chain-pump was used by the British Royal Navy in the late 17th century.

Bitts- posts mounted on a ship for fastening ropes.

Blinding Strake- 2 oak strakes near hatch coamings to strengthen the deck.

Bollard- short post on wharf or ship where ropes are tied.

Brow- the gangway or entrance onto a ship when docked.

Buckler- portable cover secured over the deck opening hawsepipes and the chain pipes to restrict the water flow through the openings.

Bulwark- the planking along the ship’s sides which are above the deck and below the gunwales. Act as a railing to prevent passengers and crew from falling or being washed overboard.

Cable Bitts- 2 strong vertical timbers of cables when at anchor.

Camber- slight arch or convexity to a ship’s beam or deck.

Cants or deck cants- sole pieces following the ship’s deck inclination. They’re rebated for framing such as bulkheads, etc.

Capstan- an apparatus used for hoisting anchors or other objects. Consists of a vertical spool-shaped cylinder that’s manually rotated around which a cable is wound. Often fitted with removable wooden arms fitted into sockets on which the seamen push. Sea shanties were often chanted to keep the sailors together as they pushed. Located in the ship’s center line, sometimes through several deck levels. A dog or pawl ratchet mechanism was located at or below the base to prevent the capstan from slipping back.

Carlin- a timber piece running back and forth between the main tranverse beams which it secures together. Also used to describe timbers used to frame the partners.

Carlin Sole or carlin runner- grooved timber or head to secure the framing top edges on ship’s decks and to form a structural part of the cornice. Fixed to the deck carlins or beams.

Carrick Bitts- bitts for belaying hawsers.

Catwalk- a narrow, elevated walkway, connecting the quarter deck section to the forecastle.

Chock- metal casing with curved arms for passing ropes for mooring ship.

Cleat- a wooden or metal object used to tie a rope around to fasten something in place on a ship. Often T-shaped.

Coaming- raised edge to deck openings to keep water out.

Companionway- stairs from a ship’s upper deck to a lower deck.

Crab- a small and sometimes portable capstan used for lifting equipment and cargo.

Davit- a device for hoisting and lowering a boat as well as heavy equipment and objects.

Deck- a top horizontal surface covering a ship’s hull from one side to the other. Meant to keep water and weather out of the hull as well as stiffen it while allowing the crew to run the ship more easily. Also can be a horizontal platform corresponding to a floor in a building or a permanent covering over a compartment.

Deck Beam- a heavy timber running across from the top frame under the deck. Usually has a gentle upward curve for extra strength, extra height below deck along the center line, and to allow water to run off deck when the ship is upright.

Deck Chine- waterway part above deck joining the spirketing.

Deckhouse- a cabin protruding above the ship’s deck.

Deck Planks- timbers forming the ship’s deck floors.

Ensign-Staff- a long pole hung over the poop used to hoist the ensign.

Fairlead- a U-shape or circular fitting often positioned near the bow leading an anchor warp or sheet to a cleat or winch. Usually bronze since it must take the warp or chain’s regular abrasion. Typically set on the angle change between the deck and topside to prevent wear and tear. Can also be a pulley block of leading line to in the proper direction and prevent sagging or chafing.

Fender, belting, or rubbing piece- a rope or piece around a ship to protect it from knocks when it comes in contact with a wharf or dock.

Fiddle or fiddle rail- a low wooden rail designed to stop things from sliding off a table at sea when the ship is heeled.

Flitch- one in a number of planks used in creating a heavy beam.

Flush Deck- a continuous ship’s deck laid from stem to stern without any break.

Forecastle or fo’c’sle- the upper deck section located at the bow and in front of the foremast. Though it was originally a tower-like structure on a sailing warship where soldiers stood and fought from during battle. Can also be a superstructure on a merchant ship’s bow containing the crew’s living quarters.

Freeing Port- a hole opening in the bulwark at deck level to drain water from there.

Gallows, gallows bitts, or gallows frame- a wooden frame above the deck in the center of a large ship where its boats and spare spars are kept.

Gangplank- a long narrow board or ramp used as a removable footway between a ship and a pier or two boats to walk across.

Gangway- can be a passage along either side of a ship’s upper deck, a gangplank, or an injection used to clear a passage through a crowded area.

Grab Rail- a length of strong wood with short legs which is bolted to the cabin floor so crew making their way forward on a sloping and wet side have a firm handhold.

Gun Deck- any full-length deck carrying a ship’s guns. There could be up to 3 for large deep draught warships such as the upper or main gun deck, the middle gun deck, and the lower gun deck. Though few warships were built with 4 gun decks, they weren’t very successful.

Gunwale, gunnel, or gunwall- a boat’s elevated side edges which strengthen its structure and act as a railing around the gun deck. In warships, the gunwale has openings where heavy cannons or guns are positioned.

Half-Beam- short beam introduced to support the deck where there’s no framing such as the hatch coamings.

Hand Spike- one of several wooden levers used for turning a windlass or capstan. One end was rectangular or square and would fit into a slot or hole in a barrel. Also used whenever a sturdy lever was needed for any other purposes.

Hatch- a ship’s deck opening. Often rectangular and covered by gratings for below deck access or access to the hold for stowing and retrieving cargo or stores.

Horse- a wooden rod or iron bar running across the deck to allow a fore-and-aft sail’s sheet to traverse from side to side according to the tack.

Kevel- a large and sturdy wooden belaying pin for with heavy cables.

King Plank- a flat, notched timber laid over the foredeck beams between the front of a cockpit or cabin and the stem. The notches are designed so that the tapering deck planks don’t end at a potential weak point.

Lazaret- a ship’s space between decks used for stowing provisions.

Ledgers- pieces between beams under a deck.

Loggerhead- a post on a whaling ship used for securing lines attached to a harpoon.

Lower Deck- the second deck containing guns on a warship if the ship had 2 decks containing a full complement of guns.

Lutchet- a ship’s deck fitting allowing mast to pivot to past under bridges.

Lumber Iron- a forked iron crutch or stanchion. Usually located upright on gunwales to hold oars or extra spars.

Main Deck- on warships the highest deck deck. Often had a full complement of guns.

Merger Board- a strong bulkhead on the ship’s fore part to keep water out of the hawseholes.

Middle Deck- if a warship carried 3 decks of guns, it carried the third.

Orlop- lowest ship deck on a ship with 4 or more. Used for covering storage and keeping ammunition.

Pawl Bitts- a hinged or pivoted catch designed to build into a ratchet wheel’s notch, to move it forward in one direction while preventing it from slipping back.

Poop- an enclosed structure, a rear part of a deck.

Poop Deck- the ship’s short and furthest deck raised above the quarter deck. Usually at the large ship’s stern and typically above the captain’s quarters.

Quarter Deck- the after part of a ship’s upper deck behind the main mast where command was executed and was often reserved for officers. Often included the poop deck. Usually set aside by captain for ceremonial functions. Often stationed cannons.

Rail- rounded part at the bulwark’s upper edge.

Scupper- opening along a ship’s deck edges that allows water on deck to drain back into the sea rather than collecting in the bilge.

Scut- small crack or chink in deck.

Ship-Lap- a dovetailed halving joint for coamings’ corners.

Skylight- a window set at an angle to the ship’s deck to give light and ventilation to the cabin below.

Spar Deck- a deck extending from stem to stern above the main deck. Usually devoid of guns but not always. Not found on a merchant ship.

Sponson- platform jutting from a ship’s deck for a gun or wheel.

Spray Board- gunwale board to check spray.

Stanchion- upright support set on the upper deck to carry a guard rail.

Standard- vertical inverted knees above a ship’s deck.

Superstructure- part of the ship above the main deck.

Timberhead- ship’s timber top end projecting above the deck and gunwale.

Tiller- a long handle on the ship’s back used for controlling direction. Attached to a rudder’s head.

Toe Rail- an upright longitudinal wooden strip fastened to the foredeck near the sheer. Placed on the foredeck so that crew working there can brace their toe or foot against it, especially when heeled.

Trundleheald- the lower capstan’s drumhead from a double capstan.

Upper Deck- the ship’s highest continuous deck running the ship’s full length.

Washboard- a broad, thin, plank along the ship’s gunwale to keep out sea water.

Wash Strake- plank above a ship’s gunwale.

Waterway- deck planks nearest the bulwark round the ship’s sides. Usually grooved with a channel to carry out water via run-off.

Weather Deck- a ship’s deck having little or no protection from the weather.

Winch- a geared mechanical device used for adjusting sail sheets, hoisting large sails with halyards, or hauling an anchor out of the water. A normal turret winch is set on the back side deck for trimming headsails or on a spinnaker. Manual trimming winches are operated by initially grinding the handle in a circle before pulling back and towards on a short lever while a second pulls the tension on the sheet to obtain optimum force.

The Bridge:

Astrolabe- a navigational instrument consisting of a dial showing degrees with an alidade arm pivoting through the center. The arm had a projection with a small hole on each end used to line these up so a celestial body would be visible through its degree markings would indicate the celestial object’s angle in the night sky. Used to determine a ship’s position by finding and predicting the stars and sun’s location through triangulation. With a mariner version, latitude was determined using the Sun or Pole Star. Was the main navigational instrument until the sextant’s invention in the 16th century.

Bittacle, bitacola, or binnacle- a ship’s deck box holding its compass. Usually a simple wooden box mounted on a pedestal. Normally placed near or in front of the helm.

Bridge- ship’s part where it’s controlled.

Cockpit- where the controls are.

Compass- a navigational instrument used since the 12th century for determining the ship’s direction and position. Housed in the binnacle and consists of a magnetic needle freely suspended to align itself with the earth’s magnetic field. The needle turns until the ends are aligned with the magnetic north and south poles. The ship’s direction would be the angle the needle made with the lubber’s line or simply the direction forward. Also used to determine azimuth in celestial navigation.

Cross Staff- a relatively accurate tool used in celestial navigation since the early 16th century consisting of a scaled wooden staff or rod with one or more sliding perpendicular “transoms” with which the angle between a celestial object like the sun or the moon and the horizon can be measured. Later often replaced by the somewhat less accurate backstaff or quadrant.

Dodger- shield against rain or spray on a ship’s bridge.

Dog- a hinged catch fitting into a ratchet notch to move a wheel forward or prevent it from moving backward.

Dyrogram- ship’s chart indicating compass deflection due to ship’s iron.

Gimbal- 2 concentric metal rings mounted and pivoting on right angle axes from each other. Used to suspend objects in a horizontal plane like the ship’s compass, allowing gravity to keep it level despite the ship’s rolling and pitching in the waves.
Helm, steering wheel, or ship’s wheel- the ship’s spoked steering wheel controlling the rudder.

Jacob’s Staff- an instrument used to measure altitude at sea.

King Spoke- a marked top spoke on a ship’s wheel when the rudder is centered.

Lubber’s Line- a mark or permanent compass line indicating the direction forward, parallel to the keel.

Octant- a similar navigational device to a sextant with the difference being a shorter scale, only 1/8 of a circle or 45 degrees. Used until 1767 when the sextant replaced it. Mostly because of the first edition of the Nautical Almanac, which tabulated lunar distances, enabling navigators to determine the current time from the measured angle between the sun and the moon. This angle is sometimes larger than 90 degrees and then can’t be measured by the octant, rendering it obsolete.

Sextant- a navigational instrument used to measure a celestial object’s elevation angle above the horizon. The angle and the time of measurement were used to calculate a position line on a nautical chart. A sextant’s common use was to sight the sun at noon to find the ship’s latitude levels. Its scale had 1/6 of a full circle or 60 degrees.

Spoke- an extension in the ship’s wheel beyond the rim acting as a handle by which the wheel is turned.

Spyglass- telescope.

Wheel- ship’s wheel at the helm. A spoked-round steering device, linked to the tiller through a configuration of ropes, blocks, or chains. The rudder, tiller, and wheel formed the helm.

Wheelhouse- shelter where the ship’s steering wheel is kept and protects the helmsman from the elements.

Yoke- an early name for the steering mechanism when steering was achieved with the help of a tackle connected to the tiller. Also when a boat was steered by 2 ropes leading from the stern to a small cross-bar attached to the rudder’s top.

The Compartments:

Berth-the ship’s sleeping and living quarters below main deck or a ship’s built-in bed. Can also refer to sufficient space for a ship to maneuver, a space for a ship to dock or anchor, or employment on a ship.

Brig- compartment where prisoners are kept.

Bunk- a built-in wooden bed in a later ship. Often built in tiers with one above the other.

Cabin- a ship’s private room for passengers, officers, or crew for sleeping and/or meals.

Compartment- a space portion within a ship defined vertically between decks and horizontally between bulkheads. Analogous to a room within a building and could provide a watertight subdivision in a hull to retain buoyancy should it be damaged.

Hammock- a sailor’s bed, often consisting of a canvas drawn together at both ends and hung lengthwise under the deck. Since space was at a premium, more than one sailor often had to share one.

Lastage- a room for storing the ship’s goods.

Locker- an enclosed space to store sails, anchors, personal effects, tools, and supplies.

Magazine- a ship’s gunpowder and storage room, usually located deep in the ship’s hold. Due to obvious reasons, no lamps and candles were permitted. To still see what one was doing, a light room was adjacent to it, with the specific purpose to illuminate the magazine. Often lined with copper to prevent sparking and keep rats from gnawing their way in.

Mess- the ship’s kitchen and dining area.

Newel Post- turned wooden post from floor to ceiling for one side of a cabin. Serves as a handhold while the boat is at sea.

Pissdale- an 18th century ship’s urinal, which was essentially a tapered lead tube leading to the sea. Often located near the officer’s quarters.

Sickbay- a compartment where sick people go to rest and receive medical treatment. One of the most horrifying places on a ship if you know anything about pre-19th century medicine. Expect to see a surgeon hacking limbs after a naval clash.

The Anatomy of a Wooden Ship: Part 5- The Bow and Stern


Originally launched in 1577 as the Pelican, the privateer Sir Francis Drake would rechristen it as the HMS Golden Hind during his epic circumnavigational voyage in 1578. After he returned with a hull full of Spanish booty from capturing a Spanish ship 1580, the galleon remained on dock for public exhibition for 80 years until it was broken up in 1650 due to rot.

Of course, I couldn’t describe the hull in one post in this series. Nonetheless, a couple of important hull parts consist of the bow and the stern. The bow is the ship’s front that’s designed to reduce the hull’s resistance cutting through the water. On a ship, its bow should be tall enough to prevent water from easily washing over its top. On wooden ships, you might find a long spar on it called a bowsprit that’s designed for holding the front sails as well as a wooden figure head and surrounding decoration. Though some warships did have a sharp piece on their bowsprits for ramming purposes. Not to mention, the bow usually contained the ship’s anchor. The stern is the ship’s back which contains the rudder used to help steer the ship as well as the officers’ quarters. Nonetheless, most wooden ships had a square transom stern which somewhat resembles a decorative floating house. As for rudders, most wooden ships had a pintle and gudgeon type that originated in the Middle Ages. While earlier rudders were mounted on the stern via rudder posts and tackles, the pintle and gudgeon rudder was attached to the entire sternpost’s length with iron hinges and controlled by the ship’s wheel. But the pintle and gudgeon rudder’s potential couldn’t be fully realized until the introduction of the vertical sternpost and a fully-rigged ship in the 14th century. Yet, once it caught on, European ships would use the pintle and gudgeon rudder to sail the seven seas.

The Bow:

Aberdeen Bow- a type of sharp bow developed in the 19th century leading to better performance and speed.

Anchor- a large hook attached to the ship which is cast overboard and digs into the sea bed to keep the ship from moving. Usually a cast iron shank with 2 arms and 2 flukes and a wooden stock perpendicular to the arms. Stock consisted of 2 long oak pieces tapered toward each end and held together with treenail iron hoops. Only in the 19th century did the anchor become an all-iron construction, including the stock.

Apron- curved piece continuing the foremost keel end and behind the stem. Scraped to the fore deadwood and strengthens the stem. Also, a rectangular metal piece mounted over a cannon’s touch hole to keep the charge covered and dry.

Beakhead- a projection in front of the bow. Located below the bowsprit and often highly decorated.

Bee- hardwood on the bowsprit’s sides through which forestays are reeved. Or a block attached to any other spar for changing or holding its position.

Billethead- an alternative bow decoration to the figurehead. Usually carved flowing shapes. Often flowers or leaflike curls, ending in an upward or downward spiral below the bowsprit.

Bluff- a ship’s bow with a full rounded or flat shape.

Bow- the ship’s front, which is generally sharp. Designed to reduce the hull’s resistance cutting through water and had to be tall enough to prevent water from easily washing over the hull’s deck.

Bowsprit- the slanted pole on a ship’s prow sticking out from its front. It’s usually used as a lead connection for a small navigational sail. Carries stays for the foretopmast and from which the jibs are set. Common in square-rigged ships where it’s used to attached the outer or flying jib. A standing bowsprit is in a fixed position while a running bowsprit is movable.

Bower- anchor carried at ship’s bow.

Breasthook or Fore-Hook- a roughly triangular piece of wood fitted horizontally onto the bow and used to connect the stem. On larger ships, a breasthook was located below each deck while deck planking would be supported by and rabbeted onto this timber.

Catshead- a short wooden projection near a ship’s bow where used to secure the anchor, support its weight, and keep it outboard the hull to avoid planking damage. Early catsheads were often capped off with carved cat or lion face.

Cheeks- knee pieces fixed to the bow and to the head knee.

Creeper- a very small anchor used for retrieving mooring lines, anchor cables, flotsam, etc.

Crown- an anchor-shrank’s lower end where the arms come together.

Cutwater- a stem’s forward curve or edge.

Dolphin Striker- a short spar fitted mid-way and vertically downwards, midway along the bowsprit and under its cap. Used for holding the bobstay and preventing the bowsprit’s outboard end from upwardly riding under the tensioned headsail’s load.

Eyes of a Ship- the extreme ship’s bows. Originated from the ancient custom of painting an eye on each side so a ship could find its way.

Fiddlehead- a scrolled stemhead on a ship lacking a true figurehead.

Figurehead- an ornamental carved and painted figure or scene on the stem below the bowsprit, generally expressing some aspects of the ship’s name or owner. One type is the straddlehead which was a freestanding figure. But one normally standing a small but often decorated platform extending ahead of the ship.

Fish Davit- a spar used as a purchase to hoist anchor flukes to the bow’s top without damaging the ship’s hull.

Fluke- a pointed triangular blade at the end of an anchor’s arm. Intended to grab hold of the sea bottom. Usually the anchor’s broadest part.

Forebody- forepart that’s in front of the ship’s widest section.

Forecabin- cabin in fore part of ship.

Forefoot- foremost end of a ship’s keel.

Forepeak- the foremost part of a ship’s hold.

Gallery- a platform at a ship’s stem. Could be an open balcony or closed i.e built-up.

Gammon Iron- an iron circular band used to hold the bowsprit into the stem in late sailing ships.

Grapnel- a small anchor with 3 or more fluked claws. Often used for anchoring a small ship or as a grappling hook. Was called a fire grapnel when the claws were barred.

Hair Bracket- a molding coming in from behind a figurehead.

Half-Timbers- timbers in framework towards the stem.

Harpings- wales’ foreparts which are around the bow fixed to the stem.

Hawse- location at the bow where the hawesholes are.

Hawes Bolster- a piece of block iron protecting the hawsehole from the chafing of the rope running through it.

Hawsehole- hole for which the anchor chain is led overboard from the windlass on the deck through the ship’s side.

Hawse Pieces- ship’s foremost timbers, parallel to the stem, in which the hawsehole is cut.

Hawsepipe- metal pipe placed inside the hawsehole to prevent the bow wood from damage.

Jackass or hawse bag- a canvas bag used to plug the hawsehole on the deck to prevent seawater from washing onto it.

Jib-Boom- a continuation of the bowsprit used to stay at the jib’s outer foot and the topgallant mast’s stay. A flying jib-boom is a further extension to which the flying-jib’s tack is attached.

Kedge- a small anchor to keep the ship steady.

Killick- a small anchor, especially one made of stone in a wooden frame. Normally had 2 curved wooden timbers forming a cross at the base where the center stone rests. These rods were then tied together just above the center stones. Used for anchoring small boats and fishing nets.

Knight Head- one of 2 large timbers on the stem’s either side which can rise above deck and support the bowsprit heel between them.

Manger- a small space or compartment in the ship’s bow to prevent water coming in through the hawseholes from running along the deck or into the ship. Located behind the hawseholes and enclosed by a coaming of scuppers drained the water back into the sea.

Pillow- a wood block fixed to a ship’s deck inside the bow on which the bowsprit’s inboard end rests.

Prow- the ship’s nose.

Ram- a long sharp or blunt projection from a warship’s bow for the purpose of demolishing an enemy’s hull.

Rostrum- spike on prow on warship used for ramming.

Sampson Post- a strong, vertical post used to support a ship’s windlass and bowsprit’s heel.

Stem- a keel continuation upwards at the hull’s front where the plank ends are butted. The foremost timber forming the ship’s bow. Joined by the keel by the deadwood and by the stem band outside.

Stem Head- the stem’s top or highest and most forward point. Sometimes had a carved figure like a lion on top if it was offset by the center. But after 1700, it became the norm for the bowsprit to be centered on and thus be supported by the stem.

Supporter or bibb- timbers under the catshead.

Thwartships Stem- timber joined to the hull sides at right angles to the keel.

Timber Stem- longitudinally joined timber sections sawn out of larger pieces.

Trailboard- a pair of boards or a set of often gilded and elaborate carvings on each stem side “trailing” the figurehead. Often helped to express support the ship’s name, sometimes with figures or scenes relating to its figurehead. Later, simpler trailboards had vine and oakleaf themes.

Whisker- short horizontal spars fitted to a bowsprit when a jib-boom is added.

Whooding- planks rabbeted along the ship’s stem.

Windlass- a lifting device which in its simplest form of a horizontal cylindrical barrel on which a rope or anchor cable winds. A manually operated windlass was turned by handspikes and one or more cranks later on.

The Stern:

Afterbody- part of the ship behind the widest section and in front of the stern.

Afterpeak- a compartment in the stern behind the furthest bulkhead.

Archboard- counter formation across the extreme stern end, being a continuation of the covering board.

Buttock- convex curve under the stern, between the counter as well as the far part of the bilge that’s between the quarter and the rudder.

Counter or Fantail- an overhanging stern projecting beyond the sternpost. Often purely ornamental, but almost a necessity in cutters and yawls.

Counter Stays, Counter Timbers, or Stern Timbers- timbers or stays within the counter projecting behind and taking the weight off the counter.

Counter Stern- a traditional stern construction with a long overhang and a shorter upright end piece. Rounded when in plain view but usually decked over.

Covering Board, planksheer, or planshare- an outside deck plank fitted over timber heads and covering counter frame heads.

Crutch- oblique or horizontal knee used to reinforce the stern.

Fashion Pieces- timbers forming the stern’s shape which are fixed to the sternpost and wing transom.

Flagstaff- flag pole at ship’s stern.

Great Cabin- the ship captain’s quarters usually located in the stern. Often used as a meeting place or dining room in addition to the captain’s use. Can have cannons and be turned into a battle station if disassembled with glass windows removed. Depending on the time period, the rudder yoke or tiller would run through this cabin from rudder to helm.

Gudgeon- a socket into which the ship’s pintle rudder fits.

Hood- a strakes final end.

Hood Ends- plank ends which are fitted into the stem or sternpost’s rabbet.

Horn Timbers- bracket or knee-shaped timbers fixed to the sternpost to support the counter.

Inside Stern or inside stem- a longitudinally joined sections sawn from larger timbers and covered by side planking ends. This makes the stem or stern invisible from the outside. Main structural detail of boat end types.

Pink Stern- stern with a narrow, overhanging transom.

Pintle- a pin or bolt inserted into the gudgeon, which is used for a pivot or hinge.

Rudder- a means of giving a ship’s direction underway. Changed from an oar rudder hung from a ship’s sides to a fixed stern rudder in the 14th century. The latter was a flat paddle hung and hinging from a sternpost with its lateral pivot movement transmitted to the rudder by a wheel, tiller, and/or rope and pulley system, depending on the ship’s sides and time period.

Rudder Stock- vertical shaft connecting the rudder to the steering wheel.

Rudder Stop- lag on stern frame or a stout bracket on deck at each side of the quadrant to limit the rudder’s swing at 37 degrees starboard.

Run- indicating the hull lines’ curvature towards the stern.

Shaft Log- block through which the steering shaft passes.

Skeg- a timber connecting the keel and sternpost.

Stern- a ship’s rear. Often refers to the rear part above the sternpost from the counter to the taffrail. Contains the lanterns, galleries, tafferel, captain’s office and officers’ quarters. Shape also forms the ship’s main characteristic with the principal types being pointed, round, or square as seen in plain view.

Stern Lantern- a lantern often resembling a streetlight, mounted above the tafferel or above the quarter galleries. Since 1450, sailing ships would often carry 1-3 and sometimes more lanterns at the stern. A single lantern could be mounted from the mast top to indicate the lead-ship, admiral, and squadron commander. Since this was most likely a temporary situation often one of the stern lanterns was relocated at the top. Main-top means full admiral. Fore-top means vice admiral. Mizzen-top means rear admiral.

Sternpost- the aftermost timber in a ship’s hull, forming the stern down to the keel while bearing the rudder.

Stern Sheet- a flat area on deck, inboard a small boat transom, which may contain hatches below deck or provide on deck storage for lifesaving equipment.

Sternson- a keelson’s extremity in which the sternpost is fixed.

Tafferel- a stern’s upper part. Often consists of a curved wood piece richly decorated with sculptures and paintings.

Taffrail- rail around the ship’s stern or the stern’s upper part. Often richly decorated.

Transom- a wide, flat, slightly curved, or sometimes vertical board at the hull’s rear, which increase the width and buoyancy at the stern. Consists of horizontally laid closing planks and supporting timbers forming square sterns.

Transom Knees- knees at the stems springing from the transom.

Tuck- ship part where lower plank ends meet under the stern.

Wardroom- the officers’ quarters for dining and recreation on a warship. Often located directly below the captain’s cabin.

Whipstaff- a bar attached to the tiller used for convenience and to extend leverage in steering.

Woodlock- a thick wood piece fitted to the rudder to keep it in position.

The Anatomy of a Wooden Ship: Part 4- Inside and Outside the Hull


Launched in 1813, the snow-brig, USS Niagara was the flagship of Captain Oliver Hazard Perry during the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812. During the battle, Perry ordered his men, “Don’t give up the ship.” Afterwards, it fired its guns and got some British ships to surrender. Later, it assisted with transporting Major General William Henry Harrison’s army to the mouth of the Detroit River. After the war, the Niagara was kept afloat as a receiving ship until it was sunk in 1820. Since 1988, it’s been the state ship of Pennsylvania.

Then we get to the ship’s main body which is the hull. Sailors live and work on it most of the time. The captain officers usually give orders to their men on it. Guns are shot from it. Supplies and cargo are stored in it. But a hull’s structure varies on ship type. While the hull’s shape is dependent upon the design’s needs which is chosen for striking a balance between costs, accommodations, load carrying and stability, speed, power requirements, motion and behavior on the seaway, and special considerations for the ship‘s role. Hulls of the earliest design are thought to have consisted of hollowed out tree bole making the boats with them the first canoes. Hull form then proceeded to the coracle shape and on to more sophisticated naval architectural forms advanced. By around 3000 BCE the ancient Egyptians knew how to assemble wooden planks into a hull. A wooden ship’s hull was constructed with wooden planking supported by transverse frame (often referred as ribs) and bulkheads which were further tied together by longitudinal stringers or a ceiling. Often but not always the keel always forms the ship’s centerline. And when it’s all covered in barnacles sailors could be punished by been repeatedly dunked and fished out in a practice known as keelhauling.

The Hull:

Bottom-part of the hull below waterline.

Crotch- naturally crooked timbers fixed on the keel.

Deadrise- angle between the ship’s bottom and the horizontal plan, at the hull’s widest part.

Frame- the traverse structure giving the ship its cross-sectional shape. Made up with 4 futtocks on a square-ribbed ship. Forms the hull’s shape.

Hull- the ship’s frame or body that floats on the water. But without the masts, rigging, or internal fittings.

Keel or backbone- the ship’s underside or bottom scratching from bow to stern and where the stem, sternpost, and ribs are attached. It’s an important part of the ship’s structure which also has a strong influence on its turning performance and resists the wind’s sideways pressure. Becomes covered in barnacles after sailing the seas. Used to balance the water.

Light- any opening on a ship’s hull, stern, or deck meant to allow sunlight to enter inside.

Quarter- a ship’s afterparts on the centerline’s each side. Also a work-shift on board a ship, continual 24/7 rotation of a 4-hour rest period in a normal 2 quarters setup.

Quarter Badge- a window outcrop at a ship’s quarters. A remnant of the earlier quarter gallery, often highly decorated with marine figures or other emblems.

Topsides- side planking from the waterline to the sheer.

Tumblehome- the amount by which 2 ship sides brought in towards the center above the maximum beam.

Upper Work- part of the ship’s hull above waterline when it’s properly balanced for a sea voyage.
Waist- the ship’s central and widest section with the lowest freeboard.

Outside the Hull:

Black Strakes- planks immediately above the wales.

Bumpkin or boomkin- spar projecting from the ship’s bow or stern providing for tack fairleads.

Channel- a flat, plank-like or platform-like projection from the ship’s side used to spread the shrouds clear of the hull. Upper chain plat ends connected or terminated here.

Centerboard or Drop Keel- a type of retractable keel used on ships to prevent drifting downwind.

Chain Plate- one of a number of strips of iron, chains, or a combination of iron links and straps with each lower end fastened to a ship’s hull and the upper end carrying a deadeye to which the shrouds or back stays were connected and tensioned.

Chesstree- a timber fitted on the hull’s outside just below the gunwale. Had 1-4 holes with internal rollers or pulleys through which the main tack or sheets were hauled from within board.

Cofferdam- a watertight chamber or compartment attached to the hull’s outside below waterline so repairs can be made.

Deals- planks cut from pine or fir of a specific size which was commonly 3”x 9”x 12.”

Escutcheon- a shield-shaped emblem located at the bow, stern, or sides, bearing a coat of arms, name, or owner’s symbol.

False Keel- lower addition to the main keel to either protect it from damage or to increase draft and improve sailing characteristics.

Garboard Strake- strake immediately adjacent to the keel.

Gunnel Wales- uppermost strake which is longer than the others.

Gunport- a square or round hole built through which the cannons were fired. First appeared around 1500. Sometimes highly decorated with wreaths and other décor, especially from the 15th – 17th centuries.

Hance- step made by the handrail drop at a ship’s side to a lower level.

Hance Piece- a bracket to fit the hance, often elaborately carved with dogs or dolphins. Sometimes running several feet down a ship’s side.

Jacob’s Ladder- a rope ladder with wooden rungs used for accessing a ship from the side.

Joggle- a notch cut in a plank edge to take the butt out of the next plank when planking a wodden ship.

Leeboard- a lobe-shaped board lowered from either ship side acting as a large oar to minimize drifting.

Outrigger- an extension to each side of the crosstrees to spread the backstays. In smaller East Indies ships, it’s a thin, long, extra hull parallel to the main hull.

Pavesses- large wooden shields fixed permanently to the ship’s sides and bullwarks. Often seen in galleons and carracks.

Porthole or scuttle- Opening sides from a ship’s hull, which are used for various purposes like gunports, timber ports, freeing ports, vents, or lights. When not in use they were closed by hinging doors, called pot-lids.

Quarter Gallery- an open or closed platform on a ship. Sometimes separate from the stern gallery and sometimes fully joined so one could walk around the stern.

Rigol- a gutter fitted over a port or scuttle to prevent rain from running into a ship when it’s open.

Rubbing Strake or rubbing streak- a strong horizontal plank fixed to the ship’s side as protection. Acts like a bumper.

Sheer- a fore-and-aft ship curvature from bow to stern. Traditionally lowest amidship to maximize freeboard at hull ends. Can be reverse, higher in the middle to maximize space, or a combination of shapes. Also can be a ship’s position for riding a single anchor holding it clear.

Sheathing- ship’s planking or decking.

Sheer Strake- strake immediately below the gunwale and on top of the hull.

Shoe- protective planking along the keel’s bottom.

Side- the ship’s edge.

Skid or Skeed- a strong piece to protect a ship’s side planking that extend the main wales from the hull’s top.

Slipway- ramp sloping into water supporting the ship.

Strake- a set of a lengthwise planking with similar sny, running the ship’s hull length. Might be a single plank on small boats and could consist of a number of planks on larger ships.

Wales- strong strakes placed at intervals along the ship’s side to strengthen the decks.

Inside the Hull:

Balance Frame- the forward-most and aftermost frame of the hull’s full width.

Ballast- heavy material placed in the bottom of ship’s hold to enhance stability by lowering its center of gravity and increasing its draft. Can be of iron, lead, or stone.

Ballast Keel- metal fixed to the keel to replace ballast.

Bay- a ship’s area used for carrying goods and equipment.

Bearding-Line- a line drawn in the deadwoods and keel showing the hull planking entering these parts.

Bilge- the lowest part inside the ship, within the hull which is the first place to show leakage. It’s often dank and musty, and considered the ship’s most filthy, deadly space. Usually the transition between the bottom and sides.

Bilge Keel- an additional keel located near the bilge on a ship’s either side to protect the hull when grounding and to lessen drift when heeling.

Bilge Stringer- timbers running the hull’s entire length near the bilge’s turn as an integral girder of a wooden ship’s frame.

Bilge Water- water inside the bilge, sometimes referred to as bilge itself.

Bulkhead- a watertight partition or dividing wall within a ship’s hull. Used to form compartments.

Cant Frame- back and forth frame not set at right angles to the keel.

Cant Timbers or cant frames- timbers placed obliquely at the keel on ship ends.

Ceiling- lining applied to the interior between frames.

Chine- an abrupt change where the hull’s topside meets its bottom. A multi-chine hull has 4 or more to allow an approximation of a round bottomed shape using flat panels. Also refers to the longitudinal structure inside the hull supporting these panels’ edges.

Chine Stringer- a longitudinal part in a ship between the keel and gunwale.

Clamp- a horizontal timber secured to the frames’ inner sides in a longitudinal direction under the shelf, carrying the beams from stem to stern.

Codwads- floor timbers extending below the frame.

Covering Board- board covering the rib and timber heads.

Cross Chocks- timbers fixed across a deadwood amidship to strengthen the futtocks.

Deadwood- reinforcing timbers placed between the keel and stem to build and strengthen the framework when too narrow for the side timbers to fit. Extended from keel upwards, effectively raising the floor-timbers from the bow to stern.

Dunnage- loose wood laid at a hull’s bottom. Used to raise cargo to avoid water damage.

Fardage- wood placed in ship’s bottom to keep cargo dry.

Filler Block- wood segment to fill a void between frames, usually between the planking and clamp.

Filling Frame- a frame in between master frames.

Floor- lowest frame timber that’s centered on the keel. Or the ship’s interior that’s below the waterline.

Floor-Boards- loose planking laid over the floor-timers and flat floors, covering ballast (if any), and hiding the bilge water.

Floor-Heads- upper floor-timber ends.

Floor-Timbers- lower part of a ship’s ribs which in larger ships are made from several pieces called futtocks.

Foot-Waling- a ship’s lining or inside planks to prevent anything falling amongst the floor timbers.

Frames- timber frames constituting the ship’s hull shape to where planking is attached.

Futtock- a crooked wooden timber scarfed together to form the compound rib’s lower part of the ship. In larger ships the ribs can’t be made in one piece and consist of several pieces scarfed together. A ship’s rib usually comprised of 4-5 futtocks.

Futtock Riders- large vertical timbers strengthening the hull’s inside below the waterline.

Garboard- a plank on a ship’s bottom next to the keel.

Girder- an iron or wooden beam supporting the hull’s structure.

Ground Futtock- futtock closet to the keel.

Half Frame- a floorless frame with futtocks seated directly on the keel.

Hanging Knee- knee with a downwards long arm.

Hog Frame- a trussed frame to a ship’s deck to prevent distortion.

Hogging piece- timber piece worked upon the keel’s top to prevent hogging.

Hold- a large area for storing cargo in the ship’s lower part.

Inwale- the upper, inner longitudinal structure member of the hull, to which topside panels are fixed.

Keelson- a lengthwise wooden beam for bearing stress on a ship. Fixed to the keel’s top to strengthen the rest of the boat to the keel.

Kentledge- a pig-iron used as ballast in ship’s hold.

Knee, knee-piece, or elbow- a wooden support brace with its angular bend designed to fasten ship parts together, especially to secure beams to ribs.

Knuckle Timbers- foremost of the cant timbers.

Limbers- conduits or gutters on each side of the keelson forming a waterway to the pump well.

Limber Boards- short coverboards.

Limber Holes- holes in limber boards.

Longing Knee- knee fitted horizontally to the beams and shelf, to the mast partners, or to the deck.

Long Timbers- those from deadwood to the second futtock’s top in the cant bodies.

Lower Futtock- futtock towards the ship’s middle between the top timber and the floor timber.

Master Frame- main frames set up at intervals giving the hull form.

Partners- a wooden framework used to strengthen a ship’s deck at the point where a mast or a capstan passes through it.

Rib- a curved-framed timber on a ship rising from the keel to the top of its side. Fastened by side planks forming the hull.

Rider- a substantial timber used to strengthen the wood-framed hull’s internal structure.

Rising Floor- a floor behind or in front of a flat, midship floor which have a steep angle towards the stem and stern.

Second Futtock- futtock above the floor timber.

Shelf or shelf piece- a strong timber piece running the whole ship length inside the timber heads, binding the timbers together. The deck beams rest on and are fastened to the shelf.

Sleeper- a thick plank laying at the bottom of the ship’s hold.

Sounding Rod- rod to measure the depth of water from the ship’s bottom.

Spirket- space between floor timbers.

Spirketting- a ship’s inside planking with the strake wrought on the beam ends, fitted to the port stills in a back and forth direction.

Square Frame- a frame erected perpendicular to the keel in the hull’s midbody.

Square Timbers- upward ribs from the keel in the ship’s hull.

Stemson or Stomach-Piece- a backing or strengthening ship timber fitted at the keel’s fore-end.

Step- a timber or metal framework fixed to the ship’s keel taking the mast’s heel.

Stowage- ship storage space.

Stringer- a long relatively thin wood length often used to reinforce the hull’s inside planking, especially when think planking is applied.

Timber- a ship’s frame or rib, giving the hull both its shape and strength. Also a term for describing other substantial wooden ship parts.

Tip-Timber or top-timber- uppermost frame futtock.

Truss- any structural support or beam in a ship’s frame. Or can be a fitting by which a lower yard is fastened to the mass.

Upper Futtock- futtock further away from the keel.

Well- a vertical cylindrical trunk, running down the ship’s hull lower parts. Bilge pump pipes often lead through the well.

The Anatomy of a Wooden Ship: Part 3- The Ropes


Built in Galicia in 1460, La Santa Maria de Inmaculada Conception was a carrack that served as Christopher Columbus’s flagship on his monumental 1492 voyage. While the carrack was slower compared to the Nina and Pinta, it did well on its Atlantic voyage, it ran aground and sank near what is present day Haiti in December of that year.

So now we have the sails and masts, we move onto the ropes. While the sails propel the ship and the masts carry the sails, the ropes hold the masts and sails together in the rigging. Now the rigging is a system of ropes, cables, chains supporting the ship’s masts and sails. There’s standing rigging including shrouds and stays which adjust the sails’ position and poles they’re attached to. Then there’s the running rigging which consists of halyards, braces, sheets, and vangs. The ropes also put the sails in working order, which can be lifted, reefed, and furled in whenever the windy conditions permit.

The Ropes:

Backstay- stay extending from the ship’s mastheads to its side and provides lateral support to the mast in a fore-and-aft rigged ship.

Becket- a rope with a knot on one end and an eye on the other. Used to secure loose ropes, spars, or oars.

Bight- the loop or double part created in a rope or strand of a rope when folded. Often used in creating complex knots.

Bitter End- the inboard end of a rope or anchor cable.

Block or pulley- a wooden or metal case in which one or more sheaves (rollers) are fitted through which lines can run to either increase purchase or change direction. In the 17th and 18th centuries, block pins were often made of greenheart.

Bobstay- rope used on ship to steady the bowsprit.

Boltrope- strong rope stitched to a sail’s outer edges to prevent tearing.

Bowline- rope used to keep a square sail’s weather leech to haul it forward, allowing the ship to point as high into the wind as possible.

Brace- a rope by which a yard is swung around and secured to shift a sail into a favorable position to the wind and the course of a square-rigged ship.

Brails or leech lines- ropes on a sail’s edge for hauling up.

Breeching Rope- a thick and heavy rope used to secure a cannon to the ship’s side for controlling and limiting gunfire recoil. Often wound around the cannon’s cascable and looped through both of a gun carriage’s sides. Both ends had an eye-splice which connected the gun to heavy ringbolt attached to the ship’s side. As a rule of thumb, it was 3 times the length of the gun barrel and could be 6 ½ inches in diameter for a large gun like a 32 pounder.

Bull Rope- rope used for hoisting the topmast or topgallant mast in a square-rigged ship.

Buntline- rope attached to a square sail’s foot to haul it up to the yard while keeping it from opening up. Normally there were multiple evenly-spaced buntlines leading through blocks on a yard to the foot of a square sail bent to that yard.

Buntline Hitch- a knot used to tie a buntline to a square sail’s foot.

Cable- a heavy rope or chain for mooring or anchoring. Can also be a naval unit of distance.

Catblock- block with 2 or 3 sheaves and with an iron strap and hook attached, used to draw the anchor the catshead.

Chip Log- a wood piece tied to a knotted cord. A ship’s speed was measured by counting the number of knots passing over the stern while being timed.

Clew Line- a line used for hauling up the clews when furling sail.

Clove Hitch- a knot used to tie and secure ratlines to the shrouds.

Cordage- ropes in a ship’s rigging.

Crowfoot- rigging to even the pull or load on the spars, stays, and leeches. Often more decorative than purposeful. Used on the mast tops until 1800.

Dandy-Rig- name used a for a variety of rigs, most often a ketch or yawl-rig.

Deadeye- a round or triangular hardwood block with one or more holes and a grooved perimeter. Used to set up a ship’s stays and shrouds. Most common thought of variety was said to have 3 holes.

Double Block- a tackle block with 2 sheaves located side by side.

Downhaul- rope for holding down or hauling down a sail or spar.

Earing- rope used for fastening a square sail’s top corners to its yard. Can also be an eye spliced into a sail’s boltrope for reefing purposes.

Eye- a circular loop at the shroud or stay’s end.

Fack- a full circle of any rope or cable.

Fisherman’s Knot- a not used to secure a line’s end to a ring or spar. Made by 2 turns with end passed back under both.

Footrope- a rope in a square-rigged ship suspended below a yard on which the topmen stood while furling or reefing sails.

Forestay- stay leading from the foremast to the ship’s bow.

Futtock Shroud- a shroud used to brace and support the topmast’s base, running downward and inward from the futtock base on the topmast base sides to the futtock band around the mast or directly to the lower shroud.

Gammoning- a heavy rope for securing the bowsprit to the ship’s stem.

Girtline- a rope passing through a block hung from a mast or masthead for hoisting relatively light loads such as a flag, tools, and weapons.

Halyard- a line used to hoist a sail, spar, or flag.

Hank- a series of rings or clips for attaching a jib or staysail to a stay.

Hawser- a heavy cable or rope that’s used for tying up or pulling a ship.

Hogging Truss- a rope or chain running front to back and tightened by a Spanish windlass and fastened to prevent stem and stern from sagging.

Jack-Block- a pulley system for raising topgallant masts.

Jeer- heavy tackle used for hoisting lower yards in square-rigged ships.

Jib Sheet- sheet or line controlling the jib sail.

Jigger- a 5ft long rope piece with a block at one end and a sheave at the other. Used to pull back tension at the cable’s hind part, when it’s pulled aboard ship by a windlass.

Jumper- a stay leading from the jib-boom’s outer edge to the dolphin striker.

Jury Rig- a temporary rig used to replace a damage mast or spar.

Lanyard- a short rope used on a ship for fastening things such as sails.

Lift- a rope in a square-rigged ship leading from the masthead, crosstrees, or cap to a yard’s either end for support.

Limber Rope- a rope threaded into the limber holes running the ship’s length. Pulled back and forth to keep the limber holes from plugging.

Line- rope.

Main Sheet- the rope controlling the angle at which a main sail is trimmed and set.

Main Stay- stay extending from the foremast’s main-top to its foot.

Man Rope- rope used as a ship’s handrail.

Martingale- a stay running from the jib-boom end to the dolphin striker, holding the jib-boom down against the fore topgallant mast stay’s pull.

Masthead Knot- a knot around the jury-rigged masthead intended to provide for stays attachment points.

Nave Line- a small tackle used to keep the parrel directly opposite to the yard, particularly while raising or lowering, (as it would otherwise hang under the yard), and prevent it from being sufficiently braced.

Nipper- a short length of rope used to bind an anchor cable.

Oakum- small old rope pieces used for filling holes in ship’s sides.

Outhaul- rope used to haul a sail taut along a spar.

Painter- a rope attached to the ship’s front used for tying it to a post. Used to control a smaller boat while loading or unloading from a beach.

Parrel- an arrangement of rollers and flat wood pieces held together with rope. Used to hold a yard against a mast while allowing it to be raised and lowered. Sometimes all the yards or some of the lighter, upper yards were held to the mast with ropes called parrel lashings.

Preventer- a rope backing-up another line or rope under extra strain to prevent the latter from breaking or giving way.

Quail- coil.

Quarter Netting- netting along the quarter rails.

Ratlines- horizontal lines running along the shrouds to create a ladder for the crew to use in getting to the rigging, tops, and yards.

Reef Points- short tapered rope lengths located across and reeved through the sail which can be tied together or hauled onto a yard to keep part of the sail out of use in strong winds. Reinforced with reef bands to keep sail from tearing.

Reef Tackle- a tackle for hauling up reef bands onto a yard and thus lessening the effective sail area in strong winds.

Rigging- all the ropes, chains, wires, and tackle used to support the masts and yards for hoisting, lowering, or trimming sails.

Roband- yarn piece used to fasten a sail to a spar.

Rode- an anchor length or chain.

Rolling Hitch- a knot to secure and attach one rope to another.

Rope- any flexible heavy cord to over an inch in diameter. Tightly intertwined fibers used in ship ropes were hemp, manila, sisal, and coir.

Running Rigging- name given to all the lines, ropes, and chains controlling sails, yards, and masts or all the rigging except for the shrouds and stays.

Sail Burton- a block and tackle extending from the topmast’s head to the deck of a square-rigged ship. Used for hoisting the sails aloft when they were bent to the yards.

Sheepshank- a knot shortening a line. Should remain under tension to be secure.

Sheet- rope running from the bottom aft the corner of a sail that’s used for controlling the sail on a ship and can be adjusted to the wind.

Shroud- standing rigging giving lateral and aft support to the masts.

Standing Rigging- name given to all the ropes and chains used to support the yards and bowsprits like the shrouds and stays.

Stay- part of the standing rigging supporting a mast in a fore-and-aft rigged ship. Forestays provide forward support while backstays provide support from the rear.

Tackle- a system of ropes and blocks for raising and lowering weights of rigging and pulleys for applying tension and gaining mechanical advantage.

Timber Hitch- a knot used for fastening around a spar to be hoisted. Tightens under strain and releases easily when slackened.

Timenoguy- rope stretched from one place to another on a ship.

Toggle- a fastener consisting of a peg or crosspiece inserted into an eye of a rope end in order to attache it to something.

Topping Lift- a rope running from the back boom end through a masthead block and down to the cleat at the mast’s foot. Used for holding up the boom when the main sail isn’t used.

Triple Sister- a pulley block with 3 sheaves side by side in the same housing.

Turk’s Head- a knot resembling a turban. Worked on a rope with a small line piece.

Tye- a chain or rope hoisted onto a yard on a mast. One end passed through the mast and was secured to the yard’s center. The other end was attached to a tackle for hoisting.

Voyol- a looped rope used to unmoor or hoist the ship’s anchor. Since it was a thinner, lighter, and more pliable than an anchor cable, it was easier to wind around the capstan and more convenient to use the voyol to hoist in the larger, stiffer, anchor cables by seizing thin, removable lines called nippers.

Wale Knot- a large knot created by untwisting the rope end strands and interweaving them.

Warp-Anchor Rope- rope reserved for attaching the anchor. Usually made of hemp and normally 3 times the water depth.

Whipping- a binding on a rope end to prevent it from unraveling.

Woolding- a rope around a mast or yard, often where it’s been fished or scarfed in order to strengthen it.

Yard Horse- ropes slung under a yard from the lift to the yardarm on which sailors or top men stood while reefing or furling sails.

The Anatomy of a Wooden Ship: Part 2- The Masts


Built in 1784 and acquired by the British Royal Navy in 1787 for a botanical mission, the HMS Bounty was sent to the Pacific Ocean under the command of Captain William Bligh to acquire breadfruit for transport to the British West Indies. But the mission was never completed due to a mutiny led by acting Lieutenant Fletcher Christian in an incident known as the Mutiny on the Bounty. Christian, the mutineers, and their native allies would later burn the Bounty after mooring it on Pitcarin Island.

Well, we’re off to a good start in this series. While the sails make the ship go with the wind, they’d fly of the ship if they weren’t strung to long, tall masts. These are tall poles erected more or less vertically on the ship’s centerline. These are meant to carry sails and spars while giving necessary height to a navigation light, look-out position, signal yard, or signal mast. Large wooden ships had several of these with size and configuration depending on their styles. Until the mid-19th century, all ship’s masts were made out of wood formed from a single or several pieces of timber, mainly consisting of a conifer tree trunk. From the 16th century, ships were often built of a size requiring taller and thicker masts than could be made from a single tree trunk. On these larger ships, to achieve the necessary height, the masts were built from up to 4 sections (also called masts), known in order of rising height above the decks as the lower, top, topgallant, and royal masts. Giving the lower sections sufficient thickness necessitated building up separate wood pieces. Such section was known as a made mast as oppose to masts formed by single pieces of timber known as pole masts.

The Masts and Poles:

Bibb- a wooden bracket supporting trestle trees.

Bonaventure Mizzenmast- small and furthest from the mizzenmast that’s often seen on larger galleons.

Boom- a horizontal pole along the mast’s bottom edge to where it’s fastened. Used for holding and extending the sail as well as changing its direction.

Cap- wooden mast top through which the mast is drawn when being stepped or lowered. Often made of elm.

Crow’s Nest- a small platform near the top of a mast, sometimes enclosed, where a lookout could have a better view when watching for sails or land.

Crosstree- a light oak timber spreader fixed across the trestle trees at the lower mast and top mast’s upper ends. Supported the topmast and topgallant mast shrouds.

Fid- a bar of wood or iron taking the topmast weight when it’s stepped on the lower mast. When a topmast hole corresponds with one in the lower mast, the fid is driven through to hold them together.

Fish- a wood piece, somewhat resembling a fish, used to strengthen a mast or yard.

Forebitt- post for fastening cables at ship’s foremast.

Foremast- the ship’s front mast located nearest to the bow.

Futtock Plates- plates of wood or iron where topmast shroud deadeyes were secured.

Gaff- a swinging spar where the head of a 4-sided fore-and-aft sail is attached and used to extend it away from a mast supporting it. When a gaff is hoisted, it carries up the sail with it. Normally takes 2 halyards to hoist a gaff-rigged sail.

Gooseneck- a fitting attaching the boom to a mast of fore-and-aft rigged ship, allowing the boom to swing sideways. Or the join between the whipstaff and the tiller.

Heel- the mast’s lower end. Also the keel’s back end.

Hoop- wooden ring securing a sail’s luff to a mast that slide up and down when it’s hoisted or lowered in a fore-and-aft rigged ship.

Horn- fixture securing a gaff to a mast but could slide up or down.

Hound- a large timber support bracket location directly below the masthead that supports the trestle trees and top.

Jack-Cross-Tree- a single iron cross-tree at a topgallant mast’s head.

Jack Staff- a short staff at ship’s bow from which the jack is hoisted.

Jackstay- an iron or wooden bar running along ship’s yard to which the sails are fastened.

Jackyard- spar used to spread the foot of a gaff-topsail.

Jib Stick- a spar used to hold out the jib when sailing almost directly downwind or in light airs when the jib may otherwise flap or collapse. The outboard end may have a U shape to take the jib to take a jib sheet or a point to go into the clew. The inboard end may be fastened or held at some convenient point such as a side stay or a purpose made fitting.

Jury Mast- a temporary or makeshift mast erected whenever the mainmast had been destroyed.

Lower Mast- the main mast body rising up from a ship and the complete mast’s first division.

Lubber’s Hole- the floor opening of the fore, main, and mizzen mast tops of square-rigged ships, giving access to the topmasts from below.

Main or main mast- the longest and primary mast located at the ship’s middle. On a 2-masted ship, it’s always the tallest mast.

Mast- a large vertical pole set in a ship used to attach further yards and spars to carry sails. A mast is taken through the hole in the decks and fitted onto the keelson step.

Made Mast- a mast made in sections from separate pieces of timber.

Mast Cheek- one of a pair of support brackets directly below the masthead’s trestle trees.

Masthead- mast top.

Mast Step- an often-strengthened socket used to take the mast’s downward thrust and hold it in position. May be on the keel or the deck on a smaller ship.

Mizzenmast- usually the third and/or furthest mast on a square-rigged ship or a 3 masted schooner. Also the furthest mast on a 2-masted ship like a ketch or yawl.

Pole-Mast- an uninterrupted single spar mast. Has no topmast nor topgallant mast.

Royalmast- the mast next above the topgallant mast and the fourth division of a complete mast.

Sheer Pole- a horizontal rod parallel to ratlines attached to the shrouds’ base just above the deadeyes to keep shrouds from twisting while they were being set up and tensioned.

Spar- a wooden pole used for supporting the rigging and sails such as a boom, gaff, yard, mast, or bowsprit.

Spreader- a metal bar used in a square-rigged ship’s foremast to give more spread to the fore sails’ tacks.

Sprit- a long spar stretching diagonally across a fore-and-aft sail to support the peak.

Top or fighting top- a masthead platform used to extend the topmast shrouds to provide the topmast additional support. Early tops were often enclosed and basket-like while later tops were always open. Was a great platform for look-out and for snipers and archers to take aim from.

Topgallant Mast or l’gallant- the mast above the topmast on a square-rigged ship. The third division of a complete mast.

Topmast- the mast above the lower mast. The second division of a complete mast. Highest mast in a fore-and-aft rigged ship.

Trestle Tree- oak timbers horizontally fixed back and forth on a lower and upper masthead of a square-rigged ship. Used to support the topmast or topgallant mast, the lower and upper crosstrees, and the top. Normally rests on the lower mast’s cheeks or a topmast’s hounds.

Truck- a wooden top of a mast, staff, or flag pole.

Vangs- braces supporting the mizzen mast gaff to keep it steady. Connected to the gaff’s outer end, they reach downwards to the ship’s furthest side, where they’re hooked and fashioned. They’re slackened when the wind is fair and drawn in when the gaff’s position is unfavorable to the ship’s course.

Yard – a long tapering spar on a square-rigged ship slung to a mast and spread the head of a square sail, lugsail, or lateen and forward from the shrouds. Each square sail hangs from its own yard. Seamen furl the sails by bending over the yard as they use both hands hauling the sail. The sail is trimmed to the wind by braces leading from the yard arms back or forward to another mast or down to the deck.

Yardarm- the main yard across the mast holding up the sail or either end of the yard on a square sail. The yardarm is a vulnerable target in combat and a favorite place to hang prisoners or enemies. Also a yard’s outward end.

The Anatomy of a Wooden Ship: Part 1- The Sails


Here is a painting of the USS Constitution, affectionately known as “Old Ironsides,” due to its prowess during the War of 1812 where it defeated 5 British warships. Built in the 1790s, this heavily armed frigate is the world’s oldest commissioned naval ship that’s still afloat. Though today it sits in Boston Harbor as a museum piece taking part in ceremonies, educational programs and historic reenactments with a US Navy crew of 60.

You see these ships in hit swashbuckling pirate movie as they float like castles on the waves with their intricate wooden facades and graceful sails blowing in the wind. But while movies tend to glamorize life on a wooden ship as full of glorious naval engagements, swashbuckling pirates, bold explorers, and trips to exotic islands with either nubile native women or cannibals, the reality of living on these ships wasn’t as fun as movies make it out to be. For one, life on a wooden ship often included bad food filled with weevils, unsanitary conditions, nasty diseases, rat infestations, lots of shit, hours of boredom, horrifying injuries and medical care, sexism, classism, and not a woman in sight. Not to mention, voyages could last years, punishments were harsh with keelhauling or flogging, lots of drinking and impressment, and other hellish things. Oh, and the pirates, well, they’re basically gangsters raiding merchant ships who were drunks who didn’t bathe or shave for months and were more often than not riddled with STDs and bad teeth. From the early modern period to the mid-19th century, wooden sailing ships dominated the waves in an era called The Age of Sail. Harnessing the power of winds and current, these ships helped kick start an age of exploration, globalization, colonialism, international trade, great naval battles, smallpox, racism, and slavery. Yet, even so, we all muse about the glorious sailing ships across the sea in their full sail glory while the men onboard seem to have a knack for adventure.


The HMS Victory was launched in 1765 and is first rate ship of the line with its 104 guns. It’s best known as Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson’s flagship during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 which has gone down in history as one of Great Britain’s greatest Royal Navy victories. While the Victory survived the battle since it’s been on drydock as a museum ship since 1922, Lord Nelson did not.

I kick off this wooden ship series with the defining sails from a wooden sailing ship. And boy, did these ships have a ton of them tied to the masts and help propel the ship with the wind. Now sailing along the water has been around at least since the 6th millennium BCE with archaeological remains found from excavations into Cucuteni-Trypillian culture and of the Ubaid period in Mesopotamia. Ancient Egyptians and Sumerians used square rig boats as early 3200 BCE and it’s believed they established sea trading routes as far as the Indus Valley. Yet, for much of ancient times and the medieval period, many of the large sailing ships were man-powered galleys a la Ben Hur. Triangular fore-and-aft rig were invented in the Mediterranean as single-yarded lateen sails and began as a convention in southern Europe as the gentle climate made its use practical. And in a few centuries in Italy before the Renaissance, it began replacing the square rig which had dominated Europe since the dawn of sea travel. Yet, despite having seen it in trade and during the Crusades, Northern Europeans were resistant to adopting the fore-and-aft rig. But the Renaissance and the Age of Exploration changed this. From 1475, their use increased and within a century, the fore-and-aft rig was commonly used on boats on rivers and estuaries in Britain, northern France, and Low Countries. Though square rigs remain standard for harsher conditions of the open North Sea as well as in trans-Atlantic sailing. Yet, even those had some fore-and-aft sails for navigational purposes.

The Sails:

Bonnet- extra canvas strip fixed to the foot of a fore-and-aft sail.

Bunt- middle of a square sail.

Clew- corner sail with hole attached to ropes.

Course Sail- the largest and lowest square sail on a mast.

Cringle- a sail’s corner loop where lines are attached.

Cross Jack- the lowest square sail or the mizzen mast’s lower yard.

Drabler- an additional ship canvas attached to the bonnet’s foot of a fore-and-aft sail.

Driver- a large sail suspended from the mizzen gaff. Can also be a jib-headed spanker.

Flying Jib- the outermost triangular fore-and-aft sail. Extends beyond the jib and is carried on a stay attached to a flying jib-boom.

Foot- a sail’s bottom edge.

Fore-and-Aft-Sail- a triangular sail behind mast, attached to a gaff and boom parallel with a keel.

Foresail- lowest sail set on the foremast on a square-rigged ship.

Gaff-Topsail- a triangular topsail with its foot extended upon the gaff.

Genoa- a large jib overlapping the mainsail.

Head- top edge of a 4-sided sail. Can also be the area in front of the forecastle and beak. May be proper term for a ship’s toilet.

Headsail- sail set forward of the ship’s foremast.

Jackyard Topsail- a triangular topsail set above the mainsail in a gaff-rigged ship.

Jib- a small triangular fore-and-aft sail carried on a stay near the ship’s front stretching from the top foremast to the bow or bowsprit.

Lateen Sail- a triangular fore-and-aft sail, set on a long yard at an angle to a relatively short mast. Sometimes supported with boom.

Leech- a square sail’s vertical edge and a fore-and-aft sail’s afterside.

Loose-Footed- a fore-and-aft sail set without a boom such as most jibs.

Luff- a fore-and-aft sail’s leading forward edge. Also to bring a ship’s bow closer to the wind, usually to decrease the headsails’ power.

Lugsail-a quadrilateral sail lacking a boom, has a foot larger than the head, and is bent to a yard hanging obliquely on the mast.

Main Sail- the ship’s principal and largest sail. In square-rigged ships, it’s the lowest sail on the Main Mast.

Mizzen- sail behind or on top the ship’s main sail. Can also be a 3-masted ship.

Moonraker- a small light sail set above the skysail on a square-rigged ship.

Peak- the upper far corner of a four-sided, gaff-rigged, fore-and-aft sail.

Reef Band- an extra canvas strip attached across a sail to strengthen it where the reef points are located.

Roach- curved cut in sail’s edge to prevent chafing.

Royal- a small sail on a royal mast just above the topgallant sail. Normally the fourth sail in ascending order from the deck.

Sail- a cloth or canvas piece or combination of pieces cut and sewn together to the desired shape and size attached to a ship’s spars and/or rigging. Used for catching wind and propelling the ship. Often repaired at sea or at anchor in a secluded bay thousands of miles from home. Could be quite a patchwork of different material pieces.

Skysail- a small square sail above the royal on a square-rigged ship. Normally the fifth sail in the ascending order from the deck.

Skyscraper- triangular sail above the skysail in fair weather.

Spanker- a fore-and-aft sail on the aftermost mast, bent with a gaff and boom.

Spinnaker- a large triangular sail opposite the main sail.

Sprit Sail- a square or fore-and-aft sail extended by a sprit.

Square Sail- a four-sided sail set from a yard and hanging symmetrically across the mast.

Stay Sail- a triangular fore-and-aft sail set by attaching it to a stay.

Studding Sails- square sails rigged to extra yards that are lashed and extra further out from the primary yards. Typically extended the width of the sails on a square-rigged ship.

Stun Sail- a light auxiliary sail to the principal sails’ sides.

Tack- the lower forward corner of a fore-and-aft sail. Can be the rope used to hold the lower course corners and staysails on the weather side of a square-rigged ship or a line used to pull a studding sail’s lower corner to its boom. Or can be to change course on a ship by shifting the helm and sails’ position.

Throat- the upper foremost corner of a fore-and-aft sail.

Topgallant Sail- the sail set above the topsail and third sail in the ascending order from deck on a square-rigged mast. Later 19th century ships may carry a lower topgallant sail and an upper topgallant sail.

Topsail- a square sail set above the lowest sail on the mast of a square-rigged ship and is the second sail in ascending order from the deck. Can also be a triangular or square sail set above the gaff of a lower sail on a fore-and-aft-rigged ship. But while it’s usually the second sail in ascending order from deck on a fore-and-aft rigged ship, it can sometimes be the third.

Trysail- a small fore-and-aft sail used during storm conditions and placed instead of the regular sail. Usually hoisted on a lower mast.

“What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” by Frederick Douglass


On July 5, 1852, the famed American abolitionist Frederick Douglass delivered a speech in Rochester, New York’s Corinthian Hall. Making this speech in front of then US President Millard Fillmore and other notable figures in the country, Douglass equates the treatment of slaves of that of the Americans under British rule and persuades them to help the slaves break free like they helped themselves. Like today, the concept of oppression is a strong one for Americans everywhere, which Douglass doesn’t tread lightly. In fact, he uses the country’s rich but then short history to show Americans how badly they treat their fellow countrymen in bondage. While he reminds them they were once treated as slaves, he stresses his view that slaves and Americans are the same and they’re fighting the same fight as they did back in the 1770s. And since slaves are human beings, they should be treated as such. In addition, while Douglass doesn’t speak against religion in general, he does criticize white American Christianity and how white Christian churches deal with slavery in which he expresses outrage on many sects’ utter lack of responsibility and egregious religious hypocrisy. But he believes that the United States doesn’t have to stay the way it is. The country can progress like it did before during the American Revolution and through religion, which he sees as the problem as well as the main solution. At least once people realize that they aren’t living true to what they say they believe and what the Bible actually says. Since while white Americans may be so proud of their country while rejoicing freedom and liberty, they deny these very things to millions of its residents.

Given that Douglass was born and raised a slave and among the few who was educated and broke free, he gives this speech as a fellow US citizen and a slave fighting for freedom for everyone.While the US is said to be built on the idea of freedom and liberty, Douglass shows that it’s more than anything built on inconsistencies that have been overlooked for so long that they now look like truths. And because of these inconsistencies in the country’s way of duty, it’s made the name “The United States of America,” one of mockery and often held in contempt. But if the nation just abolished slavery and give rights to all Americans, it will no longer be the case. Nonetheless, in the end, Douglass keeps his hope and faith in humanity high since he believes slavery’s end is near and that you can’t stop progress. For knowledge is too available and appeasing to shoo away when its services are inconvenient. And he believes that Americans will soon open their eyes and see the atrocities they’ve been inflicting on their fellow countrymen.

While slavery may be over for 150 years, its appalling legacy still remains in racism, oppression, mass incarceration, and discrimination. Today, the United States is under the leadership of a contemptible man who cares nothing for the country for which he leads nor its people. With Donald Trump in the White House undermining our democracy, poisoning our public discourse, smearing our institutions, crippling our government, debasing our sacred values, inflicting terror on the marginalized and putting us through a horrifying nightmare nobody can escape from, celebrating the Fourth of July doesn’t inspire the same patriotic spirit it once had. Even worse, people I know and care about continue to support this unrepentant con artist who’ll only swindle them in the end if he hasn’t already, which only riles me with anger, outrage, and disgust. I’ve copied and pasted this speech on this post for you since it reflects the mixed feelings many Americans like myself have in regards to the present state of affairs at this very dark time.


Mr. President, Friends and Fellow Citizens: He who could address this audience without a quailing sensation, has stronger nerves than I have. I do not remember ever to have appeared as a speaker before any assembly more shrinkingly, nor with greater distrust of my ability, than I do this day. A feeling has crept over me, quite unfavorable to the exercise of my limited powers of speech. The task before me is one which requires much previous thought and study for its proper performance. I know that apologies of this sort are generally considered flat and unmeaning. I trust, however, that mine will not be so considered. Should I seem at ease, my appearance would much misrepresent me. The little experience I have had in addressing public meetings, in country school houses, avails me nothing on the present occasion.

The papers and placards say, that I am to deliver a 4th [of] July oration. This certainly sounds large, and out of the common way, for it is true that I have often had the privilege to speak in this beautiful Hall, and to address many who now honor me with their presence. But neither their familiar faces, nor the perfect gage I think I have of Corinthian Hall, seems to free me from embarrassment.

The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, the distance between this platform and the slave plantation, from which I escaped, is considerable — and the difficulties to be overcome in getting from the latter to the former, are by no means slight. That I am here to-day is, to me, a matter of astonishment as well as of gratitude. You will not, therefore, be surprised, if in what I have to say, I evince no elaborate preparation, nor grace my speech with any high sounding exordium. With little experience and with less learning, I have been able to throw my thoughts hastily and imperfectly together; and trusting to your patient and generous indulgence, I will proceed to lay them before you.

This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the 4th of July. It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom. This, to you, is what the Passover was to the emancipated people of God. It carries your minds back to the day, and to the act of your great deliverance; and to the signs, and to the wonders, associated with that act, and that day. This celebration also marks the beginning of another year of your national life; and reminds you that the Republic of America is now 76 years old. I am glad, fellow-citizens, that your nation is so young. Seventy-six years, though a good old age for a man, is but a mere speck in the life of a nation. Three score years and ten is the allotted time for individual men; but nations number their years by thousands.

According to this fact, you are, even now, only in the beginning of your national career, still lingering in the period of childhood. I repeat, I am glad this is so. There is hope in the thought, and hope is much needed, under the dark clouds which lower above the horizon. The eye of the reformer is met with angry flashes, portending disastrous times; but his heart may well beat lighter at the thought that America is young, and that she is still in the impressible stage of her existence. May he not hope that high lessons of wisdom, of justice and of truth, will yet give direction to her destiny? Were the nation older, the patriot’s heart might be sadder, and the reformer’s brow heavier. Its future might be shrouded in gloom, and the hope of its prophets go out in sorrow. There is consolation in the thought that America is young. Great streams are not easily turned from channels, worn deep in the course of ages. They may sometimes rise in quiet and stately majesty, and inundate the land, refreshing and fertilizing the earth with their mysterious properties. They may also rise in wrath and fury, and bear away, on their angry waves, the accumulated wealth of years of toil and hardship. They, however, gradually flow back to the same old channel, and flow on as serenely as ever. But, while the river may not be turned aside, it may dry up, and leave nothing behind but the withered branch, and the unsightly rock, to howl in the abyss-sweeping wind, the sad tale of departed glory. As with rivers so with nations.

Fellow-citizens, I shall not presume to dwell at length on the associations that cluster about this day. The simple story of it is that, 76 years ago, the people of this country were British subjects. The style and title of your “sovereign people” (in which you now glory) was not then born. You were under the British Crown. Your fathers esteemed the English Government as the home government; and England as the fatherland. This home government, you know, although a considerable distance from your home, did, in the exercise of its parental prerogatives, impose upon its colonial children, such restraints, burdens and limitations, as, in its mature judgement, it deemed wise, right and proper.

But, your fathers, who had not adopted the fashionable idea of this day, of the infallibility of government, and the absolute character of its acts, presumed to differ from the home government in respect to the wisdom and the justice of some of those burdens and restraints. They went so far in their excitement as to pronounce the measures of government unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive, and altogether such as ought not to be quietly submitted to. I scarcely need say, fellow-citizens, that my opinion of those measures fully accords with that of your fathers. Such a declaration of agreement on my part would not be worth much to anybody. It would, certainly, prove nothing, as to what part I might have taken, had I lived during the great controversy of 1776. To say now that America was right, and England wrong, is exceedingly easy.

Everybody can say it; the dastard, not less than the noble brave, can flippantly discant on the tyranny of England towards the American Colonies. It is fashionable to do so; but there was a time when to pronounce against England, and in favor of the cause of the colonies, tried men’s souls. They who did so were accounted in their day, plotters of mischief, agitators and rebels, dangerous men. To side with the right, against the wrong, with the weak against the strong, and with the oppressed against the oppressor! here lies the merit, and the one which, of all others, seems unfashionable in our day. The cause of liberty may be stabbed by the men who glory in the deeds of your fathers. But, to proceed.

Feeling themselves harshly and unjustly treated by the home government, your fathers, like men of honesty, and men of spirit, earnestly sought redress. They petitioned and remonstrated; they did so in a decorous, respectful, and loyal manner. Their conduct was wholly unexceptionable. This, however, did not answer the purpose. They saw themselves treated with sovereign indifference, coldness and scorn. Yet they persevered. They were not the men to look back.

As the sheet anchor takes a firmer hold, when the ship is tossed by the storm, so did the cause of your fathers grow stronger, as it breasted the chilling blasts of kingly displeasure. The greatest and best of British statesmen admitted its justice, and the loftiest eloquence of the British Senate came to its support. But, with that blindness which seems to be the unvarying characteristic of tyrants, since Pharaoh and his hosts were drowned in the Red Sea, the British Government persisted in the exactions complained of.

The madness of this course, we believe, is admitted now, even by England; but we fear the lesson is wholly lost on our present rulers.

Oppression makes a wise man mad. Your fathers were wise men, and if they did not go mad, they became restive under this treatment. They felt themselves the victims of grievous wrongs, wholly incurable in their colonial capacity. With brave men there is always a remedy for oppression. Just here, the idea of a total separation of the colonies from the crown was born! It was a startling idea, much more so, than we, at this distance of time, regard it. The timid and the prudent (as has been intimated) of that day, were, of course, shocked and alarmed by it.

Such people lived then, had lived before, and will, probably, ever have a place on this planet; and their course, in respect to any great change, (no matter how great the good to be attained, or the wrong to be redressed by it), may be calculated with as much precision as can be the course of the stars. They hate all changes, but silver, gold and copper change! Of this sort of change they are always strongly in favor.

These people were called tories in the days of your fathers; and the appellation, probably, conveyed the same idea that is meant by a more modern, though a somewhat less euphonious term, which we often find in our papers, applied to some of our old politicians.

Their opposition to the then dangerous thought was earnest and powerful; but, amid all their terror and affrighted vociferations against it, the alarming and revolutionary idea moved on, and the country with it.

On the 2d of July, 1776, the old Continental Congress, to the dismay of the lovers of ease, and the worshipers of property, clothed that dreadful idea with all the authority of national sanction. They did so in the form of a resolution; and as we seldom hit upon resolutions, drawn up in our day, whose transparency is at all equal to this, it may refresh your minds and help my story if I read it.

“Resolved, That these united colonies are, and of right, ought to be free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown; and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, dissolved.”

Citizens, your fathers made good that resolution. They succeeded; and to-day you reap the fruits of their success. The freedom gained is yours; and you, therefore, may properly celebrate this anniversary. The 4th of July is the first great fact in your nation’s history — the very ring-bolt in the chain of your yet undeveloped destiny.

Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.

From the round top of your ship of state, dark and threatening clouds may be seen. Heavy billows, like mountains in the distance, disclose to the leeward huge forms of flinty rocks! That bolt drawn, that chain broken, and all is lost. Cling to this day — cling to it, and to its principles, with the grasp of a storm-tossed mariner to a spar at midnight.
The coming into being of a nation, in any circumstances, is an interesting event. But, besides general considerations, there were peculiar circumstances which make the advent of this republic an event of special attractiveness.

The whole scene, as I look back to it, was simple, dignified and sublime.

The population of the country, at the time, stood at the insignificant number of three millions. The country was poor in the munitions of war. The population was weak and scattered, and the country a wilderness unsubdued. There were then no means of concert and combination, such as exist now. Neither steam nor lightning had then been reduced to order and discipline. From the Potomac to the Delaware was a journey of many days. Under these, and innumerable other disadvantages, your fathers declared for liberty and independence and triumphed.

Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too — great enough to give fame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.

They loved their country better than their own private interests; and, though this is not the highest form of human excellence, all will concede that it is a rare virtue, and that when it is exhibited, it ought to command respect. He who will, intelligently, lay down his life for his country, is a man whom it is not in human nature to despise. Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests.

They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was “settled” that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were “final;” not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times.

How circumspect, exact and proportionate were all their movements! How unlike the politicians of an hour! Their statesmanship looked beyond the passing moment, and stretched away in strength into the distant future. They seized upon eternal principles, and set a glorious example in their defence. Mark them!

Fully appreciating the hardship to be encountered, firmly believing in the right of their cause, honorably inviting the scrutiny of an on-looking world, reverently appealing to heaven to attest their sincerity, soundly comprehending the solemn responsibility they were about to assume, wisely measuring the terrible odds against them, your fathers, the fathers of this republic, did, most deliberately, under the inspiration of a glorious patriotism, and with a sublime faith in the great principles of justice and freedom, lay deep the corner-stone of the national superstructure, which has risen and still rises in grandeur around you.

Of this fundamental work, this day is the anniversary. Our eyes are met with demonstrations of joyous enthusiasm. Banners and pennants wave exultingly on the breeze. The din of business, too, is hushed. Even Mammon seems to have quitted his grasp on this day. The ear-piercing fife and the stirring drum unite their accents with the ascending peal of a thousand church bells. Prayers are made, hymns are sung, and sermons are preached in honor of this day; while the quick martial tramp of a great and multitudinous nation, echoed back by all the hills, valleys and mountains of a vast continent, bespeak the occasion one of thrilling and universal interests nation’s jubilee.

Friends and citizens, I need not enter further into the causes which led to this anniversary. Many of you understand them better than I do. You could instruct me in regard to them. That is a branch of knowledge in which you feel, perhaps, a much deeper interest than your speaker. The causes which led to the separation of the colonies from the British crown have never lacked for a tongue. They have all been taught in your common schools, narrated at your firesides, unfolded from your pulpits, and thundered from your legislative halls, and are as familiar to you as household words. They form the staple of your national poetry and eloquence.

I remember, also, that, as a people, Americans are remarkably familiar with all facts which make in their own favor. This is esteemed by some as a national trait — perhaps a national weakness. It is a fact, that whatever makes for the wealth or for the reputation of Americans, and can be had cheap! will be found by Americans. I shall not be charged with slandering Americans, if I say I think the American side of any question may be safely left in American hands.

I leave, therefore, the great deeds of your fathers to other gentlemen whose claim to have been regularly descended will be less likely to be disputed than mine!


My business, if I have any here to-day, is with the present. The accepted time with God and his cause is the ever-living now.

“Trust no future, however pleasant,
Let the dead past bury its dead;
Act, act in the living present,
Heart within, and God overhead.”

We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future. To all inspiring motives, to noble deeds which can be gained from the past, we are welcome. But now is the time, the important time. Your fathers have lived, died, and have done their work, and have done much of it well. You live and must die, and you must do your work. You have no right to enjoy a child’s share in the labor of your fathers, unless your children are to be blest by your labors. You have no right to wear out and waste the hard-earned fame of your fathers to cover your indolence. Sydney Smith tells us that men seldom eulogize the wisdom and virtues of their fathers, but to excuse some folly or wickedness of their own. This truth is not a doubtful one. There are illustrations of it near and remote, ancient and modern. It was fashionable, hundreds of years ago, for the children of Jacob to boast, we have “Abraham to our father,” when they had long lost Abraham’s faith and spirit. That people contented themselves under the shadow of Abraham’s great name, while they repudiated the deeds which made his name great. Need I remind you that a similar thing is being done all over this country to-day? Need I tell you that the Jews are not the only people who built the tombs of the prophets, and garnished the sepulchres of the righteous? Washington could not die till he had broken the chains of his slaves. Yet his monument is built up by the price of human blood, and the traders in the bodies and souls of men, shout — “We have Washington to our father.” Alas! that it should be so; yet so it is.

“The evil that men do, lives after them,
The good is oft’ interred with their bones.”

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold, that a nation’s sympathy could not warm him?

Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish, that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation’s jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the “lame man leap as an hart.”

But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, lowering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.”

Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view. Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery-the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse;” I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgement is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slaveholders themselves acknowledge it in the enactment of laws for their government. They acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the slave. There are seventy-two crimes in the State of Virginia, which, if committed by a black man, (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like punishment. What is this but the acknowledgement that the slave is a moral, intellectual and responsible being? The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that Southern statute books are covered with enactments forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or to write. When you can point to any such laws, in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, there will I argue with you that the slave is a man!

For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the negro race. Is it not astonishing that, while we are ploughing, planting and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and cyphering, acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hill-side, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!

Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? that he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for Republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to be understood? How should I look to-day, in the presence of Americans, dividing, and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom? speaking of it relatively, and positively, negatively, and affirmatively. To do so, would be to make myself ridiculous, and lo offer an insult to your understanding. There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven, that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.

What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employments for my time and strength, than such arguments would imply.

What, then, remains to be argued? Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish it; that our doctors of divinity are mistaken? There is blasphemy in the thought. That which is inhuman, cannot be divine! Who can reason on such a proposition? They that can, may; I cannot. The time for such argument is past.

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.


Take the American slave-trade, which, we are told by the papers, is especially prosperous just now. Ex-Senator Benton tells us that the price of men was never higher than now. He mentions the fact to show that slavery is in no danger. This trade is one of the peculiarities of American institutions. It is carried on in all the large towns and cities in one-half of this confederacy; and millions are pocketed every year, by dealers in this horrid traffic. In several states, this trade is a chief source of wealth. It is called (in contradistinction to the foreign slave-trade) “the internal slave trade.” It is, probably, called so, too, in order to divert from it the horror with which the foreign slave-trade is contemplated. That trade has long since been denounced by this government, as piracy. It has been denounced with burning words, from the high places of the nation, as an execrable traffic. To arrest it, to put an end to it, this nation keeps a squadron, at immense cost, on the coast of Africa. Everywhere, in this country, it is safe to speak of this foreign slave-trade, as a most inhuman traffic, opposed alike to the laws of God and of man. The duty to extirpate and destroy it, is admitted even by our DOCTORS OF DIVINITY. In order to put an end to it, some of these last have consented that their colored brethren (nominally free) should leave this country, and establish themselves on the western coast of Africa! It is, however, a notable fact that, while so much execration is poured out by Americans upon those engaged in the foreign slave-trade, the men engaged in the slave-trade between the states pass without condemnation, and their business is deemed honorable.

Behold the practical operation of this internal slave-trade, the American slave-trade, sustained by American politics and American religion. Here you will see men and women reared like swine for the market. You know what is a swine-drover? I will show you a man-drover. They inhabit all our Southern States. They perambulate the country, and crowd the highways of the nation, with droves of human stock. You will see one of these human flesh-jobbers, armed with pistol, whip and bowie-knife, driving a company of a hundred men, women, and children, from the Potomac to the slave market at New Orleans. These wretched people are to be sold singly, or in lots, to suit purchasers. They are food for the cotton-field, and the deadly sugar-mill. Mark the sad procession, as it moves wearily along, and the inhuman wretch who drives them. Hear his savage yells and his blood-chilling oaths, as he hurries on his affrighted captives! There, see the old man, with locks thinned and gray. Cast one glance, if you please, upon that young mother, whose shoulders are bare to the scorching sun, her briny tears falling on the brow of the babe in her arms. See, too, that girl of thirteen, weeping, yes! weeping, as she thinks of the mother from whom she has been torn! The drove moves tardily. Heat and sorrow have nearly consumed their strength; suddenly you hear a quick snap, like the discharge of a rifle; the fetters clank, and the chain rattles simultaneously; your ears are saluted with a scream, that seems to have torn its way to the centre of your soul! The crack you heard, was the sound of the slave-whip; the scream you heard, was from the woman you saw with the babe. Her speed had faltered under the weight of her child and her chains! that gash on her shoulder tells her to move on. Follow this drove to New Orleans. Attend the auction; see men examined like horses; see the forms of women rudely and brutally exposed to the shocking gaze of American slave-buyers. See this drove sold and separated forever; and never forget the deep, sad sobs that arose from that scattered multitude. Tell me citizens, WHERE, under the sun, you can witness a spectacle more fiendish and shocking. Yet this is but a glance at the American slave-trade, as it exists, at this moment, in the ruling part of the United States.

I was born amid such sights and scenes. To me the American slave-trade is a terrible reality. When a child, my soul was often pierced with a sense of its horrors. I lived on Philpot Street, Fell’s Point, Baltimore, and have watched from the wharves, the slave ships in the Basin, anchored from the shore, with their cargoes of human flesh, waiting for favorable winds to waft them down the Chesapeake. There was, at that time, a grand slave mart kept at the head of Pratt Street, by Austin Woldfolk. His agents were sent into every town and county in Maryland, announcing their arrival, through the papers, and on flaming “hand-bills,” headed CASH FOR NEGROES. These men were generally well dressed men, and very captivating in their manners. Ever ready to drink, to treat, and to gamble. The fate of many a slave has depended upon the turn of a single card; and many a child has been snatched from the arms of its mother by bargains arranged in a state of brutal drunkenness.

The flesh-mongers gather up their victims by dozens, and drive them, chained, to the general depot at Baltimore. When a sufficient number have been collected here, a ship is chartered, for the purpose of conveying the forlorn crew to Mobile, or to New Orleans. From the slave prison to the ship, they are usually driven in the darkness of night; for since the antislavery agitation, a certain caution is observed.

In the deep still darkness of midnight, I have been often aroused by the dead heavy footsteps, and the piteous cries of the chained gangs that passed our door. The anguish of my boyish heart was intense; and I was often consoled, when speaking to my mistress in the morning, to hear her say that the custom was very wicked; that she hated to hear the rattle of the chains, and the heart-rending cries. I was glad to find one who sympathised with me in my horror.

Fellow-citizens, this murderous traffic is, to-day, in active operation in this boasted republic. In the solitude of my spirit, I see clouds of dust raised on the highways of the South; I see the bleeding footsteps; I hear the doleful wail of fettered humanity, on the way to the slave-markets, where the victims are to be sold like horses, sheep, and swine, knocked off to the highest bidder. There I see the tenderest ties ruthlessly broken, to gratify the lust, caprice and rapacity of the buyers and sellers of men. My soul sickens at the sight.

“Is this the land your Fathers loved,
The freedom which they toiled to win?
Is this the earth whereon they moved?
Are these the graves they slumber in?”

But a still more inhuman, disgraceful, and scandalous state of things remains to be presented.

By an act of the American Congress, not yet two years old, slavery has been nationalized in its most horrible and revolting form. By that act, Mason & Dixon’s line has been obliterated; New York has become as Virginia; and the power to hold, hunt, and sell men, women, and children as slaves remains no longer a mere state institution, but is now an institution of the whole United States. The power is co-extensive with the star-spangled banner and American Christianity. Where these go, may also go the merciless slave-hunter. Where these are, man is not sacred. He is a bird for the sportsman’s gun. By that most foul and fiendish of all human decrees, the liberty and person of every man are put in peril. Your broad republican domain is hunting ground for men. Not for thieves and robbers, enemies of society, merely, but for men guilty of no crime. Your lawmakers have commanded all good citizens to engage in this hellish sport. Your President, your Secretary of State, your lords, nobles, and ecclesiastics, enforce, as a duty you owe to your free and glorious country, and to your God, that you do this accursed thing. Not fewer than forty Americans have, within the past two years, been hunted down and, without a moment’s warning, hurried away in chains, and consigned to slavery and excruciating torture. Some of these have had wives and children, dependent on them for bread; but of this, no account was made. The right of the hunter to his prey stands superior to the right of marriage, and to all rights in this republic, the rights of God included! For black men there are neither law, justice, humanity, not religion. The Fugitive Slave Law makes MERCY TO THEM, A CRIME; and bribes the judge who tries them. An American JUDGE GETS TEN DOLLARS FOR EVERY VICTIM HE CONSIGNS to slavery, and five, when he fails to do so. The oath of any two villains is sufficient, under this hell-black enactment, to send the most pious and exemplary black man into the remorseless jaws of slavery! His own testimony is nothing. He can bring no witnesses for himself. The minister of American justice is bound by the law to hear but one side; and that side, is the side of the oppressor. Let this damning fact be perpetually told. Let it be thundered around the world, that, in tyrant-killing, king-hating, people-loving, democratic, Christian America, the seats of justice are filled with judges, who hold their offices under an open and palpable bribe, and are bound, in deciding in the case of a man’s liberty, hear only his accusers!

In glaring violation of justice, in shameless disregard of the forms of administering law, in cunning arrangement to entrap the defenceless, and in diabolical intent, this Fugitive Slave Law stands alone in the annals of tyrannical legislation. I doubt if there be another nation on the globe, having the brass and the baseness to put such a law on the statute-book. If any man in this assembly thinks differently from me in this matter, and feels able to disprove my statements, I will gladly confront him at any suitable time and place he may select.


I take this law to be one of the grossest infringements of Christian Liberty, and, if the churches and ministers of our country were not stupidly blind, or most wickedly indifferent, they, too, would so regard it.

At the very moment that they are thanking God for the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty, and for the right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, they are utterly silent in respect to a law which robs religion of its chief significance, and makes it utterly worthless to a world lying in wickedness. Did this law concern the “mint, anise and cummin”— abridge the right to sing psalms, to partake of the sacrament, or to engage in any of the ceremonies of religion, it would be smitten by the thunder of a thousand pulpits. A general shout would go up from the church, demanding repeal, repeal, instant repeal! And it would go hard with that politician who presumed to solicit the votes of the people without inscribing this motto on his banner.

Further, if this demand were not complied with, another Scotland would be added to the history of religious liberty, and the stern old Covenanters would be thrown into the shade. A John Knox would be seen at every church door, and heard from every pulpit, and Fillmore would have no more quarter than was shown by Knox, to the beautiful, but treacherous queen Mary of Scotland. The fact that the church of our country, (with fractional exceptions), does not esteem “the Fugitive Slave Law” as a declaration of war against religious liberty, implies that that church regards religion simply as a form of worship, an empty ceremony, and not a vital principle, requiring active benevolence, justice, love and good will towards man. It esteems sacrifice above mercy; psalm-singing above right doing; solemn meetings above practical righteousness. A worship that can be conducted by persons who refuse to give shelter to the houseless, to give bread to the hungry, clothing to the naked, and who enjoin obedience to a law forbidding these acts of mercy, is a curse, not a blessing to mankind. The Bible addresses all such persons as “scribes, pharisees, hypocrites, who pay tithe of mint, anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy and faith.”


But the church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors. It has made itself the bulwark of American slavery, and the shield of American slave-hunters. Many of its most eloquent Divines. who stand as the very lights of the church, have shamelessly given the sanction of religion and the Bible to the whole slave system. They have taught that man may, properly, be a slave; that the relation of master and slave is ordained of God; that to send back an escaped bondman to his master is clearly the duty of all the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ; and this horrible blasphemy is palmed off upon the world for Christianity.

For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! welcome atheism! welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by those Divines! They convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny, and barbarous cruelty, and serve to confirm more infidels, in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke, put together, have done! These ministers make religion a cold and flinty-hearted thing, having neither principles of right action, nor bowels of compassion. They strip the love of God of its beauty, and leave the throne of religion a huge, horrible, repulsive form. It is a religion for oppressors, tyrants, man-stealers, and thugs. It is not that “pure and undefiled religion” which is from above, and which is “first pure, then peaceable, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” But a religion which favors the rich against the poor; which exalts the proud above the humble; which divides mankind into two classes, tyrants and slaves; which says to the man in chains, stay there; and to the oppressor, oppress on; it is a religion which may be professed and enjoyed by all the robbers and enslavers of mankind; it makes God a respecter of persons, denies his fatherhood of the race, and tramples in the dust the great truth of the brotherhood of man. All this we affirm to be true of the popular church, and the popular worship of our land and nation — a religion, a church, and a worship which, on the authority of inspired wisdom, we pronounce to be an abomination in the sight of God. In the language of Isaiah, the American church might be well addressed, “Bring no more vain ablations; incense is an abomination unto me: the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth. They are a trouble to me; I am weary to bear them; and when ye spread forth your hands I will hide mine eyes from you. Yea! when ye make many prayers, I will not hear. YOUR HANDS ARE FULL OF BLOOD; cease to do evil, learn to do well; seek judgement; relieve the oppressed; judge for the fatherless; plead for the widow.”

The American church is guilty, when viewed in connection with what it is doing to uphold slavery; but it is superlatively guilty when viewed in connection with its ability to abolish slavery. The sin of which it is guilty is one of omission as well as of commission. Albert Barnes but uttered what the common sense of every man at all observant of the actual state of the case will receive as truth, when he declared that “There is no power out of the church that could sustain slavery an hour, if it were not sustained in it.”

Let the religious press, the pulpit, the Sunday school, the conference meeting, the great ecclesiastical, missionary, Bible and tract associations of the land array their immense powers against slavery and slave-holding; and the whole system of crime and blood would be scattered to the winds; and that they do not do this involves them in the most awful responsibility of which the mind can conceive.

In prosecuting the anti-slavery enterprise, we have been asked to spare the church, to spare the ministry; but how, we ask, could such a thing be done? We are met on the threshold of our efforts for the redemption of the slave, by the church and ministry of the country, in battle arrayed against us; and we are compelled to fight or flee. From what quarter, I beg to know, has proceeded a fire so deadly upon our ranks, during the last two years, as from the Northern pulpit? As the champions of oppressors, the chosen men of American theology have appeared — men, honored for their so-called piety, and their real learning. The LORDS of Buffalo, the SPRINGS of New York, the LATHROPS of Auburn, the COXES and SPENCERS of Brooklyn, the GANNETS and SHARPS of Boston, the DEWEYS of Washington, and other great religious lights of the land, have, in utter denial of the authority of Him, by whom they professed to he called to the ministry, deliberately taught us, against the example of the Hebrews and against the remonstrance of the Apostles, they teach “that we ought to obey man’s law before the law of God.”

My spirit wearies of such blasphemy; and how such men can be supported, as the “standing types and representatives of Jesus Christ,” is a mystery which I leave others to penetrate. In speaking of the American church, however, let it be distinctly understood that I mean the great mass of the religious organizations of our land. There are exceptions, and I thank God that there are. Noble men may be found, scattered all over these Northern States, of whom Henry Ward Beecher of Brooklyn, Samuel J. May of Syracuse, and my esteemed friend on the platform, are shining examples; and let me say further, that upon these men lies the duty to inspire our ranks with high religious faith and zeal, and to cheer us on in the great mission of the slave’s redemption from his chains.


One is struck with the difference between the attitude of the American church towards the anti-slavery movement, and that occupied by the churches in England towards a similar movement in that country. There, the church, true to its mission of ameliorating, elevating, and improving the condition of mankind, came forward promptly, bound up the wounds of the West Indian slave, and restored him to his liberty. There, the question of emancipation was a high[ly] religious question. It was demanded, in the name of humanity, and according to the law of the living God. The Sharps, the Clarksons, the Wilberforces, the Buxtons, and Burchells and the Knibbs, were alike famous for their piety, and for their philanthropy. The anti-slavery movement there was not an anti-church movement, for the reason that the church took its full share in prosecuting that movement: and the anti-slavery movement in this country will cease to be an anti-church movement, when the church of this country shall assume a favorable, instead of a hostile position towards that movement. Americans! your republican politics, not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly inconsistent. You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties), is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen. You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria, and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and bodyguards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina. You invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad, honor them with banquets, greet them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them, and pour out your money to them like water; but the fugitives from your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot and kill. You glory in your refinement and your universal education; yet you maintain a system as barbarous and dreadful as ever stained the character of a nation — a system begun in avarice, supported in pride, and perpetuated in cruelty. You shed tears over fallen Hungary, and make the sad story of her wrongs the theme of your poets, statesmen and orators, till your gallant sons are ready to fly to arms to vindicate her cause against her oppressors; but, in regard to the ten thousand wrongs of the American slave, you would enforce the strictest silence, and would hail him as an enemy of the nation who dares to make those wrongs the subject of public discourse! You are all on fire at the mention of liberty for France or for Ireland; but are as cold as an iceberg at the thought of liberty for the enslaved of America. You discourse eloquently on the dignity of labor; yet, you sustain a system which, in its very essence, casts a stigma upon labor. You can bare your bosom to the storm of British artillery to throw off a threepenny tax on tea; and yet wring the last hard-earned farthing from the grasp of the black laborers of your country. You profess to believe “that, of one blood, God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth,” and hath commanded all men, everywhere to love one another; yet you notoriously hate, (and glory in your hatred), all men whose skins are not colored like your own. You declare, before the world, and are understood by the world to declare, that you “hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; and that, among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” and yet, you hold securely, in a bondage which, according to your own Thomas Jefferson, “is worse than ages of that which your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose,” a seventh part of the inhabitants of your country.

Fellow-citizens! I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretence, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing, and a by word to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union. It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement, the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet, you cling to it, as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes. Oh! be warned! be warned! a horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation’s bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic; for the love of God, tear away, and fling from you the hideous monster, and let the weight of twenty millions crush and destroy it forever!


But it is answered in reply to all this, that precisely what I have now denounced is, in fact, guaranteed and sanctioned by the Constitution of the United States; that the right to hold and to hunt slaves is a part of that Constitution framed by the illustrious Fathers of this Republic.

Then, I dare to affirm, notwithstanding all I have said before, your fathers stooped, basely stooped

“To palter with us in a double sense:
And keep the word of promise to the ear,
But break it to the heart.”

And instead of being the honest men I have before declared them to be, they were the veriest imposters that ever practised on mankind. This is the inevitable conclusion, and from it there is no escape. But I differ from those who charge this baseness on the framers of the Constitution of the United States. It is a slander upon their memory, at least, so I believe. There is not time now to argue the constitutional question at length — nor have I the ability to discuss it as it ought to be discussed. The subject has been handled with masterly power by Lysander Spooner, Esq., by William Goodell, by Samuel E. Sewall, Esq., and last, though not least, by Gerritt Smith, Esq. These gentlemen have, as I think, fully and clearly vindicated the Constitution from any design to support slavery for an hour.

Fellow-citizens! there is no matter in respect to which, the people of the North have allowed themselves to be so ruinously imposed upon, as that of the pro-slavery character of the Constitution. In that instrument I hold there is neither warrant, license, nor sanction of the hateful thing; but, interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT. Read its preamble, consider its purposes. Is slavery among them? Is it at the gateway? or is it in the temple? It is neither. While I do not intend to argue this question on the present occasion, let me ask, if it be not somewhat singular that, if the Constitution were intended to be, by its framers and adopters, a slave-holding instrument, why neither slavery, slaveholding, nor slave can anywhere be found in it. What would be thought of an instrument, drawn up, legally drawn up, for the purpose of entitling the city of Rochester to a tract of land, in which no mention of land was made? Now, there are certain rules of interpretation, for the proper understanding of all legal instruments. These rules are well established. They are plain, common-sense rules, such as you and I, and all of us, can understand and apply, without having passed years in the study of law. I scout the idea that the question of the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of slavery is not a question for the people. I hold that every American citizen has a right to form an opinion of the constitution, and to propagate that opinion, and to use all honorable means to make his opinion the prevailing one. Without this right, the liberty of an American citizen would be as insecure as that of a Frenchman. Ex-Vice-President Dallas tells us that the constitution is an object to which no American mind can be too attentive, and no American heart too devoted. He further says, the constitution, in its words, is plain and intelligible, and is meant for the home-bred, unsophisticated understandings of our fellow-citizens. Senator Berrien tell us that the Constitution is the fundamental law, that which controls all others. The charter of our liberties, which every citizen has a personal interest in understanding thoroughly. The testimony of Senator Breese, Lewis Cass, and many others that might be named, who are everywhere esteemed as sound lawyers, so regard the constitution. I take it, therefore, that it is not presumption in a private citizen to form an opinion of that instrument.

Now, take the constitution according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.

I have detained my audience entirely too long already. At some future period I will gladly avail myself of an opportunity to give this subject a full and fair discussion.

Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work The downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world, and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference. The time was when such could be done. Long established customs of hurtful character could formerly fence themselves in, and do their evil work with social impunity. Knowledge was then confined and enjoyed by the privileged few, and the multitude walked on in mental darkness. But a change has now come over the affairs of mankind. Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe. It makes its pathway over and under the sea, as well as on the earth. Wind, steam, and lightning are its chartered agents. Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together. From Boston to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively annihilated. Thoughts expressed on one side of the Atlantic are, distinctly heard on the other. The far off and almost fabulous Pacific rolls in grandeur at our feet. The Celestial Empire, the mystery of ages, is being solved. The fiat of the Almighty, “Let there be Light,” has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light. The iron shoe, and crippled foot of China must be seen, in contrast with nature. Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. “Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God.”[13] In the fervent aspirations of William Lloyd Garrison, I say, and let every heart join in saying it:

God speed the year of jubilee
The wide world o’er!
When from their galling chains set free,
Th’ oppress’d shall vilely bend the knee,
And wear the yoke of tyranny
Like brutes no more.
That year will come, and freedom’s reign,
To man his plundered rights again

God speed the day when human blood
Shall cease to flow!
In every clime be understood,
The claims of human brotherhood,
And each return for evil, good,
Not blow for blow;
That day will come all feuds to end
And change into a faithful friend
Each foe.

God speed the hour, the glorious hour,
When none on earth
Shall exercise a lordly power,
Nor in a tyrant’s presence cower;
But all to manhood’s stature tower,
By equal birth!
THAT HOUR WILL, COME, to each, to all,
And from his prison-house, the thrall
Go forth.

Until that year, day, hour, arrive,
With head, and heart, and hand I’ll strive,
To break the rod, and rend the gyve,
The spoiler of his prey deprive–
So witness Heaven!
And never from my chosen post,
Whate’er the peril or the cost,
Be driven.