A Day’s Rations

A Day’s Rations

This #TallshipTuesday one of our crewmembers ate a day’s rations onboard Providence. The meals onboard a continental navy ship were rather limited. The crew loaded the rations onto the ship. These rations lasted about three months at sea. These rations had to be hearty, nutrient dense, and filling as they needed to take up little space, but afford all the necessary calories to keep the crew healthy. 

Despite being more meager by modern standards, a navy diet was better than the standards those in poverty would have endured. In 1813, a few decades after Providence’s demise, sailors would consume over 4,000 calories a day. Given the energy expended hauling on lines and climbing up aloft, it is no surprise they would have needed so many calories.

What would sailors eat in a day’s rations?

What sailors would eat depended on the day. There were some staples day in and day out. Across the board, it was likely a pound of bread we would call Hardtack was issued to sailors. They also would have gotten some sort of spirit. In the US and Britain this was generally Rum as beer went bad at sea and rum was cheap, took up less space, and was locally sourced so easier to come by. Providence also likely had a daily ration of dried meats. 

Ships also would have had animals that were freshly slaughtered occasionally. Larger ships may have had cows or pigs. Smaller ships would have had goats, chickens, and of course fish caught at sea. Other rations consisted of peas, rice or oatmeal, butter, milk, cheese, eggs, beans, molasses, vinegar, and even coffee.

Examples of Rations on Contemporary Ships

Mary Rose sank in 1545 in Portsmouth Harbor with a compliment of 415 men. This ship was over 200 years older than Providence. Despite this, many of their rations were the same as they would have been by the 18th century.

Ships taking passengers would advertise their food to entice people to sail on their ships to the new world. In the 1750s, a few decades before the Continental Navy was founded, this is what passengers could look forward to on a ship.

USS Constitution sailed in 1813, after the end of the American Revolution. On a 44 gun frigate, this is what the 450 man compliment would have had every day.


Hope Rider, Being the Adventures of the Continental Sloop Providence, 1775-1779, Formerly Flagship Katy of Rhode Island’s Navy- ISBN 9780934943123

Patrick Roberts et Al.,The Men of Nelson’s Navy: A Comparative Stable Isotope Dietary Study of Late 18th Century and Early 19th Century Servicemen From Royal Naval Hospital Burial Grounds at Plymouth and Gosport, England- https://d1wqtxts1xzle7.cloudfront.net/33426285/Roberts_et_al.__2012-libre.pdf?1397034213=&response-content-disposition=inline%3B+filename%3DThe_men_of_Nelsons_navy_A_comparative_st.pdf&Expires=1715024556&Signature=ebAw-c6ElZWwtRtDuEGNkg9a1gmI4Oi~vSsApxRtduW-1PB1UPAaA1~q73e8QMH47TItyL1Qlc-bNbgfX-VZ9-gISrvHYaFdg6qFwYignrHZPJO7GHtRP9tNzkgiPc-36mV3U5SlrtZYB2El7kIJC4oQ8gE6cVSFLS7ftUpQuX8s1VtsFEpfHJVzidEMoqUIqJKf9s9V3244A2TmwzIc7mtUg3tk1od5gk88pelb916AOkjyXQYzcQb~LIYInUnPRjsz6fIffsk2CSzYa0uP1NpqT0~hBagw3MjiQ-kBRG4-rmiUyaAv81sZBm-itP2fNrBsTPYIgTYpZTT–jlz0w__&Key-Pair-Id=APKAJLOHF5GGSLRBV4ZA 

Matthew Brenckle, Food and Drink in the US Navy, 1794-1820 – https://ussconstitutionmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/dlm_uploads/2019/05/Food-and-Drink-in-the-US-Navy.pdf

Klaus WustFeeding the Palatines: Shipboard Diet in the Eighteenth Century – https://loyolanotredamelib.org/php/report05/articles/pdfs/Report39Wustp32-42.pdf 

National Parks Service, Hardtack during the Civil War- https://www.nps.gov/mana/learn/kidsyouth/hardtack-during-the-civil-war.htm#:~:text=During%20the%20Civil%20War%20one,flour%2C%20water%2C%20and%20salt

Encyclopedia Britannica, Rum- https://www.britannica.com/topic/rum-liquor#:~:text=rum%2C%20distilled%20liquor%20made%20from,fuller%2Dflavoured%20rums%20of%20Jamaica

Compass Coffee Blog, A Revolutionary Brew – https://www.compasscoffee.com/blogs/the-daily-grind/a-revolutionary-brew-the-importance-of-coffee-within-the-american-revolution#:~:text=As%20the%20Revolution%20escalated%2C%20coffee,harsh%20weather%2C%20and%20limited%20supplies

The Mary Rose Trust, Discover the Mary Ros- https://maryrose.org/ 

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